In his 75th year--and 50th year of marriage--a retired, New England professor ran off to California to live with a woman he'd been wooing for a year. It reminded me of a 30 Rock episode where Tina Fey's character Liz Lemon is stunned when her dad comes to New York City without her mom. He's planning to meet an old school chum and "have a little fun." Only this grandpa runaway is real life. And it's not "a little fun." The New England academic has left behind not only a wife, but two grown children and five grandchildren--in effect, divorcing himself from his three-generation family.
The shock and abandonment are hard enough for his wife to deal with. But there is something else adding to her anguish: The grown children are shutting their father out of their lives. They will not open his emails or talk to him on the phone. When her husband left, the wife says, "the thing that really upset me was that my kids were not going to let their kids see their grandfather. I didn’t see how that followed."
And it hurt. "Grandparents and family relations are important and you try to keep them up as best you can," she says. She knows her grandchildren are confused. Her daughter's 8-year-old wonders, "do all old people just disappear?" And her son's 5-year-old stunned her parents one night by announcing, "You're ruining my life. I'm going to California to live with Pop-Pop." So far, it's been a year since the Pop-Pop has seen his grandchildren.
The grown children are feeling the impact of their father's actions in many ways. They are angry at him on behalf of their mother but also out of their own sense of abandonment. They may be grown up with families of their own, but a father is a father is father. And that leads to another issue: They have been reassessing who they thought their father was and is. The daughter told her mother that it wasn’t just the leaving but the self-centeredness of it. When she finally opened a letter he wrote her, the letter, she told her mother, "made it clear that it was all about him."
The betrayal runs deep. Nonetheless, the mother argues with her grown children. She believes they should let their father see their children. "A year," she says, "is such a long time in a child's life."
She has, she says "tried to make it clear to my children that they should not keep the grandkids from him. I don’t want things to fall apart because he has hurt me. It's not a good thing he did, but there are other things to salvage."
The children are having none of it. When their mother argues the point with them, she gets "told where to get off on that. They tell me they’re not going to do what I want them to do."
A few months ago, a friend gave her some advice that she admits she is listening to: "At some point, you need to step back and let them find their own way."
In this as in many things.