How money needlessly ripped apart my family

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Mar 14, 2009
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This story starts 30 years ago. A lot of what I am telling here is based on things that I have pieced together from things that my mother and brother told me over the years. I know that this isn’t 100% accurate, but I think it is a reasonable telling of the situation.

I am telling you this story in hopes that someone will see how an obsession over money can rip a family apart.

My father was an optometrist, but this was back in the day when most eye doctors ran small shops on their own. He did OK, but we weren’t wealthy by any means. My father was a good doctor, but not the best businessman. I think this is in large part because he took his Catholicism seriously and ended up helping people who could not pay or only paid a fraction of their bills. I can look back at this and feel a sense of pride that he was so generous to the less fortunate, but it did cause our family serious problems.

When I was 13 years old he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He had no health insurance and not enough savings to deal with this situation. We lived about 70 miles from the Mayo Clinic and he went there regularly for treatments. Unfortunately, the disease was diagnosed fairly late and had spread extensively by the time it was diagnosed. Chemo treatments today wreak havoc on patients and I am sure they were far worse 30 years ago. So as the treatments progressed my father found it more and more difficult to work and earn an income.

To help with the cost of the treatments as well as living expenses my parents asked my grandfather for help. He had been a successful businessman and had enough money to help us.

Now I need to tell you a little about my father’s parents and my father’s brothers. My father was the oldest of four brothers. As I said earlier he became an optometrist and settled in a small town in Minnesota about an hour away from his parents. Two of his brothers became medical doctors and the other brother was an Air Force pilot. The brother in the Air Force moved around the country a lot and we didn’t see him much. Another brother moved to California and he rarely came back to Minnesota. The other brother settled in Minnesota like my father, but further away from his parents.

As a result of living the closest to his parents, my father was the one who saw them the most often. During the summer we drove up to my grandparent’s cabin at the lake. Now cabin is a bit of a stretch as I learned later that it was actually an old chicken coop converted to a small cabin. I am not sure I really buy the converted chicken coop story, but even as a little kid I thought that it was a very odd looking cabin. It was clearly not built as a cabin and was converted to one after the fact.

The point being that this cabin was functional, but not luxurious by any means. This was a trait that clearly came from my grandfather. He was not a man to spend money frivolously. He had a boat at the lake and we used to use it for water skiing. I was a little the entire time I went up to the lake so the 40 horsepower motor on the old speedboat worked well for me. However, as kids moved into their late teens that motor just wasn’t up to the task of pulling someone that large. I remember more than a few discussions other members of the extended family had with my grandfather about getting a new boat with a bigger motor, but that never came to pass. As I said he just didn’t spend money on things he thought weren’t needed.

As time went by I realized that my father was not going to recover. Just as 8th grade ended for me my father passed away. He may have had a small life insurance policy, but there really wasn’t much money for my mother, my brother and me when he died.

We continued to visit my grandparents; at least my mom and I did. My brother was in college as he is six years older than me. It was during one of these visits that things got really strange. My mother and my grandfather got in some sort of argument. The next thing I knew was my mother came and got me and we just left their house.

Much later I learned what the argument was about. My grandfather was very upset that his oldest son had died. He was also upset that my mother had not taken my father to France and to the healing waters at Lourdes. I guess my grandfather put more trust in things like this than doctors. My father was so ill the last few months of his life that he could not have survived a trip like that and my mother knew that. My grandfather at least partly blamed my mother for his death. During that last visit he had demanded his money back. He wanted the $26,312.97 that he had given my parents. He essentially wanted a refund as his “investment” hadn’t panned out.

Obviously, my mother did not have the money. That is a lot of money today, but 30 years ago it was a huge sum for a widow with no job. When she said she couldn’t pay he threw her out. That was the last time I ever saw or heard from my grandparents. Even worse was that my grandfather forbade my grandmother and his three sons from having anything to do with us. If they even so much as talked to us they were out of his will. Sadly, none of them stood up to him and we were out of the family.

My mother struggled, but with Social Security Survivor’s benefits and part time jobs she held on to the house and paid the bills. She could have really used the financial and emotional support of the family, but she never heard from any of them.

About six or seven years went by and my grandfather died. Everything passed to my grandmother and then she died a few years later. Much to our surprise my brother and I received a portion of the estate, but here is where it takes yet another bizarre turn. The estate was split four ways for the four sons; with my brother and I splitting my father’s share. However, our share was reduced by $26,312.97 which was divided amongst the three surviving brothers. We also didn’t get a share of the lake property which was now worth a lot of money.
My brother thinks that two of my uncles had a big hand in this division of assets. Of course, my grandfather had written the original will and the asset distribution plan, but the fact that it was still in place years after his death was too strange for him. My grandmother was not vindictive like my grandfather, so it seems unlikely she would have kept this clause without someone pressuring her to keep it. My brother and I each received about $20,000, but it hardly made up for the years of isolation from the family.

After my grandmother’s death we started getting correspondence from my one of my aunts. My brother was in the Army and I was in the Air Force and we were both doing well. My brother and mother wanted nothing to do with these people and I was indifferent at best. I certainly was not going to go out of my way to see them.

The years went by and my mother died. We kept hearing from my aunt even though my brother and I rarely responded. Finally, my brother decided it was time to bury the hatchet. We all met at the lake one summer. The old chicken coop was long gone and a beautiful house now stood in its place. A second house stood on the back end of the lot where the old garage/boat storage shed had been. These people had done well.

The visit was nice, but after that one time my brother and I never went back. The memories of not getting any help form these people when it was desperately needed just left a bad taste in our mouths. They didn’t help my mother when she needed it most.

My father’s death turned my grandfather from the loving grandparent I had always known to some sort of tyrant? Was this the real man or was my father’s death just so devastating that my grandfather suffered from some mental breakdown? My brother and I were the grandchildren he knew the best and yet after that last visit by me and my mother we never saw or heard from him again. As a thirteen year old child I not only lost my father, but both of my grandparents.

Looking back on all of this I only feel sad for both of my grandparents. My grandfather must have become a tyrant whose grief caused him to only care about the money. He turned his back on his family and his obligations. He was the type of man who would never seek help for a mental problem and many people suffered for that. My grandmother never stood up to him and I feel sad for her for her lack of strength. I feel the same way about my uncles and their wives. They abandoned us when we needed them. They did it for money. I haven’t sent them a card or talked to any of them in years. They simply aren’t worth the effort.

Maybe none of the people in that family learned anything from what happened, but I did. A number of years ago my sister-in-law found herself abandoned by her husband and trying to take care of two small boys. When my wife first told me about it I immediately suggested we send her sister money each month until she got back on her feet. My wife wanted to suggest it, but wasn’t sure how to ask me. I told her that this was her sister; she was family, and we were going to help her if she needed money. I wasn’t going to ignore a family member in a time of need. Fortunately, her sister turned her life around. She got her degree, a good job and has remarried. I know our help played a very, very small part in all that, but we helped her and that's what was important.

Sorry for the long post, but if you got this far I hope you at least enjoyed the story. I've told it before, but never in such detail. If you take nothing else away from this you should help people in time of need.
It certainly sounds like your grandfather may have had some mental or emotional issues. (To give him all the benefit of EVERY doubt.)

During the time I was married, I was constantly amazed at the constant feuds/vendettas in the family of my then-wife.

Virtually every day some aunt or cousin or some kind of relative of hers was carrying on some kind of blood-oath vendetta, word went out along the family grapevine that X was not speaking to Y, and Y had to be told at least two hours before X was going to arrive at any family function so she could pack up and get out or else a huge row would ensue, yadda yadda blah blah.

I was just dumbfounded. I have never ever had a "not speaking to you" feud with ANYBODY in my family. I know I have done stuff to tick my siblings off sometimes (and they have for me), but I can never conceive of just deciding I am never going to speak to them again.

Now one of my sisters lives 2,000 miles away and it isn't uncommon at all for us to go three or four months at a time without talking, but it isn't because of any blood-sworn vendetta -- we just haven't had any occasion to talk.

I only talk to most of my cousins maybe once or twice a year, but again it's not because of a vendetta -- we just all live different lives.

One thing I have found doing genealogy work is this was not at all true over the history of my family. Especially on my mother's side there is a long history of siblings suing siblings, uncles suing nieces/nephews, families moving halfway across the nation never to be heard of again, branches of the family breaking completely off, etc etc.

I just don't get it. Life is too short for that crap.

When my father was making out his will -- he was terminally ill so there was some time pressure -- he said that I, as the oldest, should be the executor of the estate. Not only am I the oldest, I am MUCH older than 3 of my 4 siblings; my one sister is 3 years younger than me, then the other three are 10, 12 and 16 years younger than I am. So I have always been very much the older brother.

But I told Dad that my brother (12 years younger) was a better choice -- he had a degree in business administration and was much better at handling money. He said, "well you are the oldest, they will go by any decisions you make," and I said, "(My brother) is better qualified to do the job."

Dad said OK and that was the last anybody ever spoke about it, really. We all trusted our brother to do the best job possible for all of us, and he did. He gave us all balance-sheet reports that accounted for everything down to the last nickel.
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It sounds like a sad and unfortunate story. I would have imagined your Grandfather, at the end of his life, calling to say sorry for everything. Sounds like he took his confusing, anger and hostility to the grave. Thats his loss.

I have some chaos in my family as well. I am the youngest of four. My Sister, who is 15 years older than me grew up with my Brother who was 3 years younger. Then after 9 years my parents had my closer brother, and finally 3 years later, I was born. Needless to say, I hardly see my older siblings as siblings, since they were nearly on their own in my earliest memories. I'm guessing there is some resent and jealousy on their part since my close Brother and I had a much different childhood. I am well aware that I was born on second base, while my older siblings had to struggle at the plate. Unfortunately, despite my modesty around my older siblings, all of my achievements and success of any kind is disregarded and despised. On the day I left for college, my older Brother said, "Well good luck, some of us didnt get that opportunity". This is coming from a guy who barely passed highschool and had two children at age 18. My Sister was in the Navy, wo while I didnt run into any issues with her, I didn't even know her really.

My closer Brother and I grew up very close. We were the best of friends, and did everything together. At one point, after he was past his first marriage and several girlfriends which all overlapped, I realized he had issues. Eventually I began to understand his extreme narcissism, and coined my label for him of "Serial Domestic Abuser". At one point, out of love for my best friend, I confronted him and told him he would have to change if we were to go on with any kind of relationship in life. Despite his assurances he had changed, when his third wife divorced him, I knew I had to detach. I bid my Brother farewell, and went about my life. Several years later, I ran across his second wife of a few months. We began talking and kept in touch. As Springer as it sounds, we began to date, and eventually married, now with two children and a wonderful relationship. While many in my family have serious moral issues with my love for my wife, I think my Brother's marriage was simply the fluke that brought us together. What I realized is that with some education, his suave personality, and feathers in his hat like "Eagle Scout", my Brother had the ability to attract wonderful women, which then he abused. I saw no issue in picking up a catch he discarded.

Boarding a flight,,, more to come...
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This is the stuff of a novel.

There's a Yiddish word, "mensch," that is used to describe a modest, generous, and decent man. Your classic good neighbor who quietly helps out; the uncle who steps in.

You're a mensch, your grandfather wasn't. But your grandfather's bad example may have helped make you a mensch.
Sometimes I'm glad that my wife and I don't have a lot of money.
We do ok but I wouldn't say we're wealthy by any stretch.
But at least this way our kids (10 and 7) might eventually
develop a normal perspective on life and see the value of hard
work and thrift.
Nobody is completely useless---- they can always serve as a bad example. :D

Be glad you have chosen not to be like them in this matter!

Sounds like you have your priorities right now. Doesn't excuse what happened to you and your Mom, but puts you ahead of a LOT of other people who haven't yet (and may never) learn that people are infinitely more important than $$$$.
I haven't spoken to my oldest sister in 5 yrs and don't plan on it anytime soon. I have an identical twin brother and we were adopted. We have 2 older sisters. The younger of my sisters was the executrice of my parents will. Ever since I can remember she got treated different then the rest if us siblings. It was because she was born deaf, not totally but she had to ware a hearing aid all her life. My mother felt guilty about this and blamed her "bad geans" so I can understand her getting treated differently then us. My brother I never had any hard feelings about it but my oldest sister DID. My dad past away in '04 and my mom in '09. My oldest sister sued my other sister because she thought that she was some how cheated out of her share of the will. I never thought there would be anything left to us kids because we we far from rich but we got by. I just figured anything extra would just be a bonus but I didn't count on it. So I can see how it can happen to a lot of families. It's kinda funny because my oldest sister used to be my "favorite" sister, now she's just a jealous, bitter, money hungry bitch.
In psychological terms, the impact of opposites is exactly the same.

Nobody is completely useless---- they can always serve as a bad example. :D

Be glad you have chosen not to be like them in this matter!

Sounds like you have your priorities right now. Doesn't excuse what happened to you and your Mom, but puts you ahead of a LOT of other people who haven't yet (and may never) learn that people are infinitely more important than $$$$.
I could tell you my story but it hurts too much to actually put in words. Many times I wonder if anyone could go through as much as I did, but honestly I think we all have our share of bad blood, greed, envy, jealousy, parents being partial, being ripped off...... the list goes on,.......incorporated in our lives.

Many times I thought if our lives could have been made into a novel or a movie, it would be the ultimate heart breaker. Then you hear someone elses story and you realize you aren't alone. Be ye rich or be ye poor, the rain will fall.

It's a lot easier now days for me to see how any of the "7 Deadlys" can be the root for bad blood in a family or even a circle of friends. I guess the bottom line here is, if you can rise above the pit falls in life, gain constructive knowledge from it and be a better person, you have done well. Unfortunately that doesn't happen for everybody.
We have a small family, (parents were both only children,) so any issues are more noticeable. My maternal grandfather was pretty self-centered. He left my pre-teen Mom to her own wits after my grandmother died, and if not for the kindness of friends, neighbors and relatives, that could have ended tragically. As it was, his eventual pettiness and jealousy caused a rift that ended with him disassociating from our family for the last 30 or so years of his life. Near the end when he was in a nursing home and doing poorly, Mom tried to reconnect with him, only to find that he was hopelessly riddled with dementia. We had dinner with him around Thanksgiving, and he kept asking Mom if she knew his wife, and telling her that he had a daughter somewhere, but didn't know what happened to her. Mom and my sister cried through the whole meal, but aside from my discomfort at seeing them upset, I found myself unable to connect with the situation at all. I just kept thinking that it was a good thing I'd driven because they wouldn't be able to get themselves home otherwise. I knew where the disconnect had happened, and it hadn't been our choice, but his. It happens. There's only so much you can do.
Sorry to hear about that. Sounds like my Ex-In-Laws. Money, and not very much of it, tore them all apart so much that my son want's nothing to do with any of them.

Did I mention they were "Ex" In-Laws?

One thing that bears remembering is that old folks get funny ideas sometimes... a LOT of times, actually... Old folks have aches and pains we youngsters usually don't have to deal with, and they have their attitudes and opinions colored by life experiences drastically different from our own.

For instance, my Dad and I had a knock-down drag-out awhile back, basically over nothing, really... A pipeline crossed our farms and he got paid some money by the company for the surface right-of-way for them to install and maintain it. My mother, who basically is an undiagnosed and untreated shopaholic, had been ranting and raving about a particular red color Dodge used on their vehicles the past several years and wanted to buy a new minivan that color. When Dad got the money, he decided that since he's disabled and mom is pretty much too, that they'd get them a new minivan... Now, I thought this was VERY foolish, because 1) they already have TWO used minivans, about ten years old, with only 90,000 miles on them (I drive a ten year old pickup with 260,000 miles on it, so these aren't even "broken in good" yet by my reasoning), 2) vehicles depreciate SO badly that buying new is basically throwing good money after bad, 3) it's just another vehicle to maintain, license, insure, inspect, buy tires, batteries, lights, etc. for... 4) Dad is the only one who drives-- mom hasn't driven in years AFAIK... 5) Dad's been disabled for about 6-7 years (post-polio syndrome and neuropathy, among many other lesser disorders) and now that he's 65, he lost his rather good disability income from the nuke plant and is on social security, which was a big cut, as well as their health insurance going from the company insurance to Medicare... IOW, their income has dropped pretty big... I think Dad bought the car more to shut my mother up than anything; that and he "convinced" himself he needed it...

Anyway, add to that my brother is engaged to be married this fall. My parents are somewhat reticent about this... she's of a different religion that's about as far apart from ours as you can get and still be called "Christian" and while I might share some of their concerns, my brother and his fiancee have discussed things and have an "understanding" between them that seems to be working for them-- they've discussed things and if they're being honest with each other and their families, and stick to it, then everything should be OK... Basically what it boils down to is, he's 32, a grown man, and it's time for him to make his own decisions... present your opinion and advice and he can take it or leave it as he sees fit... (like anybody else). Mom and Dad are both convinced that, because she has a LARGE extended family (who have very limited means) and my brother has lots of chums from high school and his job, and that they have a very substantial guest list for their wedding, they think that they're going to be expected to pay for a big chunk of that wedding. Now, to my knowledge, nobody has ASKED them to pay for ANYTHING... this is their ASSUMPTION... I've pointed this out REPEATEDLY (and asked them if my brother has been asking them to help pay for the wedding, which they say he hasn't). BUT, they've got this stuck in their head, they're fixated on it, and CONVINCED themselves that my brother and his fiancee are going to hit them up for thousands of dollars to help pay for this wedding, and have REPEATEDLY stated that they're not going to pay for it... Which is only fair, I point out... my sister married my BIL about the time she graduated college (he had a year more to go) and they just up and went to the JP in the college town she lived in at the time and presto they were married... no church wedding at all, despite the fact my sister said later on she'd like to have one and mom and Dad offered to shell out $500 to rent the church, but basically nothing ever came of it (basically because my BIL and sister are in debt up to their eyeballs and don't have money for a bucket of chicken, let alone anything else, despite making DOUBLE what my wife and I make). When Betty and I got married, we agreed to spend $2500 on the wedding; she had friends make the cake, we got the church for free, we paid the preacher $100 for the service (despite his not wanting anything) and we did the decorating and had lots of her friends to help... the most expensive thing was the photographer at $700. We had a snacky-meal at the reception and we didn't have or want a DJ or alcohol or anything like that, and it was a nice, pretty wedding for about 150 people. My parents didnt' give us ANYTHING toward our wedding-- it came from Betty and my savings; we didn't ask for anything either. Now, it's true my brother's fiancee comes from a different background where they want a HUGE wedding, and they plan on having a meal and a dance and alcohol and all that... and of course with her extended family and friends and his buddies it comes to about 450 people... but her Dad has already rented the hall for the reception, paid the DJ, her aunts are doing the photography and making the cakes, etc... so they're getting a LOT of help from her side of the family (which honestly is as it should be since at least 300 people on the list are from her side). Ultimately it's their wedding and therefore their responsibility AFAIC...

Anyway, one day a few weeks ago after I picked up Keira from school, mom and Dad called me to ask if I wanted to meet them for a late lunch/early supper... so Keira and I did... they wanted to go to the lumberyard afterwards and pick up some hinges for a new bedroom door I had been installing (his powerchair had broken the old door when he misjudged his driving through it in the house). I don't know if it was having to buy the extra lunch for their granddaughter or what, but they started railing about costs on the farm (I run the farms for them, as well as doing all their "odd jobs" like keeping their water well going, fixing whatever needs fixing, hauling off their trash, etc) and about my brother's wedding expenses. They were also VERY PO'd because my brother and I were planning on going to Shiner to work on the farm, and his fiancee planned on coming, and they were coming as well in their own car, and usually when we're working they buy our lunch (since we're working on THEIR farms and they basically treat us as second rate employees instead of partners... my grandmother would buy our meals (theirs too) when we were all "working for her"). They resented having to buy ANOTHER meal for his fiancee, who "wasn't even working on the farm". Then they tore into the wedding costs again... I laughed and Dad got mad... I asked if anybody had asked them to pay for the wedding? "No" he said, "but that's not the point... it's not funny!" I mentioned nobody had ASKED them to pay for the meal that coming Saturday, either, and that I found it rather amusing that they were SO concerned about buying "another $5 plate lunch" that weekend while they'd just spent $18,000 on a new van they didn't need a few weeks before. Now he got REALLY mad and told me it was none of my d@mn business what he spends his money on, started railing about costs and expenses and stuff, and basically called me and my brother "worthless punks" and all this... Now *I* got fighting mad... I put up with a LOT of physical and verbal abuse growing up (my mom never called me anything but "sh!t@ss" most of my childhood and we all got plenty of capricious beatings) and it took me a LONG time (til I was about 26) to see that I had ANY value whatsoever as a human being, and when I did, I resolved that "I put up with that crap the first half of my life; I'm NOT putting up with the second half!" and so I don't take that crap off ANYBODY. I told him right there in the restaurant to "STFU" and he went ape-sh!t bonkers! Finally we choked down the rest of our meal in silence so we didn't disturb the restaurant and Keira and I stalked out after I through whatever money I had in my wallet on the table for the meal (which they were supposed to buy us for fixing their door). I was so mad I couldn't see straight, and I called their answering machine and left a message, that the "worthless punk" wasn't working for them for free to be treated like that, and when he could apologize "like a civilized F-ing human being" I'd have something to do with them, and until then, they could take their money and go straight to h3ll with it... pay somebody $300 to fix the door or water well, instead of me doing it for FREE to be kicked in the teeth... call the ambulance next time they fell in the floor and couldn't get up, and pay the $1200 bill for the call, instead of calling me for free... I do a lot and I'm NOT going to be treated that way... I'm not 12 years old anymore and I don't HAVE to put up with it!"

SO, they didn't talk to me for over a week. I felt pretty bad about it and was considering going over to apologize and forgive them, and just part ways, for my own good. Betty was VERY disappointed and upset with them, because while they fawn over my sister's boys (who basically live with them all summer and every weekend, whom they take to eat wherever they want, constantly buy them toys and take them shopping and let them run wild at their house) they didn't even CALL Keira or talk to her at all while they were mad at me... and they act like it's some huge CHORE to spend any time with Keira or give her anything... despite the fact she's MUCH better behaved than the boys are and doesn't ask for much. I guess it shouldn't surprise, since they fawned over my sister when she was a kid... she had her band stuff (at which she excelled) and did better in school (cared about it more) and didn't have to do anything else, while I was running two farms pretty much on my own (for my grandmother) by the time I was 15... later on my brother did help me a lot, and we're partners now, working for my folks... (oh, but we're "worthless punks"...:rolleyes:) Finally Dad called and apologized, and I let it drop... Betty had pointed out that he's on 15 different daily medications, and basically his mind IS pretty wonky at times! "Maybe he was having a bad day" she said... He basically said as much and told me he was having a lot of pain that day... so I accepted the apology and left it at that.

In the end, family is all that matters... "everybody else is just strangers" as Wyatt Earp's Dad told him as a youngster... :) Doesn't make them easy to live with though!

Later! OL JR :)
Dang people, this thread is beginning to bum me out.

Hey, I have a suggestion - let's get back to arguing about rockets.
Allow me to get the ball rolling ...

Epoxy is better than wood glue!
The best way to make a centering ring is with a Dremel tool!
Plywood fins are better than fiberglass!
Paper body tubes forever!
Four fins on a rocket?? What were you thinking?
Night rockets rule!!

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Dang people, this thread is beginning to bum me out.

Hey, I have a suggestion - let's get back to arguing about rockets.
Allow me to get the ball rolling ...

Epoxy is better than wood glue!
The best way to make a centering ring is with a Dremel tool!
Plywood fins are better than fiberglass!
Paper body tubes forever!
Four fins on a rocket?? What were you thinking?
Night rockets rule!!


Ah yu dont no nothing!
CA is the best glue!
Hole saws for centering rings!
Plastic fins flex but dont break as often!
I like PVC tubes, paper sucks!
Five fins only!
Cant see rockets in the daytime so why launch at night!

Jeeeeesh, I'm writng you out of my will!:D
Hot melt glue to attach fins to glassine-coated body tubes!

..what's wrong with that?:eyepop:

Actually I could write a book on my family. A sad tale at that. I thought about spilling my woes upon y'all but no one would believe it...I don't :p
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It's all of the drama like this in our lives that makes me thankful for the hobby of model rocketry as a means to forget about such least for a little while. :wink: