Re: Memoir

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Transcribing my Grandfather's memoir (mostly about growing up in the 1930s and his WWII experiences) was similar. I got kudos for typing them up and people professed interest, but only my Dad has looked at them at all. And... it's now been years since I read them, though I do have a copy in the house. Hmm...


Posted by: Mooseking | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 7:48 AM
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Huh. I guess it's common.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 7:54 AM
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It's weird. To me this kind of thing is history. I have a short diary kept by my dad while he was working abroad, which he sent home to his parents and in-laws in lieu of writing letters. It's a formative part of me. I suppose a lot of people don't care about history, don't care how or why the world is as it is, but not caring about your own background seems bizarre.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:17 AM
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My paternal grandfather was a fairly keen photographer on his travels, and he went to some interesting places. All over India, and even on expeditions into Tibet; through North Africa and Italy in WW2, etc. I'm slightly ashamed I haven't scanned them or put them on-line, but I think the relative who is custodian might be a bit reluctant to post them to me for digitising, though.

I think people in general are incurious, sadly, though.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:26 AM
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It's weird. To me this kind of thing is history.

Yes. And not only that, Heebie is completely correct that her grandmother's travel writing is very lively and fun to read. People are odd.


Posted by: redfoxtailshrub | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:35 AM
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If people are having trouble self-motivating to read the memoir, maybe organize a reading group.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:35 AM
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My great-grandfather had a small radio show devoted to very local history. He also wrote a few very dull books about the history of the college he worked at (published by a college press) and an autobiography (not published). My grandfather and his sister dutifully transcribed all the old radio shows, indexed them, and donated them to the college library, along with some recordings of later shows. I was curious enough to read the autobiography, but there is probably nothing that would compel me to listen to more than one recording or flip through a transcript. He left out all the little details that make a story interesting. I learned more about his job selling textbooks than I did about any of his children (whose births and names were duly noted, with no details). I think most of my parents' generation has read it, but I think I'm the only one of my generation who even tried.

Heebie's blog and her grandmother's travel stories are charming and full of the details and humor that make them fun to read.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:39 AM
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(My brother even lied about reading it. He said he'd read most of the memoir when he was at home, but there are two volumes, and it was the second half that was sitting out. My mom didn't find the first half until months later, when I was in town. So I'm sure he leisurely flipped through and enjoyed what he saw, but he didn't read enough to realize he was in the second half, nor that I'm blogging something different than what he read.)


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:42 AM
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Oh, I'd have a really tough time listening to recordings. That's a good point - the medium makes a big difference.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:43 AM
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My g-g-g-grandfather wrote a series of long articles for the North China Herald in the 1860's telling the story of his disguising himself as Chinese and making the illegal trip upriver from Shanghai to Suzhou. I've scanned it all and want to type it up and post it at some point - he was skilled in Chinese and relates a lot of stories/history as he goes through - but only seem to do it in spurts.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:01 AM
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Wow.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:03 AM
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My great grandfather wrote a memoir, mostly a paean to his late wife, but full of stories about his Army life during the Spanish American War, Boxer Rebellion, the Pancho Villa thing, etc. I had my daughter type it up in Word, and then posted it on Wordpress. I sent the link to various cousins, but never looked to see what the stats look like. Probably pretty similar.

That was maybe 8 years ago -- I should probably send around a reminder.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:04 AM
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God, our future generations are going to be so happy to have all of our collective blogs tracking our meals, exercise, and what we wore.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:05 AM
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10 and 12 are very cool. I'm jealous of your non-stuffy ancestors.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:06 AM
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2060 will be a golden age for biographers.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:07 AM
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My grandfather - the spouse of the memoir writer - did write a detective novel. The provenance is interesting - they were living in Mexico City during the WWII, possibly to avoid being drafted? I think that's what my dad said. But the actual novel looked kind of terrible. I figured once I got the rhythm down with the terribly charming travel memoir, I could do the hard-boiled detective novel next summer.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:08 AM
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We had a father's day thing and my aunt gave me a copy of a children's story my (amazing, much-missed) grandmother had written and illustrated at some point in the early '70s. Either I never knew it existed or I had totally forgotten about it; my aunt filled in some additional illustrations and got it beautifully bound. I'm super excited about it, but have not yet read it, so there you go.

I also have a memoir from my grandfather, which is interesting primarily in a Wapshot Chronicle-ish "wow he was born a hell of a long time ago" way (and also a "goddamn he was an athletic son of a bitch" way), which I have read but not in a long time.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:12 AM
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Cosign 14. I was really excited to read my grandpa's memoirs, and disappointed to learn they were almost all about what good grades he got throughout his many, many years of schooling. And it's not like he didn't have tons of interesting stories to tell - lived through Great Depression, served in WWII, started important physics foundation, etc. Just a little too private to write them down. I'm still holding out hope for Volume 2.


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:31 AM
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Mara's grandfather is probably the top local amateur historian covering black history and so I've read several things he's written once I started looking for him. However, both her parents are adamant that when he told their family to stop living with him before she went into foster care, he meant that he never wanted to see her again. Lee thinks we should defer to them and not contact him, but I can't imagine that someone who cares about all the black children in a school in 1906 wouldn't care to hear from his own granddaughter about her success in kindergarten. (Plus she remembers him, which makes me feel like she should get to control the relationship. Maybe I should bother Lee again about whether she's okay with my sending him a letter and some photos.)


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:31 AM
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I don't think it's wrong to get in touch with him. I think that you're right to consistently check with her biological parents and find out their wishes, but that doesn't mean their wishes are dictates that get followed 100% of the time. That's not how any relationship functions, let alone one where one party has ceded all decision-making power.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 9:34 AM
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20 is my take, but I wonder if Lee is afraid it will get in the way of her friendship with Mara's dad.

More to the point of the OP, my aunt got in touch this week to ask if I'd like a painting my great-grandmother did. It's actually got really great color and we're very excited about finding the right place for it in the house, but I'd never even known she painted. I don't know of any memoirs, either, but would absolutely read them if I could.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:03 AM
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We have three of my grandmother's paintings but I want more. My dad is supposedly going to give us another one. There's a fair bit of competition among the children and grandchildren for them, so it's a little sensitive maybe. So I guess in that sense paintings (at least if they're good paintings) are unlike memoirs.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:07 AM
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Would you all like some of my mom's paintings? There may be thousands. And unsurprisingly no one else in my family wants any.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:10 AM
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I'm the oldest grandchild on both sides and the only to have incorporated another generation. Probably because I was the oldest, I know more about family history than any other grandchildren. All of this (and being a homeowner) probably gives me unfair dibs.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:20 AM
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22: Yes, there is one of my wife's mother's (small) sculptures that everyone wants. There are several of them plus some paintings, but everyone wants the one. So far we're "winning" by dint of having been the ones who packed up all of my FIL's stuff in Florida and arranged the moving truck. We also have a lot of their crap in general including my FIL's extensive collection of airline minibars of soap ...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:26 AM
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I've read bios of my great grandfather who had a pretty remarkable life. Born into a poor Galician peasant family, he managed to snag a scholarship to go to high school where he became best friends with the future Karl Radek. He then went on to study history, became best friends with Sikorski, was very politically active during and right after WWI, becoming the head of public affairs for the government. He then left politics, pursued his academic career and became one of Poland's most prominent scholars. After Poland became a full fledged dictatorship in 1930 he returned to politics as one of the top figures in the now illegal Peasant Party, earned the deep hatred of both the government camp and the fascists, was an outspoken critic of antisemitism and protected commie students even though he had no use for Communism (My mom found leaflets in his library denouncing him as a servant of the anti-Christ and the Elders of Zion. When I was reading stuff by Polish fascists in exile I saw him described as an undying enemy of everything good and Polish) He was eventually fired from his chair. He then became a full time political activist, organizing strikes and demos, getting arrested and shot at while leading the Galician section of the Peasant Party. In 1939 he fled to France, became a minister in the government in exile with a special task of purging the exile bureaucracy and military of people too closely tied to the former government. He used the opportunity to also purge fascists. In 1941 he was named Ambassador to Moscow, even though unlike the majority of his generation of educated Poles he didn't speak Russian and wasn't particularly diplomatic, but he did have the confidence of Sikorski. Managed to get Stalin to hate his guts (like I said, not diplomatic.) Then a minister again in London after the Katyn affair. After the war he briefly returned to Poland but was warned that it wouldn't be healthy to stay and then lived out the rest of his life in exile in London.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 11:32 AM
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My mother recently mentioned to her children that she's kept a diary intermittently for over 60 years (she is 77), and we can't see it now and she's not sure if she wants us to see it after she dies, but she won't destroy it at least not yet. She strongly implied that there's some sexual content. Knowing my mother, it's extremely likely that she will not destroy it and some day I will have to decide whether I want to read about my mother's sex life.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 11:33 AM
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My mother recently mentioned to her children that she's kept a diary intermittently for over 60 years (she is 77), and we can't see it now and she's not sure if she wants us to see it after she dies, but she won't destroy it at least not yet. She strongly implied that there's some sexual content. Knowing my mother, it's extremely likely that she will not destroy it and some day I will have to decide whether I want to read about my mother's sex life.


Posted by: unimaginative | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 11:33 AM
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We also have a lot of their crap in general including my FIL's extensive collection of airline minibars of soap ...carved into the shapes of the entire 1972 Miiami Dolphins offensive line.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:09 PM
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My grandfather's page on my grandmother's "Girl Graduate's Journal," 1933. "If I ever become famous in the field of medical science it will be because of a promise to you." Promise not kept! He owned a kosher chicken store. It's still around in Chicago. It's halal now.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:26 PM
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27: Start thinking of your ever moment as a footnote from the diary of your mother's sex life. That way it will be less weird when you get around to reading it. Or more weird! Let us know.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:27 PM
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30: Wait, what did he become famous for in the field of medical science?


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:34 PM
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27: Don't read it, but do tell her other children that in it she says which of her children she likes the most. After they have all read it you can ask them how explicit the sex related stuff was, and whether it was uncomfortable to read.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:36 PM
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Most of the memoir is stories about Europeans surprised that Hoobie-Goobie is a common name in America.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 1:50 PM
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he was skilled in Chinese

At first I didn't see the second consecutive s, and wasn't sure what it would mean to be killed in Chinese.

BDL's WW2 liveblogging has exposed me to excerpts from tons of personal memoirs, which have a clear hook in a world-historical event, but what I love about them is hearing all the different voices. Whether they're relating a battle in some detail or describing the mostly dull life between them, their voices almost always come through clear (although there's natural selection going on there; BDL and his sources aren't digging through attics for boring memoirs that no one would care about).

I think I've mentioned that we've kept a daily diary for more or less our whole marriage. It started as just noting in a day planner things that we did during our courtship, then grew to more detail (meals, work events), and then Levenger produced these lovely, leather-bound 5 year journals (each page is a date, with 5 sets of lines, one set for each year). I'm not disciplined enough to record every single day, but it's really nice to be able to see what was going on a year or 3 ago on the same day - there's usually enough detail to capture a time period that's memorable, even if a given day was rather ordinary. It's also funny to see how inadvertently consistent I can be: there are meals that I've made during the first week of April (or whatever) 4 of the last 5 years, without any intention.

I can't imagine the kids will care much, but I like to think that flipping through will give them some feel for our lives at a time when they weren't much outside their own heads.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 2:01 PM
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Relevant to 27, there are implicit references to sex being had, but intended to be, if not easy to miss, easy to pretend to have been missed.

On a related note, AB was showering with Iris this pm, and Iris was asking all sorts of questions about puberty and such - "When will I get breasts, Why do girls grow first, Don't boys have to grow up before they give their sperm?" I'm glad that we successfully have raised her to be matter of fact about sex at this age (10), but it's still kind of hilarious to overhear.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 2:05 PM
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As I noted here a few months ago, I've got a diary my dad kept in his thirties I've been afraid to read.


Posted by: idp | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 2:24 PM
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I destroyed all of my personal files that were in my parents' house when they moved. It was all just a mixture of bad creative writing and angst.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 3:07 PM
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Re: 26

He sounds bad-ass, tbh.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 3:40 PM
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29 Dibs on Larry Csonka.


Posted by: Barry Freed | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 4:54 PM
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Oo, Minivet, that sounds neat.

I'd love a diary from my oil/ranching/expat grandparents, but neither left one -- well, my grandfather kept five-year journals, and they're logs of machine maintenance and pruning schedules. This from a man whose evening stories generally involved an unmapped river, comical bureaucratic errors, and the death of a large (sometimes human) mammal.

One of our ancestral diaries is a woman whose husband was off fighting the Civil War, and her father made her move back home to his farm and put her children out to insufficient care in town. The kids died the day before her husband got back. We cannot tell what the hell was up with her father -- national politics? money? hated her husband? wanted to control her? She hated him a lot, but wasn't specific.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 7:52 PM
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I just put down entry #3. It was actually 1852.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 8:29 PM
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Speaking of families... At what age/stage of life (if ever) does driving home for Sunday dinner with your parents and siblings become weird? That is, at what point is it weird to be committed doing that every week? Jack and I disagree on this. I enjoy my family's tradition. Jack thinks it's regressive and juvenile.


Posted by: Jackie O. | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:15 PM
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I feel like that's more a thing people either do or don't do than a stage of life thing.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 06-27-14 10:18 PM
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I've got my grandmother's diaries, but I've not read most of them. I have looked through the ones from WW2 when she ended up working at the first all-female fire station in London, but she didn't want to be indiscreet so there's lots of information about what shift she was on or what she had for dinner rather than exciting stories. I imagine the other years are similarly restrained.

Jackie, that's a lovely habit, but I guess if I were married to you and ever wanted/needed to do something else on a Sunday then it might become annoying. Could it be relaxed to "if we're not doing anything else on a Sunday"? Although being the first one to break the habit might piss off your family?


Posted by: asilon | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 12:41 AM
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God, our future generations are going to be so happy to have all of our collective blogs tracking our meals, exercise, and what we wore.

Don't worry, lots of that stuff isn't going to make it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 12:48 AM
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26. You probably have a moral duty to write a biography of this guy as your retirement project, if nobody has done it first.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 3:34 AM
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Jackie, the solution is to gaslight everyone into thinking it is not Sunday, thereby breaking the cycle.


Posted by: Turgid Jacobian | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 6:32 AM
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I enjoy my family's tradition. Jack thinks it's regressive and juvenile.

I'm with Asilon. I can see finding the commitment burdensome, but "regressive and juvenile" seems like an odd criticism.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 6:39 AM
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It's not really a burden on him as it is, as most of the time I go by myself. (Presidential responsibilities make it difficult for him to drive out and back Sunday nights, though it's clear he'd find it annoying to join us for every week even if it were logistically feasible. ) He thinks it is regressive in the sense that he thinks I am not "cutting the cord" and am more attached to my family than to him. I obviously don't think being married means I have to give up my family.


Posted by: Jackie O. | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 7:16 AM
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On its own, that seems like a great tradition and you're lucky to live close enough to your family to make it possible. Maybe the problem would go away if you and your husband were having sex more?


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 8:12 AM
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After seeing 50, my charity towards Jack has vanished. If you enjoy seeing your family weekly and it doesn't leave him with an unfair burden (like he's at home doing the week's laundry or cooking meals for the week), that's nice. Besides, I suspect it will be hard to keep up as you and your siblings have kids who play sports, move away for a better job, etc. I can't imagine why he thinks calling your family's tradition juvenile and regressive will make you want to spend more time with him.


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 8:27 AM
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(PS, my aunt has weekly Sunday dinner with my grandmother. She didn't for her entire adult life, but she started after my grandfather died in 2002. Juvenile? Or dutiful and loving daughter?)


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 8:32 AM
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I can't imagine why he thinks calling your family's tradition juvenile and regressive will make you want to spend more time with him.

Exactly. I honestly don't understand why he doesn't just enjoy the chance to have some time alone.

Besides, I suspect it will be hard to keep up as you and your siblings have kids who play sports, move away for a better job, etc.

Jack and I are childless and a little old to reconsider, as is my sister. So this isn't really an issue. (My brother and his girlfriend have a little boy, but they live a block from my parents, and it's never been a problem.) We actually just moved back to this area, about 30 minutes from my parents, a couple years ago for the better job. I imagine we'll be able to keep it going as long as my folks are around.


Posted by: Jackie O. | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 9:18 AM
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54.last is kind of cool. Most families I know couldn't keep up a tradition like that - eventually someone moved or ended up overscheduled. I was thinking of the most common reasons I've seen those arrangements change, sorry to assume. It seems like you've been more than reasonable. I wonder whether it would bug him if it were any other weekly activity. I know some of my solo plans tend to be less well-received than others, and it helps me to figure out why before I fall into resentful "why doesn't he want me to do stuff I enjoy?"


Posted by: ydnew | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 9:38 AM
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55.last is probably good advice. But I honestly just don't get it.


Posted by: Jackie O. | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 10:08 AM
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My sister-in-law just posted a thing on Facebook about a whore with no womb due to a series of abortions who had three children through the power of Christ -- all vocabulary in the original. I can't even.


Posted by: Dilma Rouseff | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 10:56 AM
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Wow.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 11:12 AM
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Jackie, that phrasing makes me wonder if he hears you saying 'I was right, see, my family agrees with me.' After Sunday dinner.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 12:27 PM
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I'VE BEEN THROUGH THE DESERT ON A WHORE WITH NO WOMB


Posted by: OPINIONATED AMERICA | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 12:47 PM
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As someone who has in-laws in town and sees quite a lot of them, I totally understand finding it a mixed blessing. (Not today--Grandma's treating for swimming lessons and we're hanging out poolside.) But calling it "regressive and juvenile" is, well, hey rubber, meet glue.

I probably sound like the advice columnist who just tells everyone to go to therapy, but this is worth having a conversation about. You guys just moved -- maybe he's unhappy with his social life in the new location, and he fears that your family is taking over that slot from something he could find if you guys were trying harder to build a new social life together. Maybe he got used to having you to himself and seeing how easily you sink into their embrace makes him a little jealous (as per 50), or envious compared to his own family relationships. Maybe he has a fantasy of what your life should look like, and he hasn't had the opportunity to think through what that is, but he just knows that weekly dinners with your family are not it.

In any case, it's worth putting your own reactions aside and just listening to how it makes him feel, without letting him define what it means for you ("juvenile and regressive" is out of bounds, but "I feel like you're more attached to your family than to me" is a totally valid feeling). And then it's his turn to listen to you say why you like it and how it makes you feel that he objects to it.

Sincerely, A Guy Who Endured Several Sessions of Couples Counseling


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 12:50 PM
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New policy: after every family dinner he doesn't bitch about, blowjob.


Posted by: A guy who went to several sessions of couples counseling without paying attention | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 1:13 PM
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61: The degree to which I want to respond defensively to that is probably a sign it's worth thinking about.


Posted by: Jackie O. | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 1:29 PM
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I would be thrilled if my family lived close enough to have a default weekly dinner.

Just in general, I find dinners tiring (especially on the evening of the transition to weekend or workweek) these days. But I loooooove brunches. Maybe he just wants Sunday evenings at home to prep for the week? But since he has that if he decide not to go, I don't see why objects to the notion of weekly family dinners.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 06-28-14 2:26 PM
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I like having our immediate families all in one quadrant of the state, but dinner every week would still feel like an imposition. At 30' drive each way, that's at least 3 hours, and one gets maybe 20 hours in a weekend of truly free time if lucky?

(The other problem with `Sunday dinner every week' is that both sets of parents secretly believe they're the every week (and big holidays) and the other parents are the odd ends. Deeply purblind rationalization: "They'd be welcome to come here!")


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 06-30-14 12:07 PM
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