What is it about selling my father’s house that prompted a full-scale emotional meltdown on my part?
It stuns me, it really does, to think that I have arrived in the third third of my life and I can still turn on a full-court press to “please Daddy.” And then (worse!) be distraught and disappointed when I don’t. Because I can’t. You’d think I would know that by now.
It’s not even as if the house is the family homestead; this is just the place Dad bought when he moved to Florida 8 years ago, after Mom died. It’s void of most sentiment (See [*The Things We Keep*]), but it served him well, and he says he was happy there. There’s really nothing special about it at all -- except that he was trying to sell it in the deeply depressed Florida real estate market after reluctantly moving to an apartment in an assisted living facility near his daughters in Texas. All he wanted was his money back -- never mind the appreciation he gained and lost in the boom and bust; he just wanted what he paid for it. And the realtor my brother chose actually thought he could get it.
A month ago, when we were negotiating with Dad to make the move, my sisters and I brought our adult selves and skill sets to the table and developed new appreciation for each other’s strengths and our interdependence. Getting Dad into assisted living was one of the hardest things we have ever done, any of us; but we managed it without getting disowned and congratulated ourselves. With the sale of the house, though, somewhere along the way we reverted to old, dysfunctional patterns of behavior and, with my brother thrown into the mix, I turned a relatively simple market transaction into some kind of a test of my self-worth, as measured by that powerful human scale that always leaves me feeling “less-than,” because I am never counted “good enough” by my dad. Not thin enough, or pretty enough, smart enough, or clever enough, or competent enough at bridge or golf, not conservative enough, not thrifty enough, not thoughtful enough, or sensitive enough, not knowledgeable enough, or diligent enough -- you get the picture -- never good enough, never, not ever.
The mistake is that I keep trying. I can say it doesn’t matter anymore; I am a very rational person and I know it makes no sense to even consider my father’s judgment of my grown-up self. But I can’t stop feeling it when he destroys me with his words. This time I opened myself up by contributing my husband’s considerable legal skills to the effort of securing the sale and protecting Dad from unforeseen liabilities. When the broker whined to my brother, and then to my father, that in Florida one simply cannot change a word of the boilerplate contract (especially not the part that provides for the broker to be paid his commission whether or not the sale ultimately goes through), my father growled at me. “Don’t let your husband screw up this deal with all his fancy-ass lawyering.” No thanks for spending 4 hours reviewing the contract while on vacation. No discussion of what protections might be relevant and, indeed, ordinary. No respect for a pretty damn successful legal career. Just a preview of how things might look if, somehow the counter-offer, which left the parties a mere $5000 apart, failed and, as the broker threatened, the buyers walked. It would be my fault. I wasn’t -- and my husband and his advice weren’t -- good enough. Again. And still. And yet. I felt like a 12 year old with an A- on a report card that he said should have been straight A’s. Simply not good enough.
I felt like shit, actually. For two whole days. The negotiations swirled around me and no one copied me anymore on the emails concerning them. My sisters schmoozed the broker ; my brother probably held his hand; and my sisters ran back and forth to Dad’s apartment with the papers to sign. Everyone had a different story about the status of things. No one asked for any further review. My brother-in-law even emailed to say I owed his wife big-time for smoothing everything over with Dad; otherwise, he suggested, we might have been thrown out of the family. Maybe that would have been a good thing, I replied. I was pissed at them all.
I was angry way out of proportion to the events unfolding. It was, after all, highly likely that the only relevant part of the brokerage contract was the bottom line selling price, and agreement was likely to be reached. If not, it was just the first offer and the house had been on the market less than two weeks. It would sell. It wasn’t that big of a deal; Dad wasn’t risking homelessness; there wasn’t that much at stake. Except, for some stupid reason, my self worth. I had to take it out of the equation. I had to let go of all that old “stuff.” I had to remember I had grown up -- and well beyond such childhood trauma, that I could take care of myself emotionally now. I needed to do that, to take care of myself emotionally. I didn’t need to be right. I didn’t need to win. I didn’t have to earn anybody’s love or affirmation. I just had to take care of myself emotionally. “Congratulations,” I wrote to all the parties -- my sisters, my brother, and the broker -- when a contract was ultimately agreed upon. Then I took a long, hard bike ride to sweat out the toxins and clear my head.
The next time, “we” have a project for Dad, I will help if I can. If there’s a job to do, I will do it. I just won’t get my self involved or let it be betrayed. I know I’m good enough -- at this age -- to have some peace of mind. And I hope I’ve finally learned -- through this house sale -- not to give it away.
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