Monday, 11 August 2008

Do I blame the patriarchy?

A long time ago, well, not so very long ago in the grand scheme of life, I sent my eldest brother an email. It was around the time when we all knew the USA was about to start bombing the living daylights out of Iraq on the pretext of a hunt for weapons of mass destruction.

I am not going to start debating that here, but my view was, and always has been, that the job should have been finished the first time and that the second time, UN procedure should at least have been followed. Too late for that argument now, we and they are there and the most that anyone can do is attempt to hold them accountable for their actions.

Anyway, all that is beside the point, really. At the time, I was getting about a hundred emails a day with links to sites of pressure groups, e-petitions, templates of letters to send to MPs and the like. As a student, I was in front my PC writing a lot of the time anyway, and the best of those I received I, too forwarded. I sent them to my parents and to friends who weren’t involved with the same combination of groups as I was.

At one point, my Dad said something like:

“You’re sending me all this stuff. M’s sent me the same stuff. You should just send it to M.”

Here’s the background: M is my eldest brother from my dad’s first marriage, thus he’s a half brother, really. Since childhood there had been a bit of hero-worship on my part. No-one I knew was as cool or as worldly as my big brother who had spent years living in a bus, had two children with someone he lived with but wasn’t married to (at the time that was a bit of a statement, but I don’t find it such a statement now that I have two children without having been married to either of their fathers), and had travelled throughout Africa. I thought he was amazing.

M, though, had snubbed me when I was a confused pre-teenager. That didn’t stop me trying, though. Every so often I’d give him a call, just to say “hello” for no reason other than that he was my big brother and I wanted him to fit that role. Each time there would be silence on the end of the phone and eventually I’d say goodbye.

When my dad was coming up to his seventieth year, I organised a party for him. Not knowing where to start I replied to a group email Dad had sent announcing his new email address. M was in that group and where everyone else had responded kindly, offering apologies or help, M said:

“I was unaware that he was 69 and to be honest I knew his birthday was in July sometime as is my mothers and brothers.

As you say this is at very short notice. It is now three weeks till the 14/7 and I am sure that this date has been rushing up to suprise you for your entire life.

I (M only) will be in the New Forest for the stag party of an old friend with whom I spent a year in Africa. I have been committed to his stag weekend and wedding for many months and can't imagine for one minute that I will be that presentable.

You say "HE" wants a party. He was here for a huge barbecue all last Saturday and most of the night at which he had ample opportunity and yet failed to mention this desire to either J or myself.I don't want to be negative but your father has never been of a gregarious nature amiable though he is! I think it nieve to expect to raise a spontaneous party for him from his friends (very few, extemly well dispersed, hard to find) and family (several who have no apparent interest in him), at this time of year. It could result in a very very very depressing experience where almost none will turn up.

Remember if you're popular and have a reputation for throwing a good party only half of those who say they will actually turn up

Of course if you have a rush of replies from more than a handfull of people please correct me, one of the most depressing things has to be too few turning up and I couldn't stand talking to you for too long.

I suggest you rethink this idea and call it a suprise 70th birthday set the date anytime three months in advance (at least) maybe September after the summer holidays and make a plan or get someone else to and make it a suprise for him invite him somewhere or get someone else to for whatever reason and suprise him.

If for some reason i.e. iminent death the date can't be moved then I guess I'll come to what would naturally be a depressing party.


First I have to say, I copy/pasted this in. The spelling mistakes are all his own.

I saved the email he sent. I was surprised at how vicious it was. He made it clear he wasn’t interested in being involved with the party. It really hurt.

The party ended up being well attended, with many friends from teaching connections and Navy connections, my other brother and his wife dealt with the food, the venue was perfect for a mixed age group and there was a genuinely good feeling to it. M turned up, seeming to be drunk, or stoned, or something. I don’t know, but he didn’t behave badly and took one third of the credit for the party, which I let him.

I was hopeful that it meant that maybe we could be friends. When Dad recommended that I forwarded some of the peace stuff to M, I was doubly hopeful. I thought that maybe here there would be some common ground: a connection, perhaps.

In the event, now that I check, I see that the email I forwarded wasn’t even particularly political, but an Oxfam one, of the same ilk as many of the inserts in weekend papers. Having done joint collections with Oxfam when I was chairing an Amnesty student group, I was not ill informed about Oxfam’s work and knew several people who had held voluntary and paid positions within its network who all spoke passionately about Oxfam’s development work. But that is beside the point.

Mike said:

“I have taken the time.
While you may not be entirely stupid, you are very nieve.
I have ears and eyes and despite what you may have been told or assumed, I have an IQ that is way way beyond that which is considered adequate or even healthy.
I can assure you that NGO's without exception are run as businesses, I have drunk and been drunk with them all.
If they had used the money they had been given as the donors had intended, instead of in expensive restraunts or lost it all on the stock market they would be prepared for whatever disasters may occur.
Now all they want to do is raise there TV profile to raise more money to secure there cushy chauffeur driven lives.I had a girlfriend who's mother was the head of a very big British NGO and I can assure you they are having a laugh on everyone.
The people who run these organisations exist on another level, way beyond anything most people, even you, could even begin to comprehend.
Call me cynical but there are almost no areas where you could have any influence whatsoever, even Tony the day after that massive world wide march turned around and snubbed every single person who got of their arses to demonstrate by pointing at a group of Iraqi refugees and saying that their voices really counted. I suggest that perhaps the terrorists may well be doing the only thing left that can work and now I'm talking about a method of releasing their frustration.
Suicide bombers are not making a sacrifice the are purely releasing their frustrations, curing their pain, they have no other means of expression.
Until the main powers can take on a true proportional democracy bombing them is all you can do as they will always manage to manipulate themselves into power.

All emails from this address have now been blocked.”

Again, I have to stress that the spelling and grammatical errors are his own.

Nice. And that was it.

Even revisiting that folder in my email account stings.

Fast forward a few years, six years, in fact and my niece, his eldest daughter, is trying hard to get to know her father. She is a lovely young woman, with insight and integrity. She’s creative and intelligent as well as beautiful and stylish and I am very proud that she’s a member of my family. For that she has my absolute support and I have no intention of letting her down.

Spending a day with her, one of the subjects that came up was M’s total and utter dismissal of me as ‘crazy’. Now, this doesn’t really come as any surprise and I would like to be able to say that I don’t care at all. I do care, though: certainly less than I used to, but I care. It also troubles me that this means I know nothing of his youngest daughter, my niece, and she’s unlikely to ever attempt to get to know me, because after all, I’m ‘crazy’.

My lovely niece said that M had mentioned to her that it was because I bombarded him with political emails. I had to think about this and check it back through the folder I have saved of his electronic communications with me, because it was long ago and really, a very small interaction.

I sometimes wonder whether, by saving the emails in a separate folder I bearing a grudge. Possibly yes, but I never look at them. They are there to remind me, should I be tempted to call or write (as my emails are all blocked), of my likely reception.

This is all neither here nor there, but for Dad recently talking about his will. Obviously, I love my dad very much. In many ways I’m like him, according to Mr ONIS. I can see it, easily, we both have idiosyncratic ways and are equally exasperating correcting others’ mistakes. As a child I found it embarrassing but I have grown into someone similarly pedantic. All that, though, is by the by, I put in time and effort with him, even though he can be a miserable sod at times, he’s also kind, in deed if not word. I love my father for all that he is and all he has bestowed upon me.

Recently, though, since he stated that his will says that M and I have to be on good terms in order for either of us to inherit anything when he dies. Dad is fond of talking about how well M has done with his various businesses. He often tells me about M’s lovely house and car and garden.

I, on the other hand, am broke. I have always been broke. It’s like an old friend. I have very little and can do very little of practical use. I’m over it: I know I’m no cash cow.

But there is an imbalance there, between who needs an inheritance more and who has tried harder to make friends, to be a brother and sister. Also between who makes the effort to speak to Dad, on the telephone or in person, daily, which I do for two reasons: one is so that he’s not too lonely, the other is to make sure he hasn’t had a stroke, a fall, a heart attack or dropped down dead for any other reason.

So recently, it came to light that the reason M cites for my ‘craziness’ is the fact that I sent him an email link. The email was recommended by Dad. Despite the fact that I am the only one who has ever made any effort, ever, somehow the animosity has come from one person – me. Now, it seems that Dad engineered the situation and is overlooking his own role in M’s irrational hatred of me (I have barely spoken more than two sentences to him in nearly twenty years, since I was twelve). And I’m the one that is going to be punished for it.

I’m not the type – I gain nothing from nastiness and grudges. I don’t know what sort of type I am – in a lot of ways I’m useless, I forget birthdays and often I’m running late, but I’m not the type to not look after and love my dad.

But in purely cost benefit terms, I might as well have been a bitch.

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