I appreciate your wise
commentary and would be grateful for your thoughts. I apologize in advance
for the length.
I was married to a
woman from an observant conservative Jewish family. The father is a
physician, and what many people consider to be a “pillar of the
community”; he was a former president (he’s now ~86 years old, and still
working) of the shul, and has blown the shofar for many years. While
I believe that he has many fine qualities, there is one that is toxic.
This characteristic, which also describes my ex-wife, threatens my dear
The family I
married. The man is, at his core, very shy**. He covers it by
being haughty, priggish, and stiff-necked. During the marriage, he
would never have a friendly lunch. In the middle of a conversation that he
didn’t like or perceived as in some way competitive (“H___, I just had this idea
about xyz.”) you would suddenly see the back of his neck receding in the
distance. Typically, when I would ask him on the phone to speak with his
daughter, he would listen for a moment, make some pronouncement, and then hang
up. At the time of our divorce, when I was desperate for someone from the
family to help US---me, my then-wife, and my then 3-year old daughter---he said
candidly (a shocker) over the one lunch that we had together, “I am
constitutionally incapable of getting involved [in a heart-to-heart with
M___].” He officiates a terrific seder, but woe to the person who
interrupts or says something from the heart that he wouldn’t say; the
holier-than-thou, angry stare cuts it short. No one contradicts him.
Not incidentally, the mantra of my ex-wife’s siblings when asked to get involved
was “I can’t get involved. You’re not my family. I don’t care about
you.” The mother’s characteristic response was, “I don’t have
ex-wife shares the family’s deadly shyness characteristic. She is
extremely competent, but she lives the unexamined life, and bullies by not
communicating. One day, while washing the dishes, she said to me, “I want
a divorce; I went to a lawyer today; I closed our joint bank account.”)
She would not negotiate; she wouldn’t talk about it. Indeed, right
after the announcement, I was frantic, and she stared into the distance in a
near-catatonic state. Sure, we went to marriage counselors/therapists (of
her choice only) but she would never discuss the key issues: Why? Is there
a middle ground? What could we do to preserve an intact family for our
daughter, then three. Later when I asked why she even bothered to do the
therapy, she said “I did it for your mother.”
Immediately after the divorce, she enrolled my daughter in a Jewish day school
(without discussing it with me) where her mother had been librarian. It is
a perfectly fine school for religious education, but is nothing special on the
secular side. It is not my style. Coming from a Reform
background with keen interest (and a fair amount of reading) in Judaism (one of
my dearest friends is a rabbi), I would have chosen a more liberal, inclusive
school or public school, which was great for me. I don’t relate to many of
the kids’ parents. Suffice to say in a presidential election where
74% of the US Jewish population voted for Obama/Biden and 26% for McCain/Palin,
the parents at this school voted in the exact opposite direction.
My worry is that my
dear daughter, greatly influenced by her mother by proximity alone, will grow up
to deal with problems using the non-communicative haughty cover-up. I fear
that she will not abide by my late father’s oft repeated maxim, “Take care of
the small problems before they become big problems”. I believe that
it is inimical to a happy marriage. My ex-wife was 42 when she
married me (her first marriage; my second, after a 22-year marriage) and
desperate for a child (as was I).
Sometimes an impasse
calls for extreme measures. Unable to address the communication
issue, I picketed her family’s second seder. I wore a suit; walked
silently in front of the house for 15 minutes; carried a 10 in. x 10 in. sign
that read simply “3 y.o.”, my daughter’s age at the time of the
divorce. The ex-wife’s brother videotaped my silent walk as if to
use it as evidence of harassment. Her response request for a
reconciliation was “I don't have anything to say to you right now. I____
doesn't want to talk to you or see you, but she will communicate with you
through email.” See my response below.
That my daughter is
being drawn into the family’s bullying strategy is new and threatening to her
and to me.
question: How can I help my daughter aside from completely
capitulating to the demands of this very controlling mother. She has the
power. Her uncle (mother’s side) is sympathetic and would mediate, but he
can’t risk getting shut out of the family. I asked the current rabbi at
the shul. He was understanding but didn’t want to get
involved. I believe that any person who would get involved would be
an embarrassment and therefore vociferously rejected.
Do you have thoughts
on what I should do? I’m perfectly willing to re-examine any of my
assumptions expressed or implied. I understand that this is a tall order,
perhaps without a good compromise/solution.
Again, I apologize for
** Many people are shy (it has been shown
to be inherited), but they learn to compensate for it in constructive
My last email to my ex-wife:
M____, I know you feel that way. It
is nothing new. What is new is that I____ is now joining you.
When all is said and done, the current issue is:
A) You refused to
address an issue that is very important to me,
B) I, in
desperation, walked silently in front of your parents’ house for 15 minutes at
the time of the second seder.
On the face of it, it is:
· Do we communicate to
work out a problem or do we not communicate.
· Do we come to the table
or do we refuse to come to the table.
· Do we do as Barack
Obama does (ask for discussion without pre-conditions) or do we abide by the
behavior of Iran and North Korea (each with great power which we don’t want them
· Do we risk war (a law
suit) or do we act like mature adults with a very, very important outcome in the
balance: the welfare of a child that we both love?
I really think we are at a
crossroads. Most of the people we know would take the Obama