After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

Super Contributor

After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

I've basically made some choices about how I live that I'm uncertain about, and I wanted to see what opinions might be out there in the community about the moral correctness of it all.


I'll preface with a warning that some of this stuff is adult and potentially wildly inappropriate, so if you're under 18 or that stuff freaks you out READ NO FURTHER PLEASE.


It means telling a bit of a story, so if you're not a reader - quit now.  If you are, at the end I'd ask a few simple questions and invite your commentary.  They relate to key family relationships in my life, and even though I'll give the abridged version of the story, it's necessary for context, so bear with me.


OK so first up, a generation back.  My maternal grandfather was a french survivor of WW2, a collaborator with the germans, and quite a broken person.  He used abused alcohol and used my grandmother as a punching bag.  If I, as a grandchild, saw some of that, my mother most certainly did.  I also suspect that he may have made lewd remarks about his daughters, if not actually interfered with them.


My mother has been a lifelong heroin addict.  She got caught in the 70s counter-culture, thinking she is a free-spirited hippie, but personally I just think the simplest way to characterise her is weakness.  She's been in prison when I was very young, and I lived with my grandparents for that time.  My early and teen life can be characterised by (in my opinion) emotional neglect.. as a junkie really thinks in very transaction terms, and that is not the language of love.  It gives a developing child severely mixed messages.  Plus of course there's the exposure to other junkies, violence, and when she turned 30 or so a total life lesbian conversion which she thought was cool to hedonistically rub in everybody's faces.


At it's peak, I was about 14 or 15, and she asked me if I was masturbating yet, and then further asked me to make my .. well, my "stuff" into a cup so she could impregnate her girlfriend.  I see this as awful child abuse, really - she's mortgaging the future of a disturbed teenage child, looking to make him the father of his half brother, with no care or concern for his welfare.  (I declined.  Vocally.  With swear words).  Later that evening, her girlfriend came and tried to ply me with alcohol for more of a direct consummation, which I see as even worse.  (And would not have happened without my mother's consent/collusion).


I left home not long after, after first finding alternative homes for my two younger brothers.  I slung a backpack over my shoulder and spent 30 days walking from Brisbane to Sydney, where I lived for a time with my grandparents, kind of mediating them into a latter-life peace.  (Although I lost my grandmother to bladder cancer not long after).


So basically, I've never trusted my mother.  I don't like her.  I don't respect her.  I feel pity for her.


I have three children of my own, and I give her some exposure to them (I actually make more of an effort than she does), but it will always be under my terms and direct supervision.  She will always be "on notice" with me, any continuing relationship will always be conditional.


She resents this, and often asks to have my kids overnight, or suggests activities where she could take them, wanting to be grandmother.  From time to time she would remark how well her sons have turned out, in a "ha, I didnt do that bad a job", and she makes unwelcome remarks about how my children will one day abandon me.


After the cancer, she asked again for overnight caring of the children, and rather than avoid the topic, dance around it, or find a path-of-least-resistance gentlest possible reply, I just told her the above, straight up. 


So my question is this:  is that level of honesty OK?   Having survived cancer so far, I'm still aware that my time may be short, and I really don't want to waste emotional energy on an unhealthy relationship.  I don't want to waste my time and resources playing "politics" in relationships any more.  I've always been a peace-maker and consensus builder, but I feel strongly now a preference toward blunt honesty.  But I don't want to be cruel.  So is blunt honesty OK even if it's hurtful to the recipient ?  Am I in some kind of passive-aggressive-enable-quasi-psychological-jedi-mind-trick-personal-game by dealing with her at all ?  My personal preference is to sever the relationship completely, but I keep it passively open for her, the kids, and my wife's approval.



My secondary story & question relates to my brothers.


A year before my cancer, I took my youngest brother (30) to the snow with my family (me, wife, 3 young kids ages 4-8).  We were there with accomodation and a massive rental car, and had room for +1 so took him along for some cheap skiing.


One evening, my wife had an escalation with my eldest son, and it reached an impasse.  Wife was furious at him, he was distressed and upset.  I nodded at her, and pulled him aside, taking the baton.  I explained to my son that you don't solve problems by getting upset or crying or yelling, but by respectful mediation.  I didn't submit to his tantrum, but rather with a kind of neutral authority gave him a new tool to tackle the problem with.


My brother suddenly outburst about this "you CAN'T give in to him, if you give him what he wants, he'll walk all over you"  (loudly and in front of the family).  


I asked him to stop, but he further berated me.  Unfortunately my dynamic with the brother has always been more parent/child, given our mother's situation, and I've always been the one sort-of trying to guide him to the light, so he's used to gentleness and non-critical remarks from me.


Anyway the guy is a massive fan of "the dog whisperer" and self help manuals that teach him to manipulate women with a kind of "warm authority" and how to establish "power relationships" and all that bull**bleep**.  After a gentle, then less than gentle rebuke, I told him to stop as we are "on the knife's edge".


He insisted that his comic-book view on parenting (he has no kids) and conflict resolution was correct and I was a high-functioning moron (in front of my family).  Angered, I shut him up by saying "mate, you cant even train your dog"  (he has an aggressive dog and he's proud of his control over it, but he's not a good trainer, so it stung him).


From then, we haven't spoken.


His dad got cancer and I reached out a few times, offering an ear, offering to put any conflict aside.


Then I got cancer, and I never heard from him at all.  No phone call, nothing.


I'm less than impressed with him, and I forgive myself, I don't feel bad about my conduct at any stage in this long relationship.


My question:  post-cancer, my position on this is also "forget it".  I don't want to make effort to repair a one-sided relationship.  I feel that him not in any way reaching out when I had a (potentially 6 months to live) cancer diagnosis, he didnt even reach out to my wife and ask her if she's OK.  Nothing.  Not impressed with any of that, his little pique over a dog comment and the associated hurt pride is too much to put aside.  I made efforts, he didn't respond.  So I'm fine writing off the relationship.  I just sometimes feel as though I should be the bigger person, should use the wider and bigger toolkit that I have to fix things up, even if it's one-sided.  But then the cancer speaks to me and it says "nope, forget it.  I don't WANT to be the bigger man.  I'd rather use this to rebalance who are the important people in my life, strike him from the list and focus on the names still there"


Basically, I'm already pretty firm in my mind about both choices.  I think they're OK.


But I'm not particularly prideful.  I don't think I'm close minded.  Before boxing them up and putting them on a shelf as "policy is set", I thought I'd ask the community for their remarks, in case it gives me pause (or extra validation).


Thank you for your time.





Super Contributor

Re: After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

Hi CaptainAustrali,


I think you have made a good effort in trying to patch things with your brother.  Relationships aren't just one sided.

You've done what you can, and if he doesn't want to meet you halfway, there's really not much else you can do.  Be comfortable in the knowledge that you have tried.


Re your mother; well, if she hasn't changed in her ways from when you were young, do you really want her looking after your children?  I'm with you 100% in your decisions.



Super Contributor

Re: After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

Hey Budgie


Thank you mate - I appreciate you taking the time.


I guess what I've been grappling with is a pretty straight-forward question:  has cancer hardened me beyond caring, or has it just made me a bit wiser and more protective of my time and emotional resources ..?


I think I fall firmly into the latter box, but in the absence of parental guidance growing up, I very much developed on a "fork in the road" basis, building my ethics and insights layer upon layer as I found and muddled through new situations.


My natural outlook is to try and solve problems, not create them, and not cement existing problems beyond any kind of positive repair .. so it's because it's out of character for me .. that I ask kind folks like yourself for their opinions.


You are very kind to have taken the time, I thank you very much (and wish you a happy Christmas-time too)



Super Contributor

Re: After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

I understand.
I hope you & your family have a very good Christmas.
Valued Contributor

Re: After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

Incredibly brave of you! Heart


Wishing you both a very happy festive season!

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New Contributor

Re: After cancer : recalibrating my personal compass. Be my sounding board ?

Hi Captain Australia

Thanks for sharing

You sound like you have a great wife and kids. Start with that and end with that as needs be

I don't think it has hardened you as such. NB: discuss with wife lol
I think that any cancer diagnosis allows you to see clearer, live clearer and certainly love clearer as you really focus on what is important and throw away the petty and draining

You do what is needed and right for you to do so

As always tell those around you you love them and invite them in they are stronger than you think
donna x
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