I received quite a shock recently. My father died at the age of ninety-five. No, that wasn’t the shock. It can’t be a shock when a ninety-five-year-old man dies. He was a very fortunate man in general, and so it was at the end. Although he had had a lifelong, painful arthritic condition, he had never gotten sick at all, and his heart was fine. He simply dropped stone dead of a stroke one day, about a month ago.
The shock came with the reading of the will. I went to Arizona to be with my sister, and after a few days she broke out the will and we took a look. I was mentioned, as is proper in wills. “I have one daughter, (name), and one son, Frederick Ceely.” It went on to say, “I also have one daughter-in-law, (name).” That was my ex-wife. The bequest was, in equal parts, to “my daughter, (name), and my daughter-in-law, (name).” I was left out.
What’s the difference between unreal and surreal? I should look it up. My feeling at the time was one of those. I’m feeling that way yet.
The will was a new one, drawn up in December, 2013. I had filed for divorce in November, 2013. So you’d have to think that those were related events. Excluded from a will on account of getting divorced, you say? Surely there was more to it than that! Well yes, there probably was.
Let me say clearly at this point that it was his money, and that he could do anything that he wanted to do with it. I have always maintained that anyone who counts on money from the dead is a fool. Strange things happen. At least he didn’t leave it to a church. On the level of WHAT he did, I am at peace. All of my inner turmoil comes from wondering about the WHY.
It was not a total shock, actually. I had been expecting some shenanigans. Something like generation skipping, some kind of hair-splitting, maybe the employment of trusts. But the will was as simple as can be. Some introductions; a bequest to two people equally; a no contest clause (aimed at me); signatures, the end.
I’m afraid that my exclusion stemmed from the fact that my father had never really approved of me. The divorce was only the last straw. He had always thought that I was flighty and irresponsible; that I had generally bad judgment and bad habits; that I was lazy; and that on top of it all, I was probably a bit stupid. He had probably formed this opinion of me when I was in high school, the stupid part anyway. It was a fair assumption based upon my high school grades. I hated high school and was being generally uncooperative. Very late one evening I listened in on a conversation about me between my parents. “What’s wrong with him?” my mother said. “Maybe he’s just not that smart,” replied my father.
My father and I were of very different temperaments, which I will sum up by pointing out that he had only one job that lasted for his entire adult life, and he had been very successful at it, while I have had over fifty jobs in my life, largely without success. (That’s “50” plus jobs; it wasn’t a typo.) Also because of his temperament, once he had formed an opinion, nothing could shake him from his belief in his own judgment. He was supremely confident in all such matters.
He liked to let you know what he thought, too. He always got his little digs in. When I was in my fifties, I got him a subscription to the New York Review of Books one year for Christmas. I told him that I had had a subscription for years and that I enjoyed it very much. On a subsequent visit to my parents, he gave me a bundle of them. I had already read my own copies, of course. “You might want to try reading these,” he said. “It’s hard reading, but you might like some of it.”
Saying things like that hurt me as much as the will did, and there were many instances over the decades. How would you have felt if your father had told you when you were seventeen, “not everyone is cut out for college . . . maybe you should take the test for the Sanitation Department.”
I’m no Donald Trump character, always explaining how smart I am, so I will not make any such claims here. There’ll be no lists of my accomplishments. Let’s just say that the record shows that although I may not be a genius, I am also not exactly stupid.
He was also of the opinion that I was reckless with money, probably based on the feeling that I had neither made enough money, nor saved enough money in my life. None of that had been reckless, though. While it was true that I’d probably spent too much money over time on magazines, records and the like, it was also true that my habits included a jealous husbanding of “bulk money,” or “bank money.” I was always aware of which money was set aside for bills, and what money could be fooled around with. I was also more careful with credit cards than most people, including my ex-wife.
Well, based upon some or all of the above, my father zeroed me out at will time. Was he just trying to be practical? Was he trying to give the benefit to my children in some left-handed way? (Like before I could squander it.) Did he just love and trust my ex-wife more than me? Or was it, as I fear and suspect, a final act of disapproval and rejection? I should never know for sure, absent the discovery of new evidence. It would have been a great relief to have the extra financial cushion, but I’ll probably be okay without it. Baring, that is, some extravagant medical catastrophe.
It has been said that “no man is an island.” I think they mean that no man can exist all on his own, with no support system. If any man ever were an island, though, that would have been my father. He had the strong suspicion that everybody but himself was crazy, stupid, or both. He trusted only his own counsel, and he lived by his own rules. But he’s gone now, so it’s all water under the bridge. As usual, the living are left to wonder, and suffer.