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Honor the dead, or placate the living?
January 25, 2011 9:43 AM   Subscribe

They divorced. She purposefully took a coveted object with her. Decades later, she has died and my husband and I have inherited the object. He wants it back. What should we do?

Anonymously submitted because family members occasionally read AskMeFi.

When my in-laws divorced decades ago, my MIL took with her an object from the marriage. She knew he wanted it, and took it anyway, intending that he should never have it.

I found it while cleaning out her house. It's in my house now. I told my husband, who is the executor of the estate, that I had set it aside and we agreed not to mention it to his father. (The object in question has no financial value, per the professional that evaluated the estate's contents.)

Well, OOPS. My husband accidentally mentioned to his father that we have the object.

Now my FIL is pressuring my husband to send him the object, saying how nice it would be to have it again.

(Possibly relevant information: He lived close to his ex for years and never tried to retrieve it. Now he's across the country, in a small space, with definite hoarding tendencies. This object is worth far less than shipping and is quite bulky.)

I am not inclined to send it, and, frankly, would resist giving it up even if my FIL came here to get it. I do not know the circumstances of the object's original purchase; it has evolved into the worthless-but-contested-thing that each didn't want the other to have, and, as the executor and inheritor of his mother's estate, my husband now has ownership. Additionally, this is a trip that FIL would take to get the object back...but would not take for the sake of his son or grandchildren. Finally, I feel like keeping it (or donating it) is true to the spirit of my MIL's lifelong intentions.

My husband is on the fence about what to do, and we will certainly keep talking about it; communication between us is not an issue. He will continue to get pleading/guilt-inducing/angry emails from his father about this--which he would rather not get, as he wants to preserve at least a shred of their tenuous (crappy, historically tumultuous) relationship and avoid as much conflict as possible.

Husband wants peace and misses his mother a great deal. FIL wants object. I am usually "pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living," but feel strongly about honoring the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL.

Should we give FIL this object or not? Why or why not? If you have been in this situation, what did you do, and what were the repercussions or results? Please give me your best advice on how to weigh the factors outlined above and how to give a reasoned decision about them to myself, my husband and my FIL.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (87 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a worthless but contested thing and you want to keep the argument going through the generations? Why would you do that? Give it back and be done with it. Jeez.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:45 AM on January 25, 2011 [156 favorites]


Finally, I feel like keeping it (or donating it) is true to the spirit of my MIL's lifelong intentions.

The keyword in that sentence is "lifelong". She is no longer alive. Grudges really should die when the grudgeholder does. Give him the thing.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:46 AM on January 25, 2011 [42 favorites]


Is there any indication of what MIL did want done with the object? The situation could be presented more as we are honoring MIL's wishes to do X with it, rather than, 'we are honoring MIL's wishes that you not have it, buddy'.

I think, particularly as he is the executor of the estate, he's there to carry out her wishes as her last representative and should probably do his best to do that.

Generally I'm all about expediency but this seems a matter of loyalty to a dead person and it seems to me that her wishes should be honored.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2011


First, your husband should consult his attorney to make sure that whatever options he considers are consistent with his legal duties as executor of the estate. What I'm about to tell you should not be construed as legal advice, and you and your husband should heed the advice of competent legal counsel.

That said, just give him the damned worthless widget already. It's bad enough that people hold grudges while they're alive without the living having to keep it going for them after they die. Spite is nothing but destructive. Don't make spite become your mother-in-law's legacy.
posted by The World Famous at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2011 [16 favorites]


You sound kinda bitter towards your Father-In-Law.

I say you give the object to him. Really, is there some reason not to? I think "because my mother-in-law didn't want to have it" is a weak argument. It sounds like you liked your mother-in-law more and want to punish the father-in-law for not visiting/being a part of the family.

If your husband doesn't want it, and wants to give it to his father, pass it off to the man that does.
posted by royalsong at 9:49 AM on January 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


I think it's perfectly acceptable to require that your FIL to arrange and pay for transportation of the item from your house to his... but beyond that why would you want to continue this conflict over an object that you admit is entirely symbolic?
posted by muddgirl at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Give it back. Why prolong the drama?
posted by MsKim at 9:51 AM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Wait, what? You want to honor dead mother in law by being as spiteful as she was? Is there more backstory here? I don't get it.

Absent extenuating circumstances that you have omitted, of course give this worthless thing back.

There is no prize for being petty.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2011 [37 favorites]


You should give your FIL the object. First, your husband made a big error mentioning it to him in the first place. Second, your FIL seems to be the only person who wants it. Third, MIL obviously meant to hurt FIL by taking the object with her. Fourth, your FIL has asked for it, and by refusing his request you look mean, petty, manipulative and controlling. Fifth, this is a great way to re-establish or maintain at least some sort of relationship with your FIL. Sixth, if MIL took the object originally out of spite, it would have made it very difficult for FIL to ask for it back, even when he lived near. Seventh, you want to avoid conflict; there seems to be less conflict as a result of giving the object to FIL. Eighth, just donating the object instead of giving it to your FIL would be hurtful. Ninth, this is not the time to address your FIL's hoarding tendencies.

The a tenth reason: it's just the right thing to do.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2011 [23 favorites]


I meant to say symbolic in a negative way.
posted by muddgirl at 9:52 AM on January 25, 2011


Sounds like MIL took it out of spite to just make the FIL mad. If it was his object to begin with then return it and be civil about it, keeping it just fuels the fire and you'll be angry about it yourself for years to come.

Unless you actually have a real reason you want to keep it then return it and be done with the situation.
posted by zombieApoc at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


As an in-law, you really have no claim to the object either way. This object seems to have attracted a great deal of negativity...I personally would give it back to your father-in-law as it was at the very least half his to begin with.
posted by noxetlux at 9:53 AM on January 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I'm not sure why you would want to continue someone else's feud. Let the bad blood die and cultivate good feelings with your in-law. You can't have a good relationship with someone that's already dead, have a good one with the man who is still alive.
posted by stoneweaver at 9:55 AM on January 25, 2011


Additionally, this is a trip that FIL would take to get the object back...but would not take for the sake of his son or grandchildren.

That your FIL is a selfish jerk doesn't mean you should be petty, and keeping this object just so that your FIL doesn't have it is very petty (even if his reasons for wanting it are equally so). If he's willing to schlep out to retrieve this item, let him. You don't actually want it. It's worthless. Your MIL is dead and, further, only seems to have kept the object out of spite, not because she valued it.

This may actually be an opportunity for your husband to talk to his dad about the fact that he is willing to make an effort to get this worthless object out of spite but doesn't make an effort to see his grandkids.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:57 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


He didn't try to get it back because he was taking the high road. If she wants to have it so badly just to hurt him, he figured, let her have it, and never let on that it bothers him.

Smart man.

Unless it is specifically mentioned in the will, give it to him.
posted by kindall at 9:58 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


If the object has no value to you, and your FIL wants it, I think you may as well hand it over. You inherited a thing, but you didn't necessarily inherit the responsibility of sticking it to your FIL in your MIL's place, decades after their marriage ended. The angry emails and stress are probably not the legacy your MIL intended to leave when she willed this object to you.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:59 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hang onto the good parts of your MIL's legacy. This hunk of spiteful junk is not one of the good parts. Let it go.
posted by jon1270 at 10:00 AM on January 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


By the way, when I advise against being petty, I mean for your own sake, because long-term it feels better to let go of this sort of thing rather than indulge in petty actions (even if right now you think that petty actions would feel very satisfying)--not because you owe your FIL anything.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:01 AM on January 25, 2011


The "the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL" were to hurt your FIL out of spite. You don't say or imply that she even really wanted it, all she wanted was to cause your FIL pain. These are not wishes that should be honored, these are wishes that should be immediately discarded, even if in many other respects your MIL was an amazing person.
posted by brainmouse at 10:01 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't think outsiders can ever really truly understand the dynamics, reasonings, intentions, and chronologies of other relationships. Your MIL took a valued object that she maybe had the right to take, maybe didn't. However, you're the one keeping this object from your FIL. This puts you squarely in their business, and that's a place you have no right to be.

If you can bring peace to someone, for even something you consider worthless and mundane, you should take advantage of that opportunity. Even if it feels annoying or stupid to you.

(PS - I find it hard to reconcile intentionally taking/keeping something to hurt someone with the good intentions of donating to people in need.)
posted by Kronur at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


It feels like the real reason you and your husband don't want FIL to have the object is because you two have a complicated relationship with him, not because your MIL didn't want him to have it. Grudges don't really matter after one party has died, unless you're using it as a cover for your own troubles.

The question isn't "what would MIL want in this situation?", it's "where do we want our relationship with FIL to go from here?" If your husband wants to try to repair (or at least preserve) the relationship with FIL, then give the object to him. If it's time to cut ties, keep the object.
posted by lilac girl at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why would you insist that your husband have an antagonistic relationship with his only remaining parent? It sounds very much like you dislike/resent your FIL, and it that it's coloring your reactions.

Honoring your MIL laws wishes is not a bad thing, but you have to remember that was their feud, not yours. It's the people left behind who have to cope. So, what would be the best solution for the people left alive after the death of a family member?

If your FIL is a hoarder, that's an indication of mental illness. Try to be compassionate, even if he drives you nuts.
posted by annsunny at 10:02 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think this is your husband's call. They are his parents, right? Let him decide, and support that, because your job here is to support him. Not his dead mother, or the father you seem to be otherwise upset with.
posted by dpx.mfx at 10:04 AM on January 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I see two options here depending on the father since you seem bitter about him. Let's take it as read that he's an asshole, but there are assholes and there are assholes.

First, let's take the case where the father is a worthless, life-ruining horror of a fuckface about whom all memories will be nightmares, and who will not be mourned. WILL NOT BE MOURNED. In this case, I can see thinking that proper karma demands that he not get the thing back. But more practically, in that case I'd suggest sending him the damn widget, getting the drama out of y'all's lives, and help keep his fuckfacery from harshing your calm.

Or, let's take the case where he's kind of an unpleasant old coot but not an active horror; that having him for a father was not worse than having been an orphan, that he wasn't a wife-beater or molester, etc. In that case, taking the object away in the first place for no reason other than to deny it to him was itself bad dharma, and you'll just start earning the bad karma yourself if you keep denying it to him for no other reason than to deny it to him. So in that case, send him the damn widget already.

So either way, unless the thing is so awesome and beautiful that you'd really like to keep it for yourselves, send him the damn widget already. And no, don't charge him for shipping unless it's like $200 to ship. Just get it, and the drama, out of your lives.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:06 AM on January 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


It wasn't your marriage, or divorce. They're not even your parents. Relent already.
posted by hermitosis at 10:07 AM on January 25, 2011 [16 favorites]


Oh and this: What decision will make you feel good about yourself?
posted by annsunny at 10:09 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


So you could send him the item and be done with it, or hold on to it and continue to keep up this fight for the rest of his life, and then...profit? win? What?

Get it out of your house. I think it's contagious.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:11 AM on January 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


If your husband wants to keep the peace with his father, then that's what he should do. The last thing your husband needs during this hard time is to worry about this sort of drama. You need to support him - your life partner in the land of the living - not the grudges of his deceased mother. Turn the other cheek and let it go.
posted by ashirys at 10:13 AM on January 25, 2011


Please give your father-in-law the object. You will be surprised at the weight that is lifted from your heart when you do.
posted by Dolley at 10:14 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


He will continue to get pleading/guilt-inducing/angry emails from his father about this--which he would rather not get, as he wants to preserve at least a shred of their tenuous (crappy, historically tumultuous) relationship and avoid as much conflict as possible.

Help him solve his problems and be gracious and return the item and be done with it. It's a mitzvah for your husband, you don't have to feel like you're doing the father-in-law any favors. Have FiL pay to have the thing shipped. Make your peace with the fact that he's not the father-in-law you wanted.
posted by jessamyn at 10:14 AM on January 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


If you kept it, would you treasure it? display it? have happy memories every time you see it? talk about it and your mother-in-law with great love? Or talk about pettiness, feel guilty, roll your eyes at somebody every time it's brought up, keep it in the back of the closet, etc?
There are so many negative things that this object could be reminding you of on a daily basis, I might be in support of getting rid of it even if your father in law weren't volunteering to fetch it himself.

Of course it's hurtful that your children's grandfather can't be bothered to come visit them just for the sake of their chubby cheeks and winning personalities, but he will hop on a plane for an object. As someone with that situation in-family (grampa didn't bother himself to go meet his grandson who lived approx 8 hour drive away, and it caused the mother huge stress and bitterness even after she took him to visit grampa at 22 months) I say, it doesn't matter what excuse it is that brings him to come visit you. Unless of course he schedules it for an overnight and gone again. 5 days with the family, and he can take the object away with him when he goes.
posted by aimedwander at 10:17 AM on January 25, 2011


Your mother in law left your husband the object to do with as he wished, not as she wished. (And not as you wished, as you are not the executor of the estate.)

Spite is not an inheritance. If you want to keep it to spite your father in law, let that go. If you genuinely want to keep it safe for your children or your nieces or nephews, then that's a different matter.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:19 AM on January 25, 2011


The argument was between your FIL and your MIL, not you or your husband and FIL. It was presumably at least part his object in the first place, so if he wants it, send it back. Your MIL is no longer around, the argument is ended. I can't see how it would benefit you to hold on to it, other than the extend what sounds like a petty argument in the first place. Do not involve yourself in decades-old drama. Its just an object now. Send it and be done with it, time to lay the fight to rest.
posted by Joh at 10:23 AM on January 25, 2011


Wow, I could feel the karma accumulating as I read that post. Let it go, to someone who wants it. And you know who that is.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 10:25 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


What lesson are you modeling for your children by keeping the object and retelling the drama associated with it?
posted by catlet at 10:26 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


Honestly, I can think of no reason, none, as why ya'll should or even want to keep. He wants it. The only other person who wanted it is dead and wanted it solely out of spite.

Give it to him and quit feeding a petty action.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:28 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"You want it? Sure! No problem. Come and get it!" "You want us to pay for shipping it? Err, no. You want it, come and get it, or send a UPS/FEDEX/WHATEVER pickup". Done.
posted by VikingSword at 10:34 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Rise above it all and send it to him. Do this for yourself, not for him.
posted by idest at 10:34 AM on January 25, 2011


It sounds like there might be a great opportunity here to mend some bridges and reestablish a stable relationship with the father-in-law... I'd give it back to him, but don't ship it. If he's willing to come all that way for it then it could be a good time to get some face time in with him...
posted by Glendale at 10:38 AM on January 25, 2011


Me me me my my my... they may be and have been your "FIL" and "MIL", but they were and are his parents. And one of them has died, it seems quite recently.

Like it or not, you're a distant 4th party in this saga; wife you may be, but the right to make this decision is not yours.
posted by protorp at 10:38 AM on January 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


While you probably can't legally toss your MIL's One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom, you can and must get rid of it before her blood-feud goes multi-generational.

Take no risks if your husband is the executor of her estate. First, determine whether the item is a gift disposed of in the will. (If there was a will, it probably is, if only in a catch-all residue provision.) If the gift is to your husband and/or you, or if it has otherwise passed to you, give it to FIL and have him pay the shipping cost.

If it is given to someone else in the will, tell them what it is, give them the appraised value, and ask if they will let you give it, or sell it, to FIL. Then give them the money, if any.
posted by Hylas at 10:44 AM on January 25, 2011


Also, is the best way to honor your mother-in-law really to continue a spiteful gesture she made out of anger? Your father-in-law sounds like a very troubled person, and I can certainly understand her impulse at the time, but keeping up the spite after her death seems like a terrible memorial. Surely you can honor your mother-in-law's larger and more generous gestures, not her angry reactions, no matter how warranted they were.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:45 AM on January 25, 2011


Sorry to be blunt but she's dead. If your FIL wants the object and you don't, just give it to him. It's the easiest way to not cause a rift between your husband and his father, and it harms nobody, because the dead cannot be harmed. Do you really want to keep up an old grudge from beyond the grave? That's morbid and kind of icky, imo.
posted by katyggls at 10:46 AM on January 25, 2011


He will continue to get pleading/guilt-inducing/angry emails from his father about this--which he would rather not get, as he wants to preserve at least a shred of their tenuous (crappy, historically tumultuous) relationship and avoid as much conflict as possible.

So why not do the right deed for the wrong reason?

I have a lot of time for people who are at least honest about their occasionally petty, ungenerous impulses:)
Your FIL has never remotely impressed you with his behavior towards his own son, or grandchildren - I understand very well where you're coming from.

Give him the object but comfort yourself that it will soon prove a totally Pyrrhic victory for your FIL!

No one else wants the stupid thing, your late MIL never relinquished it during her lifetime, and it's really very hard to get any emotional satisfaction from winning a dispute when your opponent has died (when people say "you'll do X over my dead body!" that's exactly what they mean!).

Let your FIL find out how little his triumph is really worth.

And your husband won't have to keep dealing with the unwanted emails.
posted by Jody Tresidder at 10:47 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If any of my family dramas could be solved by sending someone something that I didn't even want, I'd be so lucky!

There's obviously more backstory here, but why dredge that into this discussion? This is a MINOR VICTORY that you can solve with one annoying trip to the UPS Store! Have them wrap and deliver it, and tell him Merry Christmas!
posted by barnone at 10:51 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


If your MIL thought that keeping this object out of the hands of her ex was a priority post-death, she could have specifically stated that in the will. She had a will, right? This isn't intestate land, where you are guessing about the wishes of the MIL, right? If she didn't place the kind of priority on this keep away game that you are, then I think you can agree to let FIL have it back, without feeling like you are betraying her wishes.
posted by girlpublisher at 10:52 AM on January 25, 2011


Keeping an object that you don't like, want or need just for the sake of keeping it? Now *that* sounds like hoarding.

I think the folks in this thread have a kind of consensus, and from my POV as long as you have no legal obligation to hold on to it (and wills do sometimes contain crazy stipulations like that, so it is worth triple-checking) you'll increase everyone's overall happiness. Like folks said: use it as an excuse to maybe reconnect. Or if you don't want to, he'll have no reason to bother you guys any more. Besides, the air really does smell sweet on the high road.
posted by indiebass at 10:53 AM on January 25, 2011


I am not inclined to send it, and, frankly, would resist giving it up even if my FIL came here to get it

Why?

feel strongly about honoring the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL.

Why?

Seriously. You've given absolutely no reason why you would want to keep this object for yourself, and no reason why you would want to "honor the spirit of [your] MIL's lifelong intentions" by prolonging this spiteful nonsense.

this is a trip that FIL would take to get the object back...but would not take for the sake of his son or grandchildren

Hanging onto this object will not make your FIL want to come see your kids. You've got some kind of grudge against your father in law. Fine. Enjoy that. But you're really 100% in the wrong on this.
posted by ook at 10:57 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have never seen an AskMe so unified in the response to a question, and I can't even find it within me to be a devil's advocate this time.

Give the damned thing to him, already.
posted by rokusan at 10:58 AM on January 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Finally, I feel like keeping it (or donating it) is true to the spirit of my MIL's lifelong intentions...I am usually "pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living," but feel strongly about honoring the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL.

She had the thing for decades. Decades. She could have sold it or destroyed it or given it away or dropped it off in a seedy alley downtown or anything to make absolutely sure FIL never ever got the thing. She could have put a clause in the will detailing exactly how FIL shall never receive it. But she did none of those things. Instead, you're letting a dead woman carry on an inane feud by proxy through you, over something with no value, literal or metaphorical, to anyone but FIL. Regardless of your opinion of his character and qualities as a father, grandfather, husband, and man, you know the right thing to do. And it isn't continuing this feud-by-proxy.
posted by 6550 at 11:02 AM on January 25, 2011


The easy thing to do is doing the right thing that will bring the most peace to those who are living......Please give the damn thing already...
posted by The1andonly at 11:04 AM on January 25, 2011


This is your husband's call. These are his parents and he is the executor. You are in no position to "resist".

Your husband may or may not have enough information to decide if his mother's reasons were worthwhile. He'll have to weigh his estimation of his mother's actions with the consequences either decision will have on his relationship with his father. It will have to be a pretty hefty crime on his father's part for it to be worth keeping up a dead person's grudge.
posted by spaltavian at 11:07 AM on January 25, 2011


It's a worthless but contested thing and you want to keep the argument going through the generations? Why would you do that? Give it back and be done with it. Jeez.

I typed three paragraphs and then saw this on preview. This is concise, elegant and perfect advice.
posted by DWRoelands at 11:09 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Husband wants peace and misses his mother a great deal. FIL wants object.
There it is - do you want your husband to have peace? Think of him in all of this, before thinking of your MIL. But in thinking of yourself...

Do no let how others are be the measure of the person you want to be. So if you "usually "pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living," - do that and hand over the thingamajig without making him jump through any hoops or endure diatribes. Just choose peace. So, that's who you become - a peacemaker.

But if you "feel strongly about honoring the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL", then you make that choice and you can do as little or as much to prolong the spite - more emails, excuses, back and forths, carrots on sticks etc. (and I have rarely read such a perfect illustration of spite). So then, that's who you become.

It's just a thing, and your MIL has proven you can't take it with you - but look what a mess you can leave behind! Do you want that for your children?
posted by peagood at 11:11 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


a] Your husband is much closer to your FIL, in the sense of being by blood, than you are, in the sense of being by marriage.
b] This item does not belong to you in any way, it belongs to your husband.
c] You were not involved in the feud between FIL and MIL.
d] You know that FIL wants the item back, but you want to keep it to spite him (which is what this boils down to).
e] This thing has no financial value, so there's no reason for you to keep it until it can be sold for your medical bills

Your MIL is dead. She isn't going to know whether or not FIL gets the item back. And you're getting yourself involved in something that, by any stretch of the imagination, is none of your business. Unless MIL said that you should have it and put that into her will, you're keeping something else from something that is half theirs and not at all yours.
posted by Solomon at 11:17 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


It sounds like your husband is ambivalent you are the only one in the couple with strong feelings about this. Given that they are/were his parents and he does want to keep ties with his dad, yes, send the thing along. You really don't want to be responsible for influencing your husband in a direction that will stir up resentment or further drama. What good could possibly come out of that? I mean there are NO good feelings that come out of going that route (maintenance of a feud in honor of someone's memory doesn't count as a good feeling).

...I can't be the only one who is deeply curious about what this object is that is bulky and valueless but so desired by your FIL. It's an interesting story you have there.
posted by torticat at 11:18 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't blame you - I would resist giving it to FIL, and I wouldn't appreciate the pressure he's putting on your husband.

That said, let your husband decide - if he wants to preserve some relationship with his father, that will be a lot harder to do if FIL doesn't get this object he wants so much.

I wouldn't pay to ship it to him - let him come get it, or send UPS for it.

I am annoyed with myself, because just reading your question I had a real emotional response, along the lines of F You FIL, but I know that the right thing to do is to just give him the damn thing.
posted by mrs. taters at 11:25 AM on January 25, 2011


Give him the object. You sound really bitter about the whole thing, so maybe we're missing something, but I can't see a reason to be spiteful about it.
posted by Ostara at 11:26 AM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Were it me, I would first consult the estate's (or my) attorney to ensure I had no legal obligation with regard to the object. Assuming I don't, and it being worthless and, presumably, meaningless to me, I would inform Dad that he has e.g. 7 days to come retrieve it before I dispose of it. Mom may have her wishes, but unless I'm on bad terms with Dad there is no reason to sour the relationship over worthless junk no one wanted anyway.
posted by asciident at 11:32 AM on January 25, 2011


feel strongly about honoring the oft-verbalized if not-in-the-will wishes of my MIL.


If it was that important that he not have it after her death, why didn't she put it in her will?

Ship it to him. Overnight it. Seriously, why would you want an object that's been used to manipulate and irritate someone else kept in your home? Don't even make him come and pick it up, or use it to guilt him into visiting more often- or even just to guilt him, seeing as it doesn't sound like you like him enough to have him visit. Do a small kindness and forget about this drama. It will be better for you and your family in the long run.

No doubt there are awesome things about your MIL that you should cherish. This is not one of those things.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:56 AM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Here's why I would get rid of this item: it is the embodiment of spite. It has no use. It has little to no value. It is bulky and takes up space in your home. It is the source of unpleasant memories for all who know of its history and the source of friction between your husband and his father. All that thing does, if you excuse the woo-woo, is create discord. Why ever would you choose to keep such a thing in your home?

Give it to the one person who wants it and never think of it again.
posted by jamaro at 11:57 AM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


God, this is like some Twilight Zone episode, with the Evil Piece of Junk which one family just barely gets rid of, but it Lives On to blight the future of the next generation of the family (you can see it lying evilly in wait in the last shot of the episode, while Rod Serling talks in the background about greed, grudges, and Not Letting It Go. . . . in the Twilight Zone.

**

Returning the Object of Doom is not tantamount to endorsing any part of your FIL's behavior to your family or your MIL, ever, at all. It's not an insult to your MIL -- honestly, you honor her by remembering and memorializing her good qualities, not her grudges (no matter how well founded.) It's just getting rid of the Hex which is still roiling the waters after decades. It's not a good thing. Make it go away. Give it to your FIL.
posted by endless_forms at 12:05 PM on January 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


Give your FiL a bit of happiness here toward the end of his life and return the item. I was in a similar situation, except they were my own parents. Mother kept items that were of zero monetary value, but off the charts in sentimental value. She dies. I finally am free to make sure my father has the things that were rightfully his all along. I made them a holiday gift to my father and for the man who hardly ever says 'boo' to me, I was rewarded with a big thanks and a three page letter detailing all the memories this unlocked for him. While I hardly feel motivated to do my father any favors, I did feel wonderful knowing that I made the impossible possible and in the process transformed a small piece of his life, too (in said letter, he stated that he thought the items were long destroyed and he would never see them again).

Be a bigger person than all involved and get this item back to your FiL post haste. Don't feel like the hassle? Let FiL spend the $$ to have it shipped and then be done with it. You'll have a new family story to pass down that highlights better human values than petty bitterness and essentially theft.
posted by kuppajava at 12:23 PM on January 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


Why is it your job to continue your mother-in-law's grudge even in her death? Your withholding it from him is pointlessly spiteful. Just give it to him. I can't believe that you are even asking this.
posted by fso at 12:33 PM on January 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Something like this happened in my husband's family. His grandfather married, then died years later. His wife kept some things that grandfather's kids wanted. This resulted in the kids ceasing all contact with step-grandmother for two decades, removing grandma from their kids' lives until the grandchildren grew up and contacted her again. Two freakin' decades. Over some marginally sentimental, but essentially worthless, stuff.

Unless your husband has a real sentimental attachment to the object (other than clinging to a long-held grudge), just give FIL the object. Maybe it will improve their relationship, and maybe it won't. But why damage it further?
posted by bedhead at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2011


If it is not specifically mentioned in the will - then it is yours to give away.

The question is: Should I carry on someone else's grudge?
Really - you are thinking about carrying a grudge for someone else.

Give it back.
posted by Flood at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2011


Give it back.
posted by languagehat at 12:46 PM on January 25, 2011


Your mother-in-law is dead, so her opinion won't change no matter what you do. Your father-in-law knows you have the MacGuffin, so you can't hide it from him. You have no particular desire to keep the MacGuffin, so I assume from the fact that you're posting on AskMe that you'd like some sort of conclusion to the whole mess. Well, it seems to me that there are two ways to end this.

First, you could send the MacGuffin to your father-in-law. He wants it, you don't. By giving it to him, you make him happy and you'll never have to think about this again. You won't be hurting your mother-in-law in any way, because she's beyond caring. If shipping the MacGuffin is prohibitively expensive, I don't see anything wrong with requesting that your father-in-law cover the costs.

Your second option is to destroy the MacGuffin, and make sure your father-in-law knows of its destruction. If you go this route, you should utterly obliterate the MacGuffin using axes, baseball bats, fire or whatever you believe to be the most appropriate instrument. Document its destruction in photographs or video, and send him the proof so he knows that the MacGuffin is destroyed and he will never, ever get it back.

There's your two options. Either will end this particular question of yours, but one will make an old man happy and the other one will make an old man sad. The only question is this: How big of an asshole are you?
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:47 PM on January 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Two options that end the drama:

1. Get up right now, walk over to where the item is, and smash it into a thousand pieces. If the whole point is to make your FIL suffer over not having the item, it should REALLY make him suffer to know that no one will EVER be able to have it again.

2. Send it back to the FIL.
posted by 23skidoo at 12:50 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
I hear you, and will encourage my husband to make arrangements for his father to pay shipping. Legal issues do not apply.

My MIL was far from petty. She fled from that marriage with a handful of things, including their son; my FIL *never* asked for, or wanted, him back. My MIL shielded her son from the worst stories and incidents. I take against his father as a result of what I saw and heard. But here and now...I choose my husband, because his father didn't.

I love my husband. Agreeing to let something go to make HIS life better is a kind of mitzvah. (Yup, cried pretty hard over that answer.) I can give him that, somewhere apart from my feelings toward his parents. She is dead. He will never prize people above things, and nothing I can do, or fail to do, would impart that lesson. But my husband's life could be bettered. Here. Now. By letting go of the object, and of the hope for a delayed justice in response to my FIL's actions.

Thank you for helping me find a way to do the right thing for myself and, more importantly, for my husband--and feel OK about it.
posted by mathowie at 12:58 PM on January 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


Golden Rule: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you.
posted by Sweetmag at 12:59 PM on January 25, 2011


I can't help thinking there's a part of the story missing because I'm having trouble understanding this: "The object in question has no financial value ... I am not inclined to send it, and, frankly, would resist giving it up even if my FIL came here to get it."

Why the heck not? That last part is really telling. The OP would RESIST giving back an item with no value? Why?
posted by 2oh1 at 1:46 PM on January 25, 2011


D'oh. On preview, a bit of the rest of the story became clear. Still... just give it back and be done with it.
posted by 2oh1 at 1:49 PM on January 25, 2011


I'm terribly happy to hear your response to the comments here, OP. I'm late to the party, but my 2 cents is, as a child of divorce myself, that I made a decision upon reaching adulthood that my parents' divorce would no longer be a factor in my life. Their romantic relationship and split was theirs, and has nothing to do with either of them existing as my mother and my father. Therefore, anything that has to do with their relationship, I don't deal with; I don't consider it relevant to or positive for me. Were I in a similar situation as you & your husband with said object, I'd give it back immediately and never think of it again, for my own emotional protection & sanity.
posted by AthenaPolias at 1:49 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


My husband accidentally mentioned to his father that we have the object.

There are no accidents.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:58 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well done, OP.

But my sympathies to you and your husband in what is clearly a painful situation. The nearly unanimous responses above inevitably can't address what you are going through, and what your husband and his mom went through, in their entirety.
posted by torticat at 2:18 PM on January 25, 2011


Hey OP, I understand you here. You want to honor your MIL's memory. Your MIL was victimized by FIL and it would be fair if he had to pay some price for that. MIL took her small revenge and by sending the thingie to him you feel like you're undoing the one small thing she was able to do to even the score. Right?

So I feel you. But none of those things are reasons to keep the thingie now. She's gone, she raised a son who's turned into a decent husband... that's her best victory. And you've played a major role there. So be glad that you played that important role in her life, and send the thingie away and forget all about it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:33 PM on January 25, 2011


Two options that end the drama:

1. Get up right now, walk over to where the item is, and smash it into a thousand pieces. If the whole point is to make your FIL suffer over not having the item, it should REALLY make him suffer to know that no one will EVER be able to have it again.

2. Send it back to the FIL.



Or you could do both.


Though that's not my recommendation
posted by mazola at 2:35 PM on January 25, 2011


Thanks for writing back to us, OP. I know that you want to honor your mother-in-law's experience, including what sounds like her perfectly justifiable anger with her ex-husband's materialism, but you will find other ways to do it that don't perpetuate stress.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:42 PM on January 25, 2011


Your update made me tear up. I hope that doing this brings some peace to your family. It is a mitzvah.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:17 PM on January 25, 2011


My impulse would be not to ship the thing, but rather to encourage him to make the trip, and while he's there to arrange to spend time together as a family. Even if it's not his preference to plan a trip that places people over things, you might still find some sort of meaningful connection with him.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 3:47 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


MIL took the object simply to spite FIL. MIL died and you have it. It's worthless to you but meaningful to FIL. Continuing MIL's spiteful behavior just because you have some issues with FIL is not good for you, not good for him, not good for your husband... this isn't your fight (it's your dead MIL's), so why on earth would you make it your fight by behaving childishly?

Let FIL pick it up or tell him he can pay for shipping and you'll send it. There's no good case for keeping it or donating it to charity.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:30 PM on January 25, 2011


Being estranged from a parent, even a sucky one, can be one of life's most miserable experiences. If your husband wants to maintain a semblance of a relationship with his father, be supportive. You don't have to whole-heartedly approve, just keep your opinions & judgements to yourself and let your husband handle it the way he wants, particularly since what he wants to do doesn't sound like it is going to affect your own family in any negative way.

Having a less than ideal relationship with a less than ideal parent is better than nothing, for many people. If your husband is one of those people, it seems cruel to stand in his way just to get back at his dad for not being involved with your family in the way you'd like.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:00 PM on January 25, 2011


Whoops... I didn't read OP's follow up answer before posting. I'm glad you feel like you can support your husband on this in spite of your own anger.

Believe me, I understand what it feels like to be angry at an in-law on a loved one's behalf. I've been biting my tongue for awhile now, because my husband doesn't see fit to be angry. So I'm trying to respect his feelings.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 5:04 PM on January 25, 2011


Only one person in this story actually wants the item. In fact only one person has ever wanted the item, as an item rather than a symbol. Any solution that ends with that person and the item apart is the wrong solution.
posted by Hogshead at 5:36 PM on January 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Give it to FIL as quickly as possible. There is nothing but ugly associated with keeping this thing from him. It was spite that started this. If you continue that spite, the bad karma will infect you like a curse. Break the cycle.
posted by Goofyy at 10:31 PM on January 25, 2011


So, if I'm getting this, FIL was a bad father and a bad husband. MIL was a great mom who spent her life trying to make up for FIL. As a result, don't want to reward FIL with object that he is more passionately pleading for than he ever did his kid. Not to mention that MIL never would have left him a penny, let alone prized object.

I get it, but it's not worth it. It's a symbolic f you, but it won't change him. He won't learn anything and you'll just embroil yourself in a pointless grudge match.
posted by whoaali at 11:04 PM on January 25, 2011


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