Do I continue vacationing with alcoholic in denial?
July 8, 2008 4:29 PM   Subscribe

My aging parents have a cabin on a lake. It is about a $3,000,000 property with all the ammenities. My kids LOVE going to this place. I grew up going to this spot for vacations. I am now grown and have my own family and am questioning going to this spot for our vacations. We have gone every year for many years. My father is an alcoholic---the type that drinks and rages or just stews silently in a rage if things are not pleasing to him. He does not drink himself into a stupor though. He put himself in rehab but did not complete the program saying he is not an alcoholic. My question is about spending time at the cabin for my immediate families' vacations.

We can afford to go on our own vacations so money is not an issue. Part of me would LOVE not vacationing with my dysfunctional family. Is this a no brainer question? Is life too short to spend it on vacation where you are walking on eggshells? Even if it is an awesome location and part of our family history? I think I just answered my own question but would like to hear your experiences with this. Thank you!
posted by seekingsimplicity to Human Relations (28 answers total)
You did answer your own question. Don't walk on eggshells.
posted by Stewriffic at 4:33 PM on July 8, 2008

So what's more important, summering on a 3 million dollar estate, or not exposing yourself, your wife, and your kids to crazy?

Would this be an easier decision for you if it were only a 1 million dollar estate?
posted by availablelight at 4:36 PM on July 8, 2008

I'm curious why you felt the need to specify that it's a $3,000,000 property. Does that make it magically better for your kids than a more modest cabin on a lake somewhere else?
posted by thewalrus at 4:38 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think you probably mentioned the value as a shorthand way of saying it's a super nice place to vacation, right? I get it. But, the world is full of super nice places to vacation, made even nicer by the fact that they're not populated by raging alcoholics. It's a complicated question, but if you're just looking for validation that, yeah, not going is a perfectly reasonable option, then rest assured that it is.
posted by HotToddy at 4:47 PM on July 8, 2008

If your dad makes you uncomfortable and you're more miserable than happy, take a vacation elsewhere. I'm sure the kids would be just as happy snorkeling or cliff diving or gawking at geysers or riding roller coasters or watching cartoons in a hotel room. The kids can have just as much fun doing other things elsewhere.

But, if you're only a little uncomfortable and can ignore your father you may want to still go. I have a father very similar to yours. My kids don't know his history and they adore him. My father is an outdoors type and brings my boys on hikes, shoots BB guns, let's them ride on the rider mower (with the blade disengaged), plays catch with them, etc. They love it over at my parent's house and always have a ball. I tend to talk to my mother or sit on the couch with a magazine and mumble something every once in a while. It usually goes OK and I don't leave with seething resentment. If you do, I would vacation elsewhere.
posted by LoriFLA at 4:49 PM on July 8, 2008

Yes Hot Toddy you got it. I mentionned the monetary value of the place to show that it is in an idyliic setting and a VERY comfortable place as far as the structure of the home goes.
posted by seekingsimplicity at 4:50 PM on July 8, 2008

You love the awesome location and the family history of this cottage. In your shoes, I would create my own family vacation history somewhere else that is also an awesome location.
posted by meerkatty at 4:53 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Don't let yourself be too dazzled by the luxury and comfort of the cabin. Ultimately, a vacation is about the experience and the company you share it with. You and your kids can have wonderful, idyllic vacations in any number of settings, free of the burden of having to walk on eggshells with a raging alcoholic. Seriously, isn't sidestepping the risk of the emotional and verbal abuse worth more than a cabin? Even a $3M cabin?
posted by scody at 5:12 PM on July 8, 2008

I have a similar father who lives in a similarly beautiful place and have reached similar conclusions as you seem to be reaching. I totally understand the dilemma. You think "gee this would be such a great time if Dad weren't being a pill/yelling at me/yelling at my friends/embarassing me/being fighty..." and you wonder if maybe you should just be more easygoing because it's a really nice place and you like being in the place and have good memories of it. And sometimes, hey, it's actually a nice time, but it's random and there's no way you can repeat it when it does go nicely. Sucks, doesn't it?

You may be used to your Dad and his weirdness, but I'd think twice about sending a message to your kids that this raging or silently stewing behavior is how people who love each other treat each other and I'd stay away for that reason alone, if for no other. Create new family traditions where people who are related to each other actually act lovingly and appropriately to each other. I'm sorry about your Dad.
posted by jessamyn at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2008 [4 favorites]

Soooo, send the folks on a cruise and visit the cabin while they're gone.... :)

Naw, why bother? Take the kiddies to a place that will be remembered for the good times not the trauma.
posted by trinity8-director at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2008

Your dilemma reminds me of the philosopher who meets a gorgeous babe at a party and asks her if she would sleep with him for fifty thousand dollars.

"Of course," she says.

"How about fifty dollars?"

"I've never been so insulted. Do you think I'm a whore?"

"I've already established that. Now I'm trying to determine your lowest price."
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think jessamyn has it. No matter how nice the location, one of the best things a parent can do within a family where there are alcoholics is insulate the kids from the behaviors of the alcoholics. I say that as a person from such a family who appreciated the fact that my parents limited my exposure to the negative behaviors.

Kids are also much more go-with-the-flow than adults. They won't feel your level of guilt (if there is guilt) or regret what they're not doing. I third the "make new traditions" idea.
posted by Miko at 5:44 PM on July 8, 2008

Since you have options, I'd suggest going someplace where the people are nice to you and your family.
posted by zippy at 5:47 PM on July 8, 2008

Go elsewhere. As long as he continues to be an abusive drunk your father does not deserve your company. Life’s too short to put up with--and subject your family to--unnecessary vitriol and drama. Your children cannot un-learn their memories. It is your job to do your best to make most of those memories good ones.

Children don't care or remember how much money an estate was worth, or how "nice" a big beautiful house was, but they certainly do remember whether their loved ones were screaming at each other and whether or not they felt frightened or sad there.
posted by applemeat at 6:22 PM on July 8, 2008

Kids are easygoing but they also see and absorb more than you can imagine and it all becomes part of their way of dealing with the world. Your kids will never know to have to thank you if you take them out of this situation before something really nasty happens that sticks with them for the rest of their lives. This is what you want. I'm also sorry about your dad.
posted by Divine_Wino at 6:30 PM on July 8, 2008

There's a very similar situation in my family, so my vote is that yes, life is too short. I would guess your kids pick up on the tension from you as well as from your father, and -- although I'm sure it's beautiful there and they do have a lot of fun -- that probably affects how they feel about the place, the vacation and the relationships. Even if your father behaves perfectly or you manage to insulate them from his behavior, just your feeling of constantly walking on eggshells will probably make them uncomfortable on some level, and I would bet that both they and you would be happier making new memories somewhere else. This is pure speculation based on my family's dynamics, but how does your husband feel about it? If it's something he's uncomfortable with or something that you argue about, that's not good for you or your kids.

I'm with Hot Toddy: there are a lot of beautiful places in the world. (I routinely tell my mom that exact same phrase, come to think of it, when we get to talking about my dad's family's property, which is achingly beautiful and fraught with some of the same difficulties. ) I understand your attachment to the cabin, and that the price tag is a shorthand for everything beautiful and priceless about the place and your memories. But if it makes you miserable, I don't think it's worth it.
posted by shirobara at 6:36 PM on July 8, 2008

A lot of kids will act like they LOVE doing something or that everything is GREAT!!! if they can tell it's important to their parents in some way or if they're worried about their parents' feelings.

You might be surprised at how much they don't miss going. They might even be relieved to be away your father's behavior or the obvious tension between you and your father.
posted by sondrialiac at 6:48 PM on July 8, 2008

Yes Hot Toddy you got it. I mentionned the monetary value of the place to show that it is in an idyliic setting and a VERY comfortable place as far as the structure of the home goes.
posted by seekingsimplicity at 7:50 PM on July 8 [+] [!]

Well, it sounds like a gilded cage. Kids pick up on more than you'll ever know, even subconsciously, so if not for yourself, go somewhere else nice for them. Trust me on this.

Not to be crass....but I'll be the one to say it out loud: in another decade or two you won't have this problem anymore and you'll be able to enjoy it as a family spot again.
posted by availablelight at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2008

Is it possible to visit the cabin when your parents aren't there?
posted by mmascolino at 7:21 PM on July 8, 2008

Abusive alcoholics do not equal idyllic settings. Wuite the inverse.

From your own explanation the only reason you have to go there is that it's a $3,000,000 estate and all that that entails. (Which I don't really know. I've been on farms that are worth more, and breathtaking ocean fronts that cost a fraction.)

There are many many many wonderful places on the planet for you to visit. Choose one without the traumatic family.

Anything else just makes you look superficial, putting the cushy estate over the well being of your children.
posted by Ookseer at 7:34 PM on July 8, 2008

I remember a load of uncomfortable family gatherings when I was a kid. Some members of my family may have nice places, but their drunk and uncomfortable moments is what I remember. Every year the whole cycle of visiting these people got worse and the point my mom had to force me and my siblings go, and we would go over what we weren't supposed to talk about with which relatives.

That's so not normal. Eventually my mom wised up and stopped making us visit those relatives. All their money, all the activities they could bate me and my siblings with, we don't remember. We don't understand her attachment to certain places either. I do remember the futile attempts to 'stick with family' and 'do something nice'. Our solution was to ditch the big gatherings, and go see normal relatives one-on-one, and do our own vacations. Drama avoided, family not estranged.

Is walking on eggshells a skill you want your kids to learn on vacation anyways?
posted by shinyshiny at 7:56 PM on July 8, 2008

Availablelight is right. When I was a kid, my parents were in a similar situation, without the money to transition to anything equivalent. When my parents brought up the idea of not going I was thrilled, though I had never said anything. We made the decision, as a family, to stop going and we all still think it was one of the best decisions we ever made together. IMHO, money doesn't make a vacation, people do. But really, I think you already knew that.
posted by systematic at 8:11 PM on July 8, 2008

I´ve had guys that I don´t particularly want to go on vacation with invite me to some nice places or fun sounding trips, all expenses paid. Generally to some nice-sounding yet remote location. Vacation cabin, boat, that sort of thing.

I haven´t been tempted to accept any of these offers.

Maybe your kids would likie tent camping. Every kid should get a chance to do that.
posted by yohko at 8:49 PM on July 8, 2008

Too bad the rehab didn't work for your dad. It's a shame he appears to be in denial still about his alcoholism. As I'm sure you are painfully aware, nothing will convince an alcoholic to stop drinking until they are ready. They have to want to get sober for themselves. Perhaps by staying away, you can give your father a reason to want to get sober, for himself.

By denying him access to his grandchildren because of his drinking, that may create enough sadness and loneliness on his part to do some introspection. Wouldn't it be wonderful if by taking your kids somewhere else for vacation, you also enticed your dad to try rehab again?
posted by netbros at 8:51 PM on July 8, 2008

Better to roadtrip in a hatchback with some good friends than in an RV with a bunch of jackasses.
posted by davejay at 9:56 PM on July 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Have you written your father off? Is there no possibility of talking to him, sober or not, privately, to try and work out why he feels such rage?

I mean I understand that once people get to a certain age, there's not much, if anything at all that will change them, but although it's always the first thing people blame with tedious predictability, it's not always necessarily the booze that is the problem.

If talking to him without confrontation and making an attempt at total honesty and trying to solicit it from him is possible, if you care about the man enough to do so, I'd say that's the first and most important thing to do.

If you don't care enough to try or have a family dynamic that is so ingrained that it's not possible or he's so set in his ways that it wouldn't help or [....], then don't bother. But denial or fingerpointing on either side of the relationship equation serves neither your father nor you.

This is mere speculation, but it's something that would go through my mind: is the question really about whether you will inherit this very valuable place when your father dies, but that you might not if you spurn him? Because if that's part of the thing that's making your decision difficult, and it would for me, that's a very different question from the one you actually asked. For what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:26 PM on July 8, 2008

You say your "dysfunctional family" but you only mention your father's behavior. What does your mom think? How much will it hurt you/her to not go? Is she an enabler, etc?

Absent those considerations, I agree, create new family traditions that aren't dysfunctional. Good luck.
posted by Pax at 6:22 AM on July 9, 2008

Establish a new vacation spot tradition. Find a nice family cottage that you can rent year after year. These are usually word-of-mouth situations, and not easy to find, but once found, offer the experience you want, without the crazy. If it's near your family's place, you can do some limited visiting, esp. if he's sober/civil earlier in the day.
posted by theora55 at 9:16 AM on July 9, 2008

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