My Cognitive Dissonance


My step-nephew had his birthday party yesterday. It was pretty much an awesome event with 25 friends from his private school, soccer, and tennis clubs in attendance at a very nice sports training facility. I watched from the sidelines as members of my wife’s family — my inlaws — interacted.

Budge’s father met his second wife in the waiting room of the ICU where her husband lay dying of the same pancreatitis that was taking the life of Budge’s mother. After both spouses passed within days of each other, Dad and Sandy began dating. They married the November after Budge and I married in August.

Dad married up.

Budge’s stepsister, who loves Budge very much, married up even further. My step-brother-in-law, who I adore, is the son of the man who started the first real telecommunications firm in this neck of the woods. Chuck’s dad then sold that company for several (many several) millions of dollars. Budge’s blood related older brother spent 20 years in the US Navy and made some very wise investments during that time. Since his retirement from the Navy, he’s gotten a job doing what he did in the Navy, but now as a civilian contractor for the same US government that famously paid $10K for a hammer. That’s in addition to his service retirement check and his service related disability check.

Let me sum up. My inlaws are freaking loaded down with dough. Chuck’s father’s sole concession to the recession was selling the family’s private Leer jet. Times are hard when you have to sell the plane.

Now, I want all two of my readers to understand something. I love these people. I would fight to my last breath and give the last drop of blood in my body to each of them is they needed it. They are to a person kind, sweet, and loving people. My two step-nephews are two of the finest children you will ever meet.

BUT, and you know there would be a but, my life experiences and education have not prepared me to interact on equal footing with these people. I grew up in a 15′ x 50′ single wide trailer with faulty wiring and no heat. My childhood home, my present home, my elementary school, AND the church I attended as a child could fit in my brother and sister-in-law’s house . . . with room to spare. They drive a new Land Rover. Chuck’s dad owns a TOWN in coastal Alabama. A TOWN.

No matter how much I care about them, I have no frame of reference for dealing with these people.

Just a for instance, yesterday after the extravagant-by-my-standards-but-par-for-the-course-by-their-standards birthday party, “the family” decided to go eat at one of the most expensive restaurants in town. Budge and I were therefore more or less obligated to attend. This is a swanky place where Chuck and Melissa eat on a regular basis. Have I mentioned that I don’t have a job at the moment?

Anyway, by eating salad and the free bread and ordering the cheapest items on the menu, Budge and I managed to get out of there without washing dishes. The rest of the family was ordering bottles of ten year old wines. I saw two of their bills. It was more than I spend in a month on groceries. A MONTH.

I love my wife’s family, but I don’t understand them. To make matters worse, they don’t understand me either. It’s never been said or overtly implied, but I get the strong impression that Budge marrying a schoolteacher at 18 wasn’t part of the plan Dad and Sandy had for her life. She was supposed to go to a “good” college, get into a fun sorority, have a wonderful college experience, then get her Mrs. degree. Instead, she fell in love with me and we got married.

So, for 14 years I’ve tried to understand people who have never had to worry about lights being turned off, who’ve never had to price shop, and who will never know what an empty fridge looks like once its out of the showroom. For the most part, we do just fine. We look at each other and scratch our heads a lot, but I don’t feel hated or anything.

Simply put, I just don’t understand them and they just don’t understand me.

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