Sacred Disorder | Cliff Bostock's blog – 'Finally, I came to regard as sacred the disorder of my mind' (Rimbaud)

A documentary-maker contacts me about disinheritance

I received an interesting email last week from a researcher for a documentary TV series about wills and inheritance. She read my “Headcase” columns about my father’s disinheritance of me and wants to interview me for the series.

My father died in Novermber of 2007 and turned out to have written me out of his will soon after my mother’s death about 18 months earlier.  He left his entire estate to my two younger brothers.  I’ve not talked to either of them since they informed me about the will. Basically, I now find myself in the same state of estrangement from them that characterized my relationship with my father, and, as with my father, it’s all mixed up with the subject of money.

The compassionate tone of the email from the researcher, who also asked if the “other side” would be willing to talk to her, surprised me. She commented about how hard the feelings I expressed in my columns must be to move through — and said that the makers of the series “for a major US broadcaster” hope that the stories they relate will help others come to peace with the same kinds of experiences. How true that is, I have no idea. Part of me imagines a dreadful family-feud-style reality series.

My gut response is to say no to the interview. One reason is pure embarrassment. She’s entirely right that I have had enormous difficulty coping with the feelings….but I’m not very keen to talk about them in that kind of format, either. I know that sounds strange for someone whose work is psychology and who wrote a personal column for almost two decades, but I would have no control over the editing and how my story would eventually be represented. I did a film piece for the Food Network a few years back and was very critical of the restaurant where they asked me to dine. When the piece was produced, it was literally edited to appear as though I liked the place very much. I refused to do another one.

And years ago, too, because of my acquaintance with Peter Kramer, author of Listening to Prozac, I was invited to be on two national talk shows — Sallie and Oprah — as sort of the poster boy for Prozac. I don’t watch TV and knew nothing about the shows at the time. When their staffs called to do “pre-interviews,” I was stunned by how personal the questions were and I declined the invitations. I’m sure the questions were discreet by today’s standards.

There’s also the matter of not wanting to add more bitterness to the situation. Whatever my father was trying to communicate in his decision obviously seemed appropriate to my brothers and I don’t want to get into a public dispute.

Saying yes to the invitation would almost certainly land me back in exactly the feelings that tormented me much of my life — the horrible guilt of being unable to live up to what my parents wanted me to be from the time I was a child.

Typically, until the time I was about 40, my father would call me and absolutely maul me with criticism. Then my mother would get on the phone or call me later and tell me to ignore everything he said. I know without any doubt, because of the many conversations we had in the few years before her stroke (when I was getting my master’s degree), that she would have been furious that he disinherited me. While I appreciated her support, being between the two of them, as I often was even as a kid, was nightmarish. So I withdrew into estrangement.

It may seem odd, but despite my experience, I do believe that my parents loved me. I can’t say they “did the best they could,” but I don’t think they intentionally sought to hurt me while they were alive, especially not my mother. I’m convinced that much of the pain I endured with her was a result of her trying to change me in order to protect me from the same kind of hurt she experienced in her own life. In other words, I was the object of her projection. There’s no doubt, though, that my father’s decision to disinherit me was calculated to hurt me. This condition — of being both loved and rejected — was the story of my entire life with both of them, regardless of their intentions.

I am glad someone is paying attention to this subject. Very little has been written about disinheritance and its absolutely brutal effect on the disowned heir. But I really do not have the stomach to use myself as an example of the literally daily pain it has caused me.  I’m still thinking about it, but will likely say no.

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