When you're a middle class young woman from a small town who marries into a wealthy family from a big city, there's a steep learning curve. We didn't have many extras when I was growing up; my family is filled with academics and it's only in the past twenty years that teachers have started to make relatively decent wages.
My family values loyalty as much as we value individuality, and learning that my new family didn't know the meaning of one and actively disapproved of the other was a hell of a shock. I was used to unconditional love and support and was bewildered by the lack of both. (I was very, very young.) Everything in my new family had strings, and I was supposed to be almost humiliatingly grateful for any gift given.
Nor could I understand why everyone in their circle went on and on about their generosity when the job given to my husband in the family company- after he'd earned his MBA- was barely above poverty wages. (No, seriously. Barely above.)
Okay, paying dues and all that. And, always, was the promise of a payoff: advancement in the family owned multinational company that was (and still is) pulling in billions in sales every year. I sucked it up.
Those were tough years. We barely had two pennies to rub together, and the interest from graduate school was accruing (his parents reneged at the last minute on their offer to pay for graduate school since he had decided to get married, but did agree to lend him the money at 8% interest) and there were many sleepless nights when I walked a baby and wondered how I could further cut my grocery budget.
It was a challenge, to keep a smile on my face and be polite to my in-laws. Here was a family business that my husband's great-grandfather had started, that had been passed down through a couple of generations, and he was barely a bean counter in an obscure division in one of the obscure holdings. And there were my in-laws, living in a massive house with half the Art Institute on the walls, flying all over the world (bringing a tee-shirt from wherever for the children, and expecting a two page thank you for their gracious generosity) and there was my father-in-law, always telling my husband to be patient. My mother-in-law wrote my husband a letter every day, telling him how much she loved him and our children. (EVERY DAY.)
Writing this, I realize I'm still pissed about those damn thank yous. (I write thank you notes. I believe it's good manners to do so. But when the person giving you a gift demands a thank you and then complains if it wasn't long enough or effusive enough? That's a horse of a different color.)
It wouldn't have been as difficult if the family hadn't brought in an outside partner, who had promptly installed his son on the board. But my father-in-law didn't want to "play favorites" with his own sons. And, the partner's son had a law degree, he said. What was my husband's MBA, chopped liver?
Even in my naivete, I knew it was about control and power, and had nothing to do with love and tradition and loyalty.
In the midst of this penury, I made a comment to my in-laws one night about my hopes for my young sons' futures. We'd been talking about one of their friends' children going to a private college, and I said we'd never be able to afford it. I still remember exactly where we were all sitting when my mother-in-law said, 'Oh, no, you'd don't have to worry about that! We've set up an education trust for them. They'll be able to go anywhere they want to go.'
Which brings me, all these years later, to the latest round in the endless legal harassment from my ex-husband.
Now, he's demanding I pay him for "past, current and future" college expenses for the boys. Despite the already fought legal rounds where the court has pointed out the huge discrepancy in our incomes, and despite his agreeing years ago that he would pick up their extra college expenses.
And so, after keeping his family wealth out of his personal war for all these years, this time my attorney is going to go the whole nine yards. Let's talk about all the layers of trusts and loopholes and we'll go through every single damn disbursement, every right of withdrawal, every bit of financial paper that exists.
Let's go nuclear. It's past time.
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