This weekend and the weekend before last (plus a few days in between), my husband and I have hosted his father at our house. It's proven to be a challenging time for me, not the least because it presents an interesting challenge in my Buddhist practice.
My father in law (henceforth, "FIL") is 82 years old and, since his divorce in the mid-1970s, has lived alone. He had an unhappy childhood—his own parents divorcing when he was young, his father severing all contact with the family, and his self-absorbed mother sent him off to a military boarding school when he was just 6 or 7. He harbors an unrelenting hatred of his mother (who died years ago) and his younger brother, whom he blames for getting him into trouble innumerable times when they were boys. To this day he does not speak to him—the only person from his youth still alive.
I could go on and on, but won't. The bottom line is that he is often mean-spirited, downright cruel at times, and he suspects others of being dishonest while himself having a history of lying, snooping, stealing and manipulating others for his own (often merely psychic) benefit. He is inconsiderate often in the most bizarre ways—e.g. leaving the bathroom door cracked open when taking a piss. (No, I'm serious.) I hate to say it, but I'm glad he's going home.
So on the one hand, FIL is the poster-boy for Wrong Speech, Wrong Understanding, etc.—everything the Buddha and Buddhist teachers have warned about. FIL personifies the Buddhist maxim that says he who tries to hold on to fire gets burned: embittered by the wrongs done to him (and which he perceives have been done to him), he is a bitter, lonely old man, smoldering with anger and resentment. He seldom thinks of the needs of others, the suffering of others or the impact of his actions or words on others.
When he's around, I can feel my muscles tense, my jaw clench, my brow furrow, and my whole mood sour. But it's not FIL who does this to me—I do it to myself. I let my own feelings of anger, distrust and resentment build up inside of me by failing to express openhearted compassion towards him. I try, but it's very hard. He's said and done horrible things to people I love, but I have to acknowledge that, look past that and try to treat him with mettā. So it has been a struggle.
So, as he drives away tomorrow, I will try to send thoughts of mettā his way as I hope for an end to suffering—his, mine, and that of all beings.