Keep up with all the chapters at the book page of Facing Hate: Overcoming Social Smearing, Recovering Relationships, and Rebuilding Your Reputation.
Those of us going through social smears feel like a mountain is crushing us. The losses we experience are immense, and when the smears come from people we know, especially from friends and family members we love, they seem to make the game unwinnable. And make no mistake: It is a game, a sport with players on the online field along with a mob of armchair quarterbacks making their judgments about whether we’re being too soft or too hard, too lenient or too stubborn, too religious or having too little faith. When your reputation is being disparaged online, you are at the mercy of the internet society. You won’t score any points by remaining silent, and it’s an even bigger mistake to fight back, returning insults with facts, and thereby engaging the so-called trolls. I was a player locked in the walls of the labyrinth, searching for a way out, and when I played scenarios out in my head — counter-blogging, email campaigns, even litigation in court — all options seemed to lead to tearing my family further apart.
I wish online smearing was understood more, that it came with a handbook on etiquette, or had expected rules of engagement. It is more like guerrilla warfare than a civilized competition, a rapid ride down a chaotic wild river, never knowing what lies beyond the next twist in the stream. It became “the game” in my family’s life as my daughters assailed me and the rest of my family — my wife, my other children, and sometimes even my extended family — while we tried to deal with the fallout. I desperately wanted to crack the nut of the social smearing world, just like I studied persuasive techniques and strategies of academic debaters. I reasoned, there must be a way to win (or escape!) the game, to persuade my daughters to leave their online hate behind, and to regain my family’s reputation and online status. I was indeed “a gamer” with a brand new code to break, but I had no how-to manual at the ready.
My experience at the Rush concert — meeting up with my most adversarial daughter — was encouraging, but this game was far from over. My three daughters still held true to their online narrative that I was an abusive man who reigned with a hard heart and a heavy hand in his patriarchal home. The bitter pain from the recent past was still pounding, yet I took the Rush encounter as one little victory. The battlefield calmed down and the heat of war cooled for a time, allowing us much-needed breathing room to heal and bandage our emotional wounds. My entire family visited our counselor several times to help us sort things out. Those sessions didn’t remove the online smear, of course, but they did help us begin to choose the right path for our lives and overcome the embarrassment of our situation.
I struggled most with my need to vindicate my family’s name while still holding out hope for the children who were ravaging it. What a penurious dilemma I was in. My daily mood was unpredictable, to say the least. I felt incredible frustration at the injustice of my situation, then depression over any imagined attempt to deal with it. I was desperate for answers to help explain my situation and persuade my adversaries. But have you ever gotten into an online debate? Rarely does anyone “win.” Remember, I’m a debate coach, a calculator of persuasion to win measured and strategic rounds at speech and debate tournaments. Yet I have found Facebook debates to be folly. No one ever wins, no one ever persuades anyone else, and the more you engage someone the more galvanized they become by their prejudiced beliefs, no matter how faulty or untrue. Thus, passionately engaging the social smearer is the Global Thermonuclear War of the social media world, and complete and utter destruction is no doubt the ultimate result.
Freedom from my social smearing would take offline experiences, not an online victory. Just as I did at the Rush concert, I needed to prepare to take full advantage of the next situation that presented itself. It was troubling and unjust to place my life at the whim of opportunity, but that’s the kind of trench warfare I was in. I needed to figure out a way to win this war, or at least to claim a win for the Jeub family team. Thankfully, the next opportunity revealed itself sooner than I would have guessed, and it turned out to be a significant win that helped move the mountain that was crushing me and my family.
One of my sons — the one who suffered from extreme dyslexia — had quite the comedic run as a speech competitor. He helped fill our trophy shelf with top awards from tournaments all over the country, including five top titles, two for the same event in two different leagues, a record that has yet to be broken. I can take some credit for coaching him, but most of the credit goes to his intense study of comedy and speech technique. When he wanted to do a backflip as part of a presentation, he sought instruction from an Olympic gymnast; when he wanted to enter a creative interpretive event, he toured with a professional storyteller and comedian; and when he wanted to take comedy beyond high school competition, he joined an improv group in Colorado Springs.
As mentioned earlier, this son was arguably the most betrayed by his sisters. We were nearly an entire year into our family drama, and he had turned 18 over the summer, becoming my sixth adult child. Before the smear he had an incredibly close relationship with one of the “bond of three” sisters. She wasn’t as much of a writer as my Rush-fan daughter, but she forwarded and reposted and “liked” the barrage of blog posts and follow-up comments that disparaged our family. My son at first challenged his sisters and attempted to debate with them in the blogosphere, but his sisters ridiculed him for his dyslexia-induced spelling errors. As I mentioned earlier in this book, they even began pointing to him as an example of “educational neglect” — yet another jab at my so-called abuse. My son was humiliated and embarrassed.
This made me so angry. My dyslexic son and destructive daughter used to be duo “interp” partners, performing a finalist rendition of The Princess Bride. I took them all over the country to perform the piece, and together they rose to 3rd place in the nation. It was an opportunity of a lifetime that few high schoolers ever get to experience. “Educational neglect,” whatever! I was so upset with how this daughter now treated her brother as some sort of brainwashed subordinate who wasn’t as “educated” as his older sisters. Do you ever find yourself fantasizing about the perfect rip to avenge yourself or your loved ones? I used to imagine chewing out my daughters, but my old high school friend was coaching me to resist the temptation to attack back, letting my innate anger toward injustice fall away. If I were to persuade my daughters to leave the online world of hate and social smearing, I’d have to win their hearts first. And I had to give up the idea of ever winning their minds. “You need to understand, Jeuby, that if you approach your daughters as the enemy, you will drive them further away,” my friend instructed me. I had to love them in a way different than my instincts told me.
For social smearing that involves your family, “turning the other cheek” is a most difficult rule to follow. When someone posts an incriminating detail or gossips about a matter that should have remained private, the temptation to verbally rip into the guilty is intense. We may be able to remain calm and collected when strangers attack us. But loved ones? It’s extremely difficult to keep your cool. It helps to focus on the end goal. I didn’t need the satisfaction of unloading on anyone; I needed to reconcile the immediate family drama of three estranged daughters ruining my family and its reputation. I needed to plot my escape and redeem my family name.
I was working in my home office the morning of one of my son’s improv events. We had plans to attend along with a few of the older kids. I had already been to one of his shows and — proud Dad moment — I thought my son was the funniest of the five comedians. We were looking forward to an evening of entertainment, but then he came downstairs to reveal disturbing news. He sat down in my opposing chair and dropped the headline: “My sister’s coming to tonight’s show,” he said. “And she’s bringing some guy.”
Or maybe this wasn’t so disturbing. Maybe another opportunity was availing itself. A couple of months had passed since my encounter with my other daughter at a Rush concert amid 20,000 other fans. Now another chance with another daughter was surfacing, this time at a small improv event with only a few dozen in the audience. Like I mentioned, the social smearing onslaught had ceased for the moment, and I liked to think it was because of that godsend Rush concert encounter, but I wasn’t sure. My daughters had seemed to lose most of their childhood friends that they grew up with, and were now among new friends who identified with or at least shared in smearing. I could imagine that they were a lost bunch, letting the days roll by while holding bitterness toward their parents, making manufactured memories the basis for their online image. I didn’t fully understand what was going on with the girls, and I certainly didn’t know what the next move was in our relationship.
This brings to mind a mistake that many parents of estranged children — or anybody with an estranged relationship with anyone — tend to make. They believe their adversaries are perpetually in the same state of emotional estrangement as when the separation first occurred. This is seldom true. You should always keep in mind that your “enemy” may have come around to see the world differently, and you need to be open to the fact that they may be ready for reengaging. It shouldn’t matter if the last encounter was a bitter fight or consisted of an irretrievable offense. If a spontaneous meetup presents itself, you should size up the situation and put your best foot forward.
For now, with my comedian son in my office explaining that my other daughter was about to “crash” his improv show that night — and she was dragging some guy with her — I had much to consider. How would you handle the situation? I knew I needed to take full advantage of the opportunity that presented itself, tuning my new persuasive technique up to optimal volume. I called my Minnesota friend to again seek his coaching, and he came up with a great plan. “Jeuby, don’t make your daughter your focus tonight,” he counseled. “Your focus should be her guy.”
Once more I thought this was odd advice, but my friend insisted on focusing on the guy, as if he was the target to hit. He said it would be an error to approach my daughter at all. This guy apparently had already earned her respect and admiration enough to bring him to her brother’s show. Perhaps they were even getting serious by now. If I were to somehow convince him that I was a good guy and fellow advocate for my daughter’s wellbeing, I would simultaneously succeed in convincing my daughter that I was a loving dad. In a debate round, it is equivalent to persuading your judge, not your opponent. Never mind your opponent; in the end it is the judge who fills out the ballot and declares you the winner.
“Do all you can to become best friends with your daughter’s boyfriend,” he coached me. “The temptation will be to turn to her, but you need to resist that. Ignore her. Let her observe you being the dad. It will feel like you’re dissing her, punishing her even, and she might at first snap at you for doing so. Ignore any attempt by her to keep you from connecting with her boyfriend. Who knows, he may be a jerk, and perhaps he’s a great guy, it doesn’t matter. You will be the man in the room and you’ll win your daughter’s respect.”
I was convinced, but I had a tough time convincing Wendy and the kids. Wendy admits today that, at the time, she wanted to do a little righteous-indignation yelling! Several of our children wanted to do the same, and my performing son — the most offended of all the siblings — wanted to at least tell her to stay home. I pleaded my case that we should do our best to take advantage of this opportunity to lead the “lost sheep” out of the madness she was in. The best way to do this was to love her where she was at as if the conflict didn’t exist, trying our best to get to know her boyfriend. Any other plan would lead to disappointment, I argued, perhaps even to further conflict that we would all regret.
The improv show was at a small art studio downtown. Wendy and I were seated already when our daughter and her boyfriend came in. I wasted no time. I left my seat and rocketed straight toward them, put my hand out to the guy and said, “Hi! I’m Chris.”
Of course he shook my hand. “Hey,” he said, smiling, introducing himself to me.
“I’m super-glad you could make it tonight to see my son perform,” I told him. “Did you know my son has been really enjoying improv? He was a champion speaker, and he and his sister were duo partners back in the day. Had she ever told you so?”
And so went the chitchat. I barely looked at my daughter. My full focus was on the guy. I led him away from my daughter to introduce him to Wendy, and she, too, made him the center of attention. By now the siblings were talking with our “lost sheep,” allowing Wendy and I to become friends with her guy. It turned out, thankfully, that he was a very kind, intelligent and insightful man. There was not too much ice to break through after all. In that 10 minutes prior to the show, my daughter’s boyfriend and I had fun conversing, and I had barely said a word to my daughter.
The show lifted the spirits of everyone in the audience. My son and the other improv performers lit up the place with bellyaching laughter. I continued to give my daughter’s boyfriend all of my attention after the show, getting to know him the best I could. I learned that he was trained in massage therapy. I told him that I had a kink in my neck, and he immediately shot into therapy mode, asking me to do all sorts of twists with my arm as he massaged my neck. He gave a small stand-up massage to Wendy, too. I like to think he felt welcomed by my family, with nary a single judgmental or skeptical glare coming from any of us in the Jeub family — as if there was no family drama at all.
My friend back home in Minnesota would have been proud. Because this was the point. I largely ignored my daughter, and I totally ignored any of her past injustices toward the family. We left the improv that night liking her boyfriend — sincerely, we were not being fake; he appeared to be a great guy — and I was eager to see him again. I gathered that he felt the same. We left for home, and they left for theirs, wherever that was. We hadn’t made that a point of discussion at all. We enjoyed the evening together, getting to know one another and having a great time. I bet my daughter’s guy lit up a conversation with her that began something like, “So, what’s so bad about your dad again?” After which my daughter probably began to reflect, I’m not sure.
Pause again now and consider how you would have handled the situation — or, at least, what conventional wisdom would have called for. My daughter had been one of the three girls who had done us great damage, and we had no reason to believe that she had changed at all. We had every right to take that biblically figurative eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, and lay into her for her offenses. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and when you consider the effectiveness of my friend’s advice, it convinces you to reconsider. At the start of the evening my daughter had been an avowed adversary to my family name, and I suspected her boyfriend was an enabler. Appeals to civilized conversation, confrontation, logic or reason, or any other conventional attempt to bridge the gap of our relationship would have been futile — folly, no doubt, much like a Facebook debate — surely backfiring and leading to a more disastrous void. Instead, by the end of the night my daughter seemed to be reconsidering her adversarial stance, which was exactly where she needed to be. There would be no winning my online “game” without her being in a repentant, ready-to-reconcile frame of mind, but I needed to change my own attitude and approach in order to lead her there. It worked like a charm! And “charm” it certainly was, even netting me a neck massage from her guy.
“Facing hate” is perhaps one of the most brutal and unjust conflicts a person can be in. Any parent with a prodigal son or daughter — whether or not they are socially smeared online — understands the dire straits this situation is. The hater cares nothing for you, but you care deeply for the hater. In every way the smearer is your enemy — they want you humiliated and ruined — yet, when they are part of your family, you want them reconciled and back to their functional selves. Ignoring the trial altogether and reaching out to the one who made your life so difficult is, in itself, one of the most difficult things you will attempt to do. But that is what truly converts someone. It’s not about beating your enemies. It’s about loving them.
This daughter was the youngest of the three sisters still holding onto the online narrative of abuse, and she wasn’t yet free from the knotted bond. The offenses against our family were difficult to forget. We remembered this particular daughter as the “stalker.” She didn’t write much online — sharing and liking her sister’s writings were more her style — but she did the most to try to lure other children at home into their bond. During one of our out-of-town trips the year before, she sneaked into our home and left gifts and notes for her siblings, leaving her cell number in case they, too, wanted to “escape.” She showed up at our children’s school — the local charter school that six kids attended — making the school’s vice principal think it as a security breach. I had to then fill him in to the social media smear we were dealing with. So my daughter had the appearance of being predatory, and our distrust in her ran pretty high.
Herein lies one of the most difficult realities of the modern dilemma of online smears. They do incredible, lasting damage to relationships. It is not at all like an impassioned shouting match in the privacy of your home where both participants can say sorry and make up. In our case our daughters had thousands of viral strangers to fess up to, while Wendy and I had thousands more who wanted explanations. We all had the judgment of the various online mobs to counter, and the humiliation of the exposure of our family drama to the online world to consider. It was nearly impossible for us to simply “forgive and forget,” just as it was unfathomable to think our “stalking” daughter would fess up to fabricating the narrative of our so-called dysfunctional family. This was surely going to be a difficult journey out of the social smearing mess.
I recall the months before the blog-post bombs started dropping. This particular daughter had moved out to live with her older blog-writing sister — the two just two years apart in age — in a basement apartment close to college. The two began taking jabs at Wendy and me in private, accusing us of the very vices that eventually were articulated online for the world to read. I still remember weathering the biting conversations with much hope, listening to their grievances and trying hard to understand their pain. We carried on, just like my parents did in my youth, quietly taking the news of our children’s reimagined upbringing. It was together that the two first made the accusation that we abused them. We suggested that we all see a counselor for help. We believed at the time these were some sort of manufactured memories, something much deeper than simple conversations could resolve. We denied their claims of abuse, and they insisted we were lying, and that is how the conversation halted our relationship.
At first the girls agreed to counseling, but they insisted the counselor be a “professional” counselor (not a pastor or respected friend of the family) and that we pay for it. At least this was better than a flat refusal, so we agreed and found a Ph.D. in Colorado Springs who agreed to meet with us. The first session was a meeting with Wendy and me. We had scheduled a second session where the girls would meet with the counselor privately, the plan being we would meet together for a third session and try to reconcile. This was the agreed plan between all of us, and our daughters were set to meet with the psychologist in October 2014. You now know the route the girls took from there. Our hope for reconciliation was crushed when the girls went on their social smearing rampage — and their oldest sister, the third in the “bond of sisters,” joined in. They never did meet with the counselor.
I believe that if they had chosen counseling, so much pain could have been avoided. For them, as well as the rest of the family. Rather than weeks or even months of counseling and reconciliation, we got public fighting and smearing that went on for years. The first month of the public smear was the most devastating for our family, but even then we held out hope. Recall the reaching out I did weeks into the smear — inviting them to the birthday party of our twins. We wanted reconciliation so badly, wanted to try to understand their rage and hatred, and if a simple birthday party would help move closer to that, then we would move heaven and earth to make sure the sisters could come. “Not interested,” she coldly replied.
This was who we remembered, truly a prodigal daughter, one who left home in a huff and made sure we didn’t follow. The metaphorical prodigal — represented in the book of Luke in the Bible — eventually repents, returns to his father, begs for forgiveness for sinning against him and against God. It is a mistake for parents to imagine this glorious return of their wayward children, for it rarely happens all at once with pomp and circumstance. I have found that prodigals return in small steps, little by little, one concession at a time. Parents need to be very careful not to upset this incremental process and lose more ground than they gain, making reconciliation more difficult as time goes on. Whip up a social smear involving countless online strangers on social media, and you’ll see just how hard the mountain is to move.
I drove home the night of the improv feeling extremely optimistic, more so than I had in a year. I felt incredibly empowered with my newly discovered persuasion powers. This was a breakthrough for me! I had finally found a method to solve the mad stalemate that plagued my family. These attempts to persuade and influence were different than the logic and reasoning methods I taught in my life’s work as a debate teacher. In traditional debate, your opponent agrees to follow the rules; in a social smear, you’re dealing with chaos and lawlessness.
These new strategies were miraculously effective twice in a row — the first at the Rush concert, the second at the improv — and I followed both with simple gifts of affection. Just as I bought my blogging daughter a T-shirt at the Rush concert, I ordered a coffee mug and coffee and had them delivered to my “stalking” daughter. She responded with appreciation. The goal of opening up communication with her had succeeded far beyond any “logic and reasoning” email exchange or shouting match would have brought. The method (which more precisely could be called my change of heart) was working, and I was eager to keep applying the techniques. So I added a note to the gift that kindly asked her to follow through with the counselor we originally scheduled the year before.
My family was still skeptical. My daughter’s teenage sisters, especially, had difficulty forgetting her predatory behavior the year before. Remember how my other adult children were solicited to join the smear? The same attempts to sever them from the family were made with our teenage girls, and the so-called “stalker” was the most aggressive, even one time trying to influence them to run away from home. Wendy, too, had doubts about how repentant she was now, afraid that perhaps this was just another attempt to “rescue” her siblings from their “abusive” home. I was optimistic, but the rest of the family was suspicious.
At first I accused them of being paranoid. This was finally our chance to welcome in the prodigal child, “kill the fattened calf” and celebrate reconciliation! Our family needed a victory, and I didn’t want this ship to pass. Wendy and I had a sharp disagreement about how to reach out to our daughter. I wanted to seek her out, as if I were the shepherd seeking out his lost lamb. Wendy suspected a trap, another attempt from her daughter to wreak havoc in our lives. I wanted another chance to guide her back into the family; Wendy wanted to protect the family we had left.
That’s where the argument hung, so I called my friend, expecting him to agree with me. “No, Jeuby,” he said. “Listen to Wendy. She’s absolutely right.” He then started to push me toward another higher-level idea, encouraging me to play it cool and avoid appearing desperate or foolish. He urged me to wait. “The coffee gift was perfect because it keeps her thinking of you whenever she uses it,” he coached me, “but the request for counseling was clumsy. It showed desperation and weakness. You have to wait it out, respect her time, and let her truly come back to you.” He continued: “And listen to Wendy! She’s a deep woman with intuition that surpasses yours. You can’t treat women like men, Jeuby. That’s your problem. Wendy knows this: She can see your eagerness to fix the situation, but she sees it as weakness. You will only push your daughter away, maybe even Wendy, too, just like I did with my wife. Remember, they need to feel it, so you need to wait.”
I took the reprimand, feeling a bit “schooled” by my friend, but I now see he was absolutely right. My daughter accepted her coffee gift, but she pushed against my request for counseling. “I feel I am not ready,” she emailed. I tried to recover and keep my cool, responding that it was fine. “In your own time,” I replied. Nearly four weeks followed before she responded again. It was October 2015, a full year into our social smear, when my daughter finally began seeking restoration with her family. The four weeks of “stewing” over our predicament allowed for all of us to consider the situation. And it was a very busy month. My Australia-residing daughter and her Syrian husband flew into the States for the celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. They stayed the entire month of October, traveled America (my son-in-law had never been to the U.S.), and we spent much time in deep discussions of our family ordeal.
These were painful weeks for me. Sure, it was great that my daughter visited from Australia and my parents celebrated 50 years of marriage, but my tarnished online reputation was seriously hurting my business. Summer camp attendance dropped by more than half (would you send your kid to summer camp when its leader was publicly accused of abuse?), and sales of my resources took a hit, too. My manly need to fix the public smear swelled inside me, though I still submitted to Wendy’s intuitive resistance, suppressing my fighting spirit. The result? I found myself depressed over my lack of options. Waiting is very difficult. I hated admitting it, but this is exactly what the biblical father of the prodigal son did. He didn’t go out into the mucky world to drag his boy back. He stayed home with the rest of the family and waited for his lost son to return. I’ll bet it was very difficult to do so.
Those of us who are estranged from loved ones must realize that time doesn’t stand as still as we think. I discovered later that my daughter was, in a way, being coached by the guy she brought to the improv. Unbeknownst to any of us, he was working on my daughter’s perception of her family. He came from a troubled family of divorce and abuse that really happened. When my daughter would divulge the details of her supposed abuse, her boyfriend would reply, “That’s it?” My daughter would try to explain how bad her parents were, and he would counter, “Let me tell you about my parents.” For these four weeks of me “waiting” for something to happen, my daughter’s guy was working hard to get her to see that her parents weren’t that bad at all.
To me it seemed like an eternity, but my daughter did finally contact me. She requested a meeting with the family. I didn’t want to make the same sloppy mistake of appearing desperate, so I said, “No, we’re not ready.” I explained that I, personally, was fine with a meeting, but the rest of the family was not. This wasn’t untrue, but it had more to do with applying the advice that my friend laid out for me. It made me appear the defender of my daughter, as if I was the pathway to reconnecting with her family, which is exactly what she would respond best to. As a compromise, I offered the idea of going to coffee with just Wendy and me — and her older sister (still in town from Australia) with her husband. An agreement was made, and we set up a time to meet.
We had only met my daughter’s guy once. We liked his carefree spirit, but we had no idea how much of a positive influence he was. By this time we had discovered they were living together somewhere in the mountains, but not much more than that. A younger Chris Jeub would have jumped to all sorts of conclusions, followed quickly with the worst pronouncements of judgment. But by then I felt I had no grounds to judge anyone, so I accepted their relationship for what it was. In a spiritual way, I was letting God sort out the lifestyle of my adult child, and I have found this to be a much more successful approach with all of my children. They know my views and they know how they were raised, but their questionable life choices as adults are for them to deal with. I only deal with problem behaviors when they conflict with my life directly, and them living together was far from my current conflict.
Besides, I could tell something was changing in my daughter. A few emails were exchanged to set up the coffee date, and she would close her notes with “In Agape love” and “I love you Dad!” This was new. If I were to halt that kind of progress just to stick my fatherly nose into her adult business, I would have senselessly destroyed everything. I have come to understand that when we as parents insist on condemning our children for the adult lifestyles they have chosen, all we do is wall them off, sometimes forever. When they are adults and you have been cast out of their lives, you need to hold your judgment and — as painful as it is — wait.
My Syrian son-in-law was changing me, too. He was a citizen of Australia, but he grew up in Aleppo, his home now destroyed by the civil war. His parents were refugees in Turkey where he married my daughter. I had already spent two weeks with him six months prior in Australia, but this time he was in my home and I had gone through so much since then. I had learned just how much influence he had on my daughter when she was struggling with me. She, as you already know, also professed a childhood of abuse, but my son-in-law counseled her to still respect her parents and love them. He was raised in Syria, and he insisted that mild punishment in his Muslim community would look like severe abuse in America, so, like my other daughter’s guy, he counseled her to appreciate her parents more.
We met at a local coffee shop. Three women (Wendy and our daughters) and three men (me and my daughters’ guys). We were all tense, expecting perhaps a raging argument about the past. Who knew what was going to happen? We were all playing a game, not able to predict the next move. We greeted one another cordially enough, the girls went to the counter to buy a round of coffees, and the guys gravitated to the elongated booth in the corner of the shop. My daughter’s boyfriend sat on one side, my son-in-law and I on the other. The massage-therapy pro jumped right in, and what he said was surprising. Paraphrased:
“OK, guys. I am doing everything I can to bring my girlfriend back to her family, but it has been very difficult. Chris, she shares nothing but the best stories of your family, but she seems to think she was abused and neglected. I don’t really care how much of it is true. I know that she misses her mom and siblings, and we need to get her to wise up and respect you and return to her family. I need your help to convince her, guys. I think she’s ready.”
The two of us sat and listened, jaws slightly agape. We hadn’t known how much of an advocate this man had been. The girls arrived with our coffees, and together the six of us remained in our seats for two hours, Wendy and her daughter doing virtually all of the talking. This was where the conflict and tension remained. My daughter expressed how she wanted to see her siblings, but Wendy countered with her reasonable suspicions. My daughter said she had changed her mind a lot since knowing her boyfriend. Wendy expressed how much pain she had caused the family. My daughter shared her desire to reunite with her siblings. Wendy explained how she felt so betrayed by her daughter’s actions the year before. Many tears were shed at that table, and the rest of us spent much of our time quietly listening to the exchange between mother and daughter. We left the conversation satisfied, vowing to bring news of the meeting back to the siblings.
The few words I spoke into the conversation were affirmations of what I had already told my daughter: I was personally fine with her reconnecting with the family, but the rest had reservations. This showed her my willingness to protect her from embarrassment or counterattack. My heart was eager to reconcile her with the family she smeared, but my flesh often clawed at me to meditate on the injustice of it all. My friend wisely counseled me to bury my feelings and stay focused on the goal. “Your daughter is just like any daughter: they have the innate need for their father’s protection,” he said. “You have many daughters, but you can protect all of them from one another. Let this play out, Jeuby. You can do this!”
I had doubts about the arranged sibling meeting. The young ones weren’t a part of it, but the older teens were, and we met at a restaurant in Colorado Springs. It went better than I thought it would. Almost immediately the old laughs between siblings lit up the restaurant. Jokes flew from sibling to sibling, many of the sentences started by one being finished by another, and the joy of a happy family kept the place hopping. Sibling bonds are arguably the strongest bond in family life, even stronger than a parent-child bond. It was as if there was no history of a social smear at all. I sat and mostly observed the reconciliation of the lost prodigal with her siblings. It was beautiful.
My daughter and her boyfriend visited several times that winter. I insisted they sleep in separate rooms, an expectation in my home that they never challenged. None of our reconciliation was displayed to the online world, and by then this daughter had largely shut down her social media altogether. Still, the online smear was being pushed away from our current life, and that was very, very nice! My daughter’s boyfriend and I started to become friends. He asked for my blessing, I gave it, and he proposed to my daughter. A year later we climbed to 12,500 feet for their wedding held at the tree-line on a Colorado 14er beside a majestic lake. All of the Jeub children — all but our Australian daughter and the two remaining sisters still holding onto the online narrative of our abusive family — made the seven-mile hike to join in the celebration. Wendy and I walked our daughter up a wooded trail leading to the top of a lakeside boulder, and I handed her over to her guy.
We did more than just climb a mountain that day. We moved it. This was a significant victory in rebuilding our family’s reputation and bringing our daughters — the strand of three cords “not easily broken,” as the Bible says — back into the family. Isn’t it interesting how the offline relationship began to take apart the online narrative and show the greater truth? The Jeub family is a huge family full of love and empathy, not an abuse-ridden home of crazy haters. The tide of this social-smearing war started to turn toward us. I began winning the online game by leaving it.
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