It Begins

It’s a wonderful thing to have a good friend you can count on, to talk to, reminisce, and just touch base with. It’s even more so when you’re looking at the finish line, I think. For Dad, most of his “friends” are dead. His family–mother, father, brothers–are long since dead. The last man standing for Dad is his friend, Big Jim. Through all of Dad’s shenanigans, Big Jim stuck around. Never judging–not really helping, either, but he never added to Dad’s problems. Big Jim’s been a steady guy. Always had a job. Never sucked off Dad who also always had a job unlike every other “friend” he ever had. Saved for retirement. Cared for his siblings through their health issues. He’s also always been good to my brother and me. That’s why I didn’t mind so much–all right, I minded a little–when Dad told me Big Jim was coming down.

This past week as we awaited Big Jim’s arrival, I could see a change in Dad. His spirit was lighter. He wanted to do things. I noticed his apartment was significantly cleaner. He called to have me take him to the barber. He called to have me take him to the grocery. (Of course, he could have done the barber and the grocery all in one trip since the establishments are directly across from each other–I offered–but he didn’t).  He wanted to know how to make chili so he could have a pot ready for Big Jim when he got in. I printed off a good Betty Crocker version, which was one of the easiest, got Dad some spices and a ring of measuring spoons, and let him go to town.

Each day Big Jim traveled, Dad called me with updates. He’s in Louisville. He’s outside Atlanta. The closer Big Jim came, the more calls I received.  I appreciated Dad’s enthusiasm, but I grew apprehensive the nearer Big Jim came. How were my responsibilities going to grow? Will the boys get into trouble like they had before? How much time will I need to devote to the two of them? How much will my work suffer?

It didn’t take long for me to find out that I would be called upon. Big Jim was lost. He missed his exit and got twisted up. He called Dad for directions. Dad, who hasn’t driven since the ’80s, had never been where Big Jim wound up. Dad called me for directions to relay to Big Jim. Like that was going to work. Dad couldn’t really explain where Big Jim was. Why Big Jim didn’t just call me directly, I don’t know. He had my number. I had him describe where he was, and I thought I knew where he was. Not more than a few miles away if I was correct. I stopped writing, hopped in the car, and headed out. I found Big Jim parked at a McDonald’s about six miles away from Dad’s place (and mine).

Getting Big Jim to Dad’s was torturous. He doesn’t drive more than 25 or 30 miles per hour. If he drove that way all the way from Wisconsin, it’s a wonder someone didn’t ram him out of frustration.

As we pulled in to Dad’s, Dad came barreling out (as best as he could barrel) to greet Big Jim. It had been years, maybe since 2001, since they’d seen each other. We each unpacked the back of the car and made our way inside.  Dad was jabbering. Big Jim was giggling. I just stayed back and watched. We gave Big Jim the nickel tour of Dad’s apartment, and the boys sat down to rest. Within minutes, Dad remembered how to play host and the boys sat down to chili and Diet Cokes.

The next day, mid-morning, I got a call letting me know where all the two had been. The diner, Home Depot. Turns out Big Jim brought down a flat screen so they could really enjoy their t.v. time. Also turns out neither of them knew how to hook it up. I had to turn to Andy to ask if he would mind hooking up the thing for them. It’s a bother. Dad’s been a weight on me since before Andy and I met, and with all the things Dad’s put me through, Andy doesn’t exactly appreciate being tapped to help. But he always helps. With the aid of our own HDMI cord, Andy was able to get the boys set up. Later that day, Dad called to let me know Big Jim and he decided to hire a maid–dad’s old caretaker who’s pushing 90 if she’s a day. I could only roll my eyes. There’s no reason two grown men can’t clean a one bedroom apartment on their own.

The following day, the boys were off to the Batteries Plus store to buy a phone battery for Dad. Forty-two dollars. Big Jim bought it. I’ll have to repay him. Dad isn’t trusted with money anymore, though I believe I may start giving him some so Big Jim doesn’t get stuck paying for everything.

I don’t know. That’s a big step. For me as well as him. There’s a matter of trust that he won’t try to buy everything, which is his mode of operation. I have to preserve his funds. He’s lost everything three times now. I’m trying to rebuild for him. I know it’s his money, but it’s my sanity that gets strained when it comes to Dad’s funds.

We’ll see.

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Rough & Rushed

December 12, 2010

Rough and rushed.  That’s how life feels right now.  Since before Thanksgiving, dad has been my focus.  Dad’s safety.  Dad’s health.  Dad’s finances.  Dad’s living conditions.

Since I first heard from Moira, Dad’s probation officer, getting Dad to Florida has been my priority.  At first, I only planned to have him down here long enough to get him evaluated by his doctor and get his social security money out of suspense.  When I arrived in Sanford, North Carolina, I didn’t try to contact dad.  I had too many things to do in too short a time.

Hate to admit it, but he would have just been in the way.  I needed to meet Moira, the detectives I’d worked with when he was missing, and the bankers who first alerted me to his situation.  I wanted to thank them.  I wanted to have us each put a face to the phone and email conversations we had over the past several months.  I have to admit, though, that I had an ulterior motive for wanting to see them all in person.  I wanted them to see me, see that although my dad may look and sound like white trash, he wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  In my mind, if they saw me, heard me, they would understand that Dad always had competent help at hand.  All he ever needed to do was reach out, but he never did.

My fault, that one.  The day he told me he wanted to move to North Carolina, I told him that if he did, “Don’t call me when you get into trouble.”  Other than when Blackie, his dog, was stolen, I rarely heard from him.  When I did, he rambled, and I knew he was drinking.  Many times, I didn’t take his calls.  Just let them go to voicemail.  If he called too often, I wouldn’t listen to my messages.  I couldn’t.  I just didn’t want to hear his overly long messages that told me nothing more than he wasn’t in his right mind when he called.

Should I have cut him off like that, taken away his lifeline?  I think yes.  His neediness and drama had taken a horrible toll on my life, my work, my health.  His very presence stymied my creativity.  I’m a writer.  I’m an editor.  Creativity is what gives me life in every sense of the word.  Though I published, the work was no longer fun.  Only when I hired help for him did I finally find fun in what I do.  When I made the decision to bring him back here, I made the decision to temporarily take the fun out of my life again.  I know the process this time, though.  The downtime will be weeks instead of months.

Day One: Our first stop for him once we arrived in the Sunshine State was to see his doctor, (I’ll call him Dr. Brennan).  Before we went to Social Security, we needed the doctor to sign on a medical form to testify that dad is unable to handle his finances.  It took only moments for Dr. Brennan to say he’d seen enough.  Dad didn’t stop talking the entire time we were in the office.

Then, it was time to go to the credit union to set up his accounts and get the proper paperwork started for the next day’s visit to Social Security.

After that, the grocery store for some staples he could have in his hotel room.

Day Two: The Social Security office visit was like stepping into hell. The place reeked of body odor, even though it was wintertime. People’d brought their children with them. Why would anyone do that? The wait in the SS office is going to be at least three hours if not longer, and there’s not a child on earth who can sit still, let alone be quiet, for that long.  The place itself was bulletproof-glassed and security guarded up just enough to make me feel uneasy stepping inside. What kind of people do they service, anyway?

Once at the counter, the man behind the glass did his level best to make me out to be a child who was going to take advantage of the old man next to me. “Does your dad owe you any money?” He did, about $25,000, but I didn’t say that. “Will you be getting paid for taking care of your dad’s finance or anything else?” Uh, no. The man doesn’t make enough to pay me, let alone pay me back. I just found the little man’s attitude and tone to be offensive. He was, however, quick to get dad set up as we had already been to the credit union and had the account numbers at hand.

Day Three: Clothes shopping. The urine-soaked pants had to go, as did the ill-fitting shoes and women’s sweater and coat dad refused to take off. He did, I must say, find a pair of pants (not his size) laying beside the road that he actually thought I was going to let him wear. I guess that counts for something. The pants were new to him, after all.

Day Four: Forced shower. Threw out old clothes so he had to wear his new ones. Then, off to visit apartment complex after apartment complex after apartment complex. I wanted to try to get find him something he could afford with just his General Motors pension check so we could start saving his Social Security check once it started coming again.

No luck.

With him just getting out of jail, and that jail stay being for passing bad checks, no one–at least on the good side of town–would touch him. In the end, I took him back to where he lived before, the complex right on the other side of my woods. Thankfully, the staff was the same. They all loved dad (who didn’t, right), and they let him come back. I, of course, had to sign for him…

We wound up putting dad in a two bedroom, second-storey (yes, that’s spelled correctly) apartment. Even though he had no furniture, only my air mattress and a couple camping chairs, dad was thrilled to move in immediately.

Now, all I had to do was start furnishing his life. He already said he’d like to get another dog. I could start on that Day Five.

It’s going to be a long rest-of-the-year.

 

The case of the ball that lost its bounce

What is it that stops you in your tracks?  For the past several weeks – several weeks – I have tried to think of how to describe what I have experienced since I brought my dad back to Florida.  It’s not so much frustration as it is pressure, but not the kind of pressure that breeds anxiety.

I’m not anxious.

I know what needs to be done to move ahead, but that’s just the problem.  I know.  I know, because I’ve done it before, and I know not one part of what I have to do is going to be easy or appreciated.  It’s that knowledge that has my stymied.

If you can, imagine yourself inside a ball that’s filled with that gooey stuff inside a stress ball.  I feel as though I’m inside that ball.  I’m a lump that gets manipulated by a huge hand.  Each finger is a different stressor, and I’m desperately trying to press myself back into the relative shelter of the palm.

It’s just not working.  The fingers are rolling me into contortions all over the inside of that ball.

Every breath I take, from the moment I wake until the moment my head hits the pillow (notice I don’t say “sleep”),  I feel the atmosphere compressing that ball.  Think about it:  the force of everything compressing equally over that ball.  I’m in the middle, and I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.  I have to heave a sigh just to take in air, otherwise, my breathing is so shallow, I have to think myself into taking a breath.

My mind feels suspended.  There really isn’t another word for it.  Blank doesn’t quite describe it, neither does empty.  I feel too much inside my head, see too much.  The sense of overwhelm is like a too-thick layer of skin and it paralyzes me.

Don’t get me wrong, to look at me, you wouldn’t know anything was going on with me.  I may strike you as too quiet, aloof even.  All business with a pleasant face.  My humor, as always, would be dark, biting, even self-deprecating.  I’d make you laugh, but only so I can get you to go on your way.

I’m the queen of placation.

The problem is that it takes every ounce of energy for me to emit that façade of interaction.  I would receive no energy from you.  I would only be throwing my energy at you to get you away from me so I could force myself back to the dad-tasks to get them done as quickly as possible so I can accomplish at least one thing for myself.

It doesn’t always happen, the doing something for myself part.  That’s why I need my notebook.  Not my smart-phone, not my laptop, but my plain paper notebook.  Jotting is quicker than booting up and typing.  Flipping is faster than searching.  I need my notebook to quickly show myself what I’ve done as much as to remind me what I need to do.

And that’s just it:  I now have too much to do.  Dad is a 24-7-365 job.  Even though he’s in his own apartment – he’s living on the other side of my woods – Dad calls every couple of hours to ask me if it’s raining where I am.  (He’s about 300 yards away).  He and the dogs will pop over at various times throughout the day to visit.  Unannounced.  Dad just wants to tell me about his day and show me an ungodly number of pictures he’s taken of virtually nothing, and I can’t stand it.  I don’t care that he’s seen the same ducks he’s seen for the past month.  I don’t care that his neighbor has moved in or out.  I don’t care.

I do care that he’s safe and well and that he has enough to eat and that he will always have a place to call his own.  Every day.  I just want that to be enough, but I know it’s not.  I have to dig deeper inside myself, drill out my marrow if I have to, in order to find that last speck of whatever it is – life, I guess – to make me get up tomorrow so I can lead him through another good day in a place that makes him feel secure.

The case of the fork in the road

Do we ever really know what we get ourselves into when we make up our minds to do something?  I mean, really make up our minds?

My first term in college – god, that was so many years ago now – my first term wasn’t even halfway through when my dad went off the deep end.  I don’t really know what prompted that particular fall, but fall he did.  After twenty-eight years of not missing a day, he started missing work.

I remember coming home from class, (I think it was a Tuesday, actually), I came home to the house on Broadway, walked up the stairs, rounded the corner into the kitchen, and my mom handed me the phone.  My dad’s supervisor wanted to know if I knew where my dad was.

Like I would know.  By that time, it had been, what, fourteen or so years since we shared the same house?  How the hell would I know where he was?  I hadn’t heard from him in weeks.  All I knew was that the last few times I’d seen him, he was so drunk that I didn’t want to be anywhere near him.  He tried to French kiss me the last time he said hello.  I avoided him like the plague.  I wanted nothing to do with him.

Child support, which Dad irregularly paid at best due to his penchant for stopping the $15 a week direct payment to the Friend of the Court, stopped the day I turned eighteen.  My mother had forgiven the debt he’d built up, so he really had no reason to check in with me every week.

He’d done nothing, you know, over the years to build a relationship with me.  Our time together was pretty much relegated to the drive to and from his parents’ house on the Albion side of Duck Lake.  When he was married, the time between my house and Shaftsburg where he lived with his second wife was our time.  I might see him over the weekend, of course, but mostly he partied.  My bother and I played in the lake or skated, depending upon the time of year, under Grandma’s watchful eye.  Grandpa was usually half in the bag, so to me, his supervision didn’t really count.

It took only days after my high school graduation for me to realize I had little, if anything, in common with most of my family.  The Faulkners most of all.  I didn’t drink.  I didn’t smoke.  I didn’t hunt.  I didn’t want to “work” for a living, I wanted to “do” something for a living.  Be someone.  Go places.  I didn’t want to have anything to do with Springport, Duck Lake, or the farm.  I loathed every last person from those places who touched my life.  Everyone, save my grandma.  Less so my grandpa, but he severely tried my patience with his drinking.

I hated drunks.  I hated the smell of beer, the smell of chewed up Mail Pouch.  I hated reeking of cigarettes, hearing disgusting conversations I should have never heard from the youngest age.  Hated being hugged and kissed and leaned on by dad’s and Grandpa’s disgusting friends.  Hated listening to my dad screw my friend in the bed next to my bed mere moments after the lights were turned out.  I was going into seventh grade.  She had just graduated high school.

I wanted to be away from them and their kind.  I chose to go to college, and on my dime, I was putting myself through.

So, with all that baggage, I took that phone call.  Reminded the guy that I didn’t live with Dad and had no way of knowing how he spent his time, let alone how to get hold of him.  That’s when he told me Dad was going to lose his job if he didn’t come in the next day.  The fact that he’d never missed a day was irrelevant.  Fisher Body had rules, and as much as the guy loved my dad, (everyone loves my dad), he would have to let him go.  He asked me if there was any way I could track him down.  I said no, and hung up.

Mom, who was standing next to me throughout the conversation, said something to me then that fairly echos in my head today whenever my dad gets himself into trouble.  She told me that I only had one dad.  She told me that if I didn’t help him, I would regret it the rest of my life.  If he lost his job, he’d lose his pension.  He’d lose his benefits.  He’d lose anything he may have built up for my brother and me.  I had to help him.

I kind of tuned out the rest of what she said after that, but I remember her saying something about her dad.  Something about how she would have done anything for him.  Something about wishing she still had him.  Mom adored her dad.  She lost him too young.  Dad, though, was not my Grandpa Joe.

Her words didn’t take long to trigger guilt through my smoldering anger.  I made calls.  I made rounds.  I got him the message that he needed to get his ass back to work.

He came in the next day.

That scene was repeated several times until, finally, Fisher Body’d had enough.  If Dad wanted to keep his job, he had to go through rehab.  Reluctantly, he did.  And then he went again.  And then again.  Fisher only paid for three trips.  Dad’s days were numbered.  When he started messing up again, he made sure he didn’t miss three consecutive days, but because he was missing work each week, he was on his way out – and fast.  Had my brother and step-father not negotiated an early out for him, dad would have lost everything.

So, he was out.  Ready to party.  Problem was, none of his friends, not even his remaining brother, could join him.  They all had crap jobs with few benefits, none of which resembled an early out with pensions and benefits.

Who was available to party?  Well, white trash, of course.  As long as Dad was buying, he had no end of friends.  Young friends.  Friends with no jobs.  Friends who wouldn’t think twice about robbing him, beating him up, even robbing Grandma, who by then was widowed and dependent upon Dad for her care.

Fat lot a protection he gave her.

How long could I let him spiral?

In the years that followed, I graduated from college.  Moved to Chicago.  Moved to Florida.  I lived a life marred by his presence in my mind.

I wasn’t long in Florida when I got a call from Dad.  His voice was weak.  He was out of money.  He was out of jail.  (I had no idea he was even in jail).  Alimony for his third wife, his ex-sister-in-law, was killing him.  He had $247 dollars left to his name.  He asked me for help.

So, there it is.  One more time.  My help.

My only dad.  My only dad.  My only dad.

Even a teller at Dad’s bank started calling me.  People who were giving my dad rides to the bank were leaving with most of his money.  They’d give him a sob story, and he’d hand over cash.  I say “they.”  It was mainly that last ex-wife.

Did I mention the teller was his last ex-wife’s ex-sister-in-law?

My, how life can get complicated.

I had to help him.

I gave dad my conditions:  To straighten out his finances, I needed power-of-attorney.  The fact that he was paying alimony to a wife he’d been with only a short time didn’t set well with me.  I’d have to have a copy of the divorce papers.  Papers that were delivered to him in jail.  That’s how he found out he’d been divorced.  He never even signed the papers.

I had my work cut out for me.

Nearly thirty years later, I’m still working.  He’s still getting into trouble.  And I’m still bailing him out.  With conditions, of course.

My conditions this time, though, are stringent and final.  I’m too old to keep this up.  I may be on the good side of fifty, but I’m on the wrong side of forty-five.  Too much of my life has been wasted on trying to save someone who doesn’t care to accept the help he’s begged to receive.

I wasted.

I’m the one who wasted my life.  I’m the one who made choices that led me away from working on realizing my dreams and living out my passions.  I’m the one who has to look in the mirror every day and see someone I never wanted to become.  Someone who, for an hour a week, plays at doing a microcosm of what I’ve always wanted to do.

Had I only known what I was getting myself into, I may not have made that initial choice that brought me to where I am now.

Unexpected turns

You know, when I was growing up, I never expected I’d be where I am now:  my dad’s caretaker.  Not the usual kind of caretaker, mind you.  My dad’s far from being bedfast.  He doesn’t even live in a home, let alone with me, though he sorely needs a caretaker.

My dad’s an alcoholic.  Throughout his adult life, his drinking got him into trouble.  Since he was quite beautiful in his day – much more than handsome, (I’ll post a pic as soon as I have the bunch I’ve found scanned in), he was also an unrepentant womanizer.  He was quite, shall we say, quite “active”.  He was, and remains, vain.  He’s always been a flirt, and women couldn’t help but respond.  Sometimes, he didn’t even have to make the first move, which is a little disconcerting when you’re a kid and watching things transpire.  Needless to say, dad never stay married for long.

Before my dad retired, he sort of started to short-circuit.  He worked for Fisher Body up in Lansing, Michigan.  Fisher makes the bodies of General Motors cars.  When it was its own entity, its logo, a stagecoach, was always emblazoned on the doorstep of every body.  They even had a gorgeous garden in the shape and colors of the logo which was taken care of by an old gardener who was let go when GM took over.  GM ripped up the garden.  That’s neither here nor there, I guess, but dad was always a little sore over that deal.

Anyway, dad started to short-circuit.  In his twenty-eight years at Fisher, he’d never missed a day.  One day, though, he didn’t show up.  After a couple more days, with dad nowhere in sight, his boss called me at my mom’s house.  Dad always used his office phone to call me, so they had my number.  I’d had lunch with dad several times when I was at Michigan State since it was so close to campus, so they knew who I was.  Who else would they call?

I had no idea where he was, but I promised to do what I could to find him.  Find him I did, though I can’t remember where I found him all these years later.  I got him back to work, but he didn’t show up sober.  He’d call me from the shop and laugh that he and the guys hid schnapps in the cushion room and would cover for each other as they took naps on the job.

Lovely.  Just what I wanted to hear.

Regardless of dad’s previous record at work, Fisher had no intention of keeping someone in the powerhouse who couldn’t keep himself sober.  Dad was a fireman, but not the regular kind.  Firemen at Fisher loaded and raked coal for the furnaces that made electricity to run the General Motors plants One, Two, and Three.  Dad ran a bulldozer, raked coal onto conveyor belts that lifted the coal into the coal rooms.  He’d rake the coal into piles, throw the coal into huge furnaces, read the different meters that measured the smoke from smokestacks, and climbed the smokestacks up to the top to capture the steam to analyze.  The steam had to be clean water vapor as far back as the ’70s and ’80s.  With all those duties, Fisher needed people to not only be sober, they needed them to not be hung-over.  Dad stopped making the grade.

I negotiated a deal with Fisher to get dad into rehab.  The place was between Lansing and Eaton Rapids.  Eaton Rapids is next to Springport, which is next to the Duck Lake area.  Dad’s friends from all those areas would not only visit dad, they would stop by his room’s window to drop off get well gifts of six-packs and cigarettes.  It’s no wonder he had two more 28-day vacations before Fisher decided to fire him.

When we found out that dad could lose not only his job, but his pension and benefits, my brother and step-dad set out to negotiate an early out that would allow dad to keep everything.

After dad “retired”, his life went downhill fast.  He was constantly drunk .  He got in trouble with the law.  He got in trouble with his family.  I had him committed for a time into Kalamazoo State Hospital where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophenia and chronic alcoholism.  He was released after three days as a result of a paperwork mix-up.

Oh, yea.

My life after his release, at first, turned into a nightmare, because dad was on a tear.  He wanted my head, and he made no bones about it.  I became a target.  I left home.  Lived out of my car for a few days, then moved in with my boyfriend and didn’t tell anyone where I lived – not even my family.  For two years, I was in virtual hiding from a dad who wanted me dead, because it was my signature he saw on the committal papers.  My folks, and from what I heard, my entire neighborhood, had a restraining order out on him.

Life with dad got very interesting.  Frustrating, challenging, and interesting.  It still is.

I think that’s all for now.  Things have happened, and life continues.  Let’s see what tomorrow brings us.

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