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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A Friendly Visit

My dad’s best friend, Jim, is going to come down from Wisconsin in January to spend the winter months here in Florida. I like Jim. Love the guy. He’s happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, and any other happy hyphenate you want to apply to him. He’s just an all-around good egg.

But.

Jim’s always been a drinker. Even though he assured me that it’s been four years since he’s had a drink, something inside me just doesn’t believe him. He lives with a much younger guy who I know does drink, and I can’t see Jim not joining in.

I have reason to be skeptical. The last time Jim came down for a visit, dad had just been released from the hospital after having a quadruple bypass. Dad had a zipper of staples up and down his chest. He was taking medication that contraindicated alcohol. I told Jim before he came down that there’d be no drinking. Period. The end. If there was drinking, I’d have to ask him to leave–and take dad with him.

Well, the first evening I left the two alone, they called a cab to go out for dinner–and drinks. A lot of drinks.

When I returned from wherever I’d been, I was frantic. I had no idea where the two had gone off to–they left no note, of course. I canvassed the neighborhood to see if anyone knew anything, and no one did. By the time I got back to the house, a cab pulled up and out stumbled my dad. Jim at least kept his feet.

I was furious. I was cool, but I was furious.

As dad stumbled next door to relieve himself in my neighbor’s flowers, I approached Jim and reminded him that he knew the rules. I was sorry, but he’d have to leave. And he was going to have to take dad with him.

He didn’t believe me.

Jim packed and ordered up a rental car. While he did that, I packed a bag for dad. When Jim left, I poured dad into my car and followed. When Jim checked into his hotel room, I left dad at his door.

Jim called and called and tried to convince me to pick up dad, because by that time, dad’s happy drunk self turned dark. I finally convinced Jim that when I laid out the rules, I meant what I said, and Jim took dad up to Wisconsin with him.

In short order, Jim called my brother, who lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, to see if he would take dad off his hands.

My brother said no. He didn’t want dad around his young children.

Jim called other friends of dad in Michigan and tried to pawn him off, but they didn’t want him. Dad had burned too many bridges.

Finally, I relented and agreed to take dad back, but only because he had to get his staples removed and had follow-up doctor appointments.

I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to get dad flown back to Jacksonville with no ID or wallet (this was pre-9/11). He arrived. Drunk.

Things were never the same between us after that. I moved him out of my house and into an apartment. We barely spoke for a year.

I don’t need to go through that again. I hope Jim’s telling me the truth.

 

 

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.