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’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.