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.

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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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