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.


Where or where has my real dad gone?

A week ago, Friday, I got a message from my dad’s probation officer.  That’s right.  Probation officer.  My dad has a probation officer.  Unbelievable.  Am I really related to this person?  I don’t know why I was so shocked.  Someone had been draining my dad’s accounts.  Dad was trying to buy things and pay bills.  Every check bounced.  Pass bad checks, get put in jail.  Get out of jail, get a probation officer.  That’s pretty much the process as I understand.

Anyway, the PO, I’ll call her Moira, asked me to give her some background information on dad.

Oh, boy.  Really?  Let me just exhale the page and a half of material I’ve given every last doctor in the past twenty-seven years.  Chronic alcoholic. Three alcohol in-patient rehab stints.  Unmedicated  bipolar I disorder.  Heart patient.  High cholesterol, unmedicated.

Surgeries and hospitalizations?  Let me see …  Michigan, prior to and just after retirement:  In-patient, 28-day alcohol rehabilitation, times three.  After retirement:  Kalamazoo State Hospital, mental health evaluation.  January through October, before I moved him to Florida with me:  Severe frostbite in extremities caused by lying unconscious in a snowbank for a few days after being robbed.  (Docs wanted to amputate his hands.  His fingertips wound up falling off).  Punctured back, left lung by someone who robbed him.  Third degree burns on left side of body after being thrown into a burning barrel after someone robbed him.  Concussion, three broken ribs, broken arm after someone robbed him.

After I moved him down with me:  Pins put in an arm broken by people trying to rob him.  Quadruple bypass, dual carotid endarterectomy, dual femoropopliteal bypass (fem-pop), gallbladder and hernia removed, and then another fem-pop.  All that in under a year.  All those before he moved to North Carolina.

After he moved to North Carolina?  Hmm…  It didn’t take but a couple days before he broke his leg.  Take a guess as to whether alcohol played a part.  He and his new roommate, a childhood friend he hadn’t seen nor spoken with in a good twenty-five years, were celebrating dad’s move.  God only knows how many hours of drinking went by before they both passed out for the night in their relative rooms.  Dad told me he got up in the middle of the night, forgot he had his suitcase by his door, and tripped over it on his way to the bathroom.  His friend, I’ll call him Ted, was so out of it, he didn’t hear dad yelling, so dad told me he rolled himself over onto the dog bed and scooted his way to the phone to call 911.


As for all the other hospital visits, I have no idea.  I’m just beginning to get an idea, I told Moira, because I changed dad’s permanent address back to mine.  I’m getting all his unpaid hospital bills and explanation of benefit forms here.  At this point, it looks as though dad’s been in an emergency room every other month or so since  Fall 2008.  I know the last time I saw him in the flesh last October, he had several staples in his head.

I didn’t ask.

Dad’s hygiene has become horrible since he moved.  He frequently urinates in his jeans, even did so as I was speaking to him when I saw him last year.  Prostate problems again?  Who knows?  He obviously hadn’t bathed in months.  He’d gone back to not taking off, let alone changing, his clothes, most likely for months.  Last time he was in this shape, he didn’t take off his clothes for nearly two years.  He was also wearing a woman’s sweater and eyeglasses he’d found in the dump, smoked like a fiend, and rattled on and on.  Clearly, he was in a manic state.

He also managed to lose his best friend, Blackie, a Scottish Terrier mix who had never left dad’s side since 1997.  Dad was doing something outside his room in a hotel for the homeless, went inside for something, came back out, and Blackie was gone.  By the time dad had someone call me, Blackie’d been missing for two weeks.  Since dad never renewed the microchip subscription, we’ll never know if HomeAgain tried to call.

I could have gone on, but I only have so many minutes on my phone.

Apparently, she called because she was concerned about my dad.  He didn’t seem like any of the other people she had on her caseload.  He just seemed like a lonely old man.  She told me that she sees him quite often just walking the streets of town.  She also said that word on the street is that dad has money.  Dad gets his Social Security and pension deposits a couple weeks apart from one another, and that’s about how often she sees him with anyone.  Those “anyones,” she said, were using him.  They take him to the bank, get his money, maybe take him to get something to eat, load him up with liquor and beer, and drop him off somewhere, not necessarily his apartment.  They leave him to fend for himself.

Everything she told me, I already knew.  Moira got upset with me, because my reaction wasn’t what she’d expect.  She couldn’t believe I could let my dad live like this.


I gave her some background on me, how I was thrown into the caretaker role my first year in college and how I’ve continued to help dad out of bad spots to the point of becoming his legal guardian and taking him into my own home.

I have a problem when anyone tries to put me in the “bad daughter” column, especially when I know it’s after dad has worked up a sob story.  He’s all alone.  His kids don’t care what happens to him.  He’s just a retired, disabled veteran trying to make it on his own.

All alone, my ass.  He wasn’t alone when he wasn’t drinking.  He had friends, played cards every day, had his dog, went places, was liked by all his neighbors.  Granted, my brother and I are all who’re left alive in the family.  It’s just us three and my brother’s family, but dad never developed a relationship with his grandkids.  While they were growing up, he was drinking and he never even acknowledged them at holidays.  And forget about birthdays.  He never visited.  Never called.  Never sent cards.  He started to make headway when he lived with me, because I kept him sober and my brother allowed him to come visit; but once he started drinking again, his temper flared, and he was too dangerous to have around.  My brother cut off all contact.

When he started drinking again, his sober friends didn’t want to have anything to do with him.  His best friend, his card-playing buddy, and his wife decided to move near Orlando to get away from him.  Everyone stopped returning his calls.  Some even blocked him.  When he drinks, it’s like he develops Tourette‘s.  He’s not only foul-mouthed, though, he’s aggressive.  He scares off people.  That’s the real reason he’s alone.  No one knows how to handle him.

I do, though.  He listens to me.  I’ve been known to stop him in his tracks in the midst of an attack just by scolding him.  It’s as though he’s a toddler.  Truly.

As for the disabled vet story?  Dad’s never been in the military.

Moira, dad’s not alone.  I care.  I’ve just learned over the years how to set and keep boundaries.


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