Sunday, May 26, 2013

Sticks and Stones

If I had to pinpoint the precise moment my father began to think of me as "the bad kid", I would venture to guess it was during the divorce when he forced me to choose between living with my mom in the town in which I'd lived for 7 years or moving 150 miles away from my school, my friends, my piano and violin and viola teachers to live with him.

I chose to stay right where I was which, when I was 13, was kinda where I needed to be.

Dave, by all accounts - and yes, I call my dad Dave to his face even - is not an easy man. Oh, he's totally rad, jovial and funny, if you aren't related to him. He has always been well-liked by his colleagues and his students. But living with him was never particularly easy for any of us that called him family and, at times, I was afraid. He wasn't physically abusive - to me - but his silences were deafening when he was annoyed and he wasn't above explosions during which whatever inanimate object was near at hand would suddenly and without warning take flight. Mostly though, it wasn't his angry outbursts that made him rather unbearable to spend time in his company but his little jabs made in jest that cut to the bone.

From xkcd: the hover text reads "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it."

The decision to stay with my mom then was kind of a no brainer.

When I was 20, a couple of years after he'd moved down here to Denver, I moved in with him for the first 2 years I was in college and then again for a short time after I graduated. We hadn't lived together for 8 years and he never could quite reconcile himself to the fact that I was no longer in junior high school and was, in fact, a full fledged adult. I struggled more than he did. I had a curfew, a bedtime, and little freedom. 

But this entry isn't about that time. I tell you this only to give you a bit of context of how I came to live (and have for the last 21 years), once again, in the same city with my father.

It turns out, Denver is mostly big enough for the 2 of us. Since I moved out from underneath his control 15 years ago, our relationship deteriorated to the point where I rarely talked to him and saw him even less. At first, when I began to withdraw from him, he came to the fascinating conclusion that I was dealing drugs and that's why I was avoiding him. Uh huh. Yes. Because that totally seems like something I would do *rolling eyes*. 

Just so we're clear, that's totally not something I have or would do (so don't call me looking for a fix unless it's a fix of pie and then, well, I'm your girl but not after 9 p.m...especially not on a week night). However, it's indicative of what kind of opinion he has of me and the person I've become. And he has to have that opinion of me because to suggest otherwise means that, if I'm not a criminal, I'm avoiding him for some other the fact that he's an asshole. We can't have that, now can we?


Flash forward to just over a year ago when I get a call at work from the emergency room. It's him. He woke up in the morning having a severe dizzy spell and got so scared that something was significantly wrong that he called 911 and an ambulance. I rushed to the hospital as a good kid is supposed to do and the first thing he says to me when he sees me is, "What are you doing here, Scar Face?" Thanks, Dad. Good to see you too. *sigh*

It was at that point when my siblings - my sisters who live hundreds of miles away and my brother who had just recently moved back into the area and lives about an hour away - and I started campaigning to convince him to move into some kind of retirement community where he would have 24-hour access to help if he needed it. 

He kept saying no, no, maybe, no, maybe, no, no, NO! until a few weeks ago. 

And then...

He got a phone call.

"Hi, Grandpa. It's me. Did you hear the bad news?"

"No, James. What's going on?"

At that moment, the moment my dad said "James", the scammers had him.

To the tune of $6,000 over the course of 24 hours. 

And then my life became a lot more complicated and a lot more full of Dave time...something I've successfully avoided over the last decade until now.

Because, you see, there was additional leverage for me to convince him that moving into a retirement community was all gain and no loss. He was (is) feeling vulnerable and stupid. Angry and foolish. We, my sisters and brother and I, took advantage of that and the very first mention of a senior center was met with relief. Yes, please. Help.

So I'm helping him. Because I'm here.

Spending time I don't have, ignoring myself and my other obligations, putting my financial neck on the line (because of course he has nothing to leverage financially to assist him - he can't even pay for this move) when I can least afford it (the house buying saga is another story altogether) to help him be be get the most pleasure, peace of mind, reassurance out of the last few years of his life.

I'm helping him.

Because that is what good kids do.

And yet...

Earlier this week, I picked him up and took him over to sign the initial paperwork and put down a deposit on an apartment at the community he chose for himself after we'd toured several. The last couple of weeks, in fact, have been a whirlwind of phone calls on his behalf, carting him around to tour different facilities, keeping my siblings (and my mom...because she still cares...especially about me) updated on our progress, and fretting over just how we were going to pay for everything since he'd, in essence, wiped out what little savings he had when he sent the phone scammers money for nothing.

As we were getting ready to leave, he told the marketing director, Connie, that I was actually his "bad kid". (I shit you not.) He said, "Yeah. This is my bad kid. Now my daughter, Jenni, she's my good kid1. She's a mathematician. So bright and so talented!!! I'm very proud of her." He went on but that's the gist.

If I'd had a spork, I likely would have stabbed him with it at that moment2.

Because I'm not a bad kid.

I'm actually a pretty good kid.

For the most part, I've been an exemplary kid. I've been a smart kid. I've been a talented kid.

Oh sure, I've made lots of mistakes over the last 41 years. Seriously though. Who here hasn't?!

And yet...I'm the bad kid. 

The kid who allegedly deals drugs. The kid who tried to commit suicide to get attention. The kid who tried and tried and tried to get his approval and failed time and again because I was never quite good enough to live up to his unrealistic expectations.

What I, the 41-year-old self-sufficient adult, should have said at that moment was, "Fuck you, Old Man. I'm done with your abuse. Figure all this out yourself."

But I didn't.

Because I'm a good kid. I'm a kid still seeking her father's love and approval and acknowledgment that I am a good kid and a decent, loving, compassionate person.

Despite him.

Sticks and stones.


Inside though, I'm flipping him the bird and telling him to fuck right off. Because even good kids have their limits.

1. I harbor absolutely no ill will toward Jenni - who is a shining star. She is bright! She is talented! I love Jenni. I love all my siblings. Offense was taken because all my siblings - AND ME! - are all bright and talented and, most importantly, good kids. Each one of us deserves such praise for vastly different reasons.

2. Oh crap! I just realized I did have a spork! My Eat'N Tool I got for volunteering at Defcon last year and keep clipped to my purse all the time. *sigh* Missed opportunity to, for once, prove I am the bad kid and, as Warren Ellis would say, Stab! & Stab! & Stab! Damn.


Gaelyn said...

I'm sorry you have to be the brunt of Dave's fear and anger, at himself. I'm really glad YOU KNOW you are a good kid. This isn't going to be easy, and it's not forever. Big Hugs!

Have missed your posts here.

Unknown said...

Jane-- this is a great piece of writing that I would love to see you submit to (don't throw up) AARP magazine. I just love how real and raw it is, and personally, as another "bad kid" I can so identify. We get those labels and then can struggle with them for years and sometimes forever.

In all fairness, before he died my dad had changed my former label of bad kid to the "kid who loves me and has stood by me." Hope your dad's eyes are opened soon.

Love and hugs to you, Jane. Wonderfully well written piece, my sweet!

Elaine Griffin said...

That just made me physically ill.
Even when we are grown we are still someone's child. Love you Jane.

Anonymous said...

very enthralling... so sad someone you should love wholeheartedly can't see the light in you.. 'the good kid'... who knows why we are put in these kinds of positions.. to harbor anger in the name of peace and love...
nice writing jane...