Saturday, October 04, 2008

My Father Called

I mentioned that my father called in the midst of IVF cycle and work dramas.

The message looked innnocent enough: "New phone number X - call if you like". But of course, things are never quite the way they seem with him. I didn't call, but he found me anyway. The news in August was almost okay but now he is, of course, in trouble again. The real difficulty is figuring out what kind of trouble. He says the trouble is that he is out of money to buy medicine. But is it true or is it just that he knows that I am always on the verge of cutting off contact entirely and says what he thinks will reel me in again?

That sounds harsh, I know. But my experience of dad is that he lies. Or at least that he is extremely economical with the truth. And that story about the medicine is, in a way, just a little too perfect, just a little too poignant.

As I've noted before, I've hardened my heart, painfully, deliberately. It took me years to get to that point, but I haven't responded to these requests for a long time. The consequences have been averted by the fact that my sister has kept helping him. But he has exhausted her patience.

I am almost shocked by what my sister said. The last time I spoke to her about him, she said, "I don't care how he is. I don't care if he hangs himself off the nearest bridge. I just want to be free of him." She said that, last year, our foreign affairs department advised her he had died. It turned out to be a mistake but she said that, at the time, all she felt was relief. My sister is one of the kindest women you could ever meet. She spends most of her scarce free time rescuing wounded wildlife. But two decades of dad's chronic irresponsibility and manipulation have brought her to this.

I told dad that we couldn't help him and advised him to ask the embassy for assistance to return to Australia and throw himself on the mercy of our (fairly generous) welfare system. This would have the, to me, secondary benefit of his incurring a debt to the government that would prevent him from travelling overseas again until it's paid. What would be never. Problem solved, possibly forever. Dad doesn't get into this kind of trouble when he stays in Australia.

I also told him that she was utterly sick of these requests, year after year, and the way things never changed. That she felt he was abusing her and abusing the relationship, which was true. It was a hard thing to write. But I felt totally exasperated and also felt he needed to know that there was not going to be a daughterly rescue this time so that he could plan realistically. Total silence greeted that email.

But now that I am out of my own latest drama, I haven't heard from him and am worried about him. I don't know what to do.

The fact is that I don't know my father very well. He left when I was sixteen and I didn't see him again until I was thirty. I've only actually seen him three times since then. But for a person who is such a small part of my life, he looms very large in my mind. In a way, he looms so large that I don't seem to see him clearly. He is abusive, manipulative and insensitive. He is also vulnerable and probably not entirely sane. I can't decide in my own mind if he is just such a dangerous person - for me - that I should avoid all contact with him, and certainly avoid giving him any opportunity to exploit me again, or if he is ultimately a person who should be pitied and tolerated and helped.

It doesn't help that I found out a few months ago that my father used to hit my mother who I love and am close to. I always wondered, but I never saw anything and she never said. Now I know. My heart closed just that little bit more. It also doesn't help that I don't judge him as harshly as I used to. I know how hard it is to be an adult now - to deal with the monotony of everyday life, the marriage that isn't what was hoped for, the demands of kids, the lure of alcohol, the desire to run away. I have more understanding and more compassion than I used to.

But neither the closing heart or the understanding or the compassion actually help me to know what to do. Some kind of love remains. Even today, I almost called that phone number to find out how he is. Even though I know the only reward for that call would be an immediate crisis to deal with and the transfer of those annual requests to me. After all, what if he really is very sick and doesn't have money for medicine? He is diabetic, due to years of heavy drinking. What if he dies? How could I live with that

This morning, in church, I felt ashamed of myself. How could I have turned into the kind of woman who doesn't want to help her own father. I don't turn away from strangers in the street, but I turn away from this man who gave me my life. But what can I do? What should I do?


Blogger Fusion said...

You need to let him solve his own issues and messes he has gotten himself into. I have to do the opposite with my kids, esp my daughter and her boyfriend. They are adults now (at least in age) and have to live with their choices. You are not responsible for him. And if contacting him makes things more difficult for you, then don't.

My wife had a father who was just like yours, but when she was dying of her brain tumor, we asked her if she wanted us to try and contact him, and she said "why would I want to contact that bastard?"

Sometimes it's better to do nothing I think. Good luck with whatever you decide Emily.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Desmond Jones said...

I've said elsewhere that the best thing we, as parents, can do for our kids is to give them the consequences of their own actions. It can be painful as hell to watch it unfold in their lives, but you do them no favors by constantly stepping between them and their consequences.

I confess, I never envisioned applying that to one's parents, but it seems to me that it would translate pretty cleanly. . .

12:09 PM  
Blogger Digger Jones said...

Hmmm. Too bad there isn't some way you could help him anonymously. That way he doesn't connect the help with his abusive and irresponsible behavior with you but at the same time might be able to get help (if he really needs it). I mean, you and your sister don't want him to think he can manipulate you and drag you down. But you don't want to feel callous and uncaring either. You just don't want to be a victim of your own good character! Because I think if you could do it without him calling you up again and pulling strings, you would do it.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

Yes, Digger, to a large extent, it's not really the money I mind. I don't have much money, especially given our IVF debts, but could usually donate at least something.

The frustration is really that (1) Any money sent is followed by requests for more, (2) This now happens every year, so the problem seems to be getting worse instead of better and (3) Helping him doesn't seem to result in him managing his life any better, or treating himself or us any better. It just feels like an ongoing destructive cycle that never ends.

10:43 PM  

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