Friday, October 01, 2010

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

I wrote a difficult email the other day. It was to my father. It contained some hard things that I felt needed to be said, and the worst was that I felt I had to decline his offer/request to come visit us.

My relationship with my father has been a difficult one. We went without any communication for over ten years. Since I made the effort to reconnect with him 7 years ago it has been ok, though odd and uncomfortable at times. In the last few months he had told me things that have been downright disturbing. And then he wanted to come visit us.

There is no way I can do that right now.

It is hard to explain a lifetime dysfunctional relationship in a single blog post. And I am certainly not going to attempt it in multiple posts. So, you will have to realize that there are a whole lot of things that are being left out of this story right now.

I am not the only one with issues with my father. Neither of my siblings have any contact with him, and for them it is going on 18 years or so.

My father was not a child molester. We never saw him beat my mom. He was not an alcoholic. I believe he tried to do better for us than his parents did for him. He did many good things for us and with us. He was proud of his kids and enjoyed watching us grow and accomplish things.

But he also brought a lot of pain, sadness, and other negatives into our lives.

Over the years I have asked myself what exactly it was that has kept us all at a distance from him. I know that there are lots of people in the world with crappy fathers, and they still talk on the phone, go help him mow his lawn, and invite him for Thanksgiving. So what was different for us? I could not put a label on it. Recently my brother said the perfect word:


My father's behavior is inherently toxic. He would choose revenge and bitterness over forgiveness, even to the point of his own destruction. The past 18 years of his life are a perfect example. He went from not consistently paying child support, to not paying it at all (for my two dependent, minor siblings at the time), to saying that he would rather go to jail than pay one red cent to my mother, and then he got his wish and spent about six months in jail for non-payment. And from there he proceeded to live a hard life of trying to exist without a driver's license, and with under-the-table jobs so that he could avoid having his wages garnished by the state to pay the child support. He has been homeless, jobless,penniless, and hungry. All to keep "winning" at his game of revenge.

My siblings got to see that there was no unconditional fatherly love available for them. He prized his anger over everything else.

In the meantime my mother was struggling as a single parent of two teens, trying to get through nursing school so she could support herself and her kids, and having a pretty hard time financially. My younger sister actually put herself through our Christian school for her senior year thanks to her part time after-school job, because she didn't want to have to switch schools for her senior year.

Both of my siblings went on to college without the benefit of any fatherly support, either financial or otherwise. They went without cars, worked a lot, saved a lot, and in short basically had a tough row to hoe for everything they ever achieved, which was a lot. (1 degree for my brother plus world travel and more, and 2 master's degrees for my sister)

It is interesting to me that even back in the 1980s and early 1990s, although there was no mention (that I recall) in popular media about 'eliminating negative people from your life' like there is today, each of his children (and his wife) instinctively knew that this toxic relationship could not be maintained. He played a role in this, too. His toxic behavior worked to distance himself and alienate those that were close to him. In the end his own (toxic) mother did not even want him mentioned in her obituary, and the (toxic) extended family went on to "honor" that wish.

It's some baaaad joojoo. That's what.

My father has told me several times since we have been back in contact, that he is not the man he used to be; that he is damaged badly; that he is mentally damaged from the years of hardship he has endured.

I believed him. I really did.

But recently I have seen and experienced some examples of this that really drove the point home for me.

So now I see a little more clearly. And I can't have him visit us.

I don't want to deal with the severe drain of stress that an extended visit with him would surely bring.
I don't want him spending an extended period of time around my children.
I have serious concerns that he might not even be safe to have staying with us.

And although I know those things clearly, it is still very hard. Hard to think it, hard to tell him, and hard to live it.

When I have had to witness his toxicity, it really shakes me up. It is deeply sad. My father is a man who had a lot of potential at one point. Seeing his life wasted as it has been these past 18 years is a real shame.

Some people got great dads that dote on the grandchildren and give wise advice and help out when times are hard.

Not me.

There was a certain amount of peace for the years that there was no contact. I had no idea where he was or if he was alive. I was busy. Life flew by as I was raising six children.

But I never felt completely at ease with the way things were. What kind of example was I setting for my own children, to have no relationship with my own father? How could I live out the command to honor your parents with a decade of silence for one of them? I could never reconcile those things. So I took a chance and reached out. Some of the results have been positive. Much has been neutral. And recently, quite a bit of hard stuff.

So here I am.

One of these days I will get a return email from him with his response to what I had to say. I did my best to be kind, but honest, about how shaken I have been by his recent behavior, and how I feel unable to handle having him come visit us.

I feel sorry for him getting an email like that. He seems to not have much positive in his life, and I hate to take away his dream of coming to visit us. It makes me feel ill, really, to deal with this, even though it is clear to me what I needed to say.

Every time I check my email I am bracing myself. This is one of those heavy stress items that gets dragged around behind me all day and all night, wearing on me, poking holes in my energy and causing it to leak out.

It stinks.

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