Thursday, February 26, 2009

Conflicted and scattered

I am conflicted today.

I found out this morning that my father is in the Veteran's hospital in Boston with some pretty serious stuff going on. He needs a gizmo put into a vein in his neck to prevent strokes (he has apparently had several small ones already) and is in such an advanced state of dementia that he is confused and the doctors there are unwilling to take his own consent to have the procedure done. They must have the consent of his family members who have such power to do that stuff. There is a chance that they may have to do some cardio stuff at the same time and need family there to give the okay if it is necessary. My father is 67.

For my newer readers, here's the family thing in a nutshell: My father has always been a source of humiliation and cruelty in my life. I am 43. We have disliked each other for probably 40 years or so. Maybe more. While I was small, he was jealous of the attention paid my by his parents and his sister. When I was growing up he was a bully and a tyrant and seemed to take great pleasure in humiliating me, often in public. He beat me often and severely enough that I still start violently at loud noises. He loved a surprise attack. He loved to tower over me and intimidate and terrorize me. He loved to see me be afraid. I remember the absolute hate I saw in his eyes. It is not a thing a child ever expects to see, nor is it one she ever forgets.

I left home the day I graduated from high school, and with the exception of a couple attempts to create a healthy kind of relationship when I was in early sobriety, I have not been back. I learned then that it is not possible to have a healthy relationship with a sick person. I called him when the best man from his wedding died, but after five minutes on the phone with me, he launched into a racist tirade. I hung up and have never called back.

In recent months, I have been in touch with my much younger (she's 26) half-sister who is presently living at home with my father and stepmother and her younger sister. We met once and have chatted several times on facebook. We are starting to build something like a friendship after years of separation. She was just a year old when I left home.

So I found out today from her about my father's health issues and that she might be the one to go down and deal with doctors and such. No job for a young woman to do all alone. It briefly looked like she might need company on the ride, so I offered. Turns out the rest of the familial unit would be able to go after all, so I did not have to.

Now comes the conflicted and scattered part of this story.

I had sort of figured that I would read about my father's death in the newspaper or watch it play out on CNN in some kind of armed standoff with government agents. He's paranoid, too. Did I mention that? He collects and trades guns, too. Yeah. It's safe to say I am not his pride and joy.

So anyway, I sort of figured that I'd be notified after the fact, either by some member of the family or the community where they live, or by the news media. I never expected to have to face the fact that he is failing. I never expected to have to deal with - even from a distance - the idea that he might be crippled by a stroke (or several), that he might be so debilitated as to become a toothless tiger.

Somehow I feel sorry for him.

And that is confusing for me. For years, I used to hope against hope that I'd live to see the day when he knew what it was like to be vulnerable, when he knew what it was like to be at the mercy of others. I used to say "time wounds all heels" and hope that I'd be around to see his comeuppance. And now it's here.

Karma has indeed come back to bite him in the ass. The once large, powerful, towering man is reduced to a delusional blob who must wait for his daughters and his wife to make his decisions for him. He is becoming helpless. He is becoming the thing he once feared above all else - powerless.

And I have not the heart to gloat. This is not to say I am going to run to his side like Bronte's Jane Eyre and nurse him through his dying days, enduring abuse and vitriol the whole way. No. I will stay apart from his newer family and let them do what must be done. I suppose I will come if he asks to see me, but I reserve the right to say no to that request also. I must protect my own self, my own mental and emotional health. This is the man with whom I have very few happy memories. I have no desire to go relive those old times, thanks.

The fact that I am willing to consider seeing him is a huge step that happened today. Yesterday, had you asked, I would have said I'd probably skip his funeral. Today, I am not so sure.

I am sad, and vindicated at the same time. I am feeling something that looks suspiciously like compassion and pity, at the same time I struggle with my old feelings of hurt, abuse and abandonment. I was used as a pawn years ago. I remember it well. And I remember the hate that burned in his eyes when he looked at me. But today I feel pity for the man.

He was damaged goods early on - sent to school before he was really ready, the littlest, least socialized kid in the room, he had an awful time. He turned that fear and inferiority inside out and became a bully and a tough guy, and that's how he went through life. He picked on people, threatened them, insulted them, treated them badly. He lacked the social skills to actually be kind. Or honest. Or generous. So naturally, after a fashion, people tired of his abuse and faded away. He spent his entire life chasing people away from him. Now he is about to reap the loneliness that is the fruit of his labors.

I do not owe him visits and lazy games of cribbage of an afternoon. I owe him nothing. He raised me, yes, but he did it begrudgingly, and with as little investment as he could get away with. I remember Sidney Poitier in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner telling his father that he did not owe him his life. "It was your job" to do all that parenting stuff, Poitier tells his movie-dad, and he was right. There was no debt incurred. I will not feel guilty for not rushing to his bedside after all these years. Especially not after being made so unwelcome.

So I am in a hundred directions tonight. I feel sad and I feel vindicated and I feel compassion and maybe even a little bit of forgiveness and fear and pity and anger and a lot of stuff just swirling around in my head. I am on call for my sister. She has promised to keep me updated. I have promised her my support. The rest of the family is on its own, really.

In an odd note, I have not told my aunt this news of her only sibling. They have not spoken since my grandmother's funeral. I remember that day. After the funeral, he took his copy of the house key off his key ring and laid it on the table. He walked out and did not come back. My aunt would not benefit by knowing this news of her brother. I will play it by ear and notify her if it seems like the right thing to do and the right time to do it. But for now I will not upset her.

It has been a very long day. I am glad to be sober today and I will be very glad to hit my pillow. Amen.


Bull said...

Wow. First, I want to say you're one of the most honest people it's been my pleasure to read in the blogosphere. I admire the Hell out of you for that, and this post just shows me why.

Second, you have my sympathy for his condition and the place it has put you in. You are right - there is no debt owed to our parents; it is, rather, all owed in the opposite direction. The return in respect and/or support is a measure of how well that debt was paid. Still, no matter how much we may "hate" (or pick whatever other word fits) them for what they've done, I believe there will always be a side of us that will want to love them. But again, you are under no obligation to give in to that side.

I also believe most in our age group (call it 30+) experiences a hate/love relationship with his/her father in some way. Although my experience was overall positive there are still some things I genuinely dislike - almost despise - my father for.

Not sure what good this is doing. Stay strong; you're in my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

groemawlThanks to whatever goddess watches over you, you are rather more than a decent person. and decent people, when it comes right down to it, generally do not wish suffering on helpless creatures.

It's always sad and even a little scary to see a giant, even an evil giant, brought low. It can be infuriating to know that there's no longer any chance of beating him in a fair fight.

The least of us is deserving of compassion and forgiveness. The best of us can actually offer it.


Robin said...

That you are feeling at all conflicted, or feeling traces of pity, says volumes about you as a person.

What he was, what he is, is done. The damage is done. The only thing left to do is to decide where you'll let it take you from here, and it sounds like you're making it take you to a healthier, more peaceful place within your own psyche.

My thoughts are with you.

melouise said...

One of the hardest things is to reconcile what our childhoods were with what they should have been- then walking away from the damage unfairly done to us and being better people.

Damn, as the remaining (also 43!) year old daughter of a lifelong emotional abusive drunk, I understand this hell you describe all too well.