Now what happens? Start a conversation.

I took my earlier “now what happens?” question with me to therapy today. I described to E. that my father’s physical health and memory and functioning are going steeply downhill. He’s been living with my sister for about five years, and she can’t care for him much longer. Yet he’s always been extremely irresponsible about money, and now he doesn’t have enough to go into the mid-level assisted living he needs. It would be a pretty big hardship for his children to come up with the difference between his monthly income and what it takes to live in assisted living, if we could even do it at all. I’m resentful of my father, sometimes outright angry, sometimes sad. Sometimes I feel bursts of affection for him and other times I don’t even want to think about him. But he needs help, and even if I wanted to harden my heart to his needs, there is my sister and her family to consider.

What do I owe to a man who was a bad father? I don’t want to harden my heart. I want to come to a decision out of place of generosity and compassion. Yet I also have to think of my own family, including a son with disabilities who will need me to help provide for him for his entire life. I work a demanding job. And I have my own mental health to consider.

E. is a good therapist. She helped me talk through what I can and cannot offer, to figure out the boundaries that are right for me. I cannot have him move in with me. My father would continue to fall and be confused and drink too much at my house, and that would be even harder for me to manage than for my sister–at least she’s at home much of the time. And he’s a big guy–neither of us can lift him. He really does need access to trained medical providers. Let’s say my husband were to do a lot of it. (He probably would; he’s a saint.) But that would mean nearly all of our time and energy would have to go to my dad. We’ve experienced that before with my son, whose needs can be so great that we have no time, no thought left for ourselves. My son is living elsewhere, for now, but I know he will return at some point. After talking with E., I realized I’m not willing to give up this quieter time my husband and I have, especially knowing we will not always have it.

She also helped me come to realize that my sisters and I are carrying all of the burden and worry about my father’s situation, when in fact it’s a situation he created himself. He treated his children cavalierly (to say the least). He left my mother for a girlfriend, then cheated on that girlfriend as well. When he was younger, he earned a good salary and was attractive. He lived with many different women, but always resisted the opportunity to settle down with anyone. He spent money freely, gambled, drank, partied, all while my mother wore threadbare clothes and bought everything on sale, because she received so little child support. He never planned ahead. He never saved money. He didn’t pay his debts. He has declared bankruptcy at least four times that I know about. He chose that behavior, and now he sits comfortably in my sister’s home, while we worry and visit assisted living facilities and wonder how much money we should give him every month.

It’s time to bring him into an honest conversation and let him participate in planning the next stage of his life. We can talk about the fact that my sister is not able to provide care for him any longer. We can talk about his limited income. We can ask him about his preferences–not for anything in the world, but among the limited options he has available. I live far away, but I can go to my sister’s house to lead this conversation. Of the three sisters, I am most willing to engage in difficult conversations and can stay calm in the face of other people’s emotional reactions. I can’t really visit care facilities, because I live 800 miles away. I can’t research options online because I work a lot of overtime. But I can go and visit and start this conversation.

I called my sister tonight and said I would travel to her house in early August and initiate the conversation. I was surprised by the relief in her voice. She’s dreaded and avoided tackling the topic head-on with him. She’s still really worried–she visited a place today that provides “inexpensive” care to seniors (at $1000/month more than what he receives each month) and said it was dreadful. She doesn’t know what we should do. But she says my offer makes her feel less alone with the challenge.

I haven’t told my sisters about the abuse I experienced from my father. I may never tell them; I don’t know.  It feels like it’s separate from this current problem, which is about putting an ailing man into a setting where he can be safe and have the best possible life, and about alleviating the pressure on my sister. Telling is something I might do when I’m ready, which will be driven by what I need to do, not by where my father is in his life.

Life is just complicated, I guess, and when that depression monster isn’t nibbling away too fiercely at my brain, I can accept that.

15 thoughts on “Now what happens? Start a conversation.

  1. Life is so complex and its never black and white. I understand and can relate to the conflicted position you are in. I admire that you are compassionate enough to put your own need for telling second to your concerns about he well-being of your father. That is very admirable! I am also glad that you are getting the support you need from therapy because your feelings are important too. That little girl in you needs to be heard and have an outlet. Take care of you.

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    • You are right – I do have to think of the little girl. Her voice is sometimes very small, and I’ve spent a lot of years not listening. My hope is that we can care for her and honor her experience in therapy while also helping my family outside of the therapist’s office.
      Thanks for your kind words.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t bear to hit ‘like.’ You have a lot to handle. I’m glad you have an objective therapist to bounce things off of and came up with a sensible plan that won’t overload or cripple you. Do you live in a place where there’s no government assistance?

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  3. You are amazing. I honestly don’t think I could be as loving and compassionate as you are if I were in your zapatos. You’re so thoughtful and resourceful and muy intelligente. It’s none of my business, but reading your description of your father’s behaviour makes me wonder if he’s undiagnosed bipolar…I haven’t read all your posts, so I don’t know if you’ve mentioned mental health issues with him. Tienes corazón de oro puro.

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    • You are very kind, but I don’t know… I think my heart is mixed up gold and coal and maybe a bit of dogshit in there as well (and that’s ok–I love my dogs!).
      My son is somewhere on the autism spectrum, and not so high functioning in most aspects of his life. Sometimes I have wondered if my father might be on the high functioning end of that spectrum (and undiagnosed). He is pretty oblivious to other people’s perspectives, and to the consequences of his actions on other people (particularly the women he has run through in his life). Maybe the heavy alcohol use has been a way to cope with some anxiety around that? Then quite a long time ago (20+ years) he was in a serious car accident, and since then he has had epileptic seizures and frontal lobe brain damage that has affected his short-term memory and judgment. So there are multiple things going on with him. But the irresponsibility and the abuse predated the accident.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Don’t worry, I have lots of dogshit in my life too (she’s a papillon/chihuahua and we love her to pieces). It could very well be that your father’s on the spectrum. I often wonder the same thing about my father. I continue to think that my dad has undiagnosed bipolar. I can’t tell you how much I value your honesty. Thank you so much for sharing xx

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  4. Pingback: Day 42 – The Trip: Planning Ahead | la quemada

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