Monday, June 23, 2008

Coming Out

My brother called me on Saturday. His voice was tight, arrow sharp. Driven.

"What's dad's number?"

No hello, how are ya? "You sound angry."

"I want to talk to him before he dies."

"I don't understand."

"Just give me his damn number!"

"Hold on." I looked it up on my cell phone and repeated the numbers. He dismissed me with a half mumbled thanks.

Neither of us got the better deal in the high stakes parental lottery. We have different mothers, he and I, but our father is one and the same. His mother was my first (and long time ex) step-mother, the one who has inspired more than a few posts and a short story on the subject of abuse. She favored my brother John and beat me for the crime of being alive. My father, on the other hand, favors me and completely ignores my brother and my sister, but cries on holidays that nobody calls.

When my brother John was a boy, I'm guessing around middle school age, my aunt told me that when she asked John about his father, he simply started bawling. A little boy whose father totally abandoned him. No calls, no support. Gone.

I've asked Dad several times. What don't you call? Because, he said, he's got nothing good to report. Believe me, I've tried to reason with him, that the simple regard would be enough, an assurance that he was thinking of his son. Love doesn't have a price tag. It simply is, and only needs expression to be real.

Now his son is almost forty. And in most ways I still regard my brother as that little boy who never grew up.

Until now.

He called back an hour later. I can't reconstruct the conversation we had. My brother is a lot like his father. In some ways a carbon copy. He has a little girl that he adores and takes care of, but he has another little girl that he won't acknowledge. A little girl that will grow up resenting the father that abandoned her. The girl's mother was a one night stand. One night of mindless drunken fun with a lifetime of consequences.

Might he get an angry call years from now? Will the pieces come together in his head? Will he regret and make amends, or will he turn away unable to bear the weight of a lifetime of wasted opportunities?

My father is getting old. He's lived in the shadows, evading creditors, many of whom used to be his friends—and most importantly the government. He's volatile, turning on those closest to him with irrational anger and sometimes violence. He calls me regularly, and wants me to move my family near to him. I don't have the heart to tell him no. But I won't say yes. How could I sacrifice the house that love built on the altar of dysfunction and delusion? I love him, but not more than my children. I made a plan with my brother to go into business with him in Houston. My wife is on board, and we are just waiting for the real estate market to rebound enough to make it possible to sell our home and make the move.

But I haven't told my father. He has so little. It's his own damn fault, but guilt tears at me like a desperate drowning cat.

It turns out that I don't need to worry about it anymore.

It's taken care of.

My brother did it for me.


Anonymous said...

Are you relieved, or horrified?

Beth said...

What Jason asked.

Plus, did Tolle's book help you at all? I really did and still do find it life changing. Past is past for me.

Scott said...

Jason - I suppose both is the closest answer to give. I have to speak with him since, and I don't have a guess as to how that is going to go. If we make it past the hurt stage, a lot of good could come from it.

Beth - I didn't finish the Tolle book, but the part I did read was very helpful indeed. I think about it all the time, and that's the point of the philosophy, to recognize what is ego, and thus taking away it's power.

Tera said...

So I guess this was a bitter-sweet experience for you huh? Hmmm...I'm not sure how I would feel about it!

Jenn said...

Wow. . . I don't have much to say but this post gave me chills. I kid you not.

I have the same issue with my son and his dad. Long story, but he's the one who is 'ignored' and it's crazy because I KNOW his dad loves him. . .

Thanks for making me remember what I'd been missing and glad to be back.

Minnesotablue said...

That was powerful Scott.I remember my mother saying to me "I don't know why your father never liked you" I never forgot that.

Scott said...

Tera - I know what you mean. Right now I would have to say I feel the same. My gut says that after it blows over, it will have been for the best. It could go really wrong though.

Jenn - It's funny you should say that, because I always thought that my dad loved my brother. He certainly puffs up with pride telling stories about him. It's really sad, a preventable tragedy.

Blue - What an awful, awful thing to be told, true or not. I wasn't there, so I don't know what her intentions were. It makes me want to cry.

Alan said...

Scott, are you really going to go to Texas? I think I'm going to e-mail you later when I have some time...

Dixie Belle said...

I take it your father doesn't live in Texas? Or he does and you were planning to surprise him? I wasn't sure. It is bad when parents play favorites. My brother was my father's favorite. He was spoiled rotten and grew up to be a total loser. Great payback!

Oh, my son lives in Katy, a suburb of Houston. Katy has one of the best school systems, too.

Toni Anderson said...

Powerful moments, Scott. Maybe it was time. Hope the move is good for all of you.

Beth said...

Scott, I just wondered because dealing with my family is VERY different now after having read Tolle. Admittedly, I have never been one to dwell on the past, but now I just see personality "flaws" as ego and instead of getting upset, I kind of now just acknowledge it and move on.

Anonymous said...

Feeling both relieved and horrified makes a lot of sense.

Scott said...

Dixie - No, he lives in Amish country in Ohio, and he wants me to move near to him. I didn't have the heart to tell him no, much less that I was moving farther away.

Toni - Yes, maybe it was.

Beth - I don't think Tolle applies in this situation. I accepted what my brother told dad. It was surprising and I found myself replaying the time when I told my brother not to tell him, but in a way I was relieved that I no longer have to do it. But the problem I have is that my father is not just ego-challenged, he is that and much, much more. How he is dealing with the news could span anything from oh well to suicidal. I wanted to break it to him gently, not drop it on him like an anvil. In the end I hope he will come to see that his sons want him nearby, and his ego will have to accept that they didn't come to him--that he had to go to them.

Jason - Yes indeed!

The Zombieslayer said...

Good. Your kids come first.

If you move to Houston, consider buying a home in The Woodlands. I had a really nice home there and I'm kicking myself for selling it. That area is really nice and the property values are starting to take off.

Oh, the schools are really good too.

Sarah Hina said...

Scott, this was such a heartfelt and poignant post.

Guilt is a horrible burden to afflict a child with--no matter how old he is--and it's a terrible shame that your father hasn't been able to discover fulfillment for himself. We shouldn't have to plug all the holes in our parents' lives.

I really hope he absorbs this blow gently. And that your relationship with him stays strong.

Jada's Gigi said...

hoping for the best in this situation...whatever that turns out to be...
BTW, I'm still trying to envision you sitting on the diving board with a guitar...:)

Ultra Toast Mosha God said...

Wow. This was really close to the bone. It took nerve to post this. I can't pretend to understand what this is like. I will only say that it's sad to see the repetition in your brother's situation.

magnetbabe said...

I am most upset that your brother is continuing the cycle of neglect rather than breaking it by opening his heart to loving his daughter. Very sad.

Also, I'm sorry if this is too forward, but I think it's very selfish of your dad to expect you to pick up and haul your family to Amish country to be near him. Isn't it easier for him to relocate when he doesn't have to worry about school systems, and whether it makes the spouse happy, etc? With you and your brother being in the same town it would make even more sense. I suppose that would entail him making sacrifices, rather than you.

Scott said...

Dixie - I forgot to mention that Katy is where my brother lives. Small world!

Zombie - Agreed, kids first--always. I will definitely look up the Woodlands.

Sarah - I remember one of my first acts of defiance, or signs that I had grown up, is when I yelled at my father for trying to make me feel guilty. He does it all the time. It is awful. Thanks for the nice words.

Cheryl - Yeah, I love to play guitar. It's a wonder I don't do it much anymore. It used to be my life.

Toast - Me too. One of the things I want to do when I get there is to get that little girl and bring her into the family.

Nat - It breaks my heart to think about that little girl having to watch the other fathers hoist their daughters on their shoulders, getting tickled, getting spoiled. Things will change if and when I get there I hope.

I'm not sure how you could be too forward after all the lively discussions we've shared. You hit the nail squarely on the head. He is way too selfish. I'll tell you how much in another post.

Alan said...

I had to read this post over, now that I've gotten my own selfish agenda out of the way. ;-) I didn't understand that you're moving to be with your brother in Texas and your father is in Ohio--the dilemma being that you're rejecting his offer and accepting your brother's--who your father has historically ignored.

So I have a few reflections;

1) The thing I like the most about you is your sensitivity. Clearly it developed from your family history, and although you would probably trade it away in a heartbeat in favor for something more nurturing, it has made you an amazing person. It was part circumstance, but it was part Scott Ellis too. The way you adapted, the way you cope, they way you in particular survive, that's due to only you. Your strength, your resiliency, your character.

2) Just as you get to reap the benefits of your accomplishments, your dad has to take responsibility for his failures. Read this again. Your dad has to take responsibility. Not you and not your brother. One thing we who wind up more emotionally advanced than our parents forget is that they are/were the parents, not us. As the adults in the relationship, they have the responsibility of their actions. We get the fallout, but the responsibility is theirs. Even though guilt tears at your heart, you must remind yourself of this. Even if you feel like you have fallen into the role of his caretaker, still -- he made choices that lead you to Texas instead of Ohio. He made them, not you.

In the end, no matter what happens, only he is responsible for his own actions -- and his own reactions.

You know where your responsibility lies. That's why you're going to Houston. Clearly it's not easy, but ultimately it is true.

And in all this, you remain a man with integrity and a sensitive heart. That's why you're torn. You want to do right by him, but you know what's best for your family.

If nothing else, at least know that we see that, Scott. I see it. See it, admire it, and support it 100%.

Tee said...

I wonder what causes one individual to learn from such a history, and one individual to simply repeat it? I wonder if it's as easy as the individual's level of intelligence, or if it's something more complicated?

My husband deals with a similar scenario with his mother, as you know. It's hard for me to understand the guilt he feels - something we've discussed as recently as yesterday. He's done nothing wrong and has done more for her than he should - so much that goes unappreciated.

I can understand continuing to help her and be a good person - it is his mother despite it all - but the guilt ... Guilt is supposed to be felt when one has done something wrong. Many of the problems faced by people like your father and my mother-in-law, were brought upon themselves. We should feel compassion,sympathy, and even sorrow, but not guilt.

I think I have helped my husband come to that conclusion intellectually, but the emotion remains. I suppose my mother-in-law did a good job of instilling that in him from the very beginning (and THAT is part of the problem with their relationship.)

It pains me to see people like yourself and my husband unnecessarily carrying burdens like that.

Kathleen said...

Oh no! I'd be ticked off at my brother if he had done that...I think.

Then again, I don't talk to my father. Hmmm, the older brother speaks to the Former Father and if I found out that he was telling the FF anything about my life I would be pissed...the Little Brother doesn't talk to the FF, either, so I'm safe there.

Are you still working for the company based here?

Kathleen said...

I have to thank Alan for his words. There are times I do feel guilty for not talking to the FF, but Alan's right. I was the child, he was the adult and he needs to take responsibility for the fact that only one of his children talks to him and that child only because he's born again and his pastor told him it was the right thing to do.

I know that the reason I sometimes feel guilty is because of church and that whole "forgive those who hurt you" bit, but I haven't been able to do that. Maybe because I think that to forgive him means I have to talk to him and there's no way in hell that's ever happening.