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.
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.