Father’s Day brings up so many difficult feelings. While others are out celebrating their dads or honoring their memory, I have to build up the courage to make a phone call. Growing up, my dad and I had always been close. Despite my parents getting divorced when I was in third grade, I still saw him every weekend and I looked forward to our time together at his apartment a half hour away. We’d pop popcorn and watch movies on HBO. We’d go to his office and do “work.” He’d pay me to write out the envelopes for perspective clients. We’d go grocery shopping and out to eat. He’d take my friends and me to the mall and host sleepovers with my friends. We’d go to the laundromat every Sunday and race washing machines. We’d put the quarters in the slots and push them in to the machine when my dad said “Go.” We’d play games in the car like “Name That Tune.” He’d whistle a few notes of a popular song and I’d try to guess what it was. When I was in high school, we’d go to a local bar/restaurant for Karaoke nights. He’d even buy me my favorite drink—a fuzzy navel! I sang with the owner so that helped.
Anyway, my dad was my hero. He never missed a performance and there were a lot. He would even go to the same musical multiple times and sit in different areas for different perspectives. Every bank teller knew every accomplishment of mine and told me how proud my dad was of me every time I went to the bank with him. He was dynamic and creative and fun. He was also bipolar, though he was never diagnosed or medicated for the illness. This created lots of unnecessary stress and dysfunction in our already non-traditional family. He’d go from jokes and laughter to rage in a split second and the smallest thing could set him off. Actually, he handled the larger issues with far more calmness and grace. But a dish out of place or a dribble of milk on the counter and you could hear him for miles.
Our relationship became more complicated when I started living with him during my sophomore year of high school. He had an unstable girlfriend who moved in with us and faked a pregnancy and miscarriage (despite a full hysterectomy years before), and then cancer. She’d leave clumps of her hair around as proof, though she was really just pulling her hair out to suit her sordid narrative. For fun, she would take out her false teeth, pull her hair back from her forehead, stick out her tongue, and chase me around the house when my dad wasn’t around. We called her “Crazy Janis”–for obvious reasons.
When we moved to a new house my senior year of high school, I co-signed under the impression that if something happened to him, I would still have a place to live. Now that I’m older, I know that unless a house is paid off, the bank will come to the co-signer for the mortgage payment. As a recent college graduate responsible for my own rent, I didn’t have the money for an additional mortgage payment so the house foreclosed. I also learned that my dad had taken several credit cards out in my name without my knowledge. To make financial matters worse, my dad’s name was on my checking and savings accounts so my accounts were frozen and I had no access to my money. Then my dad was arrested for insurance fraud and put behind bars for several years. Unable to pay off all the debt from my father, I had to declare bankruptcy at 22 without having charged a cent. Not an ideal start to life on my own. For the next seven years, I learned to live with little money and no credit.
Five years later, he got out of prison, but he wasn’t the same fun and supportive dad. He was hard and cynical. He made promises he never kept. I caught him in more lies than I can remember and he never owned up to ripping off all his clients. He also never apologized for all he’d put me through as a young adult.
Flash forward to the present. My dad, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s last year, is staying in an assisted-living facility an hour and a half away. I call him, but he rarely answers. I visit him from time to time and take him out for dinner and grocery shopping. He’s always appreciative and happy to see me, but the visits take a toll on my mental health. He seems to have forgotten all the hell he’s put me through and only remembers all the good things he’s done. Probably a defense mechanism so he can live easier with himself. I accept that and just want him to enjoy the years he has left. He’s lonely, though much of that is his fault. That’s punishment enough. I don’t need to make it worse for him. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard and I don’t struggle. Not just on Father’s Day, but every day.