Sunday, April 15, 2007

An unpleasant chat with Dad


While I was down in Florida on vacation, my dad asked me to go for a ride with him in his car – just the two of us. He said he wanted to talk. This can’t be good, I thought. Shit! He’s going to tell me something I don’t want to hear, and because I have no idea what he wants to talk about, I can’t very well say no. So I told him that I’d go with him, dreading the buildup that would precede whatever bad news was waiting for me. He can never get to the point of anything. With him, it’s always the scenic route.

My mind searched the universe of possibilities, but I came up empty. I guessed it had to do with one the three forbidden subjects – money, religion or my kids. Years ago I’d had a major fight with my dad over religion as it pertained to my kids, and didn’t speak to him or take his calls for about four months. During the initial confrontation, I actually grabbed him by the back of his collar and frog-marched him out of my front door and threw his suitcases onto my lawn and asked my mom to leave as well, since they were sort of a team. Four months later we worked things out, but doing so required that I draw a line in the sand, much like the thirty-eighth parallel serves as the boundary between North and South Korea. Dad was forbidden to ever bring up the forbidden subjects without first asking my permission. His failure to do so would be interpreted, at a minimum, as hostile aggression and at worst, global-thermonuclear war.

I have one brother who is three years younger than me and “allegedly” suffers terribly from bi-polar disorder. Not much baffles me. But his disorder does. I don’t dispute that the disorder exists, though I have my own theories on what underlies his diagnosis. I do question whether he truly has it. Uncle Sam believes he does. And the government sends him a disability check every month to prove it.

We got into dad’s car – some fancy BMW sporty something or other. I don’t know the first thing about cars. Loaded. Both the car and my dad that is. Everything about my dad says dollar signs. His God is green and looks like Ben Franklin. In my world, the answer to every question is love. In dad’s world, the answer to every question is money – love isn’t in his vocabulary (unless it’s immediately followed by the word, “money”) and I assume the word “love” sounds like a foreign language to him. His God rests in neat piles in several banks, and the most beautiful thing in the world to dad, is a spreadsheet with lots of black ink and zeros. Our yet-to-be-had talk was going to be about what he planned to do with about half of his estate. (Yay!)

Dad backed out of his three-car garage and shifted smoothly into gear. Our conversation however was stuck in first.

DAD: So, um, sorry about all the rain. Did you ever notice that it always seems to rain when you come down here, regardless of what time of year it is?

ME: It does? I just figured Sarasota was like Seattle or something. I didn’t realize there was a correlation. (See my post of April 14, 2007 titled “RAIN”).

DAD: Nosiree mister! It’s always beautiful down here . . . well, usually.

ME: Dad, you said you wanted to talk a little while ago. That’s why we’re taking this ride right? Ever since you said that, my stomach has been killing me. Can we get on with it please? (Given dad’s inability to stay on point, or even find one, I half expected him to start like this, “In the beginning, the dinosaurs roamed the Earth until a meteor hit it about 96 million years ago.” – But it actually went like this . . . )

DAD: Well, you know your brother’s father-in-law has a gambling problem right? And when he visits China every two weeks he plays cards, right? And did you know that he blew through his wife’s inheritance of two hundred thousand dollars in about two months? Cleaned her out. She only had it a short time before he went through it. And you know that he borrows money from people and runs up your brother’s credit cards. Did you know that? And I’ve heard rumors that his father-in-law is on the verge of bankruptcy.

ME: (Looking at the BMW’s stereo system and wondering which 24 CDs I would slip into the insatiable CD player if my car had a frivolous device like this.) Uh huh.

DAD: And bla bla bla gambling and bla bla bla money and bla bla bla not as long as I’m alive! Bla bla bla his hands on it if I can help it bla bla bla both of them might have to move in with your brother bla bla bla inheritance bla bla bla spend it like water and bla bla bla bi-polar bla bla bla makes lousy decisions bla bla bla not able to handle that kind of money bla bla bla need to make sure he’s taken care of if he gets worse bla bla bla wife will probably leave your brother . . .

ME: (Thinking to myself – That looks like a map on that giant display screen and it’s moving. OOOOH! There’s a little red arrow that’s moving on the map as well. I wonder if that’s one of those GPS things I’ve heard about? And look at all of this polished wood! I wonder if it’s Teak?) Uh huh.

DAD: So anyway . . . (silence).

ME: Dad, you’re not telling me anything I don’t already know. Is there something you wanted to talk about with me? What’s all this have to do with me?

DAD: Well your mother was wondering . . . and of course I guess I was wondering too . . . whether you’d be willing to serve as the trustee for your brother’s inheritance. I’m going to put his half in trust, and the only thing I haven’t decided yet is whether to put it in trust with a bank, or put it in trust with you as the trustee.

ME: (Blink blink) Really? You’re going to put his money in trust? Dad! He’s going to hate your guts!

DAD: I know. But he already hates them anyway and I’m not doing this to piss him off, I’m doing it because it’s the only sane thing to do given his situation.

ME: Holy shit! He’s going to hate MY guts!

DAD: I know. Can you live with that?

ME: Well, he already sort of hates my guts anyway, doesn’t he? This will sure finish it off between us, huh?

Well, perhaps. You don’t have to say yes. I’m willing to put it in trust in a bank.

ME: Well what’s the difference?

DAD: Well, a bank won’t be as sensitive to his needs as you’d be, if there were a problem. Plus, I’d be willing to give you certain powers as the trustee that I wouldn’t be willing to give to the bank, that would make things easier on your brother, especially if he gets worse or has special needs in the future. I know that you’d be a lot more sensitive than a bank trustee and you’d do what’s right for him.

ME: Holy shit . . . . Um . . . alright. I’ll do it.

DAD: Really? Are you sure? Your mom and I were positive you’d want nothing to do with it and we were really just asking just in case there was a small chance you’d say yes. I was really afraid to even ask you, you know . . . since it involves money.

ME: It’s ok dad. I’ll do it. It’s what’s best for him.

Anyway, I don’t even remember the rest of the ride back to the house, because I was absolutely buzzing with excitement and joy! NO! Not because I was going to serve as the trustee over my brother’s inheritance. I was amazed and in disbelief because my dad said that he was afraid to ask me something!!! He was afraid of ME for a change! My dad was uncomfortable about having to ask ME something! YES!!!!!! (All those damn therapy sessions are clearly paying off!!!!)

The whole rest of the day, I felt giddy like a little kid. I even imagined hiding behind doorways and jumping out at my dad and screaming BOOO! Just to see him LOOK scared as well. But given dad’s heart problem I’d have probably ended up trustee of my brother’s estate before dinner, if I’d tried that.

Before we ended our chat, dad asked me an interesting question. He asked if he should tell my brother, during my dad’s lifetime, that my brother’s inheritance was going to be put in trust. My gut tells me that it’s better left unsaid at this time, given my brother’s disorder. But on the other hand, I’m just not sure if not telling him is the right thing to do.


poet with a day job said...

Wow d - congratulations - on saying yes, on getting asked, on knowing what is important to you. It's amazing sometimes, when things like this come up, how we act...we impress even ourselves. The whole time we thought we were the only ones changing because we change...and so many are changing right along with us! It's truly awesome...

Dennis said...

M - you're right on the money here regarding change. It is very true that when we change ourselves, others have to change along with us. It was a great day!

gautami tripathy said...

My dad has been gone for five years now. I still hold chats with him in my head..some pleasant, others unpleasant. Glad to know that I am not the only one talking to my dad like that.

Angie said...

Hiya Dennis. I was just going to peek in here and say hi but you sucked me in with your story and made me laugh. I don't know about telling your brother, got nuthin' for ya there. Well, in all honesty, I don't think it would be terribly wrong to keep it a secret. With some things, it doesn't matter when they find out, and he might react better to it in the wake of grief. But, if your conscience weighs on you, you could tell him the way I told my parents in high school that I was on the pill, "Mom, I'm THINKING of going on the pill..."

That did not go well.

End of story.

Robin said...

I hate those conversations that start with "we need to have a talk..." Fortunately, I've only had a few! I'd say you handled the situation very well! Good for you! Inheritance can be a very sticky subject within families!

Dennis said...

Robin - EVERYTHING about dealing with my family is sticky! Growing up we never needed tape, glue or post-its! You get the idea. Now if we could just find a way of getting into this world without having to have a family of origin, we'd have half a chance at turning out ok!! Don't you think?