July 19, 2010 § 4 Comments
With another anniversary looming, I thought I might write a post about my continuing estrangement from my father, and, in so doing, provide friends and onlookers with a bit of a “me” update. In retrospect, and largely unintentionally, this blog stands as an archive of my family’s dissolution, so it seemed to me like a fitting way to mark the occasion. Fate, though, had other plans.
I had just arrived home from a trip to New York, which is another post entirely, and one of the voice mail messages that needed returning was from the bank that holds my student loans, which I assumed was the reason for the call. It wasn’t. After twenty minutes of confused back and forth, I learned that I had been called about a four thousand dollar overdraft charge on a joint account I had forgotten I had with my father. The upshot of the call was that the amount needed to be paid in full within seventy-two hours, which my father had pigheadedly refused to do. Thus, the burden of responsibility now fell to me, the daughter he hadn’t spoken to in almost three years.
As I tried to process what was happening, the banking agent told me what I already knew: that if I reneged on my unwitting financial responsibility, my credit rating would be ruined, and, in her words, I could kiss the thought of ever owning a house or a car goodbye. Or, as I thought but did not interject, of ever renting an apartment in any large North American city, which is why even at my most destitute I have always guarded my credit score. My hands were shaking as I explained the situation I found myself in: that I was not in touch with my father, that I had never used the account in question; that I had only agreed to share it because, in the months after separating from my mother and recovering from cancer surgery, my father was convinced that he was going to die alone in his two-room apartment and wanted me to have access to his small savings when he did.
When she deigned to respond, the banking agent’s voice had softened somewhat, and although she maintained that I was still legally responsible for the debt irrespective of the circumstances under which I had incurred it, she offered to dispense with the rules and provide me with my father’s current telephone number, which I did not have. I thanked her and, my hands still shaking, steeled myself to make the call.
A woman’s voice answered and I momentarily thought I had dialed the wrong number before realizing that I was speaking to my father’s on-again, off-again girlfriend. After some suitably awkward pleasantries, she explained that he was living with her now but that he wasn’t home, and she took down my phone number to give to him when he returned. And then I waited, unsure of what to expect, if anything at all, and half-wishing that I had boarded a different Greyhound to some unknown but infinitely better destination.
Finally, sometime after midnight, the phone rang. “Hello?” I answered, knowing it was him but still too steeped in the habit of answering the phone in this manner to answer differently. “Yeah, hi, “ he responded, drawing out the “i” as he had always done. Then, stating the obvious, “long time no hear.” I concurred, and then he cut to the chase.
Since speaking with him last, my father has accrued over $30,000 in bank debt, after, presumably, exhausting the RRSPs he spent thirty-eight years working overtime in a steel factory to save to see him through his retirement. I asked, plainly, “What happened?” and without missing a beat he replied, “the casino.” James, if you’re still reading: you were right. My father is a gambling addict.
The rest of the conversation was taken up with discussing the mechanics of what he planned to do to extricate us from our imbroglio and certain other matters, including how it was that we came to be in it. “I’ve given up on life,” he explained, matter-of-factly. I wanted to but did not say, “Yes, you’ve said that before.” Then, he brought up our last conversation, the one in which he criticized my decision to stop working full-time and, in a desperate bid to finish my PhD, to take out another student loan instead. “You were so angry,” he recalled, and then, seemingly oblivious to the irony of the situation, he proceeded to repeat the criticism verbatim.
Dumbfounded, I collected the thoughts that were racing inside my skull before carefully filtering them. I did not say, “You have no right to comment on my financial decisions.” I did not say, “Thanks for not thinking of me for the millisecond it would have taken to remove my name from your bank account before you flushed both our credit scores down the toilet.” I did not say, “Fuck you for blowing $30,000 at the casino instead of helping me.” I did not say, “You have your health, a son who needs you and a daughter who loves you despite your failings, you blind, selfish fuck.”
I did say, calmly, as though speaking to a child, “It is almost impossible to complete a post-graduate degree without any financial or emotional support. I know that you don’t really understand this but you have to take my word for it, and if nothing else I need you to reserve judgment. I have not always made the right decisions but I am doing the best I can with limited options. And that’s just the way it is.”
He seemed to accept this, or at least he had no further comment. As we ended our conversation, he ventured that we should talk more often, and I dispassionately agreed. And then I put down the phone and sat quietly until my skull contained no thoughts at all.