I’m sitting on my couch in my living room, surrounded by half-filled boxes. My cat is milling around, climbing on the boxes, chewing the corners off, generally restless and unsure.
M has moved out first, because he took possession of his apartment mid-month. Mine is not available until the end of the month. He’s made it clear he doesn’t want my help with his move, “because then I’d have to help you with yours.” I know. Reason number 11,841 why we’re splitting up.
I handled a heated argument on the phone with my Dad wrong a week or so ago. I have a thin skin where my parents are concerned, as I think many people do. It’s so easy to slip back into old patterns and toxic mindsets when so much bile is being directed at me. Of course he is disgusted by me. Everyone falls short of his expectations, and I’m no exception. Of course he thinks my brother can do no wrong. It’s really easy to have his favor when you are out of the direct line of fire for decades.
When I think of him as he actually is right now, an 83-year-old with a history of mental illness, a house that is too big and too remote for him to handle anymore, a wife with worsening dementia, and a daughter who lives a state away, it’s a tiny bit easier to stomach his vitriol. He’s just a pathetic old man who doesn’t know what to do any more than the rest of us would at his age. He’s stuck, unable to move forward, incapable of change on even the smallest level. He gains some semblance of control by behaving in a domineering manner. He makes himself feel better by making others feel small.
With me, he feels safe enough in his perceived authority to mistreat me. The problem is that he’s not actually in a position to do so, because I no longer have to take it. I mean, I never had to take it, really, but I only recently figured that out. The question now is what to do? He’s made it clear he won’t accept “boundaries” as such, but being old and feeling vulnerable is no excuse for mistreatment of others. I don’t know how to come to an agreement with him about how I will be available to him and what his treatment of me is allowed to be. Since I can’t establish those boundaries, I have to choose whether I accept the bad behavior and “take one on the chin”.
In times when I don’t know what to do, I ask myself “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” Really, the worst case scenario is probably that my parents live for another decade and we have no contact and they deteriorate slowly. Since I don’t love them and they won’t let me help, my motivation to stick around has come largely out of a sense of guilt and obligation coupled with a desire to prove my father wrong. Do I still care about that?
My parents are dying a slow death, and life is for the living. So really, it becomes about what I can live with when they’re gone. I definitely don’t want them to suffer, which requires some level of monitoring on my part. Do I have to take abuse? Maybe, if I need to stay in the picture. Maybe the answer is to keep in touch, get involved when asked or when it’s necessary, and avoid the scathing e-mails and ear-blistering phone calls. What that looks like in practical terms, I don’t really understand yet.
Really, I would help anyone. I helped my elderly next door neighbor who had Parkinson’s. I helped my coworker’s wife when he was dying. I would help anyone at all if they were in dire straits, with whatever means I have at my disposal. I need to hang on to that thought: that regardless of the absolute shit my father spews at me, I don’t want to see anyone – even a miserable little wretch of a man – suffer needlessly.