A Conversation With Dad

I recently had a conversation with my father that goes to show the things you see as a kid don’t always match up with what’s really going on.

Mood music:

Like a lot of families these days, we hit a financial wall a few months ago and I had to ask my father for help. That was a killer, because I’ve always taken pride in making things work without having to do that. It was a painfully humbling experience.

One of the more unfortunate byproducts of my OCD is that I don’t like to ask for help when I need it. This flaw has taken me to the brink of a nervous breakdown many times.

When you struggle with addiction and mental disorder, you cling hard to an ego that’s always bigger than what the reality of the situation justifies.

In my warped world view, to as for help has always been to admit weakness. It’s a huge contradiction for me, because the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my12-Step program is that nobody breaks free of addiction without help. That’s why we have sponsors to kick us in the ass.

One of the reasons James Frey was so easily exposed as a fraud over the fabrications in his book “A Million Little Pieces” was that he claimed to have overcome his demon on his own. Anyone who has been down this road knows it’s impossible to kick your most self-destructive demon without help. I don’t fault Frey all that much, though, because as I’ve noted before, addicts are among the best liars on the planet.

I’m no exception.

I’m a lot like the character Quint in “JAWS” in that I suffer from working-class hero syndrome. (One of the many excellent lines in that movie was when Hooper told Quint to knock of the working-class hero crap, after Quint kept picking on Hooper for not getting his hands dirty enough.)

In my case, I like to believe that adults should be able to make a living without any help from family and friends. In a financial rut? You figure it out and avoid asking your parents for help at all costs. I’ve looked down on people who have done that in the past. I described one case as someone using their father like a piggy bank.

To me, asking Dad for help means failure. I think some of that attitude comes from the fact that I leaned on my father‘s financial assistance a lot in my 20s. When my 1981 Mercury Marquis finally died a painful death at the hands of its abusive driver, I went to Dad and nagged for a new car. I got one — a 1985 Chevy Monte Carlo.

I look back on that sort of thing and realize what a burden that was on my father. When I got married and settled into my 30s, I vowed never to bother my father for money again. I would manage on my own at all costs.

For the most part, I have. In fact, until this year, Erin and I have rarely paid a bill late. Erin deserves most of the credit for this, because spending money on stupid things has always been a weak spot for me, and most of the time she has handled the bills and made it work despite her husband’s $40 fast-food binges and early-morning spending sprees on Amazon.com.

We’ve done a pretty good job of stabilizing the family finances of late, but in some respect we still live on the razor’s edge. And so I have to go back to Dad for advice. He doesn’t mind. This is HIS TERRITORY. He’s the man to ask about this stuff, just as I’m the man to ask about writing and journalism.

Still, my humility level gets amped up. That’s not bad in itself, because I can always use a good dose of humble pie.

Which brings me to my main point.

In talking to Dad about the delicate balance of paying for the kids’ private school and keeping the mortgage up to date and food on the table, he said something that floored me:

“Oh, I know what it’s like. There were a lot of those situations when (me, my brother and sister) were kids,” he said.

Excuse me. What?

But thinking back on it all, it makes perfect sense. I just think of the medical bills alone the three of us kids wracked up in the 1970s and 80s. It had to have been staggering.  

My father practically lived at his business, but I always assumed it was because he preferred to be there than at home, where my mother was usually in a rage about something.

I still think that’s somewhat true. But I think a lot of it had to do with making ends meet in a world gone mad.

Since I always assumed we were well off when I was a kid, my father clearly did a good job of shielding us from the financial ugliness.

Saturday, I called him and thanked him.

“No problem. I love ya,” he said.

Love you too, Dad.


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