Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Tim and Dad

My brother, Tim, stopped by last Friday. Our relationship has been strained so much the past few years that there was a time when I wondered if there was anything left to salvage. That's twice now in the last three weeks that he's stopped by. A year ago our family was in turmoil and so many of us had for the most part given up speaking with one another. Ours is a classic dysfunctional family. An alcoholic father and an enabling mother. Not only was my dad an alcoholic but he was also a work-aholic.

Although I seldom saw my dad without a drink when I was a boy, I don't think there was necessarily abuse occurring. I can never recall seeing my dad falling down, or obviously drunk. I'm sure he was feeling a buzz and taking off an edge but nothing more. It wasn't until he lost his job in the Spring of '85 that his drinking became a problem. He'd been a financial planner with Control Data for most of his career and in the Spring of '85 his division was bought out by a company named VTC. Dad was let go by the new group within a few months of the buyout. It was then that he crawled inside the bottle from which he would never emerge. He filed an age discrimination suit but he was really on the leading edge of that sort of thing back then and he simply didn't have the money to follow it through. He ended up settling for attorney fees and walked away with a much smaller pension than he'd planned for.

I remember he and Mom were in the middle of planning their retirement home with an architect and those plans were quickly shelved. They sold their home and moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where we have relatives from my Mom's side. I don't know if my Dad gave up by running away so to speak or if he really thought he could begin again in Michigan. My parent's found a home to rent for a couple years and then bought a home They also purchased an old barn in a beautiful location on the road into Houghton. They renovated it and turned it into Landmark Rental. I'll finish this later...

I was living in Huron SD at the time but I was getting home ever 6 weeks so I wasn't totally detached. I can remember driving in my car in Huron while listening to WCCO on the radio and hearing of the merger/buyout/whateveritwas and wondering if it would affect Dad. It was sometime in early 1985. I think he lasted maybe four or five months before they pulled the rug out from under him. We look back today and wonder if maybe Dad had begun to drink more heavily after the merger and that maybe the new people saw him as a liability to be gotten rid of. It's hard to know. Just the previous year he'd won an award for his performance and I can't be sure but I want to say it was 'Employee of the Year' for his division. Not something they just give to anybody.

So he and Mom sold their home and moved to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where Dad started going through money like there was no tomorrow. He spent a large amount getting the business going. It was to be a tape rental as well as equipment rental shop. They also operated a Ryder Truck rental out of their lot. Tim (my brother) moved up to help them run the business but between my dad and him and both their drinking excesses the business never got off the ground. They kept it going for a couple years but eventually had to sell the building.

It was a very difficult time for my mom. I think she just hung on to the hope that things couldn't get any worse and that tomorrow would be better. On a couple occasions she left Dad and drove back to Minnesota to stay with Noy and I. She'd last a couple days then have to go home as she was too worried about Dad being on his own and what might happen. She was so tired on one of her trips to Minnesota that she fell asleep at the wheel and ran off the road and through a fence.

Meanwhile, Dad had fallen into a routine of driving to Mass City everyday for whatever he needed to keep himself drunk. It was sometime in the early '90s that Mom finally called the police and had him pulled over. How he never killed anyone only God knows as his blood alcohol content was around .3. His license was taken away and I'm not sure he ever forgave Mom for that although he should have thanked her. All the while he was suffering more and more from emphysema and it wouldn't be long until he was pretty much confined to his chair in the living room tied to his oxygen tank. It's the side of smoking you usually don't get to see because the people who suffer with it have a difficult time getting out in public. I'm sure fewer people would smoke if they had a clearer picture of the end game.

As I sit here and write these thoughts of my dad I realize that I'm just touching the surface with most of this. My thoughts and memories go much deeper than these words. I'm dwelling on mostly negative things about my dad but I do realize that he had some very good qualities about him as well. He loved to help out the underdog and try and give a hand up to those he felt could use it. He was a bit of a dreamer and I admired that quality in him. He was a pretty simple guy when it was all boiled down. He had difficulty with authority and that never served him well especially when it came to the corporate world. He could have had a VP designator in front of his name but he wasn't one to play the game to make it happen. He remained a financial planner/manager and it paid the bills. More later...

Sunday now and I have no idea how long this ramble of mine will last.

I came across some of my dad's writings recently where he talked about some of his earliest memories. His parents died when he was a young boy. I think his father died when my dad was 4 and his mother died when he was around 8. He was raised by his older sister, Vi and her husband, Joe. He carried with him a lot of resentment toward both of them. Here's an early photo of my dad and his mother and brother and possibly and aunt...not sure.

I used to feel that I never had enough individual time with my dad when I was growing up but being one of six kids in the family and knowing how much it takes to maintain a household I now realize he did the best he could. We always lived in a nice home and never lacked for anything important.

My dad died in September '95 from a combination of emphysema and heart failure. I had been up to see him the week before but I wasn't there when he died. I remember how hard it was to say goodbye to him knowing it would be the last time I'd ever see him. I remember looking back at him as I left the room and feeling the weight of knowing he would die soon. There had been many close calls in the year leading up to his death but I was certain I wouldn't see him again. When he finally did die I came home to an answering machine message left by Jackie saying that "Dad died at 3:15 today". She was crying and that's all she could say. My stepson, Dave, was in town and we'd been out golfing. I remember thinking how I was out enjoying myself and my dad lay dying in the hospital.

Noy, Dave, Snickers and I drove to Michigan and met the rest of the family there. We all stayed in the same hotel and I remember how the grandkids had fun being together ordering pizza and running through the halls to each others rooms. The photo to the right is of Dave and Snickers from the trip.

I think it was a year before I ever broke down and cried for my dad after his death. I'm not sure why I did at that time but I recall it happening. Mostly I was relieved when he died both for my mom and my dad. His life had become a painful existence and I know it was hard on my mom in so many ways. She's not at all a selfish person and I'm sure she was happy to be there for him but it was consuming her.

After Dad died, Mom remained in Winona for another year before moving back to be near us kids in the Twin Cities. She eventually bought a townhome about 5 miles from me. She's a busy lady these days with not enough time in her day. She's volunteers 3 to 4 days a week at Hosanna and has really found a new depth to her faith there. She's got such a servant's heart that I can't begin to say enough good things about her.

This started out being an entry about my brother, Tim but I somehow got sidetracked talking about my dad. I hope to see Tim this Thanksgiving as well as my sister, Claudia and her family and continue the healing.

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