This will be the final installment in the saga of the unexpected visit from my father this past week. It probably seems weird to have stretched this into four posts, and then really it’s just this last one that talks about it, but I didn’t feel I could really convey the situation without giving the circumstances surrounding and leading up to it.
Once I started trying to unpack all that backstory, it just opened a floodgate and out poured decades of resentment that I didn’t even realize went as deep as it did. That resentment doesn’t stem from any sense of abandonment but rather frustration with the repeated trespass against my personal boundaries, the constant barrage of letters that make me uncomfortable, and the unpredictability of his behavior over the years.
I mentioned that he’d visited once before, about eight years or so back, and it didn’t go too badly. I knew when he was coming, we met for dinner at a local restaurant, and then he went on to Florida and was planning on stopping through for a longer visit on the way back. I am not sure how much longer, and I do remember being a bit stressed about it at the time – one of my big fears is having guests at the house linger past my comfort zone – like what happened a couple of months back. When I am out, and have had enough, well, I can go home, but if I am already at home and someone decides to linger, I feel trapped.
I was in much better health back then and had more ‘spoons’ to work with, so I’m really not sure how it would have gone if he’d made it back to come visit me at home, but I’m a little ashamed to admit that when I found out he would not be coming back through, I felt bad for him that he’d been injured, but also relieved to escape the visit.
I’m not sure how it didn’t trip him up on that visit (maybe some law enforcement databases weren’t linked at that time, that subsequently were accessible to border security?) but later on when he tried to arrange to come back down to retrieve his damaged motorcycle, he was not allowed to cross the border due to old outstanding warrants from his outlaw days, and ended up having to arrange to have it shipped.
Again, I sort of breathed a sigh of relief that it would be the end of any more visits, but he’s very, very persistent, if nothing else. He has worked for years to pay off all the old fines, get pardons for outstanding charges by getting character references from everyone he knows, and petitioning to get a waiver on the border-crossing ban so that he could pursue his interrupted ‘reunion’.
Because of the ever-increasing level of border security in the US, I didn’t really think that there was any way in hell he’d be able to pull it off, but to my surprise, I got a letter about three weeks back that he’d cleared all of the red tape obstacles and was planning a trip down to the US. He asked for my phone number, which actually I’d already given him years before.
It took me a couple of days to write back, because I was trying to figure out how to most tactfully lay out my boundaries and rules. I didn’t want any surprise visits, or visits that went on beyond my endurance, and I needed to know when he’d be coming ahead of time so that I could take time off work, as there’s no way I’d be able to stretch my limited energy between a full work day and social contact. I think I was very diplomatic; I tried to explain about my dysautonomia, and how it made my Autistic sensory issues worse, and how I had to conserve my energy carefully or I couldn’t get through a work week without getting sick. I sent the letter off and waited.
A day or so later, I came home from work to find a FedEx tag on the door for a missed ‘signature needed’ delivery. That was kind of weird, because most of our stuff comes from Amazon prime and they always leave the packages, but I was also expecting a replacement FitBit, so I signed the form waiving the need for someone to be onsite to sign for the delivery, and left it back on the door.
The next day, there was an International overnight letter on my doorstep. WTF? I looked and it was from my dad, saying he was leaving Friday to come to visit and I ‘needed’ to call him with my number – but not till after 9:00 PM – as soon as I got the letter, to give him my phone number. It was actually already Friday, and now I was ticked off. Because:
- It’s not my fault he lost my number or that he was impulsively immediately rushing down to the States the minute he got the waiver.
- He never actually asked if it was a good time to visit, he just told me he was coming.
- The lack of warning: there’s no way I could take time off work on such short notice, and I needed time to prepare myself mentally for a visit from him, especially with our history.
- Sending the overnight letter that I had to sign before even giving time for my letter to arrive was just pushy.
- Demanding that I call him that late at night when I know I’ve mentioned before I go to bed very early because of my narcolepsy was insensitive and obnoxious. Calling people on the phone causes me a great deal of anxiety and if I made this type of call that late, there’s no way I’d be able to go to sleep at all. Not going to happen.
I was getting flashbacks of the ‘pick me up at the bus station incident‘ by this point and getting very, very stressed. I’ve already mentioned in Part One that I was under quite a bit of stress without more being piled on. He’d immediately put me on the defensive. I texted my phone number to his cell and asked that he let me know when he was planning on arriving. He later (I don’t know if he got the text or my letter arrived) left me a voice mail that he’d be there Monday afternoon. F@$%.
Saturday while I was working on a piece of furniture I’d been refinishing (a small project, but due to exhaustion I’d been picking away at it for months) I saw that I’d missed two calls from a New York area code. No message was left. Hmmmm… I googled the number to see if it was the usual telemarketer type call, and the number came up as ‘DHS’ in Buffalo. It didn’t take too much effort to figure out that this must be related to my father crossing the border, but seriously? He gave my number to motherf****ing Homeland Security without my permission? That’s like inviting a vampire over the threshold of someone else’s house.
I never heard anything else from him, and I guessed that if DHS was calling me, and didn’t reach me, that they must have turned him away at the border – especially since I still hadn’t heard anything by Monday. I got in pretty late from work, exhausted from the audit, and was relieved that I apparently wasn’t going to have to deal with the visit after all. My partner was out at an event with friends, so I figured I could just unwind and enjoy some much needed Aspie alone time to recharge. At almost seven o’clock at night, there was suddenly a knock at the door! I just about jumped out of my skin. There on my doorstep, with no call ahead, no warning at all, was my father. I have no idea how he even found the house without calling for directions.
I was pissed.
We sat in my living room awkwardly. I was trying not to act angry but I really resented him just showing up without warning. I know most people probably don’t have as rigid boundaries as I do, but I think it’s really wrong to not respect someone’s wishes, whether or not you personally think they are fair. I asked how long he was planning on staying in the state and he said ‘a week’ and I tried not to panic. I again tried to explain that social interaction is very hard for me, and I could not take any time off work. Work leaves me exhausted and there’s no way I’d be able to handle several consecutive days of visiting.
“Well, can you ‘handle’ dinner?” he asked.
Uh… did I mis-hear that with quotes, or was there actual sarcasm there? I don’t read people well. It could have been him trying to be accommodating, or it could have been snark. I decided to assume I heard it wrong. We arranged to go have dinner the next day. My partner came home around this time, thankfully; it broke the tension and bridged the long awkward silences. He stayed about another hour (he has very bad night vision, so this was probably more to do with needing to be able to see to ride than out of consideration for me) and then went on to his motel. I stumbled off to bed, totally fried.
Dinner didn’t go too badly, except I was still very awkward and stressed, and this resulted in an esophageal spasm when I was trying to eat so I had to take my food home. He told some of the stories that I’d heard a dozen times before, but I was glad that she got to hear them and thought the same thing I did – that they demonstrated a cruel streak1. Still, we didn’t have a bad time, and I think he enjoyed himself.
He is almost seventy and has liver issues, and I observed as we were sitting there that his abdomen looked hard and bloated. I remember my grandfather’s stomach looking like that, before he died; he died of a a heart attack, but also had cirrhosis of the liver. I tried to make a point to be nicer, as this was probably the last time he’d be visiting.
We finished dinner and went our separate ways. I discussed with my partner on the way home that maybe I could avoid a visit on Thursday, but Wednesday we could invite him over for dinner. I called his cell the next morning but got voice mail, and left a message to that effect, saying I could pick up pizza on the way home or something, and to call me back and let me know if he wanted to do that. I never heard from him.
Wednesday came and went with no call or sign of him. I really had no idea if he checks his voice mail? He had demonstrated the ability to leave a voice mail, so I assumed that he could receive one… I briefly thought that most people would try calling the motel to reach the room, and I found myself panicking and shutting down just imagining myself doing that. I let it go. Thursday, still no word. I ended up working late that day, and my partner was also out late. I got home first. It was almost dark when I pulled in to the driveway and… what the hell was that on the doorstep? It looked like a big wad of plastic (bubble wrap?) all splayed out like a giant mutant translucent flower with something metal sitting in the middle of it.
Warily I approached. The object was a large brass and glass hourglass. No box, no card, no indication of who had left it except it had to have been my dad. I am sure there was some sort of intended symbolism… maybe something about my not making time for him? I don’t know. It was creepy and unsettling and I didn’t really know what to think. I half expected a call the next morning, which was when he was checking out of the motel, but nothing.
Was he still headed to Florida? Who knows… if so, was he planning on stopping in again on the way back up? No idea. And when would that be? No clue. I didn’t know if he’d taken our conversation back on Monday to mean I didn’t want to see him at all except for dinner, but we never really discussed it in that amount of detail and even if that was the case, he never said any sort of goodbye at dinner, if that’s what he had understood. It was weird and awkward, and I didn’t know whether to feel guilty or be annoyed, and I couldn’t even really let my guard down, not yet, because I didn’t know where he was and what he was still planning.
I found out that night that he skipped Florida and rode straight home; I’d emailed his landlady to let her know that I hadn’t been able to relay a message for her from earlier in the week because I didn’t see him again, and she replied later that he’d just gotten home. She said it seemed like he was happy and that he said he had a good visit. It will be interesting to see what kind of letter I get in the mail after this train wreck.
When I relayed this information to my partner, saying that now I felt bad that he had just crept away back to Canada without a word of goodbye, she firmly told me, “this is not your fault. He set this visit up for failure every step of the way by not giving you any notice or any choice, and it’s his fault it turned out the way it did, not yours.” My mom said pretty much the same thing, but added, “don’t give him control by feeling guilty.”
How much of his old self: manipulative, calculating, cruel and selfish, is still there, and how much of this mess was just the result of an old man with a brain injury obsessed with forming a bond that will never happen, I just don’t know. I feel sorry, for his sake, that we’ll never have the father-daughter bond he professes to seek, but not my for my own sake. I don’t want it, and don’t need it. I could say that maybe if he hadn’t blown it years and years ago, we’d be closer, except that’s not true: the kind of person who can laugh at deliberately being cruel and causing distress to others automatically goes into my Those Who Can’t Be Trusted list – even if it hasn’t ever been directed at me.
Dealing with my own dysfunctional social skills is hard enough without trying to cope with someone else’s issues on top of it. This week didn’t have to have been such a mess if he hadn’t relentlessly bulldozed over my boundaries. Given enough warning and clear expectations, I would have still not been thrilled, but I would have handled it much better. Instead, it was awkward as hell and absolutely drained me – and it’s not like I had any resources to spare to begin with.
Featured Image: Storm clouds from a tropical storm moving offshore, highlighted by the setting sun, with palm trees in the foreground.
1 Here are a few examples of the stories:
- New neighbors move in and start landscaping, including building a brick enclosed flowerbed. He notes that it is over the property line, but says nothing, waiting for them to finish their work before springing his trap. He watches as they complete the brickwork, fill it with soil, and plant it with flowers. Once it’s complete, he goes to the landlord and tattles. She shows them the property line and demands they remove their encroachment. They have to destroy everything they built. Every time he tells this story, he gloats over how clever he was to wait until they were finished, and takes pleasure in how angry they were.
- The house has a walnut tree in the backyard. Every year, a little red squirrel (or a series of them?) collects all the nuts and squeezes through a crack into the basement (where my father’s apartment is) to stash all the nuts behind the furnace. He waits until all the nuts are off the tree, winter has set in, and there are about fifty pounds of nuts behind the furnace, then he throws all of the nuts into the trash. Why not simply find and block where the squirrel is getting in rather than dooming it to starve?
- Every spring, at the car lot where he works, starlings make nests in the dealership sign. Instead of blocking the spaces with mesh to prevent them from making nests there, every year he waits until they’ve laid eggs, then he gets a ladder and throws all of the nests onto the concrete below, smashing the eggs. The sales staff get very upset at this callousness, which makes him laugh and he tells them it’s because he’s evil. He says he tells them that not because he actually thinks he is evil, but because they are devoutly religious Muslims and his saying that will cause them even more distress.
- There was another story I remember from my childhood; he doesn’t tell that one any more – probably because I have Chihuahuas. A neighbor in his apartment building used to leave her apartment door open and her elderly Chihuahua would charge out and bark at people coming down the hall. The dog had a heart condition, and he liked to scare it and make it faint. The neighbor would get very distressed over her unconscious dog, and he thought this was just hilarious. 😦