Friday, June 08, 2007

Surreality Bites

Something odd happened the other day. Well, a lot of odd things have happened in my life, lately. Below is one of the latest.

Quick background for those that are just tuning in:
My dad and I have no relationship. We've not spoken in about two and a half years and before that short period of communication, it'd been about two years. And so on. And so on. One strangely ironic reason that we have no relationship (i.e. can't even have a 5-minute conversation) is due to my father's insecurity over the fact that he wasn't there for much of my life, for various reasons. At different times over the past several years, he has taken in a couple of young people that he claims as his children (we'll leave it at that). I've met them on and off since they were babies, but we don't really have a relationship, either. One of them, an 18-year-old we'll call "R," lives with my dad, now. I think Pops sees this as his second (/last) chance to be a "real" father.
We now return to our regularly-scheduled program.

So, I was checking something out on the laptop one evening when my phone rang. I looked at the screen and saw the name of my half-step-brother-kinda-sorta, R.

R and I are cool enough with each other. We don't talk often, but we call or text each other once every six months or so. That said, I was shocked as shit to hear from him - especially since I'd been thinking about him and my Pops over the past week or so.

I answered the phone and we did the quick greetings and howyoudoin's when he threw me a curveball in response to my "How're you doing?"

"Not so good."

Shit. A ton of possibilities zipped through my poor brain in the 1.76 seconds following his reply. The one that endured the most was one of my fears - that my Pops would die or something and, because of our lack of a relationship, I wouldn't find out until it was too late.

Luckily, it was nothing so dramatic. R told me that he and my dad hadn't been getting along all that well. (Although, when I say that back to him, he downplays it, as if it's not that bad.)

Anyway, he shocks me some more by more or less telling on himself. He's not saying that my our father is difficult (which Pops most #$T#! DEFINITELY is!). No.

R is saying that the problem is his own behavior. He says he lies and procrastinates and disobeys and he needs to start doing better. He placed zero blame on my our father.

He goes on explaining how he's not doing what he's supposed to do and I have to ask him the obvious, "If you know what you're supposed to do and you want to do it, what's stopping you from doing it?"

He didn't have an answer for that, which left us both in mild fugue state, trying to figure out where to go from there. I recovered first:

"I'm going to tell you an old joke. Now, I'm not trying to make you laugh, so don't think that. I'm just using a joke to illustrate my point:

A man walks into a doctor's office. The doctor says, 'What seems to be the problem?'
The man says, 'Well, Doc, I really need your help. It really hurts whenever I turn my head like this. Ow!'

The doctor replies, 'Well, stop turning your head like that.'

'. . .'

'That'll be fifty bucks.'"

The point of that story as well as much of what I said to him for the next 45 minutes or so, was that his actions, his reputation, and his life are largely in his own hands. I wanted him to know that he has more control than he might think.

"Ultimately, it comes down to what kind of man you want to be," I told him. I told him that to get from point A to point B requires effort and commitment along with the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. Baby steps, even.

I'm not sure if this made a dent, but I hoped it would at least make him feel better. I had to remind myself of a lesson I've learned and forgotten many times before: Sometimes, it's not what you say so much as the fact that you cared enough to say it.

I asked him what kind of man he didn't want to be and he laid that out pretty well. I told him that most men who possess the negative traits he described, used to be 18-year-olds just like him. (Or is he 17?) And at that age, I'm sure none of them planned to be an undependable, lying, rotten so-and-so... well, not most of'em, anyway. Yet they ended up there regardless.

I asked him a question, "You know the difference between them and you?"


"The difference is that you've got me... and your dad... and the rest of your family and friends, along with the desire and the ability to do better than you've done before." Or something like that."

Eventually, I gave it a rest because it was hard to know, from his feedback, whether any of it was doing any good. I figured that I'd done about all I could for the evening and I told him to feel free to call me again whenever he liked.

I also recommended talking to other people he trusted, including his pastor - not to mention good old-fashioned prayer. It may not be my thing, but it's his and that means something.

I don't know if I can relate it properly, but this whole thing was insanely Twilight Zone-ish. For a variety of reasons:
1) I don't know why he'd turn to me for advice. He never has before and I don't know why he'd think enough of me to consider me. (Not a put-down of myself but an acknowledgment of our limited interaction.)

2) My Pops can be sneaky. I've long suspected that he's told R to call me, but to pretend that he did it on his own, so that my dad could find out something about me or promote interaction between the young man and me.

3) I've never known a young person to come to someone saying he's a problem and wants to stop doing bad things - especially when those bad things have nothing to do with anything big like crime, drugs, or sexuality.
The delivery and content seemed so artificial (and similar to my Pops' past comments) that I had a hard time believing they were genuine. At the same time, I realized that I could be wrong. That's why I treated him like he was dead serious.

Besides, he may not have been telling me the whole story. That's why I threw in some stuff about sex and drugs and crime in there. Just in case.

If this is all rather hard to swallow, imagine a co-worker of yours - one that you're not all that close to, but you've met his/her family at various time throughout your tenure. Now imagine that co-worker's kid, whom you've only met a handful of times, calls you up asking for advice about what kind of detergent to use on his clothes.

This isn't quite that, but it's a good example of how out-of-the-blue and .... just surreal... the whole thing was, for me.


kim said...

So...did you mean it? He's got you?

You feel like you carry a lot (is that one word?), and hold it closely, deeply.

Maybe you could use a good "ear" as well; maybe his coming into your life could give you a shoulder of sorts.


Liz said...

My mom goes through these phases where she's mad at me and doesn't speak. She definitely keeps tabs on me through my sister when she's not talking to me.

Regardless, it's so good that you are able to be there for your brother and give him both some straight talk and a listening ear. Both are so rare nowadays.

West said...

kim: I meant it. Like I said, it was hard to believe that the whole thing was legit (and I still have my doubts), but I'm not willing to hang his short- or long-term happiness on my suspicions.

In fact, he called me, again, just last night. We talked for about 20 minutes.

Maybe he will be a shoulder for me. I don't see it, but it's not always easy to predict what we'll mean to others or what they'll mean to us.

I guess we'll see, kim. Thanks.

West said...

Liz: Do your Mom's silent periods last 2+ years? Just curious. I don't know too many other people who have this kind of on again, off again, relationship with their parents.

Anyway, the way things have been, I don't see our relationship ever being on, again.

Every single encounter is a disaster.

Thanks. (It's weird seeing someone call him my brother.)

seventh sister said...

maybe there is no underlyng meaning to his calls. It could be that he is wanting to get to know you better. He mostlikely admires you and wants to know how you got to be the man you are today so that he can follow in your foot steps.

West said...

Welcome, seventh sister.

You could be right. That's why I'm treating him like he's 100% genuinely.

I'd have to see proof that he's pulling a 007 for my Pops before I'd cut him off or something. It's entirely possible that his unusual way of speaking stems from the fact that he's been largely raised by my father - a man with an unusual way of speaking.

Though this may be the pot calling the kettle black. :-)

Keith said...

You gave the kid some good advice, but like all advice it's only good if he uses it, or truly knows why he's rejecting it. It's interesting that you felt close enough to him to try and play the big brother role. My shrink would have a field day with this.

I have a similar relationship with my dear old dad. It's part of the reason my blog exists. We differ though because my dad thinks he did a lot for his family. Let me rephrase: my father is the only person that thinks he was there for his family. Black fatherhood is a difficult topic.

Speaking of that, when did you say you were going to start working on little East, North , and South? (I'm kidding, don't hit me.)

Liz said...

The longest my mom hasn't spoken is a bit over a year. She didn't speak through either of my pregnancies, my sophomore year in college, most of last gets tiresome and sometimes I just want to tell her to never call me again just to be done with it, but I don't do that. She'll not speak because she didn't like something I did or said, or an opinion I have. She recently found out I have a blog so I'm anticipating another round of her screening her calls with caller ID. She's done two years with my sister.

B. Good said...

This is about as random as it is when a guy's "girlfriend" calls you out the blue, and ends up spilling her guts and crying to you about their relationship, and you have no clue whats goin' on. Before you know it, you're counseling a lost soul to come down off the bridge.

Hypothetically speaking, I understand the surreality of the situation.

I won't get into what it must be like to see your father, "fathering" other peoples kids, and not his own (which I'm sure adds to the bite). Bless you for positively interacting with his "other kids".

kim said...

I wouldn't hug my mother (forget the kiss) for about eleven months in my young adulthood.

Her family's preference for the boys (I am the only girl of five boys) is pathological, and when one of her sons seriously threatened both her and me, and I took legal action, she could not emotionally reconcile her need for self-protection and protection of one of her children from another of her children, and the huge (I suppose) act of embodying a form of racial, gender-centered betrayal against her son. (Dee-yam, I never EVEN thought of this before. Been so peeved.)

I wrote her off after that. But she's got much deeper issues, and my hugs were a form of protection for her, so I slowly let her back in. Figures, my family and I are all she has to lean on (Must be why I lost my freakin' mind, kept drinking the orange juice, and gave her four grands.)

Angie said...

Okaaay, wierd situation - but you handled it well. Any way the cut goes you did what was good for the young man and for your karma.

Now the ignit me: Them daddy's is a mutha ain't they?!?

West said...

Lotsa great feedback. Thanks, everyone.

To answer the questions...

Keith: No lil ones for me 'til marriage, I hope, and that ain't gonna happen until I get a lil more schoolin'.

angie: LOL

So true. I remember the times he WOULD come to get me, when I was a child, I'd be ecstatic to see him, but I'd always return home crying.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think the young man admires you, and also knows that if he is having problems with your dad, you of all people will understand.

I admire your ability to separate any natural antipathy under the circumstances from your natural kindness. (When my brother, the Christ Child, got married, my parents openly favored his wife over me. It hurt.)

I suspect that the lack of rosiness in his relations with your father are NOT all his fault, but that he has been brainwashed by your father and perhaps his church to think it is.

It seems clear that he is reaching out to you. And having just read your blog for the first time, I can see why.

West said...

That's really kind of you to say. Thanks.

To be honest, I share some of your suspicions about the brainwashing.

I love my Pops, but what you suggest is completely plausible.

Of course, I wish them both the best because the love just won't die.