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
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
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.)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.
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.
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.