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My family sucks at communication. It’s one of the reasons I don’t have much contact with them. The following is an actual scenario that played out regarding a health scare my father experienced recently.

As background, my father has had notoriously terrible women in his life, my mother included. His most recent lady-friend is one of the worst he’s ever had, and so naturally he’s managed to completely enmesh himself with her in a way that’s not only toxic, but financially frightening. When they lived together, she would hide alcohol around the house, chug it at random points, and subsequently pass out, throw up, fall down, hurt herself, and/or destroy things, all while completely denying any of it. It was a display of classic alcoholic behavior, which I was surprised to hear my father was enduring considering the substance abuse he endured in his childhood with his father, and at the hands of my mother and his own drinking foibles which played out violently in my youth.

When he decided to give this woman the boot, I was beyond thrilled. However in order for him to do so, he somehow had to agree to pay for her rent, cell phone and car payment, not to mention give her half his furniture, including his bed and television set. Still, if it was the cost to be rid of her, so be it. But then, she got “sober” and began weaseling her way back into his life. I was less than pleased.

When I found out I was pregnant, my father told me his lady-friend was going to call me. I told him I didn’t want her to (one of those rare moments where I stood my ground), and so began the “she knows you don’t like her” digs in an attempt to shame me into allowing this person into my life. Fast forward to a year or so later, when attempting to set up the next visit for my father to visit his first grandson, and he began to pester me into allowing his lady-friend to tag along. I have vehemently opposed this, not because of her questionable sobriety, but because she is of questionable moral character. Beyond her history of deplorable behavior, I simply don’t want to allow someone like that to be around my son.

When I told my father he could forget about bringing this person around my baby, he gave me stern lecture on how I needed to accept her because she’s his “woman” and in his life now. I responded in another of those rare moments of backbone generation that he couldn’t obligate me to do things I didn’t feel comfortable doing, that it was my baby, and therefore my decision on whom I could expose him to, and frankly, this person wasn’t making the short list by a long shot. He got very quiet, mumbling how I’d put him in a bad spot, since he wasn’t sure what he was going to tell her. With my voice shaking, (along with the rest of my body), I told him that if he had a problem with it, he didn’t have to come at all. He hung up without saying goodbye, and I had a week’s worth of panic attacks to pay for the stress.

My birthday fell that weekend, and I was on the phone with customer service (straightening out a UPS shipping error), when I saw my father’s number come up on my cell phone. I couldn’t answer, but the voicemail he left was so classic. First, he reluctantly acknowledged the birthday, and didn’t sound very excited about what seemed like a forced sentiment to begin with. I hung up, with much eye rolling and went downstairs to hug my son and remind myself that I would never be that kind of parent to him.

A few minutes later, once I’d heard the message, I get a call from my aunt (my father’s sister), to let me know that my father was being discharged from the hospital. I was shocked, not knowing anything about it, and a little pissed that he had called me not minutes before but didn’t say a word about it. Oh, and it wasn’t one of those, got a bump on the head and went to go get checked out. Nope, it was one of those massive blockages in his heart that nearly killed him events.

So, after getting the information second-hand from my aunt, I hang up in disbelief, wondering what the hell was happening. Then I get another call from my aunt a few hours later, apologizing for not wishing me a happy birthday, and for ruining my birthday with bad news. Apparently, she had phoned my father after finishing our conversation to let him know she had gotten in touch with me, only to have my father yell at her for “ruining” my birthday. A few hours later, I get another voicemail from him, with a tone of “oh, I guess you know now,” but came across more like a kid who got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

What pissed me off is that my family refuses to trust me with my own emotions. When bad things happen, I am automatically sheltered from the news because I’m “sensitive” and they don’t want to “upset me.” What they don’t realize is that this kind of bullshit is what upsets me more than anything. It’s frankly rather insulting that I have to wait until three days after a major event like this only to get it second hand because it’s my birthday. It’s not like I’m laughing on a mountain of ice cream and kittens on my special day, I’m not a child and can take it if there’s bad news.

What’s worse is that I can’t really give him a hard time about it, because he’s going through the “poor me” phase, realizing that he’s alienated everyone who’s ever cared for him (including my younger brothers) by being so absolutely destructive that no one can stand to be near him. I feel bad for him because he’s alone and scared. But I’m also furious with him because of how this communication still manages to play out when a simple phone call could have sufficed at the time. What also makes me angry is how even now, after all the self-destruction that lead him to his current condition (abusing his body with alcohol, drugs, lack of exercise or proper medical care for most of his adult life), he takes absolutely no responsibility for the bed he’s made for himself.

Instead, he’s fixating on things he can’t control, like the estrangement from my brothers, and attempting to push me about this lady-friend. And, yes, I love my father, but I realize how fucked up my family is every time something like this happens. I vow to myself, to my husband and to my son to do whatever I can to prevent this from happening in the family I created. I never want the people who care about me to feel the way my family makes me feel.