It should have been a wake up call when we learned that my dad never went back into the house after mom died and instead was sleeping in the garage storage shed.
We also should have taken note when he put everything they owned into an estate sale a couple of weeks after she died, and I mean everything. We learned of it and quickly secured our family heirlooms (thank God) but the rest of it was sold, and cheaply. Experts say that you should not do anything financially with an estate for at least a year because those grieving are too emotional. My brother Mike and I did talk about that and approached dad when he was making these decisions, but we knew that he had just experienced the five year long decline and eventual death of his only wife and we thought moving on was a good thing. After all he was a young man, only 61.
Mother died of cancer in May 1996. By July of that year dad had rid himself of that life. He had sold their furnishings and house and had decided that he wanted to be on the coast somewhere in Florida. He was the executor of mom's will and we assumed that mom had just left everything to him. He began looking for property on the coast and had stumbled upon paradise at Cape San Blas, FL. He could pay cash for a small house right on the beach; one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. He called me on July the 4th and begged me to come see it. I got in the car and drove 8 hours to give him my approval. He told us this would give him a purpose. He could fish and really enjoy himself here. It would be a great place to visit him and bring the granddaughters.
About 6 months after dad bought the beach house I got a letter from the estate attorney. Mom had left Mike and me half of the estate to split equally between us. She had also left each of her two granddaughters $10,000 for their college fund. I didn't much think about it, and was pleased to have my share invested in a beach house for us all to enjoy.
Instead of living in the beach house as dad had told us, he decided to rent it and gain an income for himself. He moved back to Macon and purchased a small house in which to live. Mike and I thought this even better, a beach house with income that we can each visit periodically and enjoy.
What we didn't know was that shortly after the beach house was purchased dad took a second mortgage on the house and started taking money out of it. He was also desperately lonely and began considering having another woman in his life. He began traveling, marlin fishing in Mexico. He bought a boat (don't most men eventually buy a boat?) Without our knowledge he had planned a trip abroad to get himself a modern-day mail order bride. Mike and I only found out about this when the service called us as an emergency because dad had missed his other two appointments. Apparently he had met his future new wife in Romania and decided that the other woman in St. Petersburg was not going to top the Romanian one.
He came home from a trip "abroad" and told us he had met a woman and that she would be coming for holidays. We kept our mouths shut and decided again, he deserved to be happy. She came for the holidays and they spent traveling the US for a month. She didn't speak any English but seemed nice, intelligent, about 10 years younger than dad and, strikingly, the image of my mother.
Things began to unravel financially for my dad. We learned that he had decided to sell the beach house and had put it on the market. We called a family meeting to discuss the issue. We learned that dad had mortgaged it, spent all the money on his adventures with his girlfriend and needed to get at what cash was left. I was crushed that the beach house was for sale. I asked him to give me two weeks to try and get a mortgage to buy it from him and he said he would. Lie...he had already signed the contract and had a closing date scheduled. We confronted him about mom's will and the granddaughters' fund and he reluctantly agreed to give us some of the sale proceeds. It was about quarter of what was legally ours and nothing for the granddaughters.
Things were strained between us and but we always felt like he was okay. In the fall of 1999 he decided to marry. We gave them our blessings. His wife was Romanian, a PhD, a professor of geography. She wanted to attend college in the US and began looking for a university. They settled in Tampa, Florida in a brand new house and she started her education. Within a year the bank had caught up with dad and he had to put the Tampa house on the market. They decided to move to Athens so that his wife could attend the University of Georgia. It was shortly after they moved there that dad had to declare bankruptcy.
Also during their first couple of years we did try and get to know his wife. Communicating was tough and the cultural differences were challenging. They came for Thanksgiving. She had prepared stuffed cabbage which was delicious. While having dinner she suddenly got up from the table and started yelling at my dad in Romanian. We had know idea what the problem was. Apparently we had not enjoyed her stuffed cabbages enough. It was a very unsettling experience. She had her meltdown and they left the house. In another weird but familiar instance, my brother had invited them for a lunchtime gathering at his house and the same thing occurred. His wife got upset when Mike and his family didn't dig into her prepared meal as soon as they walked in the door. It was communication that seemed to get in the way. We were consistently disappointing her somehow and didn't understand that we were being disrespectful to her and her culture.
Dad's interest in getting together with us and our families was beginning wane. We tried meeting them in Athens a couple of times for lunch but it always came back to money. He needed money, so his pride was also very tarnished. Again another family meeting, we helped them (his wife) understand that there was no more money and that in fact they were deep in debt again, even after the prior bankruptcy. We organized their debtors and made arrangements with credit card companies. Mike and I agreed to give him a monthly check to help him through this time. Reading this now I see we probably made a mistake.
We saw them less and less often. Dad only called when he needed money. We invited them to family occasions and they declined or never even responded. Our daughters became teenagers and didn't really know who they were... it was sad. My daughter has not seen her granddad for 10 years. This person is not who raised me--he is now some other person. His wife eventually got her degree. Their financial situation improved and we stopped sending them money.
Our relationship became nonexistent. My brother was deeply hurt by this but continued to make the effort to keep his daughter a part of their lives. Last Christmas Mike called dad and arranged a lunch date for the three of them in Athens. Once they arrived Mike called dad to come down, but dad refused. He said he was not coming. Mike lost his cool and told dad to get his butt downstairs to see his granddaughter. He refused. Mike drove to the lunch spot and told dad that he expected him to be there in half a hour. Dad showed up, stayed for five minutes and left. Imagine treating your own granddaughter this way? Shameful.
Our daughters were seniors in high school by this time. My dad and his wife were both invited to graduation. No reply, not even a phone call...My daughter has been blessed with an incredible voice and we held a senior recital for her, over 100 friends and family were there...invited dad and his wife, no response.
We still hear from dad's wife via email. She sends us pictures of their adventures and travel. We've seen them on their vacations in Vancouver, California, Romania. They can travel the world but not come to see their grandchildren graduate from high school. I just learned that they both need dental work so they're heading to Romania for a month and will get their teeth fixed there. They may even move there. We heard about this from my uncle, my dad's brother.
My uncle has written us a letter chastising us for not being in our dad's life and abandoning him. He states, "we need to be bigger than that and that it's our responsibility to stay connected and in dad's life, no matter what. Family's family." Unfortunately, you can't make someone see you and participate in your life if they refuse. This is about my dad's shame. My brother and I remind dad of his failures and lies and deception. His new life is exactly that...his new life. My brother and I are his old life, one that he wants nothing to do with. Mother died 16 years ago today. The father I knew... well, he died too.