Saturday
Dec292007

« Of House And Home »

It seems that the last blog actually touched a nerve in some of the most loyal fans of TAPKAE.com, and a few unexpected ones came out of the woodwork in response to the part about my father. Even he decided to go the most circuitous route and contact not me but my stepmother (a softer path than contacting me directly, it seems, even though he has my email address, phone, and the blogs here often have comment fields, not to mention he could figure out how to leave a letter at places I frequent). He wrote to her in response to the last blog, saying something lamenting the way I talk about him and that he did not have my physical address, and that I never told him I moved house sometime in the last year or so. Well, that much is by design; most of my life he has owned the property where I have lived, or was a short way from inheriting it, and with a wife to cooperate with, his record with us says that we should not disclose such information since he has been quite a destabilizing force for the entire time (six years) that we have been in our present relationship.

His letter to my stepmother seemed quite flowery and well written considering the fact that his correspondence with me usually includes no greeting or goodbye, and often is cold and businesslike, reminding me it's rent day or some such landlord talk. But in this new letter, he said he'd be needing double hip replacement surgery in the next year and a half. Not clear what he aimed to accomplish with this notice, but either it is a legit plea for some help or it could lead to other strained relationship troubles, that for one year and a couple weeks I have been blissfully removed from. I've long hoped for some change in him but last year I decided I was off the project that might ever bring that, so after my words with him in the street at my last house, I had to let it go. In actuality now he does not control me, and I rather like it. That's not to say I am not swayed by the whole drama. It is after all, quite central to defining my path, whether I like it or not.

I think of my father as a cross between a few men of movie fame: Colonel Frank Fitts (of American Beauty), Ebenezer Scrooge, and Darth Vader. You can figure it out. They all have some part of him in the way they treat people as secondary to their needs for order, power, money. Two of them were redeemed eventually, one had to kill an innocent man who inadvertently found out his secret identity and the basis of his hateful attitudes. One had a forgiving son who realized he was being sucked into the same dark hole as his father had been, and he rejected that and managed to get both out of that hole together. The other had a nephew who persistently nudged and lived out an alternative value system not based on money. The other had a son who called him on his failings, and left. I am somewhere in the midst of these son/nephew figures.

What I am not into is being manipulated by money anymore, or being insulted and reminded that my place is to be a dumb teenager, or any such things. If my father can move on from the role he played then, then maybe things can go better. Sad to put it this way, but for the $515k he apparently sold my old house for, I hope he can afford the finest in medical care. He speaks of betrayal, and his veiled request to be in contact does set me up to fall into a sort of trap of how money has mediated and often dissolved my family relations over the years. A few people hearing this story now have dared me to act like the Christian that I supposedly say I am, and to "do the right thing." Well, the right thing is not clear to me and I don't think that a hasty "religiously correct" statement of any forgiveness will do any good if it doesn't come from a genuine place in me. Some can use such a sentiment to say I should continue to be trod upon (invoking the 'turn the other cheek' lesson—something that has been done plenty of times, I assure you). I really don't wish to be trod upon nor do I even wish to continue this stupid pissing contest with him. It sucks vastly more energy out of me than I want to give to such a losing pursuit. Hence, taking a year off. Not being trod upon by his economic ideas and his desperate attempts to externalize his own failings, fears, and hatreds has done me some good. I hope it has done him some good to have time to wonder why people don't wish to associate with him, including me. But I have no idea if he ascribes value to such things, or if it is just time passing and making his heart harder. Right now my most important project is my marriage, and establishing that as my new home since my earlier sense of home has been so patiently and consistently deconstructed in large part because of things my father has done. So, I beg a bit of tolerance too as I seek to make right what has been slowly toppled throughout my life, in a way that suits me, and with a willing participant who knows what it means to me.

I've been dared to see the good in him. Well, there is good in him, but he has done so much to eclipse it with his outward deeds, for so long, that frankly, it's barely visible. Like Darth Vader, his main flaw is that he remains dedicated to his cause after it has failed him mightily. Doing the wrong thing for the right reason is something one can take only so far. It is an addiction to being right, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that maybe it's the wrong thing to hang on to. The day I had hoped would lead us to some new era was when we talked candidly at the residential house I was at after my suicidal spell in September 2003. But it did nothing to change his behavior because even a week later he was up to exactly the same insensitive deeds that contributed to my despair in the first place. He could do that because there is an emotional dimension to life that he has managed to ignore, and so he was able to deny that I was sick and troubled by it. Imagine if I were able to just deny that he had arthritis in the same way as he denied I had any reason to be depressed or troubled. Even my pastor, in on one meeting at that residential facility looked my father in the eye and told him that he would have to accept that this depression of mine existed and that it has a real effect on my life, and that he must take it seriously. A week later, it was as if that whole range of conversations had not taken place.

The other unfortunate thing is that most of the good experiences that I might point to (the ones that he might like me to feel good about) were the sorts of things that he manipulated into existence, and as I uncover bits of that, what were my formerly great memories about a trip to Europe or going camping or even certain aspects of my relationship with my stepmother, or other stuff worth remembering, has been damaged by learning how they were contrived events or somehow tinged with a feeling of being "manufactured." (There are some things about camping trips that are too wretched to recall here, believe it or not, but he knows what the trailer meant to me and some of my siblings.)

This will be a long enough piece to read, so here is the last written and honest attempt I made to "meet" him while not refraining from speaking my mind on his approach to being a landlord, a role which eclipsed his ability to be a father, and one he seemed to want more than being a father. This is dated October 13, 2006, a day after my 33rd birthday, and shortly after I took damn near every last thing out of my old house on Quapaw, including all that I bought to spruce it up in good faith that I might be seen as a responsible contributor to the place: light fixtures, blinds, and spiffy stainless steel jack plates for the AC outlets. We "communicated" a couple times following this before the eventful blowout in the street on December 17th, triggering the year of silence.

Dad, I don't know if you are really wondering why I stripped the last of my stuff out of the house, or if you are content to believe whatever it is you already believe, but here is what I have to offer. I don't mean to make this confrontational, but I do plan to be straightforward with my reasoning and my requests. I did that primarily to make clear what that house has left after "I" leave and only "you" are left. Aside from the paint colors and some choice of hardware, "I" have left. The point is to show that maybe I did indeed add something to the place in terms of functionality and aesthetics. The house looks as it does because that is what you claim to own, and what I claim to own, I have on my patio right now. That stuff is essentially useless for me. I don't anticipate it has any real resale value. But you have a house that will sell for far more than you "paid" for it (even in a worst case scenario), and even with the expenses you have incurred in owning it, those costs are still nothing compared to what you stand to gain. Please think on that. You get a great deal, I get scraps at best. Now, maybe you had some plan to include me in this whole house selling deal. But such a thing has never been talked about clearly, so I assume that there was none. If you are prepared to talk about an equitable deal that includes me in some 50% share (in writing), you can have blinds and other things back and I will work with you. I don't really need them. To me, they are just a device to make a point, and are ultimately junk. To you, they are the bits of gloss that either make or break the appearance of a house worth living in. You either have to buy them new, or you can have this back from me. But I really need you to think about this business of making a fair deal to me and legitimating it in writing, not in some abstract empty sounding spoken statement.

You've said you felt betrayed by my calling the city. This comes years after I felt betrayed by the way you've managed that house in a way that shows a lot of disregard for how I felt (which on the whole was a continuation of many years of such instances). This was a very repetitive pattern for about three years from 2001-2004 mainly. One time after another, you hardly took any consideration of what I was asking for, and plotted your own course. But that should not surprise me; when I was a kid, I listened at one family dinner after another what your plans were for that house when either of your parents died or became unable to live normally. So, I know your designs on that house go back for over 20 years, and likely more. You considered it yours long before either of them died. And once your mother died, it was only three days afterward when the first piece of major change began to be enacted—the garage. This is always interesting to me because when you started work on the 26th of April 2001, it was just three months after you wrote a letter to me telling me to not call you or talk to you or set foot on your property. In your letter, you stipulated that I should not do any of that for one year, which would logically end at the later part of January 2002. But only three months later, when grandmother died and you had a clean shot at the house, you began work, thus cutting that one year down by nine months! What is it? If she had lived out all those nine months and more, you may have had no reason to do any of that work there, nor any legal justification for doing so. It was not yours. You and she were estranged for the last few months of her life because she didn't want your input on how to run her affairs. I can't help but notice that once the last of your parents were out of the way, that house became your play toy. And it did not matter how I felt about any of it.

In one way or another, the way I see it, you have done one thing after another to devalue it. When I was there, you did the two major projects that did not need doing (and that I did not want), but among the smaller ones were things like utterly mutilating trees for no good reason. I noticed this week that the tree that Kelli and I planted in 2004 to commemorate our engagement was cut back to almost nothing, its red flowers utterly struck from the front yard. Some time before, it was the dismemberment of an orange tree that has taken a few years to grow back. That same summer, it was the cutting back of the oleanders which hid the ugly side of the fence. And it was the removal of two of the hedges around the patio, and the removal of all the lower level (visible) branches. Or, among other things, there were choices you made to NOT carpet my floor, or to install a window right. What this means to me is that you take out some sort of anger or something on this house. I could understand if you actually lived there and had to make a decision to cut shrubs so you could work on a wall, or to do something that affected you primarily. But all the things I have mentioned are things you did as an absentee landlord that didn't affect your environment. If you never liked the house because it's not near three levels of schools, or because it's not close enough to a main street, or something else, that should not mean you need to come over and degrade it piece by piece, room by room, with no apparent care for me, who lived there and had to see it every day.

Your oft-repeated line about "raising the value of the house" is relative to nothing if it was something to be lived in. But you took it to be an investment property—it always had to be making money, even off me and Kelli. If not for renting or selling, why add a jail cell of a patio that no one wanted? Or a garage that was done illegally and with a lot of flaws and no real attempt to make it actually look good? Instead of doing those things, you always had the option to install vinyl windows in the bedroom I kept, or a floor in that same room. We finally got the big room done after a few years, and that was the only one of its sort. Instead of a garage, I asked that we get the big room done with a floor. Had you done that early on, that bedroom would have a nice floor, and not a painted one. The list goes on. I ask for something you won't give, and you give something I didn't ask for. And in the process, I got sicker and sicker of it. The value of the house, for me as a resident, actually went down as things got done that didn't need to be done, and things that needed doing took months or years.

I need you to realize that I think you sold me out first. I sold you out once I realized you would not give an inch on that place. That place was my home, both as a box to put my stuff, and as a place to have a real fondness for because it had many meanings. I don't know what it was to you, except the leading evidence shows it is just a headache to think about and to manage. That house for me was not just a box of stucco and wood and concrete. I can't put a price on what it was because all of my investment, once stripped of blinds and jack plates and light fixtures, is in my heart somewhere. It's abstract for me. It's a feeling. What is that worth? Living there was supposed to be one way for me to feel connected to people I can't ever be around any more, or to be a place to set up my own family future with Kelli. But long before I called the city and told them that you were doing illegal stuff, I was watching you dismantle and rearrange my home with no thought of what I wanted. Instead, from the get go, all I heard about was how that house was not valuable enough (this said while I thought of it as the best place I'd lived thus far). Funny, considering you had nothing in it to lose, only to gain. I watched how your house got repeated work done to it year in and year out, and it got worse and worse, more and more haphazard by the year. I didn't have anything to do with calling your house in to the city, but it got you in trouble for the same reason as my house did. Your workmanship, your ideas and attitude. If you had at least listened to me about what I though would work at my house, I would not have called. When all was said and done, that was why I called, period. And a week later, I wanted to knock myself off, it had gotten that bad. You think of my call as a betrayal. I think of it as doing what I was put there to do: to make sure no one harmed the house, and to look out for it responsibly. I gave you lots of feedback on each project you embarked on. You wanted nothing of it. You didn't listen. Your money was worth more than my well being? Is that not something of a betrayal?

I've seen both houses get trees cut down and ripped out. I've seen your specialty construction items go up at both places: walls, gates, fences. In other words, I've seen natural beauty stripped out and devices meant to divide people were put in. Your house is loaded with extra walls, gates, fences that went in since I lived there. What is it with you that you do this?

You own properties with a minimal amount of trees and a great number of walls, gates, and fences and locks. It speaks volumes to me. To me, that progression degrades a house because it betrays trust—it assumes fear is a correct and desirable worldview. It destroys the inherent beauty of natural life. A patio with poorly placed windows or no windows can only allow darkness to thrive. Both patios you built have done that—darkness where there should be light. Walls where there should be open air. Almost every tree and bush is gone from your yard. Many of those in my yard are trimmed back crudely as if to suggest it's only a matter of time before they are gone entirely. There is a theme here.

So, the final terminus, the point of destination in that line of thinking is that you have two houses, shorn of trees, and loaded with walls and gates. And the division has come primarily between you and me. Is that by design or just a necessary byproduct? I've seen one person after another driven out of your house, and now your house(s). Finally, it was me. Does this come when someone attacks your perceived wealth? Who else is left to drive out?

So you have a house that I used to live in, and it has a lot of stuff missing that makes it a house worth renting or buying. Kelli and I made it a home. There is a difference. The "home" went out of it in July 2005. Some parts of the "house" were mine to take too, and they are out of it. What is left is mostly your work, your effect on the place. It looked to me like you didn't like what you saw left behind. And even it was painted all a bland shade of white, it would still look bad with no fixtures, jack plates, window coverings, boring flat walls devoid of texture, and a patchwork floor that is different in most rooms. I worked hard within some limited parameters to make it look nicer than I found it. I did that because it invested me into that place. Kelli did likewise. We thought we had a home for some time to come.

If you want to sell it, that's your business. It's not my albatross on my neck anymore. I think you made your point already about being betrayed. I wish you'd give up this game now. You displaced me from my home where I DID work to show I was responsible. You made my life a lot of hell for a while last summer. I have thought about it. This is what I have come up with. You made your point. I made my point. You have already "lost" money off that house in the last year because you rented it for less than Kelli and me and two others paid for it. Then you "lost" money on it since the market has chilled out. And it will take longer to fix it any so that you can do either again, which is even more of a financial hit. My main point is, that house will be worth less and less with all this time passing. And even if you did get what you wanted for it, at the cost of a sustained difficult relationship with me, you really lost anyway. We don't need to have a sustained difficult relationship. But as I said in a previous letter, either you meet me on my terms in part, or we don't meet. I'm out of the house, you got what you want. But that you did come see Kelli preach, and made some efforts around your birthday shows something that maybe it's not all dead and gone. But I can't rest with that if I still have to be bugged that you got this house free and clear and refuse to share it in any meaningful way with me. I'm 33 now, not necessarily a 13 year old that you can set in his place with a glance or a word or a blanket dismissal: "you're wrong".

Let me put it to you this way. You share "your house", and I can share "my home" and maybe we can all do better than we've done for the last several years. One day you will need me more than I will need a box of stucco and wood at 4250 Quapaw. If you have some sort of old ghosts at work in your decision making about that house, now is the time to let all that shit go. It won't work. But if you choose to hog that whole estate and not share, I can still choose to associate with other people. It's that easy. Don't forget me, and I won't forget you. Remembering that my grandparents wanted to include me directly on their estate settlements is something maybe you could consider. This is not all your wealth to manage. They intended for me to have "something, not nothing," and not "nothing AND a strained relationship" with you also.

I assure you that I didn't just set this up by some trick. I enjoyed your birthday and that week when we actually could meet on another level other than this business level, and I wish that was all we had. But it can't be that way as long as I know you are so adamant about retaining that house all for yourself, or projecting an image of doing so. When am I going to be invited to the table to make a plan? When you can cut me and Kelli in on a fair share of half this estate, then you and I can resume what would pass for normal family relations. Otherwise, we have what we have. Periodically, I will try again, and realize that things are the same, then retreat for a while.

I know you went to see [a therapist we both know] at least once. I've had many instances when I thought maybe we should meet with a therapist there, but I don't know if you would do it. But I think that is the only effective way to get around all this and make something happen for the better. Your call.

Thanks for reading.

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