My dad is homeless. I’ve only recently become compelled — or even comfortable — to tell his story.
I had a talk with a good friend of mine recently about how people’s lives seem the most pristine from the outside when they have the most to hide.
And my dad’s story just poured out because it’s the opposite of that situation. His life looks chaotic and wild from the outside and is actually exactly what it seems.
When I grew up, my dad was a financial planner. He made a disgusting amount of money every year. We had everything. It was the 80s.
My dad started coping with alcohol, then cocaine. Now he is addicted to all the drugs, but he has a special love for meth.
He lives in homeless shelters and halfway houses. He goes through cycles of sobriety.
My dad took my family down in flames when I was younger. We lost everything.
He immediately replaced us with a manipulative girlfriend and her savage children who ended up backing up a moving truck to his garage and ridding him of the burden of his material life. Read: She stole all of our shit while he was sleeping.
I didn’t find out until weeks later. I got dropped off. There was an official-looking post-it from the police over the peephole and the door jam was broken. I found him surrounded by more than a dozen empty bottles of vodka, cocaine and pipes of all sizes.
I hadn’t ever seen him go a day without shaving in his life, even on the drugs — and he had a full beard that day. He hadn’t left the couch in days for anything. And the couch was the only substantial thing left in the house.
I thought he was dead.
That day, I cleaned him up and called an ambulance and I didn’t really know what else to do but wait. I was 15.
The first thing the EMT said when he walked in was “Jesus H.”
He was aggressive and lonely and clinically bipolar and schizophrenic (we found out later). But he was a good dad. I’m being serious.
When he has access to a phone, we talk regularly.
He goes through cycles. He goes MIA for three or four months at a time. Then he resurfaces.
Sometimes I call the police or the hospitals … sometimes the morgues.
He doesn’t have a driver’s license. You can imagine the logistical nightmare of trying to find someone who may or may not technically exist. Right now, he’s been missing for six months.
My family urges me to cut him off.
But in the same conversation I mentioned above, I said that my dad is actually the most consistent thing in my life. And I didn’t realize it was true until then.
There aren’t too many surprises left after watching your dad get arrested or getting periodic calls from hospitals, jails, and various strangers.
It’s not sad. It’s semi-organized chaos.
And it’s far more interrupting and scary when I don’t have him nearby — when I don’t know. At the same time, people I consider to be predictable (maybe that’s my own mistake) and ethically sound end up shocking me with their questionable behavior. I hear these morally deplorable stories about people I respect and think that maybe everyone’s got it all wrong.
Maybe my dad’s one of the best of them.
He’s honest. He’s vulnerable. He needs. He does the best he can. But most of all, he doesn’t try to pretend to be something he’s not. And that’s really the best lesson I’ve learned from anyone.
The people who love you love you for your best and worst qualities.
The people who don’t know you or who don’t like you aren’t worth pretending for. If you’re living your life full of visible displays of philanthropy and interesting stories to cover up some questionable shit you’re involved in, you risk losing the people who really could love you for being yourself.
And my dad who is addicted to all the drugs and suffering from schizophrenia is the only unfortunate example I have about being yourself and living your life at face value.
I don’t tell his story often because it’s not really mine to tell. There are huge chunks of his life that I’m unfamiliar with altogether. I’ve seen him talk shit to an Infiniti dealer haggling over the precise color of the leather interior and its perceived personality. I’ve also seen him talk shit to a fellow homeless man while haggling over who had “dibs” on the last hotdog bun in the pile at the shelter.
But I think his legacy will be in his story.
I think it’s worth telling. If nothing else, because I think my dad shows me that everyone deserves second, third and fourteenth chances.