Talking About My Father

My father always said that Uncle Sam would take care of him. I don’t know if he said that because of incredible faith in the system or because he was like a lot of people of that era and felt he was owed by the government after years of sacrifice and service.

Right now, from what I can see, Uncle Sam isn’t taking good care of him.

My father is like a lot of men from his era. He joined the Navy because there was little opportunity in his small Georgia town. With my father’s barely serviceable education, the Navy wasn’t a way to serve God and country, but it was a steady paycheck and maybe a chance of adventure.

I think in the back of his head, he figured with the guarantees he was promised after 25 years of service, he would have a relative easy retired life. His pension was good, and it seemed like he was doing good by supporting his family.

Now, this is where the story gets a little murky.

There were some questionable choices made with finances. Because of the retirement fund, I think my father took some risks with money because he assumed, with the government money, he would have a backup of funds. For a few years my father had a security guard business. This is when I started to notice a struggle between my parents. I’ve learned in later years that my father was not a good business person. He was too nice in all aspects of the business. He would overextend himself on contracts and allowed contracts not to be enforced. My father would accept payments months late, sometimes three months later or longer. Because of the income flux, employees where hard to hold on to. The family had income from other areas, such as a few properties we rented out, but that was Section 8 housing and many times my mother was chasing out for payment on rent or spent in court getting money that was owed.

Things came to a head when my father had to close the security company and we learned he owed the government $100,000 in back taxes. My parents got out of that financial hole, but the strain on the marriage was noticeable to me. My father started taking little security jobs, but he still lived by the philosophy that Uncle Sam would take care of him because he was owed that. So, when he started having health issues, he assumed the government would take care of him.

I remember seeing him at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. There was a growth that needed to be removed. He joked about this was the only way he could lose some weight. A few weeks later, he was pretty much back to the way he was, as far as health. He was still pro-Navy, because he told me the reason why he was in the Navy so long was so in his older days, he could be taken care of. That’s the way he always thought; he would be taken care of because of his service.

When they moved to South Carolina, there was a change in my father’s spending habits. The fighting got less transparent because, and this is the account from my mother, he started acting like a big shot and spending the money for his side of the family. He was mister big money, and the relatives were always around asking for handouts.

My mother has given me horror stories of lost monies, with no explanation as to what my father did with them. My mother complained about this so much I assumed it was exaggerated; lingering anger from the back taxes episode. On one visit to South Carolina, I got a glimpse of bank records for my father. It confirmed a lot of the accusations my mother stated. He was supporting relatives from his side of the family, and the only reason why I assumed he did this because he had the government retirement payments coming in. The thing I realized was he was spending money faster than the money could be replenished.

As my father’s health failed, my mother took on more responsibilities of the household, including finances. My father has asked a number of times to put the house up for a reverse mortgage, which my mother has refused to do. From talking with him this past visit, he has the feeling that his days are numbered, but he still wants to spend money, for his relatives, in a freewheeling fashion. He’s not thinking about the wife and family he will leave behind.

It’s tough talking about my father this way because of a number of factors I have to realize. I saw a photo over the weekend I have in my house. It is my parents smiling and happy. That’s not the image I have of them anymore. The photo was taken five years ago. Now my father has aged dramatically. He is weaker and struggling. He uses a walker to get around and has shortness of breath due to mesothelioma; another gift from years in the Navy. There are times when I believe he doesn’t have dementia, but his actions are suspect sometimes. When I look at the photo all I see is the fighting, arguing and petty sniping like children.

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