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Sunday, January 23, 2011

two sides of a coin

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My dad, a 60 year old disabled veteran, lives in extreme poverty. Visiting his new home last week, I found that he does not have running water, a toilet (there isn't one installed, so even if he had water, he couldn't use it), heat, or a decent way to cook food. He receives just over a thousand dollars a month in disability and veteran's benefits. Doing the math, he can't live on that even in his current rented slum. He pays out $136 a month in interest to a Payday Loan Company. He also pays $106 each month for life insurance. At least he's trying.

He could move into a low-income housing unit for elderly people. The city owns it and only charges $300 a month for rent and utilities. But, then he wouldn't be able to own pets, which are very important to him. I don't understand why he insists on keeping the number of animals he does, but I've found I can't do anything about it, either. That is, I can't do anything short of calling animal control, but his pets aren't really to the caliber of the Animal Hoarders, so I don't think that's really necessary. He'd just go get more anyway.

Across town, my mother lives in a two bedroom townhouse with all the niceties. She can, obviously, bathe as she wishes, do her laundry, use a toilet, watch tv or movies, use the internet, and do all the things a typical 50+ divorcee might enjoy. She's surpassed my father's goals and lives comfortably in a middle-class townhouse community, complete with a pool and small gardens. She has upper-crust taste, taking vacations to Florida to private beach-side gated communities each year, splurging on my kids, and generally doing whatever she pleases.

I'm sure this isn't typical of a kid with divorced parents, but I'm really glad that they split up when I was so young (age 3). I think my mother has achieved much more than my father would have tolerated. I expressed this sentiment to my husband last night and he replied that my mother might have brought my father up, rather than the other way around. I really don't think so. I mean, I was so young when they split that I don't remember much, but I do know what I've witnessed over the past twenty-some years. My dad doesn't have the true desire to do any better for himself. I don't see how my mother put up with it for the short time that she did.

During the week, I would live in your typical middle-class home. I was able to go to the doctor whenever I needed, I had all the toys you could imagine, I was warm, well-fed, and comfortable. I had a lovely bed with ruffled sheets and a big floppy blue comforter, complete with matching navy ruffled curtains.

Every other weekend, I was thrown into poverty. For the majority of my young childhood, there was only one bed. My dad would sleep on an army cot when I visited and I would get to sleep in his twin bed with dirty sheets. As a teen, I had my own room. However, it was fitted with two old, used, stained mattresses (no boxsprings, just two mattresses stacked together on a frame). It was queen-sized and my father never purchased or "found" sheets for it. So, I would be stuck throwing a blanket underneath me when I went to bed and another on top. At night, the roaches would come out. The conditions were awful. The house stank, there was little heat, and no clean clothes. And, to think, I temporarily moved out of my nice, comfortable home to live with him on more than one occasion.

So, I was exposed to both kinds of living as a kid. Though I didn't fully grasp my father's situation back then, it saddens me to see him living in such conditions now. While he used to work, he no longer does. He claims he is unable to, given his hip problems (2 replacements in ten years), carpal tunnel syndrome which surgery did not fully correct, and whatever mental issues he is dealing with. I used to think he was lazy. Now, I don't think anyone would be willing to hire him.

So, I'm stuck. I don't know how to help. I understand that my expectations in a home are higher than his own, but come on. He needs a toilet, which the slumlord won't install. He needs to be able to pay for water and electricity. He needs to live in safe and healthy conditions. I just don't know how to get him there.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds like an intolerable situation for your dad. I have a couple of pieces of advice. First of all, contact the Veterans Administration and talk to a counselor. They should be able to provide some advice and assistance. You should also call 211, it's a nationwide network of information about health and human services. In Virgina, it's provided by the Department of Social Services. They will be able to direct your dad to the services he needs. It's inexcusable for a disabled veteran to be forced to live in those kind of circumstances. Good luck!


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