The sensation is chilling, yet I cannot turn away.My father has worked for the State of Florida in the licensing division of an office connected to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco for almost as long as I can remember. It wasn't the greatest job in the world, and it never really seemed like something he wanted to do when he grew up -- but for nearly half his life it was his job. His ship to command. Or at least it was until about a month or so ago where management basically forced his hand, leading him to retire a little earlier than he had originally been planning on.
Anyone who's worked for the State knows that it's a thankless gig. At worst, my dad was a beauraucrat, a paper-pusher who shut down as many bars as he helped open. At his best, my father helped keep small businesses open, made sure they were on the right side of the law, and did his part to try and make sure that kids couldn't get into places they weren't legally allowed to get into.
They left him alone. They trusted his results. He was able to come and go as he pleased. Most of his time was spent traveling around the area, doing his inspections and making his quotas. This was a good thing for my father, because by and large he hated the people he worked with. His goal most days was to be in the office as little as possible -- preferring the company of the bar and restaurant owners he kept tabs on around town -- something that I find interesting in comparison to my own life, especially in the way that it mirrors the way I preferred the company of my students to that of my fellow teachers or administrators during my years as a middle school teacher.Even though you'd probably never get him to admit it out loud -- he loved that job.
Unfortunately the same things that made my dad great at his job were the same things that made him a difficult employee. He kept his own hours, he spent as much time "hanging out" with clients as he did inspecting them (something the rest of us might call building relationships). He took long lunches, he didn't spend much time in the office, and despite the fact he never fell short of the expectations his superiors placed on him -- my dad wasn't much of a "team player" around the office.
Long story short, a new supervisor was brought in to help streamline operations in the area, and part of his new direction was to try and turn my father into a more of a 9 to 5 office worker. There were new requirements that asked for regular detailed reports, restrictions on mileage, and complaints about how "friendly" he was with the business owners instead of shaking them down the way a real AB&T officer should.Or to put it another way, whenever they held potlucks my dad was
more likely to skip it altogether than to bring in a covered dish.
20 years ago my dad might have adjusted his style. But after 40 plus years plus of making his numbers and then some, the last thing he wanted to hear was how to do his job. So he pushed back for a while (my favorite story is the way he openly referred to his new boss as "Fuhrer" -- even to his face) but eventually reached a point where he felt it was either fight the man for the remaining years it would take to get his full pension, or opt for the State's early retirement option and separate himself from all the bullshit.
Knowing how much life the job (especially at the end) was sucking the life out of him, I was happy for him. But knowing my father the way I do, I was also a little worried. Worried because despite the fact that my father is many wonderful things, at a certain point he had let his job become the main thing in his life. His friends were coworkers. His acquaintances were clients. Many of his preferred pastimes (taking care of the house and the yard, watching baseball and NASCAR) were in a lot of ways escapes from the job.He took the deal.
At first he loved the freedom of having his days open. He worked around the house. He cleaned up the front yard, re-organized the bookshelves, and painted the living room. He spent time with his dogs and caught up on his reading. He still visits the office on a regular basis to take his dearest friend to lunch so he can catch up with her on her life and how things are going – but as time continues to to move on it’s becoming clear that he’s starting to grow weary of the solitude.Make no mistake -- He needed to get out of that place.But it was hard not to worry what might happen once the place started to get out of him.
Or course my evil grandmother is always around to hassle him for rides to the store or to help with her endless array of pointless tasks – but even that is more of a curse than a blessing.
The simple fact is, the more times I visit, the more depressed he seems. Not because his job is gone (because I think he’s actually glad to be rid of it) but because he’s just really lonely, and I don’t think he knows how to fix it.
I want more than anything to help him – but it’s not like I can claim to be any expert, you know?I have friends here in town. People I care about and enjoy the company of. But most of them are married with kids, involved in relationships, or busy with work. What I don’t have (and what my father seems to be missing as well) are people to hang out with. Boys, running buddies, a crew. The kinds of people who come to your house, drink your beer, and won’t leave.
Strange as it may sound, everyone needs people like that in their lives. People who will call up and say, "Hey what are you doing? Watching TV!? Fuck that – lets go bowling." People who you can drop in on anytime and find something to do with. People who call you for no reason at all, people who ride with you when you go out, and call you all pissed off when you decide to stay in.
For me it’s led to going out to bars, hanging out in regular places, trying to ingratiate myself (with varied results) to the people I see there again and again. But my father isn’t me. He doesn’t really like crowds, he certainly doesn’t enjoy night life, and despite the fact that he wants people in his life – has reached an age where it’s hard to ignore just how annoying most people are on a regular basis.Friends like that are more precious than gold, and right now neither of us have that many.
Plus, there’s something about the process of trying to make new friends that unfortunately casts the spotlight back on you for being the one who doesn’t have any. It’s almost worse than dating, because your friends are everything. They carry you through rough times, they forgive your faults (even as they’re making fun of them), and in their own way they push you to embrace who you are.
Think for a minute about your best friends. The ones you can call out of the blue and pick right back up no matter how far apart you are or how many miles are between you. Sure there was probably an instant chemistry between you – sure you probably had a lot of interests in common.I was never a better guitarist than when Spruill told people, "You have to hear my boy shred!!"
I was never a better surfer than when Gristina cheered my moves in the lineup.
I’ll never be a better writer than when I get responses from you.Sometimes it's easy to forget just how much time goes into sculpting friendships like that.
But consider this for a moment – think about how many experiences you and your best friends have shared. How many bad times you couldn't have gotten through without their help. How many times you fell out of love with them, got tired of putting up with their shit, thought they stabbed you in the back, felt jealous of the things they had, or lost track of them after graduation, especially as the job and the wife and the kids started taking up all your time -- all the while knowing that if you ever needed them, they'd be there in a heartbeat.
That kind of thing doesn’t happen overnight.The problem is in a lot of ways my father and I both need to find a way for it to happen just that fast.
I want to help him – I mean in a lot of ways my dad is my oldest friend. We’re both lonely. We’re both in need of people to hang out with. But we have different tastes. We experience things differently. So it’s not like I can try to drag my dad out to Endo with me on a regular basis and hope that something clicks for him – especially considering that even if I could get him out there the first thing he’d probably do is start grilling them about the placement and visibility of their operating license.
For example -- my dad hates crowds. Standing in line, dealing with a-holes – he’s got no time for that. Which presents a bit of a problem when I try to suggest we go to baseball games, try to schedule a trip down to Daytona to see a race, or even go to a sports bar to watch a game.At the same time, he’s so set in his ways that it’s gonna be tough for him to open up to new people...am I like that too?
Truth of the matter is that my dad loves watching Baseball, Football, and NASCAR on TV – by himself. And that’s cool, it’s his right. But it leaves me little room to navigate when I try to think of ways to break him out of this funk. I mean, It’s not like they have clubs where people get together to watch Deadliest Catch (although they should, that show rocks!).
Of course in the end no matter how much I want to help him, the simple fact is that it's only going to be real when he figures it out on his own. I can’t make friends for him, and I know from personal experience that nothing makes you feel worse than knowing your friends are doing whatever they can to try to force you into a better social situation, setting you up on mercy dates to help you get over a breakup, or losing at videogames on purpose to try to make you feel better.
When things like that happen, it’s hard not to pick up on the sense of pity that surrounds it. A feeling that only serves to make you feel worse about yourself, because you can’t help but be aware of the fact that for whatever reason you can’t seem to make it happen yourself. And I don’t want to drop that trip on a guy who’s already in a rough spot.
But I owe him so much.
..Who am I kidding, I owe him everything.I just can’t figure out the best way to pay him back.