After the Accident
November 24, 2016 5:24 PM   Subscribe

My father committed a serious lapse in judgment and now wants to act like nothing's changed. What do I do?

Dad is in his early 60s. Over the past few years he's retired and gone on disability and his ability to take care of himself has slowly gotten worse. He relies on someone else to cook and clean and get him everything he wants, which, because I am unemployed and living at home, frequently is me.

A couple of weeks ago he decided to drive to a pharmacy with my mother to acquire a prescription. Because he had been in pain, he had some alcohol before getting behind the wheel, and then proceeded to drive so erratically that my mother insisted he not drive on the return trip. He refused. And he kept telling Mom to calm down even as he drove too fast, nearly causing an accident, missed a turn, hit a road sign, went into the ditch, and came back out again, stopping only because the car had stopped working. It is a miracle that no one was hurt or worse. My mother had to walk to a gas station to get help and then get home. So when I saw her next, she was in tears, insisting that my father "wasn't welcome in the house" and that she was "done with him". The tow truck dropped both my father and the car home. He was slurring his words, telling the insurance person on the phone that the car "was broken", the car looked like a boulder had been dropped on it.

Dad knows that his medications and alcohol don't mix, so this was unprecedented both in its danger to others and its irresponsibility. My siblings and I are stunned. We actually considered calling the cops, or arranging for a taxi to take him to a hotel so Mom wouldn't have to deal with him, but ultimately she directed us not to.

Dad has never told me directly what happened that night. I don't know if he even remembers, though the condition of the family car is impossible to ignore. He's admitted to Mom that he was "drunker than a skunk" but otherwise has never addressed the event or apologized or anything like that to anyone. He refuses to talk to a doctor or consider going somewhere where they might be able to help him better than we can. He accuses my mother of trying to "get rid" of him.

Somehow the insurance has decided to fix the car. No one knows what he told the insurance or how much it's going to cost us in the end. Mom has threatened for weeks to call his family living in other states far from ours, or to call his GP, but never does. Mom uses a rental to get to work and I use public transportation. I have been the one calling social workers, my siblings, the county Administration on Aging, and soon, Dad's extended family. Because Dad will never be "on-board and enthusiastic" about an assessment, the AoA can't help us. I've written a letter to my father's doctor detailing some of the things that have been happening, including the accident. Nothing has happened with regard to that yet. Mom mostly sits in the evenings alone in the dark looking at Facebook on her phone and drinking. My siblings' plan is to stay away as much as possible.

My question is how I ought to interact with my father from day to day now. I can barely look at him, knowing that he could have killed himself, Mom, and/or others that night. And it just doesn't seem like that big of a deal to him, but things can't go back to the way they were. No one wants to eat together as a family anymore, but I am the one my mother elects to bring him his meals, so I have to look at him and be met with his questions. I can't completely avoid him, and I can't leave. There's nowhere for me to go. Obviously I am never going to get in a car with him again, and I need to get a job, move away, and help my mother with her bills, but I need help for right now, especially going into the holidays, which I have no spirit for.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What state did this happen in/do your parents live in?
posted by bq at 6:23 PM on November 24, 2016

Sending positive thoughts your way. Alcohol will make this situation worse no matter who's drinking it. If you have the emotional wherewithal, get your mom out of the house and away from booze. Coffee shop?

Otherwise, spend as much time away from the house as you can. Put on your own oxygen mask first.
posted by radicalawyer at 6:24 PM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that your father is suffering from the beginning stages of dementia? If this behavior is unusual for him, it might be something to consider and raise with his healthcare providers.
posted by mcduff at 6:33 PM on November 24, 2016 [36 favorites]

Many states have an (anonymous or semi-anonymous) way to report drivers to the state DMV as unsafe or incapable of driving safely. Here is an example from one state. It doesn't just automatically revoke driving privileges but it can launch an investigation and if the person is actually incapable of driving then the privileges can be revoked.

It might be worth looking into, as at least it solves that one portion of the problem and does it in via an outside agency, not just family members trying force someone to do or stop doing something.
posted by flug at 7:03 PM on November 24, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm so sorry, I don't know how you deal with him, but… You'll want to find a job that keeps you out of the house, especially at those meal times, if you can. Until then, well, you can be out of the house looking for one, right?

If your mom and your siblings don't want to deal with your dad, there is absolutely no reason that you should have to. It's not on you to hold the whole family together, and don't let anyone tell you different.
posted by rodlymight at 7:45 PM on November 24, 2016 [9 favorites]

I feel like I'm missing something. Obviously, what he did was very, very not okay. But if my dad did something like this, I think our collective reaction would be more like "OMG, dad, what were you thinking!? What's going on with you??" We'd assume he wouldn't mean to do something so risky, approach him with love and confidence in him, and keep pushing for awhile if he reacted defensively. Instead, the entire family is just going to avoid him? Don't you have a better way of dealing with problems, like sharing your feelings and talking about things? Is there more to this story such that your dad really can't be dealt with directly? If not, I'd try to talk to him again. Everyone giving him the silent treatment is not a way to grow closer and happier as a family, nor does it promote smart behavior in the future.
posted by salvia at 9:24 PM on November 24, 2016 [21 favorites]

It really sounds like there's got to be something additional behind this, either neurological or psychological. There are types of early dementia and other neurological conditions that can cause poor judgement. Psychological causes would include some other acute or chronic stressor: problems in your parents' marriage, legal trouble, extreme/sudden money stress, addiction (pain medication and alcohol are both possibilities tbh given his behavior).

The thing is, right now, you don't know what's going on. That probably seems like the scariest part, that it seems so out of character. And if you can't figure out what's going on you won't be able to help. Directly talking about issues might work, but only if your family can do it without people losing their temper and storming off or immediately descending into blaming each other. Another approach: can you spend any time with your dad by yourselves and just let him talk? If you do really want to help (and of course put your own oxygen mask on first and set boundaries and etc.), summoning up as much non-judgmental listening as possible might make you privy to important information that could change how you think about and deal with the situation.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:20 PM on November 24, 2016 [3 favorites]

If I felt the need to cut off every family member that almost killed someone in an alcohol related incident, I don't think I would have anyone left. I mean your dad definitely screwed up, but if this was a one time thing then I feel like you are blowing it out of proportion. If there is other stuff not mentioned, well that's a different story, but judging solely from what you wrote I think a talk with him about responsibility would suffice and then move on.
posted by Literaryhero at 11:32 PM on November 24, 2016 [4 favorites]

It might not feel like that big a deal to him because he just doesn't remember. If I mess up sober I will feel embarrassment and shame for what feels like forever and it will reoccur whenever I'm reminded. If I was drunk - eh, it's an amusing story that happened to someone else.

If he had taken pain meds, many of which interact really badly with alcohol, then he probably wasn't himself when this all happened. That doesn't excuse him at all because rational adults know that you don't mix meds, alcohol and then drive but if he was already inebriated when he got behind the wheel, he wasn't a rational adult.

I feel a bit hypocritical suggesting this as I never did go (though haven't ruled it out) but I think Al Anon would be helpful to you. You say your mom is sitting in the dark drinking - alcohol is affecting your family way more than this one event did. That wouldn't have just started as a reaction to your dad's accident that night, it sounds like it was already her coping mechanism. The not talking about events, your mom's behaviour, the family dynamic in general: I think Al Anon could help with that.

From my perspective, as someone who as a child had my father involved in two very serious drunken motor accidents, we actually never made a big deal about them either. They were just one more occasion in what was an ongoing nightmare of drunken behaviour. I had long given up thinking "if X happens, that'll have to be so serious that things will change". It never was. Change only came from the rest of us making our own peace with the situation, whether that involved being physically or mentally removed. You can only save yourself and throwing others a life line might not go well. Al Anon saved my mom; I was absolutely furious when she tried to take me to the kids version and would not step foot in the building.
posted by kitten magic at 12:45 AM on November 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

If both of your parents are alcoholics, obviously this is not a one-off difficult situation. I understand why people think it's an overreaction but it's a complete suffocating mind-fuck having alcoholic parents (even just one) and i'm guessing this feels like the last straw for you? It's very hard but I would say that you need to let go of parenting your parents. I know that if something happens to them you'll likely feel guilty but you can't be their carer for life. I would not say 'disown' but I would say 'let go'. It's the nicest thing you can do for yourself (and you should be thinking about yourself here). If they cannot take care of themselves, it is their choosing, even if they are not able to make rational choices. They're not babies. The longer you stay at home, the more you will be relied upon. They are only going to get older/less capable. Your siblings should be helping more and they will have to step in if you no longer live there. Focus on where you are going in life (make plans to get a job etc.). You deserve to have a life of your own.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:10 AM on November 25, 2016

What do you do? You bite the bullet and talk to him. Tell him that everyone is freaked out and until you talk you are having a hard time being around him. And then you approach him with compassion. He's losing a lot of things that gave him independence and purpose, that's very scary. He's in pain and on meds and that clouds your judgement and makes everything a haze. He's more vulnerable right now than he likely has been since he was a child. And the isolation from everyone avoiding him can't be helping. Be brave and talk about it.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:04 AM on November 25, 2016 [1 favorite]

You might get a lot out of Al-anon.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:39 AM on November 25, 2016

If both of your parents are alcoholics, obviously this is not a one-off difficult situation. I understand why people think it's an overreaction

Right, and as someone who said "this sounds like an overreaction. Is there more to this story?" hearing that "this is just the latest in a long line of alcohol-fueled behavior" would definitely be the "more" I was wondering about. It may not be an overreaction at all! The question as written, though, doesn't articulate why everyone's reaction is "dad is out of the family now." So it might help both OP and us if s/he could more clearly explain that.
posted by salvia at 9:12 AM on November 25, 2016

[This is a followup from the asker.]
The reason why we have not directly confronted Dad about what happened as siblings is that it won't work. Even so much as asking my father "are you ok? Are you feeling alright? Do you need something/someone?" will get a snapped reply, or more commonly within the last year, a silent glare in response before he changes the subject. All our lives our father has talked us into submission (he is famous for hours-long lectures that turn into "everything that is wrong with you" presentations no matter how they started). He is very sensitive to what he perceives as back-talk or disrespectful talk. He is also extremely stubborn, and is in a permanent mindset that the children are children (our average age is 30) and the adults are adults. The respect only flows one way, to him.

While Dad's personality has always been difficult, his physical deterioration over the past few years has made things even worse. He is a lot more just straight-up verbally abusive, cold, and petulant. Again, talking to him about this, gently encouraging him to open up to his doctors if he can't to us about what he's experiencing and seeking a better quality of life, hasn't made a difference. And so the accident, which again is totally unprecedented and uncharacteristic behavior, has just been the diarrhea icing on a poop cake.

We have been having discussions, but in small groups (Mom and I, or my siblings and I, or one sibling, Mom, and I). I mean, what's the point if Dad won't listen to or engage us respectfully? Dad won't listen or apologize to Mom, so why would he do so to us?
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:07 AM on November 25, 2016

In that case, what you can do is each of you take responsibility for yourself. Your mom made the choice to get in the car with him driving. You make the choice about whether you'll be around him while he's being disrespectful or verbally abusive. If you have to be the one who takes him his meals, set boundaries about how you are going to engage.

And seriously look into some kind of therapy for yourself or group. You need some support in setting boundaries and sticking up for yourself. You get to figure out how this works for you.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:16 PM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

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