Even before the incident that arose with my brother when my mom was admitted to the hospital, I had considered writing a series of posts about him. But after the episode with him being incommunicado while taking my mom’s car without permission, it took on a sense of urgency for me.
The purpose of this series, even colored as it is by the anger and distress he recently caused be during a time of crisis, is not to bash my brother Bobby. Admittedly though, writing about it all for my blog has provided me with some measure of catharsis. Rather, what I had set out to do was to raise a series of questions about people like Bobby. When I began the series, I did not know how many posts it would take, but I felt that I had to write as much as possible to provide the reader with a sense of context within which to raise these questions. For all I have written, with the exception of the posts dealing with the events of the last several weeks, I have barely skimmed the surface, and for all that I can know, there is more that I know little or nothing about.
For those of us who have family members like my brother Bobby, we are all invariably faced with a big question. At what point, in spite of all we try to do to be of help, can we say that we have done enough? To reiterate from the paragraph above, I have barely skimmed the surface of the tumultuous life of my brother, and that includes the numerous times that my parents, or more precisely my mother over the objections of my father, provided Bobby with monetary help. With all of the help he has received, Bobby is almost 44 years old and still unable to make ends meet for himself. When my father died due to complications from surgery last May, my mother lost his generous monthly police pension. All my mom has to live on is Social Security, a meager pension she receives from her union for the years she worked at the deli counter in Waldbaum’s, and the interest she gets from her savings in a money market mutual fund. My mom is not poor, but while the money she gets every month meets her needs in good times, it would not be sufficient if she had health problems that required expensive treatments and drugs that were not covered by her insurance. She would be unable to provide Bobby with any significant financial support even if she wanted to without the risk of leaving herself seriously vulnerable. Though she did allow Bobby to stay with her in her apartment in days before she had to be admitted to the hospital, she lives in a senior community and beyond a certain period of time it would be against the regulations to allow Bobby to continue staying there.
In tandem with the question I asked above, how much help does one owe a family member when continuing to provide assistance can itself cause one harm? Before my mom got sick, she was showing real progress after the death of my father. For months after he died, my mom would spend many days lying in bed, too depressed to want to leave her apartment to spend time with friends or family. She would even call me up frequently to drive down to her apartment and take Kiki for a walk because she could not muster the energy to do it herself. In the weeks before Christmas, my mom was showing an interest in being active again. She spent more time with friends, made weekly trips to the beauty parlor, began to cook, and was even paying her bills by herself. The pneumonia, which she likely caught from Bobby, and the injury to her right leg from falling, has undone weeks of progress.
I would argue that for my brother Bobby, the time has long since passed by where one can say that enough has been done for him. As painful as it is to accept, I feel that it is time to build a wall between mom and I and his problems. I would not go so far as to argue for shutting him completely out of our lives. But it is quite clear to me that neither my mom nor myself possess the resources necessary to save Bobby from himself. He has conclusively demonstrated that he is incapable of taking care of himself in how he conducts himself and how he manages his affairs. As I wrote in response to a commentator in the comments section for Part 7, if I were a wealthy man and I could afford it, maybe I would pay Bobby’s rent for him for the rest of his life so that he would at least never be homeless, regardless of whatever else he does. But alas, I am not wealthy, and it would be irresponsible to devote my financial resources to helping him when I have bills to pay and my own wife and children who depend on me.
And that leads to the next question. In debates about the role of government in society with respect to welfare, a good conservative can be expected to argue that families should take responsibility for their own so that the poor and the irresponsible do not become public charges. In many cases I would agree with that. But what about when the needs of people like Bobby exceed the ability of families to help them, particularly if continuing to do so causes the helpful family members to risk impoverishing themselves? Do we as a society at large owe some duty of care to people like Bobby? Or rather, to word it differently, is there a compelling rationale for providing some measure of programs or aid for people in our society who seem incapable of taking care of themselves?
Earlier this year, Long Island newspaper Newsday reported [“Cops thwart husband, wife bank robbery duo,” January 4] about Patrick and Robert Kegel, a “homeless husband and wife who turned to robbing banks for food, shelter and alcohol [who] were caught after they struck at least four Nassau banks since early December.” Patrick Kegel’s mom “threw them out of her West Hempstead home because the couple refused treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.” Newsday quoted Kegel’s mom saying “He has a wonderful family who tried so hard to help him. We thought he was accepting the help, but he wasn’t.” While I do not think my brother Bobby would ever resort to anything desperate like robbing a bank, the Kegels are an example of what can happen when a family has reached its breaking point in trying to help loved ones who simply cannot or will not break away from their destructive habits.
Then there is the real collateral damage, the children who are the offspring of parents with alcohol and substance abuse problems. As I mentioned in previous posts in this series, my brother Bobby has an ex-wife and three children currently living in the Poconos in Pennsylvania. The eldest son Sean, who will turn seventeen years old next month, is currently in a juvenile facility, where he was placed after being arrested for selling drugs last year. Chris, the ex-wife, who has custody of Krystal and Bobby Jr. was apparently evicted from her apartment that same fateful day when I had my mom admitted to the hospital. And as much as I have addressed the damage cause by Bobby in this series, Chris has her fair share of the blame for irresponsibility too. And what becomes of the children in situations like these? Are my nephews and niece fated to lives of economic and social marginality at best, or criminality at worst because of the appalling conditions in which they live? And what steps, if any, can we as a society at large do to prevent that? There have been moments when I have considered trying to get custody of the youngest Bobby Jr. From a triage perspective, I believe he is the one who has the best chance of being saved. But I do not know how feasible it is for me to do so, and it would not be possible at all if I could not get the consent of my wife.
As I wrote in the first post in this series, probably everybody knows at least one person like my brother Bobby. While I cannot extrapolate from that how many people there are in our country in similar circumstances, I would probably not be wrong to argue that there is a segment of our population that is simply unable to function in our society. Through their own personal flaws and problems, they are unable to afford to pay for a roof over their heads, pay their bills and manage their financial affairs, nor raise their children in a loving and secure environment. Are there steps that we as a society can do to address this in a constructive way, or are people like Bobby or the Kegels simply the price we have to pay in order to live in a free society?