Tuesday, January 16, 2007

What About Bob? The Conclusion

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?


Stardust said...

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?

tommy - after doing some thinking about this, and I think that the only one who can really help Bobby is Bobby. He has come to take it for granted that family will always help bail him out of his problems and that he can do whatever the hell he wants. With all you have written the past several days, and you say there is much more, I think that you have gone above and beyond the duty to help Bobby. Bobby now has to help himself.

If you are concerned about the kids, you can check up now and then and make sure that they have material items, such as clothing, food and that there is no abuse going or neglect going on. But as for forking over money to Bobby and his ex-wives...no way. As for giving Bobby even one more cent...no way.

Has there been any thought to a family "intervention" to have him committed to rehab or a mental health facility? The man is in obvious need of treatment if he cannot function on his own and if he keeps going back to his addiction.

Bobby's children are the ones who should be helped by society because they are the innocent victims since they are the ones who had no choice in who their parents are.

You have shown and still show a lot of concern, tommy. You have been and still are a good brother and uncle. But Bobby is not even thinking about how his behaviors and problems that he is causing everyone. He needs to wake up to that reality and learn to take responsibility for himself. To do that it seems he is going to need professional help of those who do not have an emotional connection to him.

Anonymous said...

A while ago my family tried to help a girl that was a lot lot your brother. The truth is that your brothers life won't change much no matter what you do. He will go along using people (you or someone else) and being homeless and sick. The best thing you can do is protect your own family and do what is right for them because you are not helping him. It's going to be very hard for your mom and he will try and use that to get to her. I'm so sorry about that. Don't give him money no matter what. If he calls you for help, take him to some shelter or official place. With the girl, we stopped the dramatic rescues and told her if she needed help we'd take her to women's shelter. Turned out she wasn't interested in actually changing her life. She has gone on to use up several other people and we have eventually lost track of her.
Yes, I think society has a responsibility to deal with these people. Their families are actually the worst people to try because they will be manipulated and the person will never improve their life. Society should provide temporary shelter, food, and counseling. The fact is that there will always be people that will spend their lives depending on society. It's either take some basic care of them or step over their bodies in the street. I'd rather pay a bit than watch them die or let them destroy the people that try to help. Hope I don't sound like too much of a downer. I wish the best to you. Stay strong.

Anonymous said...

It's very very hard when kids are involved and it seems like they always are. One of the big things that made me draw the line was that the girl was pregnant and I knew that I didn't want to deal with her dangling her baby over me to manipulate me. So, we put an end to it before the baby was born. It would have been much harder if she was related. The potential call from your niece in California is very hard I'm sure. I don't know what the right thing to do there is. I guess it's a matter of how much risk to yourself and your family you can take. I don't regret our attempt at helping this girl and even though it was hard, expensive and emotionally draining I think it was worth the try. Our kids, both young teen agers, learned a lot. For one thing, they know that mom and dad will try to help but that when we say no we mean it. We've spent a lot of time talking about it. I wouldn't have wanted to do something like this when they were younger though. It's pretty heavy duty experience.

Joe said...

After a while, there comes a time where you can do no more for people who refuse to change. My current wife got rid of her last husband due to his spiraling drug use. He became unstable and unsafe to be around. Finally, he lost his wife, kids, successful business, houses, everything he had worked for. Now, he has been and will continue to be in and out of jail for the rest of his life.
What can possibly be done for people who don't want help?

As for the children, unless the government steps in and removes them, they're basically screwed and will most likely be in jail, drugs, living on the margins of society, etc.
And, where can these children be taken? There certainly aren't enough foster homes to take in every needy child. There seems to be no good answer.

LongHairedWeirdo said...

(Popped over here from LiberalAvenger, and I'm in a talky mood, and I have a good bit of experience in this type of thing. Feel free to take everything I say with a grain of salt (unless you're restricting your sodium intake)...

There's this thing about addictions. While an addict is still in the active addiction mode, there's very little you can do to help. And it's hard to say what will make an addict decide to break the cycle.

It hurts to watch a family member suffer, but there's not a whole lot you can do about it... literally.

The idea of building a wall between your brother and th rest of the family, to protect them from the harm he might do them, is about all you can do. That, and stand by in case he can get his life back together.

There's a very fine line between helping out a family member with necessities, and doing things for a person that the person can and ought to do for himself. Do too much for a person, and you end up helping that person maintain the addiction.

One thing to consider about your brother, though: there are probably mental health issues underlying a lot of this. Without treatment for those issues, it's likely he'll keep falling back into drinking. A lot of folks with these kinds of problems end up self-medicating with alcohol or other illegal drugs.

This kind of thing is tricky, both on a family and on a societal level. On the one hand, you shouldn't let a family member starve, freeze, or otherwise get hurt or killed in some stupid manner when you could help. On the other hand, sometimes it takes a stint of homelessness, or uncertainly of where the next meal is coming from, etc., to drive home how harmful the addiction really is.

I had a person in this kind of situation, and my rule of thumb was, I'd never "lend" more money than I could afford to give, and I'd make sure that anything I did was something I wouldn't regret, no matter what happened.

So, e.g., during a drinking period, that person *would not* get keys to my car. Period. But I also asked myself "if I let this person sleep on my couch, am I okay with it if he pawns some of my stuff? Or would I curse myself out for having been stupid enough to trust him?"

It made it easier to love him. I set boundaries around what I'd do, so he couldn't hurt me more than I let him.

Don't ever feel ashamed if you just don't have the ability or energy to help him. Do what you reasonably can, but recognize that he made choices that put him in the position he's in, and if the results of those choices don't ever hurt, he's got no reason to change.

Good luck; I hope your story ends up happily... or at least happier than it is so far.

Anonymous said...

Tommy can you hear me?
Really loved your support over on the UNcredible Halq site.
You like Depeche Mode so I'm going to have to assume you wear eyeliner.
Have fun Tommy-boy. Bet you's a fagget!

Tommykey said...

Maybe if you didn't behave like a 12 year old Frank.

Anyway, given your immature behavior, you are not welcome to comment any further on my blog. Please stay away and do something more constructive with your time.

Stardust said...

tommy - I see frank walton the "college student" has found you. LOL! How do these trolls ever find time to worship their jeebus properly?

Sable Chicken said...

Tommy I'm really sorry about your troubles with your family. I actually wrote you a longish comment trying to make a short story about the troubles my family has been going through with my sister. But...well I didn't know if it was really the right thing to write about it so openly. Anyway it's hard and my heart is with you in your struggle with this issue.

PS by the way Frank Walton calling you names is uncool.

Tommykey said...

Yeah, really Stardust. Then again, I don't know how I find the time to blog when I have to put on eyeliner while listening to Depeche Mode. But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do!

Thank you for your comments Sable. It is one thing for tempers to flare in a heated debate. That at least is understandable. But to just drop by and leave insulting (albeit laughably immature) comments is unacceptable. It's like going into someone's home uninvited, pissing on their rug, and then acting all giddy with laughter.

Stardust said...

Then again, I don't know how I find the time to blog when I have to put on eyeliner while listening to Depeche Mode. But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do!


Stardust said...

But to just drop by and leave insulting (albeit laughably immature) comments is unacceptable. It's like going into someone's home uninvited, pissing on their rug, and then acting all giddy with laughter.

LOL! you are quite funny today, tom!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, really Stardust. Then again, I don't know how I find the time to blog when I have to put on eyeliner while listening to Depeche Mode. But a guy's gotta do what a guy's gotta do!

I listen to Sylver and De Gebroders Ko.

Hold me.

Anonymous said...

Frank Walton is a pussy who applies preemptive comment moderation.

Trissa + Joel said...

I meant to share my thoughts on your series about your brother much sooner, but life has been chaotic over the last couple of weeks.

First, I want to say that I think your writing style is excellent and well thought out. I enjoyed reading about your family’s struggles with your brother.

Second, I have many thoughts about your general questions posed at the conclusion of your essays. Probably way too many to fit into one comment, but I’ll share a few.

Daily I work with people like your brother. As a caseworker for Child Welfare in my home state, I work with those whose lives have reach such a chaotic place that their home is no longer safe for their children. As you stated in your post, children are the collateral damage of alcoholism, drug abuse and many other things such as domestic violence, mental health issues and criminal behavior. Because their parents aren’t able to provide their basic needs for them, they start to develop in abnormal ways. They develop behavioral problems or have developmental delays. Often children who are neglected or abused by parents have to develop coping strategies that are detrimental to normal human growth, such as parentification or even mental health problems such as reactive attachment disorder or PTSD.

I have a certain amount of compassion for people in your brother’s position. I don’t think I would be a social worker if I didn’t, but there comes a point when any family has to draw a line in the sand. Your brother made his choices over forty years. Unfortunately, like many people in your brother’s place, he has chosen to paint himself as a victim. I would say that in his current state of denial about his role in his life, he would not make any changes. Consistently I have seen that the people who take responsibility for their actions are the ones who change. Those who continue to see themselves as some sort of victim have no reason to change. In their minds the world is against them and there is nothing they can do.

What is obligation as a society? I really don’t know. I think at the very least we have a responsibility to those the children. They have no choice, they are the victims and if we can stop generational drug abuse and violence at any point then we should. As far as supporting the adults, well the decision has already been made. Now every state in the US has instituted a policy that you can only be on welfare for five years, total. Only five years in your lifetime.

To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this policy. On one hand I think it’s good that people will need to support themselves. On the other hand I know many people who were never raised with the skills to do that. They have low intellectual functioning and they barely make I in the world with welfare. Plus wages today are horrible and frankly in most places you can’t raise children on minimum wage. I think the federal government needs to increase its housing assistance, but under the Bush administration it’s been cut. As a social worker I find it aggravating that the people I work with can’t find a decent place to raise their children, because in making more than $800 a month they don’t qualify for housing. Also, studies have already shown that when a states five-year policy states kicked people off, child abuse goes up dramatically within six months.

What about the adults who were abused as children? I certainly have compassion for them, but I draw the line when they have children. It’s their responsibility to care for that child’s needs.

Tommykey said...

Thanks for your comments (and compliments :-)) Trissa and the perspective you bring from your profession as a social worker.

It is a delicate balance between trying to help people who are irresponsible and not enabling them to continue on as they have.

A big obstacle for people who are alcoholics and have lost their drivers licenses is that if they live in areas where public transportation is lacking, it is hard to get to work without a car. Some take a chance and drive without a license and if they get caught, then they get into even bigger trouble. A reliable public transportation system can help make it easier for people who are poor or who have lost their license to get to work so that they can make a living.

The system seems perniciously rigged, as you appear to describe it. Assistance is cut off if a person's income exceeds a certain threshold, but that person still cannot afford to make ends meet, so it seems better for them to simply not try to exceed the threshold.

A universal health care system would be a big plus too, though it would have to be designed in such a way as to combine the best of the American system with the best of what Canada and other countries have to offer.

Perhaps a housing program could help too. Offer subsidized housing for a one or two year term, regardless of whether or not the person's income exceeds a certain level, and maybe even dock a percentage of the person's pay towards a housing voucher to be used towards a down payment on an apartment after the term for the subsidized housing ends to smooth the transition.

I don't know how much this would all cost or if it is even feasible, but I figured I would throw it out there.

Hope all is well with you.