Tag Archives: father

good lord, he burned the hoard

My dad, the HP-Pastor-Santa Claus, had been out of touch until just before Thanksgiving. We tried to arrange to skype but it became too difficult for him. He finally just emailed me the story he so desperately wanted to share.

Oh yes, one more thing . . . I need to tell you that I almost burned down the house Tuesday morning. I went outside to fuel the furnace and in doing so, I dumped the ashes on the pile. About an hour later I looked outside and there was a huge fire under the patio. The hot coals had caught the leaves on fire and it expanded in two directions. One toward the patio and the other to the west side of the house. From there it caught the pile of junk I had stacked there (for maybe ten years or more) and caught it on fire. There were shotgun shells exploding and the fire was extremely threatening. I screamed “Fire” and the kids came a running to help at 5:50 am. Fortunately, a man stopped to help and called the fire department. By the time they got here we almost had it put out. Yeah! They watered down the pile of junk and then left. That’s one way to get rid of my hoarding crud! LOL!

It’s a fine example of his storytelling prowess: he saves the dramatic story for the end of an email as if he had almost forgotten, he recognizes he has hoarded junk… never mind that people could have been killed by shotgun shells blasting. But there is no account of what “junk” was lost that was so important to keep in a pile outside of the house in the first place. There is no acknowledgment of cleanup efforts or how he might avoid such trouble in the future. I can only expect that next time the local newspaper will be telling the story of his demise.

scrabble

ImageMy father and I are exchanging messages again. Apparently the silence was nothing: I’m just paranoid. So we continue to play Scrabble. I couldn’t resist the following word. I wonder if he’ll respond.

nbd, it’s npd

Thank you Hoarder’s Son and Children of Hoarders for your recent discussions on Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). Thank you, but why must the rabbit hole go ever deeper? Probably to hide away more hoarded stuff. It seems only appropriate that our HPs have collected psychological disorders along with their junk.

Without having a proper degree to diagnose my father, I can recognize obvious displays of NPD in him. Long before the hoard, the characteristic marks of this behavior were present. He has big dreams (that happen to change rather often), believes he is someone very special (divine calling, anyone?), and treated his first and second wives and his children as extensions of himself who were meant to obey his commands and whims without resistance. Question his authority and expect a fine fit of rage.

Where things get complicated for me, or for him maybe, is that my father is a pastor of a very small church. Being a pastor and doing these things for the Lord justifies almost every behavior, every dream, every whim, everything he wants. This role began about the time when the hoarding took off and I was out of the house. And pastoring fulfilled his need to have constant admiration, attention, and control. At some point I began to wonder (shudder) if he even believed what he was preaching or if he simply enjoyed being in the position of total authority in the church body.  Whatever the inspiration, he has mellowed considerably through the years — from God or from age, I do not know.

My father can be completely charming and sweet, but any generosity or overly kind word gives me a grippingly sick feeling. His sweetness is always pointed at what he cannot control, but if you ask him, he is just winning people over to the Lord. I tense up when I hear that overly sweet tone in his voice. It happened too often in my childhood that he would be in a full-on rage about some horrible sin I’d committed (blue nail polish comes to mind) and the phone would ring. Suddenly he’d be the nicest man on earth on the phone, perhaps even brag about how great I was to his interlocutor, and the minute the conversation with the unknown person was over, the rage would continue. Turn it on, turn it off. Like a switch.

I could go on and on with this analysis of my father and the ways in which he matches this behavior profile, but things get difficult when I turn the scope on myself.

I, like many people who have posted on children of hoarders (thank you, all of you), was a mini-adult, put on display at church as the model child, had perfect grades from ninth grade to the end of my B.A. degree, and every success was attributed not only to my father, but to our heavenly father. Perfect grades? Praise the Lord. Scholarship? Praise the Lord. More than once I wanted to scream, “What about praise me?” Yet still, I endeavored to please.

I was the Golden Child, the wanted child (?), the successful child. I found my rebellion through reading subversive books in a foreign language and conducting my research in a way that is entirely incomprehensible to my father. I created my space in foreign cultures and he has not once asked or attempted to understand it. His only concern has ever been if my beliefs align with his: I am so going to Hell.

Until I met D. I had no idea what I wanted in life even though I was very clearly motivated. He’s the first person to ever ask me what I wanted. I had always had some God-plan to live by. When I stumbled off of that track, and D. asked me hard questions, I came up entirely empty. How could I answer where I was going since someone or some entity had always told me where to go and what to do?

I chose a path that brought down my father’s wrath. I was 31.

And now, seven years later and in a different countries, my father is trying to use his sweet charm on me.

NPD, maybe it’s a BFD.

 

churning

As I was catching up on my pile of unread blog posts from others affected by hoarding, a word popped out of one of Sidney’s posts at www.milbetweenus.com that set a sharp pang through my heart. She said Greg had been churning.

Churning – I’m not sure how those who don’t experience it personally or see it first-hand understand it. For me, it’s painful. For the majority of my life, it was just a normal unconscious activity. Now when I see it happening, it sends me into a sinking sense of despair. Churning feels like sitting in a boat that’s quickly filling with water and you only have a bucket to try to bail out. Churning is like a dog chasing its tail: so funny to watch, so frustrating for the dog.

I sat at my desk yesterday working in a flurry. I jumped from one task to the next, to the next, accidentally got lost in a Google search for something completely unrelated, started browsing Pinterest, jerked myself back to a grant application, stumbled upon papers to mark, marked two, remembered an assignment I hadn’t posted, went to post it but instead changed the layout to my course website. In the tangled mess of activity, perhaps in spite of it, I managed to finish the grant application, the marking, the lesson planning… I found my way out the other side. I don’t know how.

Why is churning painful? I recognize it now as a response to extreme stress. I get totally lost in the activity and I have to sit back and think about what is causing this before I can get out of it. I know it’s an inherited behavior that indelibly links me to my dysfunctional father. I cannot stop the activity from starting: I can only disentangle myself by realizing it is occurring.

What stimulates churning for me is not always clear. The first time I fully realized I was doing it was only in July when we first arrived in Australia and didn’t yet have a home. I felt I was sinking and grasping onto illogical pieces of debris to pull myself up from the drowning waters. I wanted to keep disposable containers, tin foil, used tape, even though I knew I didn’t need those things. I was uprooted and lost: I wanted to create stability. I churned.

Yesterday I churned for numerous reasons combined: we’re buying a house, I’m resigning permanently from my former position to remain in this one, D. is going to be away for a week, I have numerous looming deadlines at work… Not to mention the normal stressors of sleep deprivation and a child’s temper tantrums. Oh, and PMS. I’m a downright mess. Except I’m fine. Even better than fine, I’m really good. I just churn as a coping mechanism. Familiar repetitive behaviors anyone?

Churning.

paper-free with a price

Oh Ikea, it’s always all about you. How could we survive without accumulating your gadgets to make our clutter go away? I have to admit, though, that I have a soft spot for organized hoarders. Maybe it’s because my father is on that path with his alphabetized and chronologically ordered crap. Maybe because it’s the kind of hoarder I would aspire to be.

an HP-free Christmas, almost

The holidays have been blissfully minimalist this year with our new home, tiny tree, and usable Christmas gifts. Still, a part of me feels guilty for not buying D. more stuff. He seriously only got a few packs of herb seeds and a couple of candy bars for Christmas, just the way he likes it. The 29th was his birthday and our fifth anniversary and I was so far-gone into vacation mode that I didn’t even realize it was the 29th until 2 p.m. Oops. Happy Birthday, lover. I got  you nothing, but I love you more than ever. The intangibles matter more, I know. But the culture of stuff is deeply intrenched in me.

As I catch up on my hoarding blogs, though, I realize the beauty in giving less. Last year at this time, my parents gave our daughter several large gifts that  we obviously could not bring with us to Australia. It was so frustrating that they insisted on buying stuff that I mostly turned around and sold or donated rather than giving her.

This year, they tried to send her a package for her birthday. When they realized that it would cost more to send than they had spent, they decided it was better just to hold off. Then on Christmas eve (here), I got a frantic email from my HP father with the subject, “I’m late!!!”

My Dad was desperate to get money sent to us somehow before Christmas – as though we are small children who will cry on Christmas morning without a gift of some type under the tree. I told him it was entirely unnecessary, but he could send a check to our home in the States and it would get deposited. He followed through and proudly reported he got it sent before Christmas. What he doesn’t realize is that his frantic email detailing all the dramatic events in his small church was more than enough present. Like many HPs (or so I hear), my dad is a fantastic story teller. I’ve been asking him for some time to just write down stories about his childhood as he thinks of them. I even offered to give my step-mother an .mp3 recorder so she could ask him questions in the car and record the stories. When he goes, the oral traditions of our family are going to be lost.

I admit in the end that I’m glad to be impossibly far away on Christmas. D’s 70-year-old parents figured out how to Skype in on Christmas morning to watch S. open her presents, and again today to send more well-wishes. Mine were only concerned about sending the check on time. What is Christmas if it isn’t about enjoying each other?

abuse and hoarding

I’ve been silent but not inactive over the past few weeks. My mind is heavily occupied, in part because I suddenly started receiving the Children of Hoarders (COH) listserv messages, even though I joined the group months ago. There are many well articulated, insightful, and blatantly painful messages shared among the members on a daily basis, and my thought process on hoarding is a bit jammed.

Recently there was an active discussion on the abusiveness of hoarding and the fear (or not) of being taken away from the hoarding parent (HP). I will be the first person to recognize that I can only acknowledge abuse when it literally hits me in the face. After some therapy I came to recognize my father as an abusive person towards me, but I hadn’t been able to do it while growing up because he was physically abusive to both my mother and brother and I was somehow spared. Now that I’m confronted with an entirely different level of possibility – that his hoarding is an abusive act – I feel on unstable ground again.

[interlude: blogpost interrupted by people seeking donations for disaster relief, and I notice they are from a certain religious group, give money, hear father’s voice screaming in my ear that this group is a cult.]

My initial reaction is to defend both my father and my situation: it wasn’t that bad, the hoarding didn’t become an issue until I left home, and so on. If anything, and my mother confirms my memory, my childhood was dictated by a stringent cleaning regimen, and my father was more obsessed with sorting and cleaning things – or at least having us do it – than he was by accumulating. He was already a compulsive spender, although I didn’t understand that as a child, and he did bring my family to dramatic financial ruin that ended in foreclosure on a home, living without electricity, and hiding from the creditors sent to repossess our car. Still, I justify him. He was trying to cope, though badly, with a divorce and single parenting, though terribly.

As I think about it as an adult, I do see his hoarding as abusive, but it is extremely hard to write that even now. He always cared for things more than for us and would constantly say he had no money to help with things that didn’t matter to him (buying us decent clothes and food? paying for college education?) but he always had money to buy things that were important to him (horses, horse trailers, guns, hunting trips). His possessions weren’t to the rafters, but he did have a problem with things. And just today we were at a fair and caught part of a horseback riding competition, and I said to D. I really wish my dad had spent time with the horses. We had them through a very large part of my childhood, but I only remember riding a few times over all those many years. If anything, he just wanted to have animals. Even today he runs a deer farm, and I believe he takes good care of the animals just as he did with the horses, but they serve almost no purpose whatsoever… they’re just there because he wants them there, eating up money and resources while he calls them a business investment.

It’s hard to label this kind of neglect as abuse for me, especially because there was real physical abuse that I witnessed and not just from him. I have trouble putting his hoarding activity on the same line as causing physical pain. Perhaps it’s equally destructive, but now far more acceptable – hell, even fashionable – to be a hoarder.

It’s a common complaint among the COH that at first really shocked me – hoarders are seen as kindly, well-meaning, creative individuals who are victims themselves. This is a cultural view as well as the perspective of many highly respected researchers. But by being the victim, the hoarders can only too easily perpetuate their abuse. We COH get angry, and the passive HP is able to turn the attention onto our bad behavior, making themselves out to be even greater martyrs, all while refusing to share and refusing to put their own children ahead of stuff.

I’m only just figuring this out as I write it. I can only imagine how insufferable it is to actually have to live in a home every single day that is so filled with crap, constantly weighing down or threatening to topple onto you as a reminder of how less significant your life is to your HP than the stuff that surrounds them.  I knew every day that my dad cared more about stuff than about me, but I didn’t have to tiptoe around the stuff that mattered more. I only had to tiptoe around him.

cleaning doesn’t help

On one visit to my father about ten years ago, I was shocked to see half of the living room full of empty boxes. They were stacked to the ceiling in a sliding mountain and my father refused to part with them. This mountain clearly pained my step-mother who helplessly tiptoed around the cardboard wall so as not to disturb the disorder.

After some finagling, I convinced my father to let me sort the boxes, promising not to throw them out unless he approved disposal. He was keeping them, or so he said, to use for shipping sold items on Ebay. Nevermind that he hadn’t sold anything on Ebay and that all of the boxes came from items purchased.

I set to work carefully breaking down boxes and sending to the burn barrel (yes, they have a burn barrel) the boxes that were too damaged to reuse. I sorted boxes, big to small, put them inside each other as I could, condensed the pile, and moved part of it into their garage which has been unusable about as long as my father has lived in the house. To my knowledge, the pile of boxes never reappeared. But how would I know? I only visit once or twice a year and they spend hours getting the house ready for those visits.

D. sent me a link yesterday to a story on hoarding “Hoarding considered a complex mental illness,” from Topeka, Kansas. Straight to the point, I cite the last paragraph:

Fronsman-Cecil said the hardest time for a hoarder can be after his or her home is cleaned up. She remembers when her grown children did that for her for the first time a few years ago.

“After they left, I kind of had a meltdown,” she said. “There were definitely things that were gone that I would have kept.

To reiterate my post on “Separation,” how do we help our parents, then? It’s quite possible that all that work that I did with the boxes only made me feel better. My efforts could have caused an anxiety attack for my father and further disruption for my step-mother. The problem is not just laziness or unwillingness to clean and organize the home; and I am truly unequipped to make it better or to help my folks with the issue.

you might be a hoarder

I just hung up the phone with my brother who is mentally planning a visit to us and to my father. We talked about the unsafe conditions in my dad’s house for my newly walking niece. My brother proudly reminded me that he was the last person who had a car in my parents’ garage because he cleaned it out. He thinks he probably knows where things are better than anyone else. “You know what? I’m probably responsible for them hoarding more stuff because I just made more space for them.”

“Maybe,” I said.

Then he told me how I would be shocked if I saw his place because they have too much stuff with three people living in a one bedroom apartment. “But I can’t be a hoarder. I just live in a small space.”

“You might be a hoarder,” I told him.

And then … (it keeps getting better) he proceded to tell me about his three cars, his dining room set that is packed up in storage because there’s no space for it, and his baseball cards that are probably valuable but he doesn’t even know where they are. This was divulged in the context of me saying how much it pisses me off that I’ve inherited the inability to throw out junk.

My brother says when my dad dies he’ll take a month off of work. He estimates it will take every day, working eight hour days, and a giant dumpster to sort through the remains. “Some of it is probably valuable.”

“Maybe.”

But what was most interesting in our talk was the myth that my father has created. He has told us we can’t throw out his magazines or books because, “there might be money hidden in there.” As my brother just pointed out – that’s probably not even true. He’s likely told us that so that we won’t just throw out his things. On the other hand, the myth of my grandfather is that he had money buried in his front yard (à la Vegas Vacation). My father could very well have done something so stupid as to tuck one dollar bills or rare coins into other collections. My brother has told my step-mother she’s not allowed to burn the stuff. (That would be my preference.) No, my brother says he will be the one to sort through the stuff, “And you’ll be right there with me. You’ll be there with me.”

We ended the phone call at that.

burdening us with stuff

My hoarder father and my step-mother who suffers at the hand of his compulsion to keep spent the night with us on Sunday. Before I had a chance to relay the message that we did not want any presents for us or our daughter this year, they appeared with gifts – large bulky gifts that will never fit in a suitcase and will be expensive to ship abroad. I know I sound completely ungrateful in writing this, and I do appreciate that the gifts were thoughtfully chosen for our daughter who immediately loved them, but I felt upset at their need to buy us things. More stuff coming into the house will require more strategy for removing it.

After they left, I felt relieved. I was upset by their attitude that they could appear at our house with only a few hours’ notice and expect us to drop all of our work to allow them to play with their grand-daughter. The babysitter had to be cancelled last minute and neither of us were able to work with the continual interruptions and inquiries.

At one point while my father was playing on my iPhone he said he wanted to buy one so he could do email while my step-mother was on vacation. What a strange sense of logic that an iPhone would somehow be necessary because she was going to be away, when he already has a laptop and several other computers. My father’s solution to everything is to buy more things, especially gadgets, vehicles, or animals. What he buys to simplify his life only buries us deeper in the muck.