Jan 9, 2013

Children of the Con

Since Ask A Punk was originally launched in early January 2008, it seems fitting that the relaunch is (ok, finally) happening at the beginning of a new year. The hiatus that started in Aug. '11 served its purpose - It gave me the chance to take care of a few other issues in my life & work and just sort of gave me a break from the self-imposed weekly deadlines and the feeling that I wasn't accomplishing much with the blog. 

I also discovered I was wrong about that last thing.

Even though it has been a year+ since my last, official weekly post, my handy google stats page tells me that I still have regular readers/visitors to the site, and my inbox is filled (ok, semi-filled) with "When are you coming back?" messages, along with plenty of new questions. This was all as flattering as it was unexpected.

I wanted to come back when I tacked up that most recent post in May, but I discovered I still had too many other things to deal with. I did spend some of that time creating an eBook (which you can see me flogging in the right-hand column.) Now I have finally cleared the decks and am ready to get back at it. ...but I also want to do it better this time. I am actively soliciting advice & opinion on how I can improve the site and do a better job of reaching people. I'm still on the fence about some of it: "include more links", "include more pictures", "do interviews." Do more links & pictures really equal deeper reader engagement? I'm still not sure. I think greater interaction does. This site will never be a record/band/show review site, but I have added a new "music+" page that will contain essays, posts on topics not covered by the regular weekly advice post... and maybe even an interview or two... but you'll notice that the main page is still the weekly Q&A. I still think that is the most important part of this endeavor, as well as the most satisfying.

What I DO want to encourage is more participation. With the revamp of the site, the "comment" section is harder to miss, so I hope people start leaving more comments, and adding their own advice. 

Enough blather! Let's get on with it!  At long last, here is this week's question.

Dear AskAPunk:
My dad's insane. I know many people say that, but he really is. Maybe insane isn't the right word because he is scary-smart and hyper-intelligent. The problem is he is, basically a con-man. Always has been. When we were growing up, my sisters and I never knew what he did for a living. Our mom worked in an office, but dad would vanish for days or weeks at a time, or months. We were told he "traveled a lot for business." which, when you're a little kid is the only explanation you really need, because why would your mom lie about your dad? But she had to, because the truth was, he never had a real job, was always hustling people out of money and then hiding from either them or the cops. I remember several times us all getting dressed up and taken out for a "day with dad." Invariably the day would include a meeting or an "unexpected encounter" with some adults we had never met before, but who seemed to know my dad. Those adults would often call my dad by some nickname or first name we had never heard before. We would never see these people again. Years later, we figured out that they were new marks he was setting up and we were being trotted out as proof that he was a stable "family man" or something. It still makes my skin crawl to think about it. I know it all sounds crazy and almost old-fashioned, even though we're talking about stuff that happened in the 1990s, but I swear it is true. The truth slowly started to come out, as it always does, as we got older and we could figure things out for ourselves, and his getting sent to prison didn't help any either. By the time dad got out of the pen - he was a model prisoner of course, always smiling and cooperative like he was on a con -  I was in punk bands and trying to get through community college, because of course there was no money for college. One of my sisters joined the army and the other just got a job. He moved back in with my mom and went back to his same old crap, only now he was also trying to work angles with us. He nearly hustled my army sister out of her government cash and stuff - I don't know the exact details, and I can't tell you how many people have told me they had met our band's "manager" or how many times he'd asked one or all of us to help him out with some shady little meeting or delivery that never sounded quite illegal. I finally had to tell him to fuck off out of my life. It wasn't easy, even though by then I was totally living on my own, because we live in a small-ish city in the Northwest US and I can't totally avoid seeing him or running into him somewhere, and yeah, I think he plans some of those "chance meetings," especially when I see him with people I don't know. He never beat us up, or did a ton of drugs (as far as I know) he was and is just a scumbag. I'm sorry I haven't even gotten to my question yet. There are a couple of them: 

1) I'm scared sometimes that I'll follow in his footsteps whether I want to or not. At school I often find myself having to fast-talk my way out of things with teachers or the accounting office, and I am remarkably good at it. How do I safeguard myself against this? 

2) Why the hell didn't my mom divorce him a million years ago and save us ALL from all this bullshit? How can I get over my anger and resentment at my MOM for that? 

3) How can I keep him the F out of my life and away from my band?

 - Not so easy money.

Dear NSEM -
Your story reads like a post-grunge "Paper Moon." I'm glad you've stood up for yourself so far and done your best to get past the family bullshit, because that is pretty much what you'll have to do. Here are my answers.

Sometimes we all have to fast-or-sweet talk teachers, administrators, bosses, clerks in the accounting office, club bookers or the various other people who stand between us and what we're trying to accomplish. For good or ill, this is a normal part of human interaction, especially in our particular culture. Try not to over-think that part of it. What you have to make sure of though, is that you are scrupulously honest with the people in your life - the real relationships that help to define who you are as a person, and when you meet new people, be sure that your first thoughts are "how can I help them?" and not "What can I get off this clown." I'm not saying you have to become a push-over or a full-time good samaritan, I'm just saying pay attention to the first thoughts you have when you're dealing with people in your life. When meeting someone new, a con-man like your dad's first thoughts would be about finding some advantage he might have over the other person - some weakness in them that he can exploit... and, to him, even positive human traits like kindness would be considered a weakness. 

Even though you didn't state your gender, I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're a girl. Even in the most well-adjusted of families, Mother/Daughter relationships are almost always more fraught with issues of anger and resentment etc. From what you wrote, I don't think your mom was your dad's accomplice, just his enabler. Even though your dad is a lowlife, he and your mom clearly have some kind of deep connection, although a clearly unhealthy one. This isn't going to sound like a very punk-rock answer, but what you have to do is simple: Forgive her. ...and try to very gently coax her toward admitting the truth about your dad to herself, keeping in mind that that might never happen. YOU have to decide if you want a relationship with your mom, just your mom (and it sounds like you do.) That relationship, now that you're an adult, has to be about you TWO, and not about the shifty ex-con elephant in the room. If you can see yourself still loving her, then love her, and let it go at that. Don't make your dad the only topic of conversation between the two of you, in fact: make it the one-and-only topic that is off-limits if necessary.

Cutting him out of your life is easy, as long as you stick to your own rules. I'm guessing it isn't possible to simply MOVE somewhere else, so instead you have to build a wall around your life and keep him out. Send all his emails to your spam file, unread. Never take his calls and if you get a call from a number you don't recognize let it go to voicemail first. If you "bump into" him somewhere unexpectedly, and he is with his latest mark, immediately say something like: "Great to see you Dad, I didn't know you were on parole" ...do that a few times and I can promise he will start avoiding you. Wouldn't that be nice? As far as the band stuff goes, make sure he has no access to your websites, twitter feeds or whatever you use to engage your fans online. Bring a photo of him to gigs and give it to the door guy, telling him there's $10 and a beer in it for him if he doesn't let the guy in the picture into the show. Two beers if he shoves him. and finally, and most punk rock of all: Write a song about the bastard. Heck, write a whole album. Put his picture on your website too - let the world know that he has nothing to do with you or your band. That would be pretty punk rock, wouldn't it? YOU have nothing to be ashamed of, he is the criminal.

I hope that helps. Do your best, and remember, if nothing else, your dad did give you one very useful gift: I bet you can spot any conman from a mile away.

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