Friday, May 22, 2009

Only the Good Die Young

Today marks the 7th year since my father celebrated his last birthday on Earth. He only lived to be 69 years old. He would be 76 now if he were still alive.

I miss him a lot.

I sometimes wonder if his early and sudden death could not have been prevented with a more relaxed lifestyle. He died alone, at a football game, of a heart attack. Proper health care, a stress free and happy lifestyle, and regular checkups become increasingly important as we age.

My father worked up until the day he died. He never had the opportunity to experience the rest and relaxation that was his due after his long and illustrious career.

I don't know how often my father saw his doctor in the last years of his life, but I know that financial stress was an issue for him, and there is no doubt that during his final years, he pushed himself far too hard and far too fast.

Still reeling from a recent divorce from his second wife, in the last three years of his life, he somehow managed to squeeze in a wedding in San Francisco (including a privately chartered cable car), major renovations to his new wife's home in a neighborhood not far from his townhome, several trips to the Middle East (at least one of which was to accompany her on a business trip), several trips to his timeshares in Sedona and Palm Springs, visits to her son in San Diego, weekend jaunts to other nearby locations, and his final African Safari adventure the summer before he died.

I travelled with him to Egypt and Lebanon two summers before he died. He seemed tired and suddenly much older than I had remembered him. We visited Baalbek (about 50 miles outside of Beirut) towards the end of that trip. He was out of breath climbing the ruins and exploring the site, and had to sit down to rest several times.

The last time I saw him was on Father's Day, seven years ago this June. My sister had just ended a long term relationship and was on her own for the first time in many years, trying to support herself on her meager salary as a massage therapist. I told him about it at our last brunch together. He was worried at the news and asked me then if she needed any financial support.

I said I didn't know.

We had planned a family vacation to our timeshare in Sedona that fall, and I suggested that he take some time to talk to her alone there and then to see what sort of help she might need. Unfortunately, that final trip never happened - he died a week or so before our trip was scheduled to occur.

Nearly seven years after his death, my sister has still not received any steady or consistent income from my father's estate, let alone her rightful inheritance, and is still struggling to support herself. She lives in a rented home, has no retirement, no health insurance, and no long term financial security of any kind. Her job comes with no benefits, so when she travels or takes a vacation, she makes no money at all.

The only "inheritance" my stepmother gave to my sister when my father died was one of his old t-shirts. She offered the rest of us the opportunity to select a few things from some items she planned to give away to charity: his clothing mostly, and some old posters and sports memorabilia, coffee mugs with football logos and such, the kinds of things that are given away as promotional gifts at sporting events. I graciously declined her kind and generous offer, and I believe my sisters did as well.

My stepmother, on the other hand, has been very much enjoying her own "inheritance" and has been continuously living far beyond her own means as a part time teacher since my father died. She fills her copious spare time with ever more extravagant trips that have included a cruise to the Galapagos, multiple trips to my family's timeshares, and European tours with her singing group.

She upgraded the kitchen in my father's townhome, replaced his 6 person dining room table with a 2 person "cafe set", replaced the couch in the living room and framed several of his art pieces, without asking any of his family members whether or not they wanted these changes/investments to be made.

My father's townhome has now become a second home for her exclusive use, the Queen's summer "beach house" perhaps, to complement her new timeshares in Palm Springs and Sedona. His children have not been added to the Titles of any his properties, and are not co-owners (Trustees) of any of his other assets via a Living Trust.

Although my father's townhome has three bedrooms, one of which was originally used as a guest room for our visits, my stepmother has converted the guest room to a second office for herself (in addition to my father's office next door which is apparently only used for storage) and the guest beds are now covered with years of accumulated papers, books and folders from her teaching job and other personal business.

Guests are required to sleep on the couch in the living room upstairs or on an ottoman that converts to a very uncomfortable pull-out one person cot. There is no privacy for guests, and the guest bathroom downstairs now also shares the space with her cat's litter box, so using it is not a particularly inviting experience.

There are no more family vacations. I have only been invited back to our timeshares once, shortly after my father died. I have never been invited to any of the holiday celebrations that my stepmother hosts with her daughter at her second, much larger home, in Seattle. I have never been invited to her home in Seattle for any reason, actually, so I have no idea whether or not any of my father's belongings are now gracing that home as well.

Our only holiday celebration together is Christmas (if we choose to visit her at my father's townhome at her convenience), and that is typically something rather formal and short, a quick visit to say hello, sometimes including her son, sometimes not.

She has never accepted our invitation to celebrate Christmas with my mother, although she claims to be a friend of hers and lives nearby, so even our Christmas celebrations are fractured and strangely distant and segregated. She has certainly never offered to host or organize a celebration at some other location nearer to my home or my sister's home in Texas, or better yet, at some neutral location like Hawaii or Palm Springs, although I have suggested something like that several times.

We are given small gifts once or twice a year (Christmas and birthday), but never anything that belonged to my father or that would have any real value or meaning to us, and only twice cash gifts of some minor significance. Once immediately after he died, we were all given gifts of $4000 each, and once after my stepmother sold her own home, we were given gifts of $2000 each.

My stepmother has arranged no dinner parties, no weekend getaways, no overseas family trips, and has hosted no Eskey family gatherings of any kind since my father died, other than his Memorial Service on November 7th, 2002.

She has established the "David E. Eskey Memorial Award for Curriculum Innovation" sponsored by CATESOL. While I applaud her initiative, I do not approve of her approach. Again, she failed to ask his family members whether or not this is something they felt that my father would have wanted.

Given the lack of available funding for this award over the years, only one recipient is selected annually. The impact that this effort has had on my father's goals to promote international literacy in English is not substantial. There are far better and far more wider reaching approaches to promoting literacy and curriculum innovation, and the Web can help with that.

For a number of personal reasons, I do not view this as a priority for our family at this time, and would like this to be the last year that the Eskey family supports this activity.

This specific example, and our situation in general, is a classic case of a long history of miscommunication and embarassingly poor decisions, and is the unfortunate outcome when an outsider with a lesser mind and an inferior moral code begins to make management decisions for the estate of a family that she barely knows.

My stepmother has been consistently disrespectful to the Eskey family, to the memory of my father as a family man, and most of all, to his love for his three daughters since the day my father died, generally ignoring, disregarding or overriding any of our suggestions or recommendations.

She has never asked for our input or advice on any major decisions regarding the management of my father's estate, nor of our family life in general.

She has only visited me twice at my own home: once for my housewarming party shortly after my father died, and once when she was in town for a conference. There have been no regular phone calls, no email messages, no letters, no consistent communication of any kind.

I've saved a Christmas letter she wrote in 2001 as a "geriatric newlywed" in her own words, and it is filled with pages of photographs and family-oriented prose and anecdotes.

No more of that newsy facade, I guess. Apparently she got what she wanted from us already, or perhaps more accurately, I now have the distinct impression that she prefers the distance, and that perhaps she has something to hide.

She has never made herself available to personal questions and has never provided my family with any information regarding my father's estate, either before or after his death. She has never clarified her longer term plans for her contributions to my family, either in the form of effectively managing my father's estate for all of us, or in the form of any financial, emotional, or spiritual support whatsoever.

All correspondence and visits over the years have typically been initiated by me.

She remembers my birthday some years, but no other holidays are acknowledged in any way: no 4th of July barbeques, no Easter celebrations, no birthday parties, no Labor Day or Memorial Day weekend gatherings, no Sunday brunches: nothing at all. There have been no offers to help with my own finances, no offers for outings to spas or beauty salons or shopping days or girl's getaways.

I do not know any of her friends, and have met none of her relatives other than her son and daughter. I have not seen her daughter since my father died, and have never met her daughter's husband or children. I know very little about my stepmother's past, and very little about her in general.

She knows even less about me. She is apparently far more interested in my family's money than she is in my family.

The contrast between the woman my father thought he married and the woman she became after he died is striking.

Ahh.."the good life", as my father used to say. My stepmother is surely living it now, riding high on the Eskey family gravy train.

Why think about other family members? What fun is there in that?

My stepmother has made it quite clear to the rest of our family that she believes that my father meant for her to have and to keep everything that he owned as her own, i.e., the sum total of sixty-nine years of his life and work.

She believes that he meant for their combined assets to be leveraged for her exclusive use throughout her own life, and that he did not expect her to share any of his assets with his own family at any time prior to her own death, based on two years of marriage.

It is a mind-boggling situation, utterly corrupt, and a travesty of justice. It is a shameful mark on the life and work of a wonderful man who was of the highest integrity.

The grief and pain that my stepmother has brought to my family since she met and married my father continues as her legacy to his daughters. It is really the only "inheritance" that we have received at her behest since my father died.

Without him, our family life has become either completely non-existent, or completely insane.

We desperately need some of my father's careful and thoughtful guidance now. Although it is just not possible to bring him back with us today, fortunately, many of his relatives and friends are still very much alive and kicking.

It's not too late for the rest of us to make careful decisions, and to begin to repair some of the damage that my stepmother has inflicted on my wonderful, capable, brilliant, loving and very accomplished family. I believe that as a unified group, we can do anything we set our minds to.

We can easily solve this problem.

It is very clear to me how much my generous family has given to my stepmother over the years, but what I can't seem to get an answer to is this:

Exactly when, how, and what does my father's widow intend to give back to us?

Happy Birthday, Dad.

Wish you were here...

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