Jailbird

So my father-in-law is going to jail next week. He’s not your average criminal. In fact, he looks disarmingly like Santa Claus and most of the time, acts like him too. Particularly with the kids. His white beard is soft and amuses S for hours. His belly is round and perfectly shaped for the two boys to perch happily together playing with his ears and repeatedly removing his glasses. He’s funny and as generous as his current circumstances allow him. Sometimes he’s quick to judge but I’m increasingly convinced that this is generational thing and all people as the move past 50 begin to haemorrhage their tolerance for things in general.

Anyway, four years ago, my FIL’s business went bust and it was revealed that its financial controller (my FIL’s brother) had stolen millions of dollars to fund his rather tragic and unsuccessful gambling habit (I know that’s a tautology but hey, I’m trying to picture the ‘dream’, the seduction). So, many, many customers who had entrusted their money (and pretty much their lives) with the company lost it all. Yes, that is totally crap I know. My FIL knew for a few years that something was going pretty wrong but is from a generation of men (‘country’ men I might add) who refuse to let anyone know how bad something is in order to try and save face. So desperate to keep his jovial and highly respected reputation intact, my FIL moved money around the business for a long time trying to make sure all staff were paid consistently and that money didn’t ‘appear’ missing. In fact, he put a lot of his own money in to try and keep things a float. He remained strategically blinded to his brother’s behaviour and conveniently forgetful of his brother’s two previous bankruptcies. Who the hell puts a gambler and a bankrupt in the position of financial controller – all holy ‘writer-of-cheques’. Mmmmm…I guess that’s family for you. Cut a long tortured story short, four years ago, there was no money left to move. All of it was gone.

We found out when my parents in law were overseas on a trip. My brother-in-law worked for the company and discovered there was no money left in the accounts to complete a settlement. He rang his dad overseas. The next morning my FIL was missing. He’d left the house of friends they were staying at in Sussex, England in the hire car. Two days later my mother-in-law received a note from him. For 10 days we had no idea where he was and to this day, I’m surprised we found him alive. He’d rung home to Australia and we knew he was safe. Just. He’d tiptoed that fine line between life and death when everything in your world comes crashing down and any pride you were clutching to, finally extricates itself from your bent fingers and floats too quickly away.

For four years the police have been doing their research to try and find out what the hell went wrong. My FIL brother was sentenced to a 8 years prison term, 2 years ago. Only now is my FIL finally going to be sentenced. And get this. This is the crazy, crazy part – he’s likely to have a more weighty sentence (meaning more years in prison) than his brother despite the fact (and the police have issued a statement confirming and acknowledging this) that he did not benefit financially in any personal way. There were no new houses, lavish holidays, fancy cars or classy meals. His brother gave his daughter a $35,000 wedding, bought a hire car franchise for her and bought his wife a complete renovation of their home. They went on plenty of holidays and spent up big time. My parents in law have been bankrupt for four years. Have lived on the poverty line and only manage because we (and my sister-in-law) give them money. Otherwise they’d be in commission housing and pretty much destitute.

But I’m not spinning a sob story. In fact, I’m resolved (and so is my amazingly clear-headed and rational husband) that he did something so amazingly stupid and weak that he caused many people to lose what they held most dear – their quality of life and their family legacies. All because he didn’t want people thinking he couldn’t run a business or that he wasn’t who he’d always appeared to be (he was). C and I lament all the time that he hasn’t learnt much from what happened. He still is so reticent to speak about what happened that I truly believe he’s forgotten many important details. He never at any point disclosed anything to my MIL despite the fact she is one of the company’s owners. I don’t know how they are still together. He has caused her so much cutting pain with this silence that sometimes she finds it hard to breathe when she talks about it.

Nevertheless, I am desperately unhappy that my beautiful boys who absolutely adore their Pa, will lose him for many years and that when they finally are able to properly be a part of his life again, he may not be able to pick them up or cuddle them or teach them how to ride a bike or help them build rock pools in buckets or cook them custard or read them Thomas stories or introduce them to their first beer or take them to Eastgardens or visit rock pool beach with the puppies. That saddens me so deeply. I will miss him terribly and I will miss the role he has in our family’s life. He adores Cam and has always been so warm and welcoming of me. He remains his usual jovial self but just with more moments of silence and sometimes tears. We’ll see him in jail. A is already talking about it. Apparently they even have a playground where he’s going so we breathe a sigh of relief it’s family friendly (WTF?! A playground – did you know that? They even get foxtel. Go figure.)

So I’m kind of writing this as a strange tribute to Pa and I hope that his years inside don’t take away his smile or the twinkle in his eye, the boys love so dearly.

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