I can’t remember when Vivian first came into my father’s life. That’s not her real name; I’ve changed details of our story so as not to poke a person who will lawyer up in a heartbeat — and did.
Vivian was Dad’s colleague at a medical school in Southern California.
Though officially retired, he’d used his grant-writing skills to secure funding and a salary for his own full-time project. Vivian was in her 50s, about 30 years Dad’s junior and the same age as my brother. She had cultivated him as a mentor.
Vivian was charming. She had a beautiful smile, smooth café au lait skin, a great figure and a deep-throated laugh. I noticed her habit of finishing your sentences, then cutting you off to talk about herself. But Dad seemed happy around her.
My brother and I wanted our divorced father to have someone to spend his last years with. Although we had doubts about Vivian being “the one,” given the age difference, in other ways they seemed well suited. They cooked together, went to hear live music and talked about travel, art, science and history — Dad’s favorite things.
I was living in another city, and my brother lived abroad, so we both felt relieved that she could keep an eye on him and keep him company. And maybe he’d even found real love.
Vivian announced to her friends that I was recently divorced. One of then told me all I had to do was put on a sexy dress, go to a bar where all the NBA players hung out and I’d be sure to hit the jackpot.
Over time, our suspicions kicked in.
The day Dad called to tell me that Vivian was moving a block away from his condo, he seemed over the moon. But the relationship started to seem rife with drama. One day he’d call sounding like a jealous lover, saying he hadn’t seen her in weeks. Days later, he’d tell me about their latest adventure at a new museum, a fantastic lunch at the beach or a day of wine tasting. She even had a cutesy nickname for him based on a movie they both enjoyed.
On one of my visits to see Dad, Vivian invited me to join her and some friends for drinks. She picked me up, and we drove to a rooftop bar. Vivian’s girls were all decked out. High heels. Low-cut tops. Beautiful Black single women in their 40s and 50s, out on the hunt. Vivian announced to her friends that I was recently divorced. One of then told me all I had to do was put on a sexy dress, go to a bar near where I lived where all the NBA players hung out and I’d be sure to hit the jackpot.
While Vivian was at the bar getting us another round, another girlfriend asked me how I knew her. I answered. She asked, “Are you the daughter of the handsome older white guy she’s been dating?” “No,” I said. “My father’s Black.” (I am biracial.) Vivian sashayed back to the table, smiling at a man sitting at the bar who’d apparently just bought drinks for all of us.
Months later, my dad announced that he’d bought a house, and Vivian was moving in. I was stunned. It was out of character for him to have done this without talking to me or my brother. Our dad, now around 84, didn’t need four bedrooms and a yard — much less a mortgage. Vivian would help with the mortgage, he reasoned.
I flew in to see the new house. His contractor was retiling its walk-in shower. Dad had begun to worry about stepping over the side of the bathtub in the condo and falling.
She commenced to overshare that Dad was ‘frustrated,’ because while she herself ‘could swing from the chandeliers,’ he wasn’t able to perform. I understood this to mean sexually.
A month later, they moved in. Again, I flew in to town to see the newly painted house and the garden he’d planted, and to learn how he and Vivian were managing. So far, he said, they were getting along great. She was cooking, and he was shopping. But I noticed that my dad was sleeping in the guest bedroom, while she’d commandeered the primary one. He told me it “just made sense,” because her king bed wouldn’t fit elsewhere.
His bedroom was off the kitchen. It shared a tiny bathroom (with a tub he had to step over to get into) with the bedroom they used as an office. Meanwhile, in the master suite, Vivian’s clothes crowded the walk-in closet. Her pricy cosmetics took over the bathroom vanity, across from the newly tiled walk-in shower.
Not long after the move into the Big House, as we called it, our father’s health started to decline. He suffered a mild heart attack and a fall that left him needing stitches in the back of his head. I flew in to see him, but I discovered there was nowhere for me to stay. Vivian’s son, who had decided not to return to college after his first semester, was occupying the other guest bedroom.
Vivian kept her bedroom locked and scarcely emerged during my stay. Coincidently, I did run into her at the mall nearby. She commenced to overshare that Dad was “frustrated,” because while she herself “could swing from the chandeliers,” he wasn’t able to perform. I understood this to mean sexually. Disgusted, I thought, If she’s telling me, his daughter, this, I wonder if she’s also demeaning him about it in private?
Later, Dad and I had dinner at his favorite Thai restaurant. He, too, mentioned that he was frustrated. But not about sex. About money. Vivian hadn’t paid anything toward the mortgage. Dad felt pressured to continue working — in his mid-80s — to handle household bills, plus his mounting medical bills. He said he’d asked her to pay, and she kept promising she would.
The alarm bells got louder. Dad called to tell me that an attorney friend of Vivian’s had amended his will. I asked him why he felt she needed to be added, and he told me that she thought she should be paid for the time she was living at the house and “taking care of him.” I protested.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was the weekend Vivian invited those same drinking buddies to the house. They partied late into the night, while my dad said he felt like an unwelcome guest in his bedroom. Vivian’s other son had been sleeping on the sofa for days on end, my dad said. A couple of days later, I guess my dad finally had enough and asked Vivian and her two sons to leave. Thankfully, within two weeks, she and her sons were gone.
We flew in to help Dad ready the house for sale. While we were packing, we asked about items he’d had since we were kids — his aunt’s silver flatware set and lamps, his guitar and dozens of valuable pieces of Black memorabilia. All of them were missing.
Dad moved into another condo, and in the last few years of his life, he was very happy. He met new friends and even a woman near his age whom he liked very much. His attorney removed Vivian from his will.
Vivian hadn’t paid anything toward the mortgage. Dad felt pressured to continue working — in his mid-80s — to handle household bills, plus his mounting medical bills.
Our father died in 2019, just four months before his 90th birthday. We agreed to invite Vivian to the small celebration of his life, and she showed up with her friends from the bar.
Two weeks later, I got an email from her attorney demanding that I show Vivian my father’s will. I snapped a few photos of the amended pages, but that didn’t suffice. I was forced to hire an attorney to prove to her that our dad had, in fact, removed her.
In closing his estate, I learned that while they were living together, my dad had cosigned a $30,000 college loan for her dropout son. When the son defaulted, Dad continued to pay it off, along with the late fees. The bank took my dad’s name off the student loan after hearing from his lawyer.
I write all this to say that we must watch carefully over our loved ones. My brother and I had hoped that this woman would care for our father in the way he deserved. But, ultimately, we’d abdicated our duty to someone unworthy.
Our dad was vulnerable. He was vain, and she offered affection and attention. She made him feel vibrant and wanted. But, looking back, I’m angry about it. And I’m angry with myself for letting the wolf into the chicken coop. I’m angry that she broke his heart.