Maybe I need to stop talking about my dad at parties to people I don’t know very well. Because he’s had such a huge influence over me, and he’s the most fascinating person I know, I talk about him a lot. And, at a certain age when many of us are dealing with elderly and infirm parents, it’s a hot topic. Inevitably, my interlocutor says, “You should move your dad down by you,” or, “Have you thought about moving your dad into assisted living?” or, “Why don’t you get someone to come in once a day to help out?” My response is always, “You gotta know my dad. He’s not going anywhere, and he doesn’t want someone there everyday pestering him.” Then, if the person is really insistent, and proceeds to tell me what he/she did with his/her dad/mom once he/she could no longer live alone safely or with reasonably ease, I repeat, “You gotta know my dad.” And, we may get into the reasons: the cigarettes, the booze and the general irascibility, etc. But, it never really adequately explains how or why whatever anyone else did successfully with their aging and failing parent is not going to work with my dad.
Can he truly be unique? Everyone that knows him seems to think so, but is that really possible? Aren’t there other bright, sensitive, talented, introverted, narcissistic, agnostic eighty-five-year-olds out there that enjoy ribald humor and reading and just need a little help with daily living? Oh, and that smoke two packs a day and drink a large dose of gin every evening? Where do they live? How do they live? What do their families do with them? Do they pretty much leave them to their own devices and lurch from crisis to crisis, helping out as needed and tolerated by said parent? Is this the best we can do? I actually believe it is, and I believe it is in my dad’s best interest for us to let him live his life as he sees fit. Who wants to be treated as if they’re incapable when all they have to do to be reminded of their limitations is catch the walker on the door mat at the bank and almost fall, or spend four months trying to balance their checkbook to no avail, or have to wait until someone comes to visit to fill the bird feeder, cut their toenails, or change the sheets on their bed. Getting through each day is enough of a challenge without your family pestering you to quit doing what you’ve been doing for sixty-five years to go live with strangers, most of whom stare blankly at the TV all day, and be taken care of people that just barely made it through high school. At least at home he can swear at the TV when it gets too annoying, hit the Mute button and mix himself a martini at 5:00 to reward himself for holding off death for another day.
That’s really what his life amounts to at this point, isn’t it? Waiting for death. Hoping it comes in his sleep and that someone finds his body before the bottle flies do. And, every morning that he wakes up, gathering the strength and energy to get out of bed, get dressed, make coffee, reluctantly eat breakfast and do his few dishes so that he can resume the waiting game in his easy chair with yesterday’s newspapers, classical music, and whatever scant activity is occurring beyond the front window. On a good day, there will be a visit from my brother or me to look forward to, dinner out with an old friend, or the bi-weekly cleaning lady will have breaking local news to impart. He chose a quiet life for himself, but, as he puts it, “never in [his] wildest dreams did [he] think it would come to this.” In many ways, I see his current state as one that he has been engineering for himself his whole life, but I suppose he thinks that if Mom were there to take care of him as he had expected, or better yet, if he had died first, as he also expected, then the “this” wouldn’t be such a colossal disappointment and heavy burden. Meanwhile, we wrack our brains trying to lighten his burden a bit with only small, momentary successes.