22 January 2022

happy birthday dad

When I call my father on the phone, his first words are "who's calling me?", which is his way to avoid not recognising the caller. These days, I have to shout back because he often does not bother to change the batteries of his hearing aid. He usually grants me three, four sentences of exchange before exclaiming how healthy and alert my voice sounds and then he either cuts me off or thanks me profoundly for calling, depending on his mood and based on how successful our brief exchange was. 

Today, he told me right away that there is nothing left for him apart from waiting to die and that he hopes it will be soon and that he won't have to live another ten years like this. By which he means living in a retirement home, confined to a wheelchair.

Today is his 93rd birthday. I know he will have the one allowed person-to-person visit later today and many, many phone calls. I also know that he sits by a table full of gifts to unwrap and cards to read and that there will be a spectacular cake, something he usually loves. But today, he sounded depressed and sad and lonely and my immediate reaction was one of panic. For a couple of hours after he put down the phone, my mind raced through what I should to, what I must do to make him feel better. I looked online for same-day deliveries of more flowers, ice cream, glossy picture books, photographs, interesting magazines, newspapers, more cake, I even looked at the cost of sending a limo round, one fit for a wheelchair and with a driver. Which is when I took a deep breath and got on with my life.

Look, he has been a great father, at times, occasionally and especially when we were little and on holidays. He taught me some important life lessons, valuable thoughts, ideas, concepts that helped me hugely and still do. He is a very clever, well read man and he earned his professional success with his sharp mind and dedication to science. 

But, and the list is long and there's no way to deny it, he has also been shit, really awfully so. 

And I do not want to feel sorry for him.

this was taken ten years ago


Pixie said...

Parents are so complicated, as are their children. My father was not a nice man but he also wasn't a bad man either. I was scared of him pretty much all of my life, just because he was so often angry, and not just at little angry, more like full on rage angry.

I can empathize with your father, not wanting to keep living as he is now. I don't think many people like to be dependent on others for their care. I know my own mother felt like a burden in the last year and a half of her life.

I'm also glad that you let go of your guilt and racing thoughts. How do I make someone feel better? We can't sadly. I wish I could.

am said...

Thank you, Sabine, for writing down your experience and your honest feelings on your father's 93rd birthday. Your words helped me to feel mine, especially when I had to look closely at the photo to convince myself that is your father and not my father. Good reminder that, like you, I need to go on with my life, no matter what my father did or didn't do.

When I looked up just now, I saw adults and children riding bikes on the trail into Whatcom Falls Park the way you do so often on your trails and have done for so much of your life.

Ms. Moon said...

Here's what I know- anyone who actually had a good father won the lottery. It is all so complex. Sometimes I feel lucky that my own father was not more of a presence in my life than he was. Sometimes I feel cheated. Always, I feel grateful that my own husband is one of the rare and precious good fathers.

ellen abbott said...

As I was reading the list of things you thought you could/should do I was thinking, it's not your job to make him feel better and you wouldn't be able to anyway no matter how much effort you put into it and no doubt anything you did do would not be appreciated. It's up to him to find his peace at this point in his life and I would not feel sorry for him were it me. Well, I tried several times to say more but I think I'll leave it at this.

Colette said...

So few men of that generation were what we would think of today as a good father. Who knew at the time how much influence they had over our development? Had I known, I would have avoided my father even more.

Steve Reed said...

I admire your impulse to try to help him, but honestly, it probably wouldn't have done any good. He's going to feel the way he feels and he just has to roll with it.

37paddington said...

We are never all one thing or another, are we? We are all human in the end. Happy birthday to your father. Your wanting to take away his discomfort honors him. Your getting on with your life honors you.

Linda said...

I could, from your writing, detect that thing inside of me that feels extremely uncomfortable when others are unhappy. As if I am responsible for it or fixing it. Where did I learn it? No idea. But the need to act on it is so compelling that I have to purposefully redirect myself or I fall into the same old behavior.

Roderick Robinson said...

There is a dubious theory - favoured in the USA I fear - that just because one is blood-related one should "love" that person. Apart from - by my standards, anyway - this misuse of the verb "to love", which should be kept for special and often rare occasions when it is wholly justified, this theory has other shaky roots. Chances are one will be exposed to relations more than to other acquaintances and this exposure will cover the bad as well as the good. To the point where the former outweighs the latter and it may be difficult to share the same room with the individual, let alone show some form of affection. The problem then is one of absolutes. To "not love" someone doesn't necessarily mean one should hate him/her. Avoidance will suffice and it's far less wearing for those with the problem.

My mother was a much stronger influence (for good) on me than my father was and led me to take up work that sustained me intellectually and financially through 44½ years of salaried employment. My lack of sympathy for my father turned into something far blacker when he was revealed to have been unfaithful to my mother and divorce was inevitable. The years passed, my mother died, and my dealings with father were intermittent. Finally he underwent major surgery (for an ailment which I recently seem to have inherited; kind of ironic, that) and he convalesced comparatively near where I lived. I found myself visiting him regularly. And choosing fiction for him which, more often than not, hit the bull's eye.

On one visit he suddenly said, "If it's a burden you don't have to come." It was clear this wasn't a hidden complaint, he said it with my interests at heart. My reactions were twofold and very important for me.

First, I could imagine myself - in the same situation - saying exactly the same thing. Perhaps there was something genetic there.

Second, I said, "It's no burden." A banal enough response but it led to immediate reflection. Astoundingly I actually meant it. Honestly and profoundly. Somewhere along the line antipathy had been replaced by a new and unaccustomed affection. Moral: few states of mind last for ever.