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|