Written February 11, 2010
My father is obsessed with three things: his university’s sports, farming, and his “projects.”
All of his life my father has had “projects.” Lions Club, Men’s Club at church, university alumni, fraternity alumni, philanthropic organizations, you name it. My dad was the Lions Tail-Twister (an officer) or the Cole slaw maker at the church fish fry or often the parliamentarian of club meetings.
Now nearly eighty year old father struggles to find balance in his life.
His wife of 55 years, my mother, has dementia and is no longer able to fully exist as his life partner.
Dad leans on me to help him with his projects, which I’m convinced keep him alive.
Mom always stood behind Dad -- he is loud, passionate, and obtuse -- she was sweet and supportive. But she provided the anchor for his boat, the cream in his coffee. She evened out his rough edges and always gave him a little nudge when he got out of control.
Mom as we knew her isn’t there anymore. And Dad struggles. A lot. I sometimes do also.
He often calls me for help with his projects. When I was a little girl, my brother and I went to “school” with Dad. He was a teacher and he often needed clerical help, stapling papers, sorting and stacking, or organizing things for his community activities. We loved going to “Dad’s school” and helping in his big classroom.
As he often does, Dad called me this week for help with a project. He is giving a program at the Saturday Coffee Klatch in his building at the retirement home. He said, “Can you help me get some information on the meaning of St. Valentine’s Day?” and then he said, “I know you are busy, but if you can just tell me where to go, I can get the information myself.”
I felt like saying, “Dad, try the public library,” but I didn’t.
Because I know that Dad’s question is code for, “I want you to do it for me.”
My father never learned how to type, and he complains constantly about how computers have ruined America.
I agree to help because he’s struggling all the time with my mom’s care. I want to be a good daughter, so I help him with his projects. It is a tiny thing, but something I can do.
Last night I forgot. I was just tired from work. I have a full-time job and a part-time job and I worked all day at the full-time job and then came home and worked in my home office on job number two for a few hours.
Today I got up at four a.m. so I could do his research and get ready for work and get out in time to get to the office by 8 a.m. I found the retirement home's web site and sent Dad's info to their e-mail address with a request someone print it out and put it under his door. Which happened and was helpful to me as I didn't have a spare minute today to track down a fax machine.
Dad called me as I was driving to work and he was very happy with his material. I was happy that he was happy.
He is a quite remarkable man because he is able to compartmentalize the increasing deterioration of his lifelong Valentine from his "projects." Saturday he has a piano player coming to play "romantic" music for the fellas, his St. Valentine's day info, and a presentation to his lookalike first cousin who also attends the Coffee Klatch. He tells me all of this with great excitement and pride.
Then he said, "We need to talk about something serious."
And I thought, oh, God, what's wrong with him? What's wrong with Mom?
And then he said, "I want you to know that farm subsidies are only .03 percent of this year's federal budget."
I said, "What?" I'm in traffic, worrying about getting to work on time, and what will be on my plate at my job, which often resembles that of an air traffic controller at O'Hare with planes flying in from all directions.
He said, "I wanted you to know this in case you are in a discussion and somebody asks you about it. And besides, its from Kiplinger."
(The weekly white-paper Kiplinger Report is sacrosanct in our family, a tradition of reading started by my great-grandfather in the 1930s.)
This is my father, focused like a laser beam on his issues, and unaware that I am not interested in farm subsidies.
He bounced all his creative ideas and Cliff Clavin facts off my mother -- now she often doesn't know who he is. So I listen and sometimes I laugh, but mostly I just say, "That's interesting, Dad."
I needed a forum to share this fact. Federal farm subsidies, according to Kiplinger, are only .03 percent of the federal budget. Now you know.