June 6, 2012

Life with Father

My father was there to pick me up when I fell as a child. I was uncoordinated and frequently fell off my blue and white bike, sled, swing set or I skinned my knee tripping over something in the yard. He would scoop me up with his strong, tanned arms and say in one comforting breath, “You’re alright.”
Three months ago my mother died. Next Monday they would have been married 57 years. The greatest achievement of his life —an equally accomplished life—was taking care of my
mother during the decade of vascular dementia. She fell in their apartment on a weekend day, and he could no longer lift her. She spent three weeks in a skilled care facility, in the same building as the apartment, and then she passed away with the love of her life at her side.
He is a remarkable man.
And he drives me absolutely crazy.
I promised to take him to New England to visit my mother’s only sister, who is too infirm to travel anymore. That wasn’t good enough. He’s always busy and always scheduling things. Knowing I was making the 250-mile trip from my home before we go the airport tomorrow, he scheduled a medical test for today that required deep sedation.
And I wanted to be here. I fiddled with my schedule to make it work.
You have to know my father to understand why he would have a test like this the day before a vacation. If something needs to be done, it needs to be done now. This is what we call “Bill Time.”
Today at six a.m. he was driving his ancient sedan (“You are only here to drive me home,” he said) to the local hospital for the test.
(Six a.m. Eastern Time is five a.m. Central Time. I live in Central Time so it was a bit early to argue with him.) Ben Franklin said it but he continually repeats it, "Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy wealthy and wise."
At the hospital I wouldn’t dare say a word. He pulled out a medication card on which he had meticulously written every pill and every dosage to the amazement of the staff. He knew every drill and went through the admitting process with the mental agility of someone a third his age. When each staff member quizzed him repeatedly on the same questions, he could recite whatever they wanted. List of surgeries. Back to 1932 on his club foot at Riley Hospital. Emergency appendix removal four months before I was born, 1957.
He went off for his upper endoscopy and I went to the cafeteria for the first cup of coffee of the day. By the time I came back, they were wheeling him back from the procedure room and he was shamelessly flirting with the nurses. Soon he was discharged and the nurse told me to get the car. Dad was miffed that he had to leave in a wheelchair.
This afternoon he has been through the mail, read his news magazine, held court in the retirement home lobby, talked to a high school classmate (class of ’49) about an upcoming reunion, and wondered if he should do his daily exercise on the “Two-Step” and the treadmill. I had a business call for an hour; he says he slept then.
This would be his definition of "taking it easy."
I’m guessing that most people having anesthesia would sleep most of the day.
This is when I miss my mother. I react to him as he would react to me, because I share his intensity and loudness. My mother could “handle” him in her sweet and quiet way. She would put her foot down gently and tell him to take a nap. She would get out a blanket and tuck him away in his big chair, kiss him on top of his head and turn off all the lights. And he would listen to her.
I’m not my mother, and God, some days I wish I was more like her. He has every day planned for our upcoming trip and I'm afraid he'll run circles around me.
But for today, all I can do is pat his hand and tell him, “Dad, you’re alright” in one quick breath before he falls asleep in his chair.Today's post on Open Salon.com