part1 do the math
In many cities the power has been out for 4-5 days. My dad is one of those folks waiting for the lights to come on, the air conditioning to register below 89 degrees.
When I talked to him tonight and heard the heavy panting, the weariness in his voice I knew I had to do something so, I threw some money at it. I threw two twenties right upside the head at this crisis and checked him into a Motel 6.
When I arrived at his dark and dingy apartment, he was carrying a plastic grocery bag and his cane.
What you got in there dad?
Oh, my undies and a can of Pepsi.
That gonna last you a couple days?
Well it should. If I don’t crap myself!
And we’re off.
As I’m checking him into one of the very last handicap/smoking dives in the city, I become acutely aware of how seedy the place is. I KNOW RIGHT. You’re asking yourself How is she just now becoming acutely aware of her surroundings? But what you don’t know is how I constantly have to create these out-of-body experiences for myself, just to get through these things. There you go. Now you see it! You see how I am forced to leave my body and hover above myself, watching the made-for-tv-movie that is a daughter, helping a father.
But I digress.
I walk him to room 132 and pass along the way other rooms with their curtains or doors flung open. Rooms packed with families cooking on hot plates, rooms with truckers, feet propped up, beds littered with Bud Light cans, and rooms with old men too proud to stay in the homes of their children. Old men whose legs and bladders and memories are failing them.
You gonna be okay here dad?
Course I am!
Don’t answer the door for anyone, okay?
Okay…unless it’s a blonde with big tits.
My sister and I were both conceived on Father’s Day. You ask yourself, how would a person know something like this? Then, you answer yourself.
Other than that little piece of TMI, the day has never held much meaning for me. Of course I have the vague memories of handmade cards and gifts, sloppy glue and hearts, but as I got older I never felt the desire to celebrate my father or honor him in any way and that stinks. It’s not easy to go on like that for decades. Always hoping that deep down you’ll feel something genuine and profound, that you’ll find yourself searching for just the right gift, and you’ll present that gift, and it will be cherished. It stinks to feel nothing but disappointment and pity and exhaustion.
This Father’s Day I sat next to my dad at Bob Evans while he gummed his way through a plate of pancakes and burnt sausage. I stood outside with him while he smoked a cigarette in a rain storm, the cancer cells in his body dividing and multiplying at a rate that most likely can’t be curtailed.
Cell division has the peculiar characteristic of being described in familial terms. It’s defined by the original cell, or parent cell, dividing into daughter cells. From one, comes two… becomes one, becomes two… and on and on until you’ve got a heap of parents and children—reproducing, dying, clamoring about, squelching, and trying to make room for others—hoping to carry on without too much destruction.
I’m pretty sure my dad is involved with his housekeeper, er, apartment servant. Social worker cleaning lady? I’m pretty sure my dad is fucking his apartment servant. Every Friday since his release from the nursing home, she shows up at 10am to tidy his whities. Her name is Lenore… or, Lonette? Whatever. He doesn’t know her name.
“Lenore came by today. I’m just so proud of her.”
“She made the dean’s list this quarter. She works SO hard. It’s nice to see good things happening for her.”
Lenore is roughly 30 years old. A roughly 30. She’s employed through the state to take care of people like my dad; people who don’t know how to or don’t like to take care of themselves. She has her own key and comes armed with college text books and a can of Folgers.
“You won’t need to go to the grocery for me. Lonette’s going to take me.”
“Sounds good, dad.”
“She’s so helpful.”
“And she’s really trying to get me to quit smoking!”
She puts her book bag down and sets to work making a fresh pot of coffee. She’s confused about who I am and why I’m there. I explain that I’m his daughter. She’s not impressed. She’s annoyed. She wants me to move my stuff so she can vaccuum.
“Your dad’s a pistol! Hard to believe he’s even SICK sometimes. I almost got him off the cigarettes though.”
“Oh yeah, what’s your secret? We’ve been trying for years.”
“Just gotta offer him special treats [wink] if you know what I mean.”
My good friend Sly recently told me that her widowed father now has a girlfriend. They were friends first then became intimate and they’ve recently started traveling together. To places like Spain and China. They text and send photos from their cellular phones when they’re traveling. They kindly ask Sly’s kids to switch seats in the car so they can be next to each another.
Last week Sly’s father stumbled and fell down a couple of steps in her basement. The family watched as the girlfriend ran to his side, asked him if he was okay and tenderly rolled him over. “Should I call the squad?” she asked. No. He’s fine. He can take care of himself. They can take care of each other.
I’ve heard stories like this my entire life. Stories about other parents and how they handle things. How they handle themselves. I used to feel anger and envy. I would demonize my father. I would victimize myself. But in the last few years, I’ve come to feel relief when I hear these stories. I’m relieved to know that in this world, a lot of people are doing it right. Maybe even most people. These stories of other parents, other dads, serve as a Rorschach test… I see a bird, a snowflake, a butterfly.
At your service
- me: "Hey Dad, what's up? How're you feeling?"
- dad: "Oh, I'm okay. Just got this pus thing on my gums and it's gettin' in the way."
- me: "Why haven't you seen someone about that? It's been almost three weeks?"
- dad: "Oh, I'll go see someone I guess. Maybe I'll have Whatsername take me to see Whatshisname on Friday."
- me: "... so... what else? What've you been doing?"
- dad: "Oh, just sittin' here watchin' the boob-tube. Watchin' some show on National Graphics about the secret service and how they protect the president."
- me. "Yeah, that's quite a job to have. A lot of responsibility."
- dad: "Oh yeah! Glad it's not me!"
- me: "Me too Dad, me too."