Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Easy Way Out

Okay, I've been experiencing Blogger's Block. I get these great ideas...but never when I can even jot down the thought, much less outline something. So, as a total cop-out, I'm copying some older blogs from a certain "social networking" site... they're actually pretty good if I do say so myself.

From January 2006:

Dads & Daughters

I'm 54 and I live at home. Now before anyone gets that look on their face and their mind starts wandering down all sorts of snide and condescending paths, I will clarify. I am living with (and trying to care for) my elderly father, who is 88.

Through the years, Dad and I have had our moments. He was pretty cool when I was very little (he tried taking flying lessons which came to an abrupt halt when his pilot/instructor landed (nose down) in a field outside of town. After that Mom kind of laid down the law). And for a short while he owned a motorcycle, which I used to crawl all over (and consequently was always burning my bare little legs on the engine casing - it had that kind of edgy-striped metal covering, and most of the summer my inner thighs looked like grilled salmon steaks). He was pretty good to my brother and me, he was endlessly patient about setting up the little swimming pool in the backyard and filling it with water, he would walk me around the neighborhood helping me look for the bike that I’d left somewhere, while in the unfocused throes of play, he bought us ice cream cones and let us have cats, parakeets, horned toads, frogs and a tarantula (that was NOT my choice, by the way!).

He worked hard and was in sales, so he was gone a lot, which was hard on Mom. And he never really enjoyed good health. His appendix ruptured when he was 13, giving him a nasty case of peritonitis and nearly killing him, and providing a three-month stay in the hospital (and rural Idaho hospitals in the 30's resembled Frankenstein’s laboratory more than hospitals). And in the Army Air Corps overseas in WWII he contracted malaria which, I understand, never really goes away. He had stomach surgery in '65 (that was when butchers..oops...surgeons hacked large chunks out of your digestive tract for ulcers, instead of changing your diet and working on reducing stress). So there were lots of planned trips that were cancelled at the last moment because Dad got sick. I got used to that (never liked it much, but became resigned to it eventually. I mean, the man couldn’t really help it, could he?).

But the "Daddy-and-His-Little-Princess" relationship changed, seemingly overnight, when the "princess" went into puberty and got a best friend who decided to try every drug (and every boy) within a 200 mile radius. She got me to do things I never, ever thought I would find myself doing, and she made it seem either very logical, or like the most fun we would ever have in our young, and soon-to-be-ended-by-infanticide lives.

So, suddenly the daddy-daughter relationship become, to say the least, adversarial. And not very fun. I confess I did what I could to push the edge of the envelope, he did what he could to control it. You know those true-life adventure movies that Disney was so fond of producing? The bighorn sheep that would back up three or four hundred yards, put their heads down and then charge each other? Remember that huge *THWACK* reverberating down the scenic mountainside when they came together, butting heads? Well, that just about describes every confrontation with my Dad during my teenaged years (and, in effect, the entire decade of the Sixties).

We managed to get through it somehow (amazingly enough), because things weren't much better in college, where I was your typical Gifted Underachiever. School was great - lots of fun. Dorms? More fun. Class? Well, that wasn't so fun, especially when one is stupid enough to schedule morning classes but decides to do most of one's "living" between 10:00 p.m. and 3:00 a.m. The administration was nice, friendly, helpful. They really did their best to work with me, and they gave me several second chances - but to no avail. I'd not learned to study, nor did I possess an ounce of self-discipline, and administrations, unlike fathers, do not have an unlimited supply of patience. And so I was politely told to leave. Which was rather awkward because I was, at the time, working full-time for the university. They thought about it and allowed me to stay at my job, where I made almost enough money to pay the rent and buy gas for my car.

My Dad couldn't fathom that I'd blown my opportunity at an education. My mother taught elementary school. Her favorite pastime was taking classes (even if it meant driving fifty miles to the nearest college.) My Dad never had an opportunity past high school because he got his secondary education from Uncle Sam in the South Pacific. Education was very important to both of them. It was a pity that their children (neither of them) did not feel the same.

Eventually my Dad and I came full circle to that fairly comfortable and accepting place that most grown children and their parents exist in. A lot of it occurred because Dad's health did not improve. After two heart attacks he ended up having quintuple by-pass surgery, and somehow his mortality became quite important to me, and I overlooked a lot of what I thought were his lesser qualities. I spent a lot of time in hospitals, holding his hand, supporting my Mom and logged a lot of miles (both air and land) traveling from my life back home to be with them at such times. And I suppose, during those vigils, there was that little glimpse at what eventually would come to pass when he became unable to care for himself at the end of his life. (He's not quite there yet, thank goodness.)

I have grown more patient (mostly).

When my mother passed away eight years ago, I was left to take over with Dad. The first couple of years were actually easier, because he was so sad and lost, and so was I. We were kinder to each other, more considerate, more giving - trying to ease each other's grief a little. My impatience does surface now and then, because honestly! He is, after all a man, and age seems to exacerbate that condition exponentially - in fact, it is almost as though a reversal has occurred. I now feel like I'm living with, and running herd on, a child. And never having been "blessed" with a husband and children, the experience is not one that I'm enjoying overmuch. But you do what you have to do. I remember all the times that he was there for me, when I needed guidance, counsel (or money) desperately. How can I do less for him, now that he needs me?

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