My Father, My Self
I spoke to my recently widowed 87-year old father this afternoon, a call I make every three or four days. There’s a narrow window of opportunity to reach him, between his trip to the post office, his lunch, his nap and his dinner, prepared for him by his caregiver, Kathie Rose..
These calls aren’t long; my father has never been one for small talk, but they’re important to me, and, I think, to him. Each of his five children call frequently, so we’re all in touch, and he’s in the loop. On the phone, at least.
It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was supposed to leave his now-stripped house in the Maritimes and move into a bungalow my youngest sister had renovated for him in Niagara next month. That fell through, when he began to feel pressured and started to assert his stubbornness. He says he’s determined to sell his home before he leaves, and that may take forever. We’ve explained this; the house isn’t important; he is. We want him close to us in Ontario (three of his children live in the Golden Horseshoe). What he’s really determined to do is take some control over a life that was very rudely upset by my mother’s death.
I asked him on the phone when he thought he might want to move. “Well, you know your sister is bossy, and she demanded I leave on April first. But what’s the sense of leaving when the house isn’t sold?”. We’d been over this. “Dad, the house isn’t important, you don’t need to be there to sell it, we’ll take care of it. You don’t need the money to live, and we can always rent the house if it doesn’t sell. It’s you we’re interested in”. He wasn’t convinced, despite all the weeks of planning “You can’t sell a house from a thousand miles away”. My youngest sister, the unstoppable force, had met the immovable object.
My sister would have to sell or lease the bungalow in Niagara if he didn’t move on time; she couldn’t afford to hold it for him. I’m not sure he knows this. “I gave your sister money to fix up that little house for me”. I think he thinks his small contribution to the cost has earned him the right to have it wait vacant for him as he ages gracefully in place. She has told me that she will return his contribution when she sells the bungalow, but I’m not sure she has told him this.
The truth is, he doesn’t want to leave the Maritimes, and he doesn’t particularly need to be near us. Because, at the heart of it, he has everything he needs. Kathie Rose keeps the house spic and span, and there’s little furniture left anyway. She also makes him a nice lunch and hot dinner. He goes out in his car every day, and despite being a bit wobbly on his feet, is fit. He gets a regular visit from a VON nurse to mind his vital signs, and Veterans Affairs pays for all his housekeeping and expenses. He’s living on easy street, and without the emotional necessity of having to share life with my recently-deceased mother, he has even less to bother him, which is how he likes it.
I was aware we wouldn’t see him in Ontario soon, so I said I would come down to see him when the snow melted. “Oh no, don’t bother. Wait until I sell the house, then you can work your ass off”. He didn’t even need a visit from his kids. Totally self-sufficient, always was.
It occurred to me that I might show him how to download Skype on his computer so we could talk face-to-face. This might solve the distance problem. Dammit, he’s my father and I miss him, especially now my mother’s gone. I don’t like him much, but I miss him. I don’t think he misses me, though..
The Skype idea didn’t last long. I had spent a half an hour on the phone one time just trying to explain how to log on to my professional association website and see my bio. “Dot C, O, N? Is that it, with a dot after the N? Oh, it’s C, O, M, but no dot?”. Skype wasn’t going to happen. Solitaire is as complicated as he gets on the computer.
We got ready to hang up. “You’re well, you’re happy, dad?” I asked. He said “Sometimes I lie there in bed at night and wonder why I’m still alive. What’s the point of keeping on going?”.
He may not need us, need me, but at least he’s starting to feel his own mortality. Maybe an interest in his children will follow.