My father is still here.
Or some pale remnant of him is. It is not my father who is napping in the hotel a mile from my house -- it is the old man he has become.
He is things that many old men are. He is hard of hearing, easily tired, and has fingers that are no longer quite straight. He has a cell phone which he does not know how to use. I put phone numbers in his contact list (he had none after owning the thing for two months) and tried to show him how to dial numbers from the contact list, but he seems to think there are too many steps. I expect that if he needs to call my sister he may look up her number in his phone but then search for a piece of paper on which to write it so he can dial the number.
He is and is not the father that I remember from my childhood. He seems smaller, perhaps is smaller, and I do not think that he could hurt me physically. He does not frighten me. He is no longer mean, does not take pleasure in making people unhappy, but he also is thoughtless, unaware of the effects of his actions.
All except Brian know this. "Acceptance" is perhaps not the word to describe our attitude towards him, but certainly no one thinks that that anything can be done. My father was confused about his itinerary and called my sister this morning to tell her that he would not be arriving today and leaving Sunday, but would be there tomorrow and leave on Monday. She called me to get his exact itinerary and sigh about schedules which had been changed which now must be changed again and vacation days taken which cannot be given back though though would be much better used later. Had he called even yesterday her husband could have gone to work today. I sympathized, but not even she could get up the energy to be angry at him.
It is just who he is.
And I have trouble knowing what to do with him, how to interact with him. My instinct is still to tell him nothing. I had a brief moment of irritation that my husband told him that I had been listening to audiobooks this summer. The look of disapproval on my father's face was also brief. A younger version would berate me for listening to books, quiz me and then be horrified at the silliness of the novels I was currently listening to. This elderly version of him however let it go, having come to accept in his own way that the world has come to this sad state of affairs.
He did not talk about it, but I imagine that if it did that conversation, like nearly every other would go to the same place: the contemporary disregard of the "canon." Nobody reads the great books any more. Shakespeare is an elective for English majors now. An elective! Can you imagine? English Professors teach poetry of _____ or some other such nonsense. (I have omitted the specifics to avoid offending my readers who are human). When he is gone no one will teach the great writers of western civilization. His department is no longer an English Department is a bleeping department of cultural studies.
But he does not have much energy even for his favorite rant. He gets started, but there is no enthusiasm. He has given up. He buys his grandchildren video games. His own daughter listens to crap on an iPod and nobody, nobody reads Milton. Nothing can be done. The end is upon us. He is a dinosaur who will soon wander off to die and lie with the other fossils.
I do not know what to say to him, nor he to me. He opens his book and falls asleep on my sofa.
This old, tired, inconsiderate man does not seem to be the same person as my father. That man was large and frightening. He was often mean. There would be periods of generosity and of niceness, but they always felt artificial. They were better the times of meanness, but they had their own strangeness. I did not know my lines. I did not know how I should behave and was never not nervous.
I spent my time with him afraid, sad or anxious. I still carry anger. A part of me still wants to confront the father of my childhood. I have feelings regarding him. I am angry at him. I used to fantasize that I would confront him; I would yell at him. I tried a few times as a young adult, but it was unsatisfactory. I wondered if I would ever find a time and place in which it would be right to confront him with the pain he caused.
But that man is gone, all that remains is this shell.
And I do not know how I feel about the thing that is what is left of him.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
My father is still here.