Thursday, July 30, 2009

Mostly about my father (updated)

Stuff I wrote on vacation:

Wednesday, June 22

It is odd being so far away from any connection to the ‘nets. Here I sit with my laptop, but there is no signal to catch, no Ethernet cord to pull into the computer. There is a phone line, but there is no service to call. The caretaker, who lives in the other cottage, does have internet via dish and I know I could go over to the other cottage and use her computer, but I don’t think I should. The temptation to stay would be too great.

I will be spending some time there teaching my father how to use a Kindle. He is, some of you may recall, teaching in China next year. Before I got here he had never heard of a Kindle. He decided very immediately that he had to have one, particularly since he was going to China. He knew it was going to be difficult for him to learn how to use one, since all the only thing he knows how to do with a computer is check his email, but, well, this is just one of those must learn situations. It wasn’t a must-learn situation yet though. I offered to show him how the Kindle worked. He said he wouldn’t be able to remember. He’d figure it out when he got one.

So we will go to the use the caretaker’s computer later. I will happily buy a book, download it to the computer and then transfer it to the Kindle via USB cord. Here, as in China, it is the only way to get the Kindle to work. At least I hope it will work in China. He doesn’t know anything about what sort of internet access he will have. Not that he would understand if anyone told him. He claims never to have heard of

I’m very curious as to whether he will be able to remember anything about how to use it. My father is of course a very intelligent man. If it is literature, he knows it. Other things though are a challenge. Every time he visits me he has been impressed by the closed captions on the TV. I turn them on whenever I watch because it is so difficult to catch all the words if the kids are talking. My father though is losing his hearing and has no hearing aids. (No good reason for that. He hasn’t tried them. Says he’s too lazy.) I’ve told him any number of times that they can just be turned on in any new TV.

Andrew and I are watching Battle Star Galatica with Alice. She’s never seen it. So we have been Netflixing the disks. We brought three with us. My father sat down and watched with us.

“This comes with that writing? What did you call it?”

“Closed captions”

“It comes with the DVD?”

“Well, yes, but closed captions are on almost all DVD’s.”

“No shit. So if I go to rent a DVD I can just tell them to give me one with the closed captions?”

“You don’t have to tell them Dad. It’s already there. You just have to turn them on.”

“None of the DVD’s I’ve seen so far have them. How do you find the ones that do?”

“Dad, they all do. You just have to use the DVD remote and select the option to turn them on.”

“So the next time I go to rent a movie I can just ask the people who work there to turn them on for me?”

“No, Dad. You have to turn them on every time you put the DVD in.”

“And it’s there. On all of them?”

“Just about.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Then the next night we put the DVD in to watch the next episode and my father says, “Now tell me again. When I rent a DVD what do I tell them at the store so that they will give me one that has captions?”

So sometime soon I will try to teach him how to shop at Amazon, how to download and transfer files to a Kindle. If he was staying in the US it would be so much easier. I could just give him the customer service number. He could call them and say. “I have this Kindle thing. My daughter says I can read anything on it. How do I do it?”

“Well, sir, when you are at the Kindle Store on the Amazon site…”

“How do I find Amazon on my computer?”

Actually, who am I kidding? He would give me his password and ask me to go on-line and send him the book. I could do it too, if he were in the states. Maybe he will have an assistant in China who will know how to do these things.

He’s very good at getting other people to figure out and do for him. Yesterday two graduate students who will be staying at the cottages for a while after we leave drove the 2.5 hours to come up here to teach Dad and Roland how to use the new boat. Afterwards they sat, ate sandwiches and one told Dad how far he got on the paper work so that Dad would continue to receive his pension check when he was in China. “I’ll have it all filled out soon and then I will bring it to you to sign.” The graduate assistant does not work for my father. Heck, my father is retired from the university. He is however coming up here to stay in the cottages. And he just likes Dad. As my father has said multiple times, “That’s one of the advantages of being a great professor.”

Dad just asked me what I am doing. I told him I was writing a letter and would email it when I got home.

“You can’t email it from that machine?”

“Well, not without internet service.”

“How will you get it from that machine to one with internet service?”

“I don’t have to. When I get home I will just plug in the internet cord.”

“I’ll be damned.”

Yep, teaching him how to use a Kindle will be a breeze.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My father did not bring enough books. There isn’t a lot he likes to do, other than read. He wants to see us enjoy the games, the boat, the lake, whatever, but he doesn’t want to join in. He doesn’t cook and he certainly doesn’t do dishes or clean up. He reads. When he can’t read he watches TV. As he is losing his hearing, can’t be bothered to get hearing aids, and the TV here is old and does not have a closed caption option, he watches TV very loudly.

This interferes with our ability to enjoy all the wonderful things he has provided. So today I bought him a book on my Kindle. It feels very like buying a kid a new toy because it is worth $10 to keep him occupied for a day.

The caretaker has internet service, but it is satellite and not very good. There are no cell phone towers here, so we had to down load the book from Amazon to her computer. In the end we needed to put the book on a thumb drive, transfer it to my computer, and then on to the Kindle. It turns out that books are very small files. The download took 10 second. Really. That’s what it said. 10 seconds. The transfers were almost instantaneous. Getting the caretaker’s computer rebooted every time it froze was a different matter. In any case, my father is now sitting in the uncomfortable sofa by the window, reading a book, false teeth conveniently placed in his pocket should he need them. (Hey, it is a heck of a lot better than sitting on the side table like they did yesterday.)

I’m not sure quite what will happen next. My father can read a novel in a day, assuming he doesn’t fall asleep much. We have another five days up here. I suppose I could keep buying him books, although I may go into withdrawal. By the way, about the fact that my father regularly falls asleep while watching TV and reading books? You should know that he never takes naps. “Never could take naps. Don’t know how other people sleep during the day.” I have decided that it is not wise to remind him of the times when he visited and told us that he needed to take a nap. He would deny it. Suddenly it occurs to me that “taking a nap” was probably code

He wants his own Kindle, of course. I think it is the hearing issue, but it is so difficult to know when he has understood you. I gave the basic explanation of it. I told him that you can only buy it from Amazon and only in the US. When we were getting his book and he saw the Kindle on the computer screen with $299 on it, he said, “I bet you I can get that for half as much in China!” I tried to explain that he couldn’t get them at all in China, but I don’t know that it sunk in. He can USE it in China. He will just have to download books to a computer and transfer them via the USB cable.


Having the Shih Tzu up here has been something like a nightmare this year. I did not have him clipped right before we left. This means that he was sending off more dander during trip. After two days in a minivan with him I was in pretty bad shape, asthma-wise. I used my little breathe-o-meter and it indicated that I was just above the point where I should go to the ER. I spent the evening using my rescue inhaler and sitting quietly while everyone unpacked the car, put away the groceries, all that jazz. I was significantly better by the morning. Everyone knows that anxiety can make symptoms worse, so they all kindly waited until I was better before telling me how awful I looked.

Anyway, the second problem with not having got the Shih Tzu clipped is that this is a very bad place for a dog with any hair at all. When he goes off the deck to explore the trees he comes back with burrs and other sticky things. We have had to cut a lot of them out. As long as I was doing it I cut off a lot of hair on his legs. That is helping with removing the burrs. And yes, doing that grooming did irritate my breathing again.


But I seem to be only complaining, don’t I?

My father bought a used power boat (the kind you use for water skiing). We went out on the lake yesterday. We dropped anchor in a cove and swam. It was idyllic. When we got back I popped into the little store. They had a frozen confectionary that I had not seen since I was in high school. I was so excited the man at the counter laughed. All the kids had one, and agreed they were really good. Of course like so many childhood favorites, it now tastes rather too sweet to me, but I don’t really mind.

The kids have been really good about playing games with me. Andrew, Alice, and sometimes Gary have played scrabble with me. Andrew or I win that game. Sometimes we play Rummy, at which Alice has tremendous luck. For a while last night Brian wanted to play too, so we played a double-deck, five-hand game of Crazy Eights.

After the cards Brian said he was tired and we all decided to open The Game of Life. Once you get going it is not a difficult game, but the initial instructions were really complicated. We were all laughing, and nobody could stop laughing long enough to read out loud the final part: “Winning: At the end of the game the Lifepod will use a random formula to calculate a point total for each player.” Random? So, like, it just decides who wins? In the end we learned that the all-powerful Lifepod randomly decides how many life points you get for how much money.

In any case, everything was so silly. In the first game Andrew got a card right off saying that he had just lost $500,000. That put him in debt and the interest per turn was so high he couldn’t get out. So he got reckless. Somehow none of this seems funny now, but really, we were laughing ourselves silly last night.

Monday, July 27, 2009

So, about that boat? Well, yesterday Roland and the boys went to go fishing early. The boat had water in it. Now, I can tell you today that the boat is going to get fixed. It has been towed down to where my father lives. However my father was very upset. He got that boat so that we would all have a wonderful vacation and now it was ruined. Not to worry, the boys said they would take the old boat. Well, the old boat was having trouble too. Probably the outboard motor needed oil.

My father lost it. He stayed fairly calm while there was anyone in the house but me, but as soon as they left, he got up and started pacing. “G-d D*MN IT! The whole F*CKING vacation ruined. It’s f*cking runined. I try to build something so that I can be with my family one time and year and …” It went on for a while. I did try to tell him that we were having a good time, that the boat wasn’t that important. Of course he couldn’t be reassured. He was angry. I stopped trying, just let him deal. The caretaker went to the dump and I decided that I really needed to know where that was.

We all ended up swimming off the dock. We had a good time. Later in the evening the caretaker and Roland went to meet someone about the boat. Dad realized after a bit that they hadn’t taken his truck, which would be necessary to get the boat out of the water. He drove off to save the day and came back in a better mood. Still, he has been trying to figure out how to fix the “ruined vacation.” We haven’t played horse shoes yet, we should do that. He has net for volley ball and badmitten that is better than the droopy one that is out. If Roland helps he will string that up for us and we can play. We tell him we are fine. Everyone is having a good time.

You know, except when he is carrying on about how the vacation is f*cking ruined.

He seems to be bored with the book for now, which means that he is turning on the television really loud again. It is like 100 degrees outside, so it isn’t easy to escape. Right now I am at the caretaker’s house, with Andrew and Alice. Gary has gone swimming with the caretaker. I think Brian went to hang out with Grandpa. Brian doesn’t like it when we all complain about Grandpa. Of course, Brian seems to have been spared all of Grandpa’s bad moods.

Dad was talking the other day about my sister. I forget exactly what he said. He went on about their church, how he had no idea about how terrible that church was. Somewhere along the line I said something about it being good that BIL is leaving soon. Dad said, “What do you mean? He’s been a great husband to her.” Without thinking about what Sis wants him to know and not know (kicking self here) I blurted out, “Aside from running up debt and beating the kids.” Dad said, “Let me tell you about their debt” (in my head I heard the omitted “young lady”), “x amount of that is her student load, and y amount is from when she shattered her ankle and they didn’t have health insurance.” This started a rant about the need for health insurance in our country. I have no quarrel with that. Fortunately I stopped myself before informing him that the debt he knew about was maybe half of the total.

This morning he asked me if Sis had told me, in so many words, that BIL hit the kids. I nodded and said that he church taught that kids needed to be hit. Dad started pacing angrily, saying he never knew that. Then he said that his father was abusive. He knew what it was like to have an abusive father. He looked at me and it seemed like I was supposed to say something sympathetic. Since the only thing I could think of was, “So do I” I just nodded. So I got to hear about his rage towards his parents, the effect it still has on him, and how he has come to realize that the reason he can’t have a relationship with a woman is that he hates his own mother.

It was all a rather bizarre conversation.

There is part of me that wants to tell him that the only down side of this whole vacation is him, but I have better sense than that. And I do appreciate that this is a wonderful place and he is responsible for our having it to go to. It would just be a lot easier if he could relax a little.

Anyway, I feel compelled to tell you that mostly I have having a fantastic time here. I know this writing must make it seem like all I am thinking about is my father. It isn’t like that. My father is just the one thing I feel compelled to write about.

Oh…he was talking to his doctor on the phone in the kitchen. In order to have some privacy(?) he turned his back to us. He asked the doctor about Flomax, “You know, some men when they get to be forty or so need it so they can pee? Yeah, would that increase pleasure at all? Oh, well, never mind then.”

My children are never going to be able to get that out of their minds.

It suddenly occurs to me that I am tired. I’m ready for this vacation to be over. We swam in the lake. Brian has shot, gutted, skinned, and eaten two squirrels. We’ve been on the boat. I’m even beginning to feel satisfied with the number of games of rummy and Scrabble I’ve been able to play.

My father is having a difficult time believing that my BIL has hurt Nephew. He thinks that BIL is a great guy. Surely we are confused. I’m wishing I had never said anything. Of course it turns out that Roland had said something independently, so it wouldn’t have made a difference. Still, when we are alone he often brings it up. Am I sure? Isn’t it just so hard to believe? BIL is such a great guy. He has always liked him so much. It is so hard to believe. The nieces are both great girls. They don’t have any problems. They are doing just fine. If their father was abusive wouldn’t they show some effect? (Um, let’s see… they hate their father. One simply doesn’t react when her brother hits her. The other spends all her time hiding in books. Neither is able to have a conversation with anyone outside the family or church.) Dad asked me if BIL was being mean to Nephew now. I said according to my sister, she was preventing it. She never left the alone and if BIL starts to say anything, she interrupts. Dad responded, “but you said BIL was acting like the fire was no big deal.” “That’s what Sis said.” “Well, then what does he have to yell at him about?”

It is so disorienting to have these conversations with my father. I want to ask him what he found to yell at us about. All our lives he was yelling. I don’t though.

When my father shifts the conversation his abuse, well, it all gets to be too much.


Update (July 31):

Someone in China decided that 70, my father's age, is too old. It now appears that he won't be going. He's pretty devastated. He does not do well when he has nothing that he has to do, and without a job he can't make up stuff for himself to do. When we left he was talking about teaching orphans in Ukraine. Given that he admits that he is a lecturer, he does not do discussion or one on one instruction well, I'm a little unclear how effective he will be teaching English at an orphanage. I wonder if he is imagining a bunch of kids obediently listening to a lecture on Hamlet.


  1. Wow! What a vacation. Aren't families complicated? Funny about your dad teaching in China though as my kids music teacher moved to China earlier this month. He hopes to teach there, but his reason for moving is that it will take about 4 yrs to get his Chinese fiancee into the states. I can say that at least where he is, internet service is not reliable. He has to ride his bike 10 minutes to a place to get access. (I know this because KC had to email him to find out if he ate dumplings yet!)

    I am like your dad with technology though. That is embarrassing. I should be better but I am so slow to pick up new things. I need my kids in order to turn on the TV or play a movie. Luckily I still know how to plug in the boom box for music!

  2. Have you ever been alone in the house and read something that made you laugh out loud? And you didn't quite realize it until you noticed you'd startled the dogs? The Flomax part did that to me.

  3. Welcome back!

    Random thought ...

    My dad has the hearing aids. But for years he has also had these great wireless earphones for the TV. So he can have it at his volume without disturbing anyone. He uses them at home (maybe it gives him a break from the aids? They are always whistling ...). I've been thinking of getting him a set for our house. I think I saw some at Costco. Just a thought in case you go next year.

    "Anyway, I feel compelled to tell you that mostly I have having a fantastic time here. I know this writing must make it seem like all I am thinking about is my father. It isn’t like that. My father is just the one thing I feel compelled to write about."

    I know just what you mean. Whenever my parents are here, even if the visit is going relatively well overall, all I can think of writing about is the crazy-making. We are going on vacay with them in a couple of weeks. I'm pretty worried I will never hear the end of it. I am afraid that I will have to bite my own tounge off just to get through it.

    Really sorry to hear that your dad's China gig fell through because of age.

    "In order to have some privacy(?) he turned his back to us. He asked the doctor about Flomax, “You know, some men when they get to be forty or so need it so they can pee? Yeah, would that increase pleasure at all? Oh, well, never mind then.”

    Wow. With material like that, how can you ~not~ write it down? :) Seriously. :):)



  4. OMG...too funny...I think you need a vacation from your vacation.

    That dialogue about closed captions nearly did me in...until the flomax part...I'm still chuckling!LOL

  5. Your father reminds me of a combination of my father and my MIL. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who felt very sorry for himself and who, incidentally, was hard of hearing so he TURNED THE VOLUME UP ON THE TV AS HIGH AS IT WOULD GO.
    He's dead now but he used to invite my DH, our kids and me to spend vacations with him at his lake house in Maine. Maine was great. Dad... wasn't.
    My MIL is a retired college professor who can't do anything on a computer except send emails. She has a PhD. in English literature but she has absolutely no grasp of how technology works. My sons try to explain how to do things on the computer and she's too busy taking notes and drawing pictures of the keyboard to listen. She's also tremendously annoying and extremely narcissistic.
    I feel your pain, I really do.


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