My dad called me late last night, past midnight. I get nervous when the phone rings that late. With him it’s usually the time when the scotch has fully saturated his cerebral cortex and he’s splashing around in some thoughts from the past, maybe some from the present. He feels like sharing. It’s about the only time he says anything personal so I take those calls about half the time. He was drinking last night…I think. It could be the painkillers for his knee, which he says he isn’t taking. Either way, I know if he’s calling me and he’s looking to talk…he’s doing something. Same thing on Christmas. Aside from the handles of Johnny Walker Red on the counter, I didn’t see any of the usual telltale signs of drinking. He wasn’t doing it while we were there anyway…but something was up.
To make it even more intense, he called at a point where Rhonda and I were in an argument. She’d already banished herself to the front room and was furiously writing in her journal when the call came in. I was writing in mine in the bedroom. So I laid there, alone in the dark, and let it all rain down.
This time he went on and on about how proud he is of me, of Rhonda and our family…how much better we are than he ever was. That stuff makes me uncomfortable. I never wanted to hear that from him…I haven’t spent a lifetime trying to out-do my dad. Rather, I’ve just wanted him to be content with the choices I make whether they are an extension of him…or whether they are not. He’s ok with anything I do now…but it’s different, maybe less meaningful. I feel like he’s ok with what I do because he knows that I don’t need his approval for anything anymore. If he doesn’t like what I am doing, well, too bad I guess. It’s a different dynamic. I look back and wish he could have appreciated my path when it was harder for me to follow, when the route I was taking wasn’t as clear, even to me.
Then there was the part about letting my sister down and not being there for her in the right ways, when she needed him. That’s huge. I wish he could process that information and communicate how he feels when he’s sober, especially to her. Kim has got a lot of anger towards him but in the last few years she’s really been trying to find a way to make that relationship work…or even exist. He could make it easier if he was willing to be vulnerable when he’s sober.
Yikes…not easy to listen to – any of it. I think there are a few things going on here. The biggest thing, or at least the catalyst, is that Kathy’s mom (Rose) died right before Christmas. That creates challenges for my dad on a number of levels. For one, he’s been taking care of her for the last four years. She’s lived with them and, for the most part, has been non-ambulatory. My dad hasn’t been able to work for several years due to surgeries and just general deterioration. Taking care of Rose gave him a purpose. Kathy works and he’s just home alone for much of the time. Second, Kathy is now in a terrible place. She and her mom were very close. Now she’s falling apart from the grief and he doesn’t know what to do. My dad isn’t the best at coping with things himself, let alone helping other people navigate tragedy. I think he feels very alone.
All of this is bad on its own…but its worse considering where he is right now physically. My dad just underwent his 17th major surgery…this time on his knee (again). He hasn’t been shy in saying how hard it’s been on him either. The guy could barely move at Christmas. And look, my dad is a bad patient. Somewhere in his head he believes that all the rules of recovery…the down time, the rehabilitation, etc…don’t apply to him. He had a double hip replacement a couple years ago and was driving around immediately after discharge. He was supposed to be down for months. He even got stuck in his car because he couldn’t pull his legs out. He’s always been that way too. When it was time for him to retire, the first thing he did was drive out to the airport and request the most physical job they had – moving bags. I remember how happy he was to do mindless, physical labor.
Man…he was a mess last night. This is maybe the fourth or fifth time I’ve seen/heard my dad cry in the last year or so. Before that, I’ve never seen him cry. It made me cry, because I know how serious it is. He’s thinking about his life…and he’s thinking about his death. I am tormented by the fact that, at some point, I will be asked to write his eulogy. Part of me feels compelled to do a little work on it each day. Morbid? Maybe.
And then I kick myself for giving my dad so much of my emotional energy and my mom so little. I guess it’s because I’ve never gotten out of my dad what I’ve wanted so I am constantly thinking, maybe expecting, the impossible to occur – my dad getting in touch with himself and being able to communicate to me all the rawer points of his interior lining. My mom is still around. She’s still a support in my life and our relationship hasn’t gone anywhere. And I don’t feel unresolved with my mom – she and I are very close and we talk all the time. I guess I could make sense out of it but it doesn’t really do much for the lingering feeling I have that I should be doing more for my mom.