Life is Like a Half a Box of Chocolates

Yesterday I drove my dad to CVS pharmacy.

“Turn left! Turn left here!” he boomed with near airbag-launching loudness. “Jesus Christ! You missed the turn! Now what in the hell are we supposed to do?”

“Take this next turn into the exact same parking lot?” I ventured?

“What are you doing?! Oh, God, now look what you’ve done! What is the matter with you? Is this the first time you’ve ever driven a car? How in the hell do you ever expect—“

“Dad, we’re here. See? The store’s right here. This is the parking lot.”

“Fine. Whatever. Just park. I don’t care where you pull in. Just pick a spot. Anywhere will do. I don’t care. Any spot. Here? This is the spot you pull into? Are you kidding me? Jesus, why doncha’ make your old man walk half a mile? Don’t worry. I only just got out of the hospital. Are you sure there isn’t a place across town you might want to park in?”

“This is the closest one with an empty spot on the driver’s side. I figure that way …”

Now where are you going?”

“I thought I’d back out and try to find a spot closer to the front door.”

“Will you just park, already? You’re unbelievable! Jesus, but it must be nice in whatever land you live in. But back here on earth, people are trying to get things done, all right? There. You’ve parked. It’s a miracle. Now let’s see if we can catch a cab to the store.”

After we’d purchased some adult Depends, denture cream, and a half-priced Whitman’s Sampler, my dad stopped just outside the CVS. “Here, hold these packages,” he said. It took him about fifteen minutes, but eventually he pulled from his wallet the receipt for our purchases. Once he’d also managed to get his eyeglasses in the general vicinity of his face by at least hooking them onto one ear, he said “These people screwed this thing up. I know you won’t care about it, because you have no concept of the value of money. But some of us live in the real world. Now lemme figure out where they got this all wrong.”

A crowd had begun to gather around us. “Dad,” I said gently. “You’re blocking the door.”

“What? What the hell do I care? What are you, the CVS fairy? People can go around. It’s good for them. They’re old. They need the exercise. Fine. Here. Now I’ve moved. Are you happy? Jesus, you’d think they’d put a chair out here, wouldn’t you? A little bench. A barrel. A large rock. Anything where a person might sit down for a second. But they don’t. And do you know why they don’t? Because they’re dumbasses who don’t give a rat’s ass, that’s why.”

“Why don’t we go to the car? You can sit there and figure out the receipt.”

“Don’t try to have ideas, son. You’ll just sprain something. Let’s go back to the car.”

Walking so slowly I saw some snails laughing at us, we finally made it back to the car. My dad took his seat, and with his one good eye attacked the receipt. “Now shut-up and let me see this thing. Here. Right here. Look at this. They screwed this up right here. I knew it. Goddamn morons!”

“Do you want me to take the receipt back in and check it out with them?”

“No, I want you to build an airplane out of it, so we can fly to Brazil. I can’t wait to visit Rio de Janeiro. I hear it’s lovely this time of year. Of course I want you to take the receipt back, you lump. And no ‘checking.’ Nobody said anything about ‘checking.’ I want my money back. You hear me? Money back. Go.”

When about a minute later I returned to the car, I found my dad locked in a wrestling death match with the clear wrapping of his Whitman’s Sampler.

“The receipt’s okay, Dad.”

“Jesus Christ, will ya’ look at this thing? All I want is a piece of candy. They seal these goddamn boxes up like the crown jewels of England are in here. I’ll starve to death before I ever get my hands one of these stupid chocolates.”

A few minutes later, on the second leg of our Crazy Old Man tour of Wilmington, we were driving toward a Home Depot, there to secure a towel rack to replace the one in his bathroom my dad broke when he mistook it for a couch, or whatever. Having finally solved the infernal complexities of the Whitman’s packaging, he held out to me the open box of chocolates. “Want one?”

“Sure,” I said, taking the first one I saw. “Thanks.” I bit the chocolate in half.

“I can’t believe you took the molasses chew. That’s the best one.”

“Here,” I said, offering him the other  half. “You’re welcome to it.”

“No, no, you have it.”

“Are you sure? Because I … ”

“Just eat it all ready, will you? It’s not a national tragedy or anything. It’s just that you took the best one in the whole box, is all. You latched onto that thing like a hawk on a mouse. If I could have just one of the chocolates out of this entire box, that would be the one. See? See the inside of the lid here, where the kinds of chocolates are shown? Here’s the one you grabbed, right here. See? Molasses chew. That’s the best one. If they made a whole box of just those, I swear I’d never buy anything else.”

“Mmmm,” I said. “These are good.”

“I know they are! I was looking forward to having that one. Guess I’ll have to wait now. God knows when I’ll make it back to CVS.”

“So creamy and chewy. And they have that slightly burnt, perfectly balanced molasses flavor.”

“Oh, shut-up,” he said.

So we drove in as much silence as my dad can tolerate without exercising his bass profundo voice.

“If I came home with this whole box of chocolates,” he said, “do you know what you would do? There’s no question about it. I know you, and I know exactly what you’d do. You’d sit down in front of the TV, and you’d take that whole box in your big mitts, and you’d eat half of it, right there. Without even thinking about it, you’d go right through half the box. Just polish it right off. You’d barely breathe before you’d inhaled half of the box. I know it. I know you’d do that. Because that’s just how you are. You never think of anybody else, or what anybody else might want. You just know what you want, and, by God, you take it. Half the box. Gone. Just like that. I know it. That’s exactly what you would do.”

We leave tomorrow.


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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Karin

    Oh John, it’s funny writing about it but you must have the patience of a saint!

  • Just. so. sad. It must feel like hell for him too.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    Sorry, but I really did LOL through this. He has a very quick wit that is mixed with a dose of acid, huh? One thing for sure, John, he is a source of inspiration for some funny writing. May your last 24 hours go quickly. I think you should eat the whole box and leave the container for him on the TV. Be sure to leave a couple half bitten ones for good measure.

  • Melissa

    This is what happens when you try to rationalize with an irrational person! I’m glad that you have set boundaries and are leaving tomorrow John. We can only call ourselves victims until we realize that we are being abused. Thereafter, we are participants. Stop being a participant. You can try to trick your brain by saying that there are important life lessons coming to you during all this, but it still hurts. It sucks. I have just recently come to realize that a person who I was playing cheerleader for and investing a lot of my emotions in does not really care about me or my attempts at family preservation. The head of the family doesn’t care about family preservation!! So… they win, I lose, and I get to quit dipping into my bucket to give away all my good energy, and can stop feeling like my emotions have been hijacked. Thanks for sharing your life with us John, it is more helpful than you even realize.

  • Patty

    John, I’ll share my Whitman’s Sampler with you any time. As a matter of fact, you can have the whole thing if you’ll tell me stories while you eat.

  • OMG. This sounds exactly like my mother, although she is much more passive in her aggression, her paranoid delusions can make life a little difficult.

    Of course you would eat half the box of chocolates. I certainly would, with that kind of stress! You would deserve to eat the ENTIRE box of molasses chews (which are the best ones), considering you haven’t murdered anyone in their sleep.

    Best of luck on your last day. You’re a better man than I.

  • Susan in NY

    Oh my.

  • Today you should go around the house whistling the tune of “Tomorrow” from Annie.

  • Heather

    He sounds like he’s just crying out for someone to tell him to go [blank] himself in the most un-anatomic way possible.

    Some people just push other people around until they know where the boundaries are. I don’t think your father has ever learned the boundaries.

  • This is exactly what three year old’s are like – usually less cussing.

    They are just vent out every frustration – using their outdoor voice.

    I’ve had three three year old boys over the years- and none are three right now – and I realized

    something extremely important about myself.

    I’m really not all that patient and loving. It’s just most of the people I surround myself

    with have good manners. It’s amazing how thin the veil is at times.

    Actually, it taught me bunches of stuff about not moralizing my emotions – or other peoples

    & something about the fruit of the spirit, how things I thought were really nice about me were

    just things that came a bit easily & when they were harder I had to lean more.

  • I would have gone totally around the bend. Reading these entries I’m half laughing and half cringing, because I can see a person I was once married to acting like this. You have to see the humor in the situation or you go mad, and I spent ten years seeing the humor (“You never bleeping do anything for me!” snarled as he was packing his suitcase — for the fifth time that year — with clothes I’d just washed and folded for him… logic was not that boy’s strong suit); now that I’m out, my tolerance for that kind of behavior is nil.

    Bless you John. I’m glad you and your wife have good boundaries and are about to head home.

  • Marcelo

    Well, either there’s a sitcom idea in all this merely waiting for a written proposal to your agent (the thing will practically write itself), or patricide’s in your future. Either way, I can’t wait for the next installment.

  • What a poor, toxic soul. A former pastor of mine used to say, “With some people all we can do is pray…God bless them and keep them…far away from me.”

    Peace and Joy to you as you return home.

  • Skerrib

    Good gracious!

  • Lisa

    John, we can see where your brilliant sarcasm might have had its roots. Any idea where your dad got his sharp wit? He wasn’t by chance born under a crabapple tree, baptized in vinegar and weaned on dill pickles, was he? He should have been a writer too. It’s a gift when you can weave a sentence together that makes one laugh and cry at the same time. But to do it non-stop, that is impressive. Or should I have said, “sad?”

    I’m happy that you are finally heading home to decompress. I hope it doesn’t take one day for every minute you spent with him.

  • Andi

    Plain ol’ verbal abuse plain and simple…but from an old man that is afraid of death. Is this acceptable? Don’t rightly know. After being called a tramp, whore, stupid and a dingbat? Won’t tolerate it from a Dad….

  • Lee Walker

    My lands what an energy drain! I am sorry for him, for you and Cat, …but mostly for him having spent so much of his energy on anger. I hope somehow he can let go a little. I wonder what he’s afraid of to not be able to let all that go?

    I thought my dad was bad, but this is like mine to the nth cubed whatever math would take it to the billion times worse. Sheesh

  • Denise

    Read this out loud to my son. It’s really funny but it’s not. Especially the line about taking the cab to the door…. Has he seriously given any more thought to the seniors facilities that you scouted out for him? Will he be alone tomorrow or is someone else coming to take your place? I pray for him – and for you — that you both find peace in this difficult situation.

  • Amazing. Has he ever opened-up about his childhood? Must have been especially dysfunctional, too.

    To Ric’s point: “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll leave you tomorrow, it’s only 19 hours, 47 minutes and nineteen seconds AWAYYYYY!!!!

  • Beth

    Goodness Gracious, Didn’t realise until today you were my long lost brother.

  • Tim

    I guess it’s true what people say about there being no accounting for individual taste. I can eat those crappy little dollar-a-piece Banquet microwave meals, when I’m hungry and lazy enough…but a Whitman Sampler? I don’t know. I think I’d rather pop a handful of hantavirus-laden rat turds in my mouth and wash it down with stagnant rain water. But that’s just me.

    Maybe I come from a different mindset, but I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the idea that fear and sickness makes most of us no more charming than your dad. If he’s been that way all his life, then I have to imagine that he’s probably been afraid and in pain all his life.

    Traveling mercies for you both. Tender mercies for your dad.

  • cc

    I’m exhausted just reading about it.

  • “I don’t know. I think I’d rather pop a handful of hantavirus-laden rat turds in my mouth and wash it down with stagnant rain water”

    spude my coffee with that. tim. omg

  • holy shit john.

    you are right, he is very funny.

    i wish that i still lived in SO CAL i would meet you at the airport with balloons and candy.

    and really, we must remember that from pig comes BACON.

    and BACON is delicious.


  • Jeannie

    Very well said, Cheryl.

  • Jeannie

    Laughing and cringing with you. This is tragically familair.

  • Alicia

    Lions and tigers and bitter-delusional-mean spirited-emotionally stunted-immature-elderly parents, Oh my!

    As you can probably tell, I’ve got one of my own (my mother), and the comments about boundaries are true: if they’ve developed a lifetime of obnoxious little behaviors that no one has ever checked them on, old age will magnify them into revelations of what was always their true character. So, to maintain my sanity and NOT beat up an old lady, I have resolved to treat her as if she is a stranger who is someone’s mother & allow myself the luxury of looking at her through the eyes of Jesus instead of the not-so-rosy colored glasses of my bruised-yet-healing psyche and conflicting emotions. I also have to remind myself that any ministry to her is a result of the overflow of Christ’s love for me when I was less than lovable & incapable of loving others. Ecclesiastes 11:9-10 through 12: 1-7 serves as a good reference to how we should remember (serve) God now in our “youth” else we become those bitter old folks we said we’d never be.

  • Suz

    I’m queasy. He’s very witty, but I’m having trouble with humor just now.

  • Tim

    Awesome, Alicia.

  • Alicia Bell

    Thanks Tim, John’s posts bring out the best in me.

  • Mindy

    I am so glad you enjoyed the molasses. I think I’d have chewed it up real good and spat it at him.

    Patience doesn’t begin to describe what you have.

  • LVZ

    Dear John,

    This will probably not come as news to you, but your father is emotionally abusive.

    Jesus would not approve of pastors telling battered wives to stay with abusive husbands. He wouldn’t approve of pastors telling people to stay with abusive parents, either.

  • Joe

    Wow, my Dad’s still alive. I thought he died back in 82. Take good care of him for me. And no, that’s not my real name or email address. No you’ll never find me. I’m being taken care of by the crazy parents protection program (CPPP). God bless and protect you and yours John.

  • Angie

    Karen, that’s me, too. Hard to swallow, isn’t it? This revelation in my life has provided humility as I recognize how badly I need God’s grace. Thank you for putting it into words.

  • Kim

    I’m so sorry that it’s been this rough for you. Tomorrow! Godspeed.

  • Don Rappe

    Maybe it’s projection.

  • Roger

    Thank you so much for these posts. Somehow, in some miraculous way, your sharing these experiences has led me to both remember and come to terms with my own tumultuous relationship with my own father. Much love to you. Glad to have you back home!

  • Stephanie west

    Oh my God John… I know it’s not funny at all but I am literally crying while reading this. Crying along with busting out in laughter. This stuff is hysterical! I think because I we all know someone like this and can relate ( to a degree, I think he wins the prize). I’ve been catching up on your blogs over the last hour and wow… It’s been heart wrenching and freaking hysterical at the same time. You are a saint and a darn funny one at that. Write on dear man….on the edge of my seat waiting…

  • staceys-grrl

    I think God makes us love our parents for the same reason He makes them love us: so we don’t kill each other out of frustration.

    My father raised me to stand up for what I believe in, to be true to myself, and to never let anyone stand in the way of who I wanted to be. Now that I have grown to adulthood and amy living by those three principles, he no longer speaks to me, since I’m not the person he expected me to be when I grew up.

    But what can I say? He’s my daddy, and I love him. Nothing will ever change that.