Well, that was a great idea—except that it failed to take into account one tiny little thing I must have momentarily forgotten: my dad doesn’t do squat that he doesn’t want to.
You can cry, beg, insist, cajole, argue, and compromise until the cows come home, and none of it will matter. In the end, my dad will only do exactly what he wants.
And what makes him so weak and endlessly frustrating is that what he wants is to never, ever have a conclusive thought about anything—but, at the same time, to exercise complete control over everything.
“Hey, Dad, we’re going to the store,” Cat and I said to him this afternoon. “Anything you want for dinner?”
“I don’t care what you get,” he said. “If you want chicken, buy chicken. I’ll eat anything. I don’t care.”
“Cool. So we’ll have chicken for dinner, then?”
“What did I just say? Are you hard of hearing? I said I don’t care. Should I say it one more time? Jesus, what are you bothering me for? Chicken. Hot dogs. The meatloaf from Boston Market, with a side of creamed spinach and macaroni and cheese. Any of that. None of that. I don’t care. I’ll eat wolf pelts if that’s what you want. Whatever you eat, I’ll eat. Okay? End of story.”
So we returned home with chicken, hot dogs, and meatloaf with spinach and macaroni and cheese from Boston Market. As soon as we started putting away that and the other groceries we’d bought, he shuffled into the kitchen.
“Now, you two just do whatever you want” he said. “But what I want for dinner is tacos. So I’m gonna make tacos. And if you two want tacos, fine, you’ll have tacos. And if you want something else to eat, you can have some of whatever you want. I could care less. What is this, a precooked chicken? Jesus, John, what is the matter with you? You don’t have the sense God gave a rock. Who in the hell buys precooked chicken?”
“People who want chicken without having to cook it?” I suggested.
“I don’t know how you live with him,” he said to Cat. “I’d go nuts. Precooked chicken. Jesus. Would you like to get someone in here to cut it up for you, too? You want someone to help you chew it, you big dummy?”
(Side note: My dad is 100% Looney Tunes about food. Everything in his pantry–and I mean, everything—expired years ago. This morning he burned us a pot of oatmeal from a box of Quaker Oats Oatmeal that expired in May 2003. He made it with Sun-Maid raisins from a box that expired in August 2006. It was like hard raisin meal. Last night I made him a gin and tonic: the freakin’ tonic water expired in 2005. It’s just unbelievable. It’s beneath the dignity of cockroaches to eat the food he has crammed in his pantry. All of it expired an absolute minimum of three years ago. And that’s just one of the ways my dad’s insanity about food manifests. Another is that he loves to eat in buffet-style restaurants, so that he can peer around and criticize how much other people have taken to eat.
“Jesus,” he intimated to me this morning at the Belly-Up Buffet, or wherever we were eating. “Look at this woman over here, the one with the ass on her like a two-dollar cow. Can you see her plate? Better go get whatever food’s left, because she just put this place out of business. Oh, look at the house moving this way. It’s an architectural triumph, he’s piled that plate so high. What is it, the last meal he’s ever going to eat?” And on, and on. He never stops.)
My dad’s general practitioner has signed an official Doctor Document stating that he cannot live alone. Yesterday his heart doctor made sure my dad understood that under no circumstances can he live alone. The Medicare nurse who has visited him at home two or three times told him that he cannot live alone. His physical therapist has told him that he cannot live alone. His social worker has told him that he cannot live alone.
So today Cat and I sat him down at his kitchen table, and told him that we’re concerned that when we fly home this Tuesday, we’ll be leaving him alone.
“Dad,” I said. “I know you’re uncomfortable making any hard decisions about your situation. And we’re not trying to get you to do any one particular thing; we have no agenda for you. But the fact remains that, given what all of your doctors and nurses have said about it, we just can’t feel good about leaving here on Tuesday, if doing that means leaving you alone in the house. And if you want our help putting something together so that when we leave you aren’t here alone, we’ll be happy to stay for another week, or however long it takes, to help you put that together.”
“And Dad,” said Cat, “it’s not like you don’t have some great alternatives. You do. You can hire someone to come in here—to clean, and shop for you: to cook, drive you places, help you with your meds.”
“I don’t need help with my meds,” said my dad.
“You do need help with your meds,” said Cat. “You took the wrong pills this morning.”
“And yesterday,” I said.
“Okay, fine. I could maybe use some help with my meds. But I don’t need help cooking.”
“Dad,” I said, “yesterday you put a cereal bowl full of stew on a stove burner, and turned it up to high. You’ve melted so much stuff on your stove top it looks like a dimwitted pyromaniac lives here.”
“Well, I’ll tell you right now, nobody is driving me anywhere. I can drive myself.”
“You’ve caused four car accidents in three months,” I said. “The one thing you can’t do is drive.”
“Now, if you don’t want anyone to come stay with you in your house and help you,” said Cat, “you can always move out to San Diego, and live near us. Or you can move to Hawaii, and be near your daughter, and her children.”
“I’m not moving to Hawaii,” said Dad.
“Then come to San Diego,” I said. “We’d love to have you. You know that.”
“Here you are,” said Cat, spreading three colorful folders before him. “We’ve got information packets from three nice places right near our house. Any one of these would be great for you to live in.”
So my dad spent the next half hour or so grousing as he flipped through the information on the old folks homes. His primary complaints were that they all served crummy food, and had old people living in them.
“Now, c’mon, Dad,” I said, “You don’t know the food is crummy. But, yeah, you’re pretty much stuck with the old people.”
He said he needed time to think about it.
Cat feels pretty confident that my dad will do something firm about being taken care of before we fly home on Tuesday.
“He’s really scared,” she said. “I think he knows this time it’s real. He knows he can’t live alone. Yesterday his heart doctor really put the fear of God in him.”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “For a moment he might have actually been forced into a brief encounter with reality. But he’ll bounce right back from that. He always does.”
When we returned back from the store this evening, though, he was reading through the information we’d given him.
Just now my wife just came into our bedroom, where I’m writing this. By way of a joke, she started repeating to me all the excruciatingly boring stuff my dad had been telling her for the last hour.
“Get back out there,” I said. “I went to breakfast with him for ninety minutes this morning. You’re still in for another half-hour.”
“I just ate dinner with him. And cooked with him.”
Wow. Talk about instantly winning an argument.
“I’m just finishing up this blog post,” I said to her. “I’ve just written how you think my dad might actually do something to not live alone, and how I still think he won’t. All I need now is a final line, and I’m done.”
Without hesitating a moment, Cat said, “‘Be careful what you wish for.’”