Hello From Crazy Town

So remember how I was going to ask God to help me figure out what I should do about my dad?

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.’”

About John Shore

John Shore (who, fwiw, is straight) is the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question, and three other great books. He is founder of Unfundamentalist Christians (on Facebook here), and executive editor of the Unfundamentalist Christians group blog.  (In total John's two blogs receive some 250,000 views per month.) John is also co-founder of The NALT Christians Project, which was written about by TIME,  The Washington Post, and others. His website is JohnShore.com. You're invited to like John's Facebook page. Don't forget to sign up for his mucho-awesome newsletter. If you shop at Amazon, help support John by entering the site through this link right here--Amazon will then send John 3-4% of the cost of anything you buy before exiting the site again.

 

  • DR

    Oh man.

  • Maryb

    I just got done reading this, and I’m not sure how you haven’t tied your dad up & put him in a closet, just to get him to shut-up. I give you & your wife a lot of credit for dealing with him and being concerned for him. I’m not looking forward to when my own mother gets to the point where she can’t take care of herself anymore (odds are it’s not going to be easy on the rest of us). However, I do appreciate you sharing with us how you both are handling this situation. Take care.

  • Allen

    Cat has an excellent sense of the Narrative Arc!

  • peet

    Tonic water expires?

  • http://ricbooth.wordpress.com Ric Booth

    My dad had the same box of raisins and oatmeal in his cupboard. Additionally, he had purchased 6 months worth of Nutrisystem food and had it stacked up in his study and on the front porch. Unopened for 2 years. Expired. The mice had discovered this treasure about 6 months earlier and had eaten out the bottom of all the boxes. I have a precooked chicken story, too. Amazing.

  • Tim

    “…you big dummy?” Your dad sounds like a caucasian iteration of Fred Sanford. God bless him. The picture you paint of the old guy sounds identical to the father of an old friend from back in my druggie dayz. We traded insults and barbs until we would take swings at each other. If you’ve seen Gran Torino, you know what I mean. My reflexive response would’ve been, “Well siss on YOU pister, you ain’t so muckin’ fuch, yourself!”

    Excuse me if I start praying that he might come to San Diego and let go of his notions of old people and crappy food. The food is usually quite edible. Stouffer’s quality or better. We would spring my dad from his Alzheimer Care once a week for a home-cooked meal at my house, and my mom would take him out for an In-And-Out burger or swing past the Hometown Buffet 2 days a week. But after a month of, “Please get me out of here!!”, dad took to the young faces of the caregivers that came and went. Fortunate for my dad, he didn’t remember names and faces, as long as they were slow enough to catch up to.

    Still praying for His will. Whatever that is.

    • Tim

      Forgot to mention “dimwitted pyromaniac” made my day.

  • Mindy

    All I can think, as I read his tirades, is ‘duct tape.’ Placed gently but firmly over his mouth. Gawd, John. His sense of humor has also, apparently, expired. I’m exhausted for you.

  • Suz

    Cat is a very smart woman.

  • Denine

    Have you found any black ketchup or green mayo in the pantry? That’s what my mom found when she went to her gentleman friend’s home after he had a stroke. Praying for you and your family, John. I know exactly what you are going through since my mom is dealing with the same issues with him everyday. INCLUDING the anger and verbal abuse.

  • Derek

    When we moved my mother out of her house and into a smaller townhouse, she packed a gallon jar of mayonnaise with maybe 1/8 cup left in it, 2 hot dogs that had been frozen for many years, and a box of Kraft Fake Parmesan cheese that had expired 8 years previously.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    And people say there are no modern day miracles. God certainly does have a sense of humor.

  • http://www.pottershousethrift.com Alex

    John,

    Love reading your blogs. Its amazing that you are putting into words the same frustrations that I have with my Mom, who won’t make a decision about her future either.

    My favorite John Eldredge book is called Desire and it is basically giving us permission to go with and discover the desires that God has placed in our hearts. I know my life is very different since I have lived from that kind of desire.

    Our parents generation (dubbed by me as the most selfish generation in history) never had that kind of permission and now that they are getting elderly, I think they just have a hard time knowing what they want (other than to gripe about most of the rest of the world, now they KNOW that well).

    Anyway it has been a priviledge to pray for you this week. If nothing else, your dad is giving you material that just writes itself and God is using him to give you a chance to die to yourself. Doing good so far.

    Just smile and wave

    Alex

  • Melinda

    John I’ve been following your blogs about your dad. My prayers are with you.

  • http://amandajustice.blogspot.com Amanda

    Hang in there John. Even in the easiest of situations, it’s never simple dealing with aging family members. Add some serious “quirkiness” (used both loosely and euphemistically) into the mix and… yeah, Crazy Town.

    Prayers for all of you.

  • Jeannie

    Oh John, I hope you are laughing through this.

    Your stories remind me of several elderly or alcholic family members I have had to deal with. It’s easy to get pissed, but it’s better to just laugh at it.

  • http://www.shadsie.deviantart.com Shadsie

    When we had to move last year, I was in charge of cleaning out the kitchen shelves. Before I came along, my fiance’ had lived there with his (now deceased) father and had brought over stuff from a previous move. There were some spices in the dark recesses of the pantries that were probably older than I was. We never cooked with them, of course, it’s just… they were THERE. It was… kind of hilarious. Or a sad testament to lazy. I don’t know.

    I have nothing else to add. You’re going through a lot here, and of the kind of thing with which I am not yet familar.

  • Mary G

    sigh.

    You poor darlings.

  • Shannon Bass

    Dude. As I may have stated before, I work in the medical field, have for years, love it, feel it’s my calling, blah blah blah, sincerely and so forth.

    But with every fiber of my being I can honestly say that I have no desire to get old and be in the position of “having to be cared for by others.” And seeing as how your dad has always been quite the PITA to you per all your blogs, adding the monster of his being in the stage of having to either accept or continue to fight against outside help… Whew! Your grass isn’t looking green man. It’s brown with bare patches in it.

    This is the time some helpful cheery whistleblower breezes in and says with a huge smile “God never gives you more than you can handle” and smacks you on the back. To this person my response when I’m overwhelmed in life is “Yeah- but I wish God didn’t trust me so much sometimes.”

    On a different, unrelated, and hopefully distracting note: I got my (wickedly awesome) autographed books and sweet action shirt in the mail despite Snowmaggeddon 2011 here in the South. The shirt has generated lots of talk and I tore thru the books just like I did your blog site when I stumbled into it like Alice into Finally Someone Is Making Sense Land.

    For all the crap you’ve been thru, are going thru now and will plow head onto in the future – it’s all to be the man you need to be to do the job you are doing. Sorry about the prep work bud, but it has turned out a fine (albeit a tiny bit twisted & we like it that way) product.

    Much love and prayers for you & Cat & your Dad.

    Shannon

  • Don Rappe

    I’ve known executives who couldn’t make a decision until hours before the deadline. Sounds like Tuesday is the deadline. I side with Cat.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/ John Shore

      There’s no decision to be made. We’re leaving. If my dad does something firm to show he’s serious about making any kind of real plan for himself, we’ll stay to help him put that together. If not, we’re outta here like bats out of a cave. And he won’t. So we outta here.

      • DR

        Good!

  • Martha

    John – having cared for my mother for 10+ years I can truly and completely empathize with the situation you are in….I believe the hardest part was in the beginning of her decline, when she could not be left alone, but still had a strong desire for her own personal autonomy. I have many memories of similar ‘Crazy Town’ moments….some of which were hysterically funny and some of which made me think I was the crazy one.

    I wish I could give you some advice, some words of wisdom that make it easier to go through all this frustration, but I really can’t. I will say that I know without any doubt whatsoever that God was there with me in a real “Footprints in The Sand” kind of way….I am sure, given your deep spiritual beliefs, that you already know this but I wanted to just give a little love and encouragement to you and Cat…hang in there and do the best that you can. Yesterday was the first anniversary of her passing, and I although I miss her, I feel peace and gratitude that I could be there to care for her.

  • http://blueberrypancakesfordinner.wordpress.com/ Erika

    ok, i have an idea!!!!

    maybe you could call adult protective services? that way it would be out of your hands and they would take him. he would end up with nurse ratched…but oh well

  • Susan Golian

    You have a wife who’s worth is beyond pearls. I mean her body weight in pearls. And diamonds. And rubies. God loves you; He really, really loves you!

  • Laura M

    If this wasn’t so heartbreaking it would be funny. My goodness, the challenge here is grace, and it sounds like you and your wife are doing really well at coping with this. I just want to say I am sorry that you all are having to go through this. Hang in there, I will keep you in my prayers.

  • Kim

    I cannot say it enough John. My heart and prayers are with you and of your family. Hugs to you all.

  • Sheri

    John, (and Cat)

    There is so much I can relate to on so many levels. But what I want to say is what a riot your writing is. You have a way of easing my personal pain as I read yours.

    In a way you are like a big brother, having gone before me showing me the way.

    You are amazing to welcome him to SD.

    I own a home at the North end of the county with my mother who once “sold me off to the gypsies”, she has so many unnerving habits and I dread any negative impact she may have on my 3 offspring.

    You are so much gentler with you Dad John than I am with my Mom. You give me something to strive toward.

    Thank you for taking the time to chronicle your journey.

    Sheri

    Tha

  • ALipschitz

    Yep. I’m pretty sure you’re Dad needs you to yell at him. He’s begging for it! He’s been twisting in the wind forever — no one is straightening him out. I think God is throwing you softballs here. I say you get in his face and yell at him until he breaks down and cries. You just let him have it. You might be there for days, weeks even! Tie him up if you have too. Let him know how you feel by yelling at the top of your lungs! Throw something like a kleenex box (something that has weight but won’t break anything! Yell at your Dad, “I’m your son, you f’ing freak! You never gave a damn about me! I wrote you all of those notes and you never said a word about them! What happened to you that makes you HATE your son so much!?” Just go off on him!

    He needs it. YOU NEED IT! Don’t let him die without letting him know how he was as a Father to you! Give him a chance to be a good Father before he get’s in front of Jesus and Jesus forgives him for everything! He’s your Father. He has a hard shell on him and maybe every once in a while he wishes he could break out of, but he’s too stubborn and doesn’t want to see how everyone adjusts around him when he’s in a new skin.

    I would stay there and yell, AND SWEAR, and wave my arms around, and throw things until he either gives in and let’s you in (because there has to be someone else in there under this shell) or he dies.

    It’s probably not my place to say all of this, but I’m reading this as a thirty-nine year-old man and tears are welling up in my eyes and my lower lip is having convulsions. When I read your stories it reminds me of some of the episodes of “Lost”!

    Does God really want you to just sit back? Maybe he does. However, he gave us freewill for a reason. It’s the seventh day — he’s resting. It’s up to us to make this place beautiful. We do that by exercising our freewill. God might want you punch your dad in the nose. Maybe that’s the only way that your father can begin a process that let’s him understand true happiness.

    You know better than me though. I still have a hard time understanding how he can be so funny and angry at the same time. It’s like you’re describing two people. You say he’s charming, yet he’s angry all the time. I don’t get it. I’m not saying your lying of course. I totally believe you. Your Dad is like an epic character that exists in a middle portion of a mini-series. You are also an epic character in this mini-series and where we are now is far from the end. And it’s also far from the beginning.


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