Father Has No Idea What’s Best

Father Has No Idea What’s Best February 1, 2011
Yeah, not so much

To continue the lovely saga of my lovely fatha:

Last night Cat and I went to my dad’s home. I was fairly shocked by his weight loss. For about three hours we sat in the living room of his gargantuan house: Cat, me, Dad, and Leone. Leone is the sister of Ann, my step-mother—being my dad’s second wife, to whom he was married about forty years. Ann passed away three years ago.

Leone will end her month-long stay with my father tomorrow, whereupon Cat and I will move into my dad’s house from the nearby hotel in which we’ve stayed since flying in yesterday. Leone was already planning to visit my dad when, a month ago, he had his (very mild) stroke. (He’s had three heart attacks; he has a pacemaker, and all that.)

Leone is itching to leave. It’s no mystery as to why: my dad treats her like [bad word]: dismissive, insulting, caustic, belittling. It’s awful. I have no idea why she takes it. I do know, however (as does she) that she’s in his will, so that might explain some of it.

My dad’s will is evenly split seven ways: Leone, me, my sister, and my sister’s four children. I personally could give a crap; I barely pay attention to money anyway, and sure don’t care about getting any from my dead dad. But … well, enough said about that. You know how crazy people tend to get around that stuff.

So here’s the Deal ala’ Dad: He cannot live alone. He gets dizzy; he falls over; he melts things on the stove he forgets to turn off; driving he’s death waiting to happen; he can no sooner keep straight his (extraordinary!) med needs than I can speak Chinese.

He knows he can’t live alone, too. He’s not one of those old guys who thinks they don’t need help. He knows he needs help. He likes that he needs help.

So the sane thing for him to do, of course, is to move into an assisted living place.

The next thing down on the Good Ideas plan hierarchy is for him to hire for himself an in-home eldercare company—to pay for people to basically be with him, in his home, around the clock.

The completely obnoxious, Worst Plan Possible idea is the one my dad’s going for—even though he won’t actually say he’s doing that, since that would involve actually participating in what’s happening to him.

My dad’s “plan” is to always have living with him Leone, me, my sister, or (I believe) one of my sister’s four grown children. Leone lives in Minnesota; my sister and her kids all live in Hawaii; Cat and I live in San Diego. My dad lives in North Carolina. So … not exactly what you’d call practical.

His plan, nonetheless, is for the seven people in his will to, one by one, come live with him in his house.

When he first went down, my sister came out there. Then Leone came. Now Cat and I are here.

See? His plan is working!

Sort of. Though I’ve repeatedly told him I am not staying past the eighth, he still thinks I’m going to. He thinks that, on the eighth, Cat will fly back to her life in San Diego, and I’ll stay here and drive him to all his doctor appointments, and deal with his completely messed-up financial stuff, and … burp him, or whatever else he needs. (And, medically, his needs are profound: it’s more than people who aren’t trained in that regard should try to handle.) And I would do all that. I would stay indefinitely, except … well, I have a life. At home. In San Diego. With my wife.

My dad raged when last week I found him an outstanding assisted care facility in San Diego, right by our home. He had asked me to find him such a place—but, of course, when I did, he went apoplectic, accusing me of trying to control him, of wanting to spend all his money, of having no idea how anything in the world works, etc. And he screamed at me about that again last night.

And said that I live in never-never land. And that I refuse to listen to anybody. And that I’m fat. And that I’m stupid, and stubborn, and socially retarded,  and on and on and on.

It was like a pleasant visit. But really different.

Anyway, we’ll see what my sister wants to do. If she and her kids want to start taking care of him in his house, cool. I personally won’t be going down that long road to nowhere, because Cat has a career she can’t abandon, and I’m not leaving her home alone for months at a time while I go live with my dad. He’s got the money to either move into assisted care, or to have people tend to him in his house, or to come live near us in San Diego, as we’ve so often tried to get him to do. If he isn’t willing to do any of that stuff, more power to him. But I’m out.

So … there you have it! As I write, Cat’s getting ready to go with me out to his house. While there, Leone will catch us up on all his care needs. I’ll take Leone to the airport at 3:30 tomorrow morning. From the airport I’ll drive back to my dad’s house; when Cat’s up and ready, I’ll come back to the hotel and pick her up, and from there she and I will begin our week of living at my dad’s house.

While at my dad’s house, Cat and I will be staying in the bedroom that my dad and Ann shared for twenty years. Since Ann died, my dad has lived in what used to be their guest room.

The bedroom in which Cat and I will be staying is furnished with the same pecan-wood, 50s-hip bedroom furniture that has always been in my parents’ bedroom. I grew up with that furniture: first it was my dad and my birth mom’s; then (after my parents divorced) it was my birth mom’s and the man she moved into our house (long story); and then it was my dad and Ann’s.

And now, for a week, it will surround me as I sleep. I’ll wake up in the morning, my wife in my arms, and gaze upon it. And it will rush me back to a place that, in a way, I’ve never left at all.

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  • Patrice Wassmann

    May God help you survive the week. You are truly honoring your father and loving him with the love of God, because he is an undeserving wretch. You are a brave man.

  • Mary

    I’m sending you good vibes from here in North Carolina. For some reason, I just knew you were close by. Give him his options, take your sister’s desires into account, then lay it on the line for him. If he can’t make a good decision, call social services. If legal intervention is required, they can help you.

  • Jon

    John, I’ll be praying for you while you’re at you dad’s house. Your dealings with your dad seem spot-on to me. My mother dealt with a lot of the same stuff you’re going through now, and the main lesson her experiences taught to me is to stand your ground. So take heart, you’re doing the right thing in leaving when you say you are and giving him information he needs rather than telling him what he wants to hear.

  • Suz

    Oh John, I wish you strength! You are on exactly the right track; he has options, you’ve helped provide those options, but he has to choose. I hope you can stay calm through the tantrums to come, because I sure couldn’t! You’ve already done more for him than he has any right to expect, and you’re not even playing the long-suffering martyr. I’d tell you to stick by your guns, but I already know you will. He doesn’t control you, you don’t control him, and neither of you controls the outcome. It may take a while, but he’ll probably figure that out. God bless you.

  • HeatherR

    I really feel for you, and I hope and pray you find strength to do what you need to do in the upcoming weeks and months.

    But I have to say that really your posts has been like looking down the road not traveled, and they’ve made me realize that I don’t have any regrets about the choices I’ve taken. If I were a better person I probably would have made different choices, but I … well, I survived.

    Anyway, may God give you strength.

  • john, i have no words of wisdom. i wish i did! but know that i am praying for you. and cat. and even your dad.

  • Man, this is like deja vu all over again. I can give you a sneak-peek of coming attractions if you like. Remember those video links you posted about Savages “it gets better” series? Well, my preview would be titled *like* that. But really different.

    Praying for you, bro.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    Are you sure we aren’t siblings? I am so sorry that you have been given a hard choice between going through a week of hell or feeling like you are a bad son if you didn’t. Not much of a choice. No matter what, the fact that you are there at all proves you have Christ as your savior…because you could not do this without him..at least not without some lasting damage. I hate it when I become 5 years old in the presence of daddy dearest. It just makes me want to punch a wall. I am praying for you. I am really praying for you often. I have no words of wisdom, but I know you will, so please, keep writing. I am facing this scenerio more sooner than later. Hang in there, John.

  • Tim

    You’ve made the right decisions as far as I can see. You given him the options that any loving son would provide. If he wants it his way, he can have it…without you. A person can’t eat their cake and have it too. I hope your dad will come to the end of himself and see what makes reasonable sense. If he gets mad and shuts you out, it isn’t because you didn’t care. Just love him from afar and hope that somehow the love of God seeps in and transforms him. As always, praying that dad finishes well and that Jesus seals you in His grace and patience this coming week. Travel mercies as well as you and Cat return.

    Bless you, John. This has got to be a tough time, and we have your back in prayer.

  • You and Cat – and your dad, too – are in my prayers.

    There’s no excuse to treat people like s**t, even if you are old and infirm and scared of dying. Its a hard thing to disengage from a parent who is acting like a tyrant, even when you know that’s the sane and practical thing to do.

    When I’m visiting my folks and my dad gets drunk and mean, as he is wont to do, my recently learned response is to not let him abuse me, but not engage with him either. If he wants to pick a fight he’s going to have to fight with himself because I’m not playing. When I was a kid, the fear of his anger would get me so worked up that I would overengage, trying to figure out what he wanted, what would please him. It would end up in a screaming/crying mess. I’ve finally learned that HE can be mad and it won’t end my world. I don’t have to get mad too. I don’t have to be afraid. He can’t hurt me. He just wants to flail at the world, so I let him do it and I let it go right past me. I only wish that I’d learned this years ago, I could have saved myself a lot of misery.

  • Misty

    “But, of course, when I did, he went apoplectic…”

    I hate it when people are incapable of understanding you because they insist on reading everything you do through their own twisted values. It’s even worse when they’re related because now they think they possess some great insight into your “real” character.

  • Shannon Bass

    Just Uggghhh. And y’all are in lots of prayers. And , uggghhhh and much love.

  • Mary G

    You’ve already gotten sage advice and loving support, so I’ll just throw my hat into the prayer ring.

    {{{{ HUGS!!! }}}}

  • Susan in NY

    I’ll be praying for you, for Cat and your dad.


  • I found your blog after Dan Savage recommended your “wings on a pig” post on his podcast. Elder care is extremely challenging and fraught even under the best possible conditions — where people are able to be realistic about their needs and limitations, and about what they can expect from others. Giving up independence and control — I still don’t know if I could do it gracefully, even after seeing my mom go through the ringer with her parents. Even when you know you’re doing the right thing, it can still feel horrible. Try to be as patient with yourself as you are with your father. My heart goes out to you.

  • Don Whitt

    John, Have you had the POA and DNR discussion with Dad?

  • Diana A.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and Cat and with the rest of your family. May God give you the strength to stand your ground.

  • Don Rappe

    In home elder care is what he wants and it might be a good thing for him. He just wants it for free and with people he thinks he can push around. I’m sure it would be better for him to get it from people he can’t push around. He needs the experience of insulting someone who is helping him and watching them quit. If your sisters family wants to play his game, that is their business. If they don’t, you and your sister should probably take the necessary legal steps to have him declared incompetent and make the necessary decisions for him. This would be tough love, rightly understood. At the very least, his drivers license should be revoked. Be strong.

  • Don Rappe

    ps: You don’t need to think up reasons from your life or Cat’s life for not playing his game. No one should ever play a game like that. Yours in Christ.

  • Kim

    Prayers coming your way from Missouri. Thinking about you, Cat, your dad and your family. Hugs.

  • Diana A.

    Yes indeed to both of these comments!

  • Rebecca

    My prayers are with you all. I have some fairly extensive experience on the administrative end of things in long term care here in NC. Don’t know where in the state your Dad is located but if you need an ear or maybe an opinion about a particular option you’re considering in the area I’m available. I’ve known many people like your Dad. It sucks that you have to deal with him as an adult after having survived him as a kid. But, ‘the sins of the fathers’ and all that. Good luck.

  • berkshire

    Sorry to hear all of this, John. Brings back memories.

    I think it was Don who suggested getting the driver’s license revoked–I second that. He may feel he has a right to his independence, but he doesn’t have a right to kill someone. It gets to a point for some people where their driving is as bad as being intoxicated–reaction time slowed, etc. And no one would argue that drunk drivers have the right, so. . . . do everyone a favor. I don’t know how hard it is to have someone declared mentally incompetent or to gain power of attorney. I’ve never done that. But it might be worth looking into.

    Secondly, you’re right, of course, to set clear limits on your time there. If he is in denial about that, or trying to manipulate you into staying (with his will or anything else) it’s good to be firm. Might want to post a large calendar or something as a visual reminder to him, as you cross off the days until your departure, to let him know each day, without words or arguments, that it *is* going to happen. You *will* be leaving. So he has to make some decisions. He can tear it down in a fit of rage, but it doesn’t change the fact of your departure.

    In 2006 I moved across the country back to my hometown to help my mother help my father. It was supposed to be for 2 months, and ended up being 2 years as he slowly wasted away. I saw my mother ‘going down with the ship’ as she tried hard, mostly out of guilt, to keep him at home while simultaneously resenting him and becoming verbally abusive to us both. Our relationship started going down, too, as she began taking her stress out on me more and more. He really started to decline, and got to where his care was more than even the two of us could handle together. I saw I was enabling this.

    So, in order not to lose *both* of my parents (as my mother’s not in great shape, and there are bad tickers on her side of the family), I got a job three hours away and moved. Two weeks later, after an ‘incident’ that was beyond her capacity to handle, she had him put into a local nursing home. My departure was obviously the thing that she needed to stop living in denial of her own limitations and his extreme decline. She’d visit every day, but at least she could sleep at night, knowing there were people there to help him, and he wouldn’t get up at night and trip heading to the bathroom, etc.

    He died a few months later, and I think he was glad of it. He was ready. He was tired, and also sad to see his wife collapsing under the strain of his care.

    This stuff is never easy. Even more so when the person has never sacrificed much of themself for anyone, and basically been a miserable prick. But your observation was a keen one when you outlined his plan and said “It’s working”. So far, it is. You’re right.

    Don’t let that continue–for your sake, *and* his.

    Good luck, John. Stay strong.

  • Jeannie

    I completely agree.

  • StraightGrandmother

    I am in a very similar situation and you, however my paretns aren’t a**holes. Just very stubborn, but not mean. In fact I have spent hours searching for assisted living homes for them in the last 3 days, and yesterday I started working on getting a Vetrans benefit. If you dad is a vetran he may qualify for up to $2,000 a month towards his assisted living expenses. Here is the link, http://www.veteranaid.org/improved_pension.php

    I feel bless in that my parents are loving and kind, but stubborn that they son’t want to leave thier home even though neither my father nor my mother can walk more than 20 steps.

    Stay strong John and don’t cave. Do not enable. I can truly say you are a better man than me.

  • Mindy

    Seconding everything Don says, John. Be strong, and get that license taken away. Knowing he’s incapable of driving and not doing anything about it would leave you utterly bereft if he hurt someone with his car. You are an incredible son for even being there.

  • Mindy

    Ric, this absolutely cracked me up. And made me nod in empathy. A very close friend is going through the elder care dilemma with his mother right now, and she is angry and spiteful almost the time. She didn’t used to be. Hot-tempered, sure, but now, it’s nearly all the time. Your response is classic!

  • Graydon

    Wow, do I empathize! My dad is 77 and has a host of medical problems–nothing enough to kill him, mind you, but enough to make his life uncomfortable. His night table looks like a pharmacy! Unfortunately, the burden of his care falls on my 76-year-old mother, who has a host of health problems of her own. Three of my brothers live close by and help out as best they can, but two have young families to tend to and the third is just completely useless as he turns into a spineless jellyfish within five minutes of being in the same room as my father! I live 2500 miles away and when I do visit for three weeks in the summer, it is usually to give Mom a break when I help out. I tell her to go out to lunch or dinner or a movie with her friends and to stop feeling false Catholic guilt for leaving my dad alone for a couple of hours! Dad tries to start that domineering and insulting crap with me, but at 42 I give it all back to him now. I also tried being pleasant to him when he asked for something, and he responded in kind to it. I realized that it can’t be easy having to ask for help with everything, such as even getting a glass of water or even the most simple tasks. Still, I told him NOT to whistle for me or my mother because we’re not dogs!

    Anyway, that’s what’s working for us. I pray for strength and patience for you, John, in your situation.

    Warmest Regards,