Tuesday, July 18, 2017

July 19: In the Name of Love, Parents Decline, Dignity

"Did you hear what I said?" Barbara inquired.  It was 1968 again.

"Of course."  He had been dozing.  

"If you're going to act like a child, maybe we'll just have to treat you like a child."

"That isn't what happens next," said Billy.

"We'll see what happens next."  Big Barbara now embraced herself.  "It's awfully cold in here.  Is the heat on?"

"The heat?"

"The furnace--the thing in the basement, the thing that makes hot air that comes out of these registers.  I don't think it's working."

"Maybe not."

"Aren't you cold?"

"I hadn't noticed."

"Oh, my God, you are a child.  If we leave you alone here, you'll freeze to death, you'll starve to death."  And so on.  It was very exciting for her, taking his dignity away in the name of love.

Taking dignity away in the name of love.  I suppose Barbara's intentions are good, even if she's on a power trip.  She thinks that her father is losing his mind, sitting in a house with a broken furnace, not eating, writing letters to the local newspaper about aliens and time travel.  I would probably come to the same conclusion if I were in her shoes.

It's difficult seeing your parents decline.  Six or seven moths ago, maybe more, my father fell down a flight of stairs and injured his shoulder.  Up until then, he ran the snow blower, mowed his lawn, drove to the post office every day to get his mail.  He never let anything slow him down.

Nowadays, he has trouble walking across the living, gets up from his chair and shuffles in the same place for about 20 seconds before he starts moving forward.  He can't drive anymore.  His eyesight isn't that great.  He still tries to do stuff for himself, but he's limited.  And it really frustrates him.  He gets angry.  Really angry.

My father and I have a complicated relationship.  I've said this before.  We don't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things.  Politically or spiritually or aesthetically or . . . You get the idea.  We are very different people.  However, he worked hard for our family.  All the time.  Sunrise to sunset, and sometimes later.  He provided for nine children.  I never felt deprived, never went hungry, never felt unsafe.

I love my father, even though he drives me up a wall with his unflagging support of Donald Trump.  My father used to be a member of the John Birch Society.  He even forced my sisters to go to a John Birch camp one summer.  I suppose he was trying to be the best father that he knew how to be.  I do the same thing.  Being a father doesn't come with an instruction manual.  You make it up as you go along.

So, this little passage from Slaughterhouse reminds me not to take away my father's dignity, even if it's in the name of love.  He's always been a really proud guy.  Independent.  Writer Martin Amis once wrote, "And meanwhile time goes about its immemorial work of making everyone look and feel like shit.”  I guess my job, as a dutiful son, is to make my father feel less like shit now.  It's tough, though.

Saint Marty gives thanks this morning for his happy childhood.

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