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Category Archives: Dad

Reflections and Ramblings

Staring out my kitchen’s sliding glass doors; I see the house behind us. Snow drapes off its roof and rises in small sloping drifts up the blue grey aluminum siding. A few months ago, I wouldn’t even have seen the house because of the fence, but the owners, two retired sisters who are looking to move, discovered that one of our fence poles was 6 inches on their property, and those 6 inches may as well have been 6 feet as far as the town was concerned. Yet instead of easily inching over the one pole, my husband, in one impulsive sweep, decided it was time for a backyard makeover. He removed the entire fence along with all the trees lining our yard, leaving nothing but mounds of dirt, which are now covered by mounds of snow, in between us and our soon to be ex-neighbors.

I am staring too long and the house turns ugly. I never really noticed the small windows, jutting air-conditioner or sad siding. I guess because it was never staring me in the face before. Or maybe it’s like when you say a word over and over and all of sudden it sounds ridiculous. Ridiculous. Ridiculous. Ridiculous.

It’s been a mixed blessings kind of day. Like, we played Bingo at the temple and two out of three of my boys won! Two of three. And although there were no complaints from my two boys at their basketball games where both played well, there were many from the one who had to sit and watch both games. And lastly, my brother called to say he briefly spoke with my father who told him to call him back in a ½ hour but if he didn’t answer to call 911. When we called back, he answered. So the day was like that, kind of up and down, and I rolled along with it.

Out the window I follow a trail of little footprints stamped in the snow that lead off into nowhere. I’m relieved to see them. We’ve been feeding a stray for months now and worried whether he’d make it through the last big snow. Now I’m worried if he’ll make it through the snow predicted this evening. Being a stray isn’t easy.

Sometimes I feel astray. Especially in moods and moments like this, staring out windows, feeding my melancholy.  But then the chimes ring, my family barrels in and there is no longer time for musing and melancholy, or as my grandmother would say, “My head up my own ass.” My husband has made a special trip to KFC for Super Bowl Sunday and now it’s time to feed my family instead.

The kids are digging in, grease shining off their smiling lips. Well at least two out of three of them. One is a vegetarian, more accurately a ‘carbetarian’ and he is already scrunching up his face just from the smell.

I take a last glimpse of my demolished back yard that we’ll hopefully redo sometime, but the kitchen comes first and we were supposed to start that project two years ago. I no longer see the neighbor’s house. I see my family’s reflection in the glass; a bucket of chicken on the table, my husband at the head, my animated boys doing what they do; one singing, one laughing and one about to storm off in outrage.

It’s a typical evening in a typical life that is never typical, but perfect and imperfect, ordinary and extraordinary, and where at any given moment two out three ain’t bad.

All I need to be looking at.

The best view

Wait for it….

“I can’t believe he hasn’t called back yet.” My father says, his voice slow and heavy with the weight of his misery. “I’ve left multiple messages.”

I have as well but this doctor is notoriously bad at returning calls and his staff, one overwhelmed woman with an edge of defensive indignation is possibly worse. Yet for two years my father has been under their haphazard care. We should have found another doctor by now, but my father is kind of haphazard himself.

“I’ll try again,” I say, hoping to get some answers but really just wanting to get off the phone and get something done. It’s been 28 minutes on this road with little if any progress. Really it’s been 20 years.

“Okay, but wait…” he stalls, hoping to drag out a little more time with me. “I’ve got these papers we should talk about…”

I hear some shuffling and the phone drops.

“Ow!”He yelps from a distance and I hear more scurrying about. I make an effort not to roll my eyes while compulsively unraveling my third piece of gum. It’s better than the ice cream tub calling my name.

This doctor has one last carrot he’s been swinging over my father’s head to ease his chronic pain. It’s a new experimental drug; one that’s supposed to be even more effective than morphine. He brought it up in October, scheduled the trial a few weeks later then abruptly canceled it. Now three months of hemming, hawing and wait, wait, wait has left my father as wilted as the carrot. Still, he’s chomping at the bit, always looking for the thing that’s going to save him. I wish I believed something could save him.

“Dad,” I call out, even though I know it’s useless. Still, I’m slow to learn that nothing about him or our conversations can be rushed.

“Okay?” I ask after a few minutes when labored, exasperated breaths signal his return.

“No,” Is his immediate response, then “Yes. No. Yes. Hold on, I need to…”

“Dad!” I cut in before he leaves me hanging again, “I’m going to call him now. I’ll call you back,” I say and quickly hang up.

With one breath doubling as a stress reliever and a confidence builder, I go to dial the doctor on his personal cell. Even though he has been irresponsible returning calls and giving information, I’m still embarrassed about using the personal number he gave me awhile back. It makes me angry. Why can’t people just do what they’re supposed to do?

Amazingly he answers on the third ring. Although he is clearly not happy to hear from me, after months of runaround, I finally nail him down to a day for the trial. Right before we hang up I think to ask the name of the drug. I can’t believe in all this time I never asked.  But I actually can. Managing my father’s life is like throwing a sheaf of paper into the air. You just deal with the ones that fall in your lap first.

“I’m blanking on the technical name…” The doctor pauses and struggles until finally it hits him. I kind of wish I could hit him. “It’s Zinconosomething. Just look up Snail pain relief.”

“Snail pain relief.” I repeat and shake my head disbelieving.  Of course.

The Universe always knows when I need a good laugh.

Yeah, it's true.

Yeah, it’s true. Click if you want to read about it.

Missing Dad

When the call came in from my father’s home health aide, I was on the elliptical machine watching an episode of Housewives. Automatically, I groaned. It was first thing Monday morning; never a good way to start the week.

“Um hey Jolie,” I greeted hesitantly. Would she have found him asleep on the bathroom floor? Would the place have been turned upside down by an evening of semi-conscious wandering? Did he throw her out again?

I tightened for the impending trouble, “What’s up?”

“I can’t find your father.”

I wasn’t expecting that, but still, for all the crazy that went on in my father’s small world, at the moment this was still pretty low on the drama scale. I considered getting off the exercise machine but then decided to power on. I needed a positive place for my stress. And it was my time to exercise.

“Okay,” I said slowly, thinking as fast as I could, “You’ve checked the tub, right? And the floor?” I gave a little laugh. Only in my world, could my father’s frequent trips into unconsciousness be cause for sad humor.

“His walker is still here,” She said, “And the door was slightly open, his meds on the table and his bed was made.”

“His bed was made?” I repeated. It was the most curious and disturbing thing she had said. “So his weekend girl was there at some point but he never slept in the bed.” I stopped pedaling. “Shit.”

I hung up on Jolie to make some calls, while she did a more thorough investigation of his living quarters and surroundings.

My first call was to the home health agency to double check whether the girl had in fact seen him on Sunday. She was a fill-in, so I asked them to double check with her and get back to me.

Still pedaling, I contemplated my continued pedaling. Was I not taking this seriously enough? Should I be pacing? After 20 plus years coping with a mentally and physically challenged parent, I had learned to go flow, which meant keep peddling until I no longer could.

So while my feet moved on, my brain back tracked. He didn’t answer the phone yesterday. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since he often slept through the weekends. The last time we spoke was Saturday, although since he was half asleep, muttered unintelligibly was much more accurate than spoke.

With no one else to call and no other realistic options, I considered the two possible hospitals where he could be and dialed the closer one.

“Hi there, I’m looking for my father. He may have come in there yesterday or this morning?”

I waited while she checked his name.

“Yes, he was brought in yesterday. I’ll transfer you.”

Okay I breathed, missing father found. But why was he there? With his health problems and history, it could be a million things, many of them terrible.

My pace slowed but my heart rate sped up significantly. I was used to hopscotching through the landmines of his life, but while my sensitivity chip was broken it still emitted some charge, and I waited anxiously.  For a fleeting second I thought he could even be dead; a realistic possibility that has loomed over my head for decades, so many in fact, that it almost didn’t seem possible.

Could this be it? Could this be the moment I had become so complacent and emotionally detached from that I didn’t even think to dread. Could the man who a lifetime ago told me stories by the edge of my bed, gave me dollars to tickle his back, charmed me with word and a smile no longer be?

I stopped pedaling. The air became more still. I heard my breath.

A nurse picked up, “Your father is fine.”

I almost laughed with relief and amusement. She clearly didn’t know my father.

“He came in for anxiety and we’re still awaiting psych to release him.”

I began pedaling again. It was just business as usual.

Missing Dad

Missing Dad… since 1992

Once upon a time

My home was broken.

But I was used to it. For years, my parents clumsily taped up the holes with transparent truces, sucked in offenses and alcoholic avoidance. Still, the anger and disappointment always leaked through, pumping like contaminated air through the vents, infiltrating every aspect of our house.

Their fights played like music in the background of my life. When the end officially came no one was surprised or sad, certainly not me.

My father moved out, but still hung around, taking me and my brother out for a movie or to his racquet club. It was only when I passed my parents’ room and took notice that there was no lump in the center of the bed; no giant bowl of salad with smelly dressing on the night side table that I realized he was gone.

I was 10 when they divorced, by the time I was 12 my mother had remarried.

It was December and the wedding was a small affair at my new step-father’s house. It came up quick, somewhat of a surprise, although my mother will jokingly remind me how if anything the whole thing was my fault, she asked me if she should marry him.

He lived in a big house and had a pool.  I was 11.

I was given the option to finish out my 6th grade year and live with my grandparents in Brooklyn or move mid-year to Long Island. My science mid-term was coming up, and it terrified me. I was averaging a 75 in the class when all my other grades were up where they should be in the 90’s. I couldn’t handle the thought of flunking a test.  In a half a second I jumped on the move, deserting my friends, my grandparents, my life, all in the name of science.

We moved into our new home unceremoniously and awkwardly. None of us knew what we were doing; certainly not my mother or new step father; certainly not my younger brother or my two new younger step-brothers. The only person who rallied with contrived enthusiasm was the live-in housekeeper who showed off the house like it was hers.

I was shuffled off to my room and left with another young girl whose name was Gia. She was the housekeeper’s daughter who had apparently come to visit months back and never left.  She was a year younger and I was a year shyer, but we still didn’t even out.

“This is my room.” She said. “You can sleep there.” She pointed to the second bed. “Don’t touch my stuff,” She commanded and huffed out.

My brother and new step brothers were also trying to find their way in this new dynamic, while my mother and step father circled each other uncertainly, and the housekeeper kept us all in a tight divided line of us against them.

I looked out the window into the backyard. The pool was covered for the winter. It looked dark and dangerous.

My home was broken.

In his eyes*

Wake up. Wake up! His brain yells through the sleepy fog that hangs low and heavy on his consciousness. He tries to lift his eyes but really he is just too weary. Somewhere faraway, a phone is ringing. Now it’s become a fire engine roaring down the street. And now it’s an alarm. The fire is in front of him.

It’s jarring but he’s a spectator even in his own dream. He’s not spurred into motion. He simply watches the house burn down around him, sensing the urgency but unable to rouse himself.

Slowly panic engulfs like the flames, but still he remains stagnant, knowing he’s about to die, but too paralyzed to do anything about it. He is a prisoner of his broken body and his over-medicated brain. His heart hammers against his chest.

Deep inside his head, he knows that he no longer lives in a house.  The small detail reminds him that he is still sleeping. The screaming alarm is once again the phone.

The call is from his daughter. He can envision her face right now, cradling the phone on the other side of the world, 45 minutes away, children flanking her on all ends – frustrated, annoyed, disappointed, but not surprised. It’s far from the first time he hasn’t been able to get to the phone, even for a wakeup call he asked for; one that he needs to make a doctor appointment he has already rescheduled three times.

She is a good girl, his daughter. He sees her as child; the long dark pig tails, the green eyes that match his own, or at least used to when his own eyes were less muddied; the ready smile reserved just for him. He has failed that little girl who he promised in her crib to protect from harm. He never expected that he would be the one hurting her.

He pushes the thought away. It wounds and he needs not to think about it. Right now, he needs to focus his energy to wake up, to answer the ringing phone, to make his appointment.

With monumental effort, he forces himself to open his eyes. Through blurred vision he takes in the vials of medication scattered on the table, the clutter of boxes overloaded with books and papers, the slop of food on the floor from a 4am binge on cereal and ice cream that he barely remembers. A few pills lie there as well. He momentarily wonders if they are medications he never took, or extras that dropped after taking something he shouldn’t have. His heart quickens.

The ringing stops.

Disgusted by his failure but filled with relief, his eyes droop back down.

She will never again look at him the way she did once upon a time ago when he was a hero.

A tear slides down the side his face. He was a hero, strong and beautiful. Ah. I remember you, he recalls wistfully, drifting off; his mouth lifting in a small grin.

Go to sleep. Go to sleep. His brain now commands and all pain fades into unconsciousness.

Once again he has found peace.

Strong and beautiful

Strong and beautiful


Talk to the Spoon

At this moment, I am spooning giant scoops of ice cream from a tub of Edy’s slow churned Rocky Road from my freezer, drowning it in sprinkles and eating it compulsively, my head cradling the phone as I eat.

I am listening to him, but it’s all just words; the same old tortured words of a tortured existence.

Today’s problem of the day has gotten itself pregnant and is now two problems. He has no protection from himself, so there is always the risk of multiplication.

During conversations like these, I am unable to keep the spoon out of my mouth. Luckily his diatribes need no response. He can talk on and on about his suffering with almost no interruption, leaving me free to torture myself.

I see his form, even though he is over the bridge and I am through a tunnel, sitting awkwardly on his bed; his face drooped as low as his body. The cigarette held carelessly in his hands. Smoke floating up past his glazed over eyes; the ashes falling on jeans riddled with the cigarette holes of frustrated days gone by. He might fall asleep like this if he stopped talking. He might fall asleep even if he doesn’t.

My spoon scrapes bottom. My stomach is extended, my heart divided. I reach for the tub again. It calms something out of control inside of me which threatens to explode in these conversations, but with every bite I grow angrier with him and with myself, so instead of being soothed, I boil.

“I want to stop talking,” I hear him say, his voice a cloud over my head.  I want you to as well, I don’t reply. “I know I’m talking too much.” He repeats.

The recognition is brief. It is hard for him to focus on about anything but himself and his pain for anything more than an acknowledgement. Yet, he pauses to ask how I am; which should be considered some kind of progress, even though it’s fleeting and not quite genuine, because I know it is difficult for him.

I could interrupt and fill the space with my noise, but my tongue is numb and I can’t muster the effort to even pretend to be normal tonight. So, on he goes, moving without transition from one problem to another, one pain to the next.

I have heard enough to last ten lifetimes.

Still, he can’t stop talking. I can’t stop spooning. And we both can’t stop hating who we are at this moment.

ice cream spoon

Hurt so good

Getting Lost

I was driving home from the gym, my thoughts on other things. Mostly, I was worrying over my last conversation with my father. He had forgotten to secure a ride for his upcoming doctor appointment. He had also forgotten to mail me a letter I had asked for half a dozen times, and he had lost his debit card. Again.

None of this was too out of the ordinary. Worrisome, yes, but it had been going on a long time. Compared with other moments like, forgetting whether he took his medications, that he was smoking before he fell asleep, or to turn off the stove, I couldn’t complain.

Still, it left me, as always, unsettled; wondering if he really shouldn’t be in some type of care facility. I knew he wasn’t capable of living alone, even with the home health aide coming in daily. He knew it as well, but that didn’t stop him from fighting on threat of his life to remain independent.

It was a lose, lose battle for both us, and one so exhausting and old that my brain moved on, remembering that I needed to pick up the dry cleaning and calculating whether I had enough time for the supermarket before school let out. Suddenly, I looked around and realized I didn’t recognize where I was.

I had driven this seven minute route to and from the gym, hundreds of times. How could I possibly not know where I was?  I certainly wasn’t far, ten blocks at most. Yet, it all looked unfamiliar. Did I not take the right turn? There were only three or four turns to take. Where was I?

I panicked, gazing around at the lovely overhanging trees, trying to place my surroundings, and drawing a complete blank.

On instinct, I made a U-turn and headed back in the direction I came. Before I even reached the first intersecting block, I knew exactly where I was. On the right road. Of course.

I turned the car back around again, and almost laughed out loud at my senior moment. I was so distracted, I had lost my bearings on a block I had traveled hundreds of times.

I made the next left and headed the next few blocks till I made another right, traveled five more blocks and pulled in my driveway. Home.

I put the car in park and felt ridiculously relieved and slightly shaken. It was frightening not being able to trust your instincts. It immediately brought me back to my father.

Every day, he loses his train of thought, his focus, his time. Every day we argue about things beyond our control. Because it’s one thing to lose your way, but another to lose yourself.

block