Thursday, September 22, 2011

There's Something About Dad

My Dad's really going downhill, and I'm - I dunno - frustrated.

He's not the man he used to be. Dad used to be a cheeky miserable bastard, but now he seems genuinely pissed off as he bumbles about slowly and asks me to do up his scrappy trousers because his hand hurts.

I know I should be more caring. He's 78 after all and to write that shocks me and makes my complaint seem unwarranted, but he's still Dad to me and I can't believe how old he's become. I guess I should've learned my lesson back when we had what I thought would be a bonding holiday to Amsterdam. Instead of something akin to a paternal buddy movie, I spent my days escorting a pensioner to cafes to eat cake and fall asleep.

Dad invited me to his for dinner last Friday so I went, as I'm taking a month off alcohol and I've lots of free time. It would've been fun, except when I got there my step-mother told me he'd got work chauffeuring that night, and no-one bothered to tell me that he wouldn't get home til 9.

I tried to not seem generally fucking livid. He'd laid on a guilt trip about not seeing me for ages, then wasn't there himself - and that wasn't the first time he'd done that. Thus I spent an hour eating and chatting to my stepmum, and following dessert I was asked to replace their old telly with the flat-screen TV they'd just bought.

Dad appeared as I was showing my stepmum how to use it, but found myself leaving minutes later. I'd been trying to explain that one button switched the telly from 11 channels of godawful fuzzy analogue, to glorious, pin-sharp digital, yet for reasons I still cannot fathom my stepmother began screaming at me to "Now get HD", or "Now get Freeview", or "Where's the Digital?"

I tried explaining that she was getting her terms mixed up but something incredibly stubborn inside her kicked in and she'd scream - scream, mind you - that I wasn't listening to her, all while Dad yelled "Read the instructions!" behind our backs before muttering something about being ignored. I was yelled and tutted at for several more minutes whilst I continued to explain how her new telly worked until finally, something inside me snapped. The vibe had been ruined by obstinate, screaming septuagenarians incapable of rationalising basic technology, so I told them as pleasantly as possible that I was done being yelled at, and caught a bus home.

I had to go back yesterday as Dad and I had to attend a wake, and was dismayed to find him watching the news in grainy, fuzzy analogue - and by that I don't mean it was a poor version of the same channel he could've been watching digitally. I mean it looked as if it was snowing in the studio. I told him it was like buying a Lotus Esprit so he could drive to Croydon and back, but he just yelled at me for bringing up an old argument.

So I waited for him to get changed. He took his sweet time and I had to tell him we'd be late. Moments later I was forcing together the ends of an ancient waistline around Dad's belly, and helping him replace his food-encrusted shirt with a fresh one to ruin.

We got to the wake late and in style, as Dad had been outside trying to park. I told him he was about to collide with a parked car as he tried to negotiate his way through an admittedly tight spot, to which he snapped, 'Shut up! I know what I'm doing.'
This was followed almost immediately by the high-pitched squeak of a Volvo rubbing slowly against a Mini Cooper.

By the time we arrived at the bereaved's apartment 15 minutes late, we came face to face with a silent throng in mid-prayer, all staring back at us. Dad stopped and looked momentarily stunned, while I caught sight of my sister frowning in the distance, and pointing angrily at her wrist. I closed my eyes in shame.

'Turn around!' mumbled one of the mourners to us. 'East is behind you!'

And so, in the time honoured awkwardness religious rituals provide, Dad and I had to turn our backs on a room full of mumbling Jews as I stared at the prayer book hastily handed to us to play 'Guess the page.'

Time passed. I sweated my way through another of life's awkward social situations, and regretted talking to Dad about eBay, because now he wanted me to help set it up.

People say you can give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day, but teach him to fish and he'll eat for the rest of his life.
There's a modern, and more irritating version where I could eBay something for Dad and he'll sell something for a day, but teach him to eBay and he'll forget by the time he wants to do it himself and I'll have to go over there and show him again until I lose my temper and he yells back and I have to leave immediately to buy crack.

I tried to change the subject as he drove me home, and found myself on instinct asking him to keep within the white lines on the road as he was weaving, and to watch out for the cyclist he didn't seem to notice.

'I KNOW!' he spluttered. 'I'm a professional driver!'

I kept quiet for the rest of the journey until 3 minutes later when he managed to veer off the road and into a supermarket in one sweeping movement.

'DAD! STOP! YOU'RE HEADED INTO TESCOS!'

'Oh yeah!' Dad chuckled as he came to a halt, then began to choke on his rage because I was yelling at him about reversing into oncoming traffic.

Hollywood has lied to me. My Dad's supposed to be a retired, silver-haired old sage offering me kindly pearls of wisdom as we fish from his rowing boat.

Instead I've got a grizzled old maniac who yells for exercise.

This was not the way I expected things to be.

13 comments:

daisyfae said...

i remember the exact moment my parents became 'children' - and i became the 'parent'. they were in their mid-70's.

my sister was doing an international assignment in hong kong, and was in the midst of losing her shit. she'd called them and was obviously having a breakdown halfway around the world.

they said they weren't sure what to do. maybe they should go over to help her for the rest of her stay.

i sighed and said "i've got it."

not what we ever expected when they were fixing 'boo boos' and repairing the washing maching and taking care of everything important in our lives.

just wanted to send you a hug tonight fella...

nix0r said...

My father passed away a month ago after a reasonably short period of illness compared to others his age.

He drove my mother and I crazy. His prior demands were difficult, but it had become over the top, forcing us to do things he was still capable of but demeaned us. When my mother and I offered suggestions on how to make him a little more comfortable, he would rage and accuse us of being against him.

I did (we both did) everything he demanded, even though we lost our tempers more than once. I did everything, from waking up 8 times a night when he called to administering his meds in whatever painstaking way he wanted. He got to eat everything he desired. And I still feel like maybe I could have done more. Or said more. Maybe not lost my temper as much.

I'm not saying that your dad will pass away soon, it's just that even though you think it in the back of your mind, you don't really think about losing them. As prepared as you are for it, when it actually happens, the whole gamut of emotions that hits you, the guilt is the worst.

That's just my take on things. Take care Fweng.

Z said...

Have you talked to your sister? Or your stepmother, come to that, it sounds as though she suddenly changed when your dad came home. Maybe she's anxious about his behaviour too. I'm really sorry, Fweng.

You're taking a month off alcohol? Shit. I took a fortnight off the year before last, and a fortnight on one drink a day. Incredibly boring.

looby said...

My Dad's a few years younger and is not a fraction as bad as yours but I still find it a monumental effort to keep my mouth shut with him sometimes. Worse to come no doubt!

A month off the drink - hats off to you. I should do something like that but without someone to do it with I capitulate after a few days.

Liverdrawer said...

I'm not Jewish, explain the East comment.

fwengebola said...

df ~ Thank you for the hug, and now I'm concerned as I was typing my usual stream of consciousness and have just remembered other people's lives too. I've just got the one Dad who, while not quite senile, is just grumpy and deteriorating. This is better than two going slightly askew.
I hope you're okay.
Nix ~ Oh Christ, I'm really sorry. And now I'm concerned that all my complaining (and he's just ageing, not dying in the illness deadline sense) is mean. I think about their deaths too often. This probably isn't healthy. Of course it would help if my Stepdad didn't make comments along the lines of 'We'll all be dead one day,' which wasn't fun to hear.
Again, he's not ill either. I just have a lot of old relatives painfully aware of their own mortality.
I hope you're doing alright, though. I didn't realise it was this recent.
Z ~ I should talk to my sister, but she's as receptive to these discussions as inanimate objects. That said, she's not really receptive to any discussions, unless it's about nails or the angels at the bottom of her garden who help her get parking spaces in Ikea.
And thanks, re: drinking. It's definitely helping with the weight loss, but I'd kill for a nice drink. And several more.
TRY IT!
Loob ~ The drinking thing is totally possible. If a month's too much to ask, try a 2 or 3 week abstain. I've actually enjoyed Saturday and Sunday mornings now, clearheaded.
The novelty's worn off now though.
LD ~ I'd imagine it's a 'facing Jerusalem' thing. It's what one of my relatives said to me so I've no idea although really, why face a geographical point? If spirits are supposed to exist, surely better to lie on your back and look up?
Ah, whatever. No sense trying to rationalise religion.

Z said...

They all seem to have a thing about which way they face, religions, seems odd to me.

But one of the weirder Christian things, when someone is buried in a churchyard, their feet face east, so that when the last trump sounds, they rise up and are already facing their maker. Except, and this is when it gets ludicrous, for when a vicar dies. He is buried the other way, so that he'll be facing his congregation.

Liverdrawer said...

Z - unless, of course, he is buried at the westernmost point of the churchyard.

Z said...

There's probably a 'point'less rule about that too.

nix0r said...

I'm doing alright, thanks. Moving on etc.

Well, yeah, chin up and all that. It's kinda pointless giving advice for this kinda thing - when it comes, you have to go through it in your own way, but if you ever need or want to rant, I'm a willing ear. You know where to find me.

Ellie said...

my parents are early 70s. you've made me scared (they are generally fine .. even using iphones and ipads without any problems; still they can drive me nuts).

luna said...

I read this twice over and fell off the chair howling with mirth.
Crashing into tesco!He should have joined in the riots.

Your dad's sort of ok, your disapproving grimaces make him nervous and clumsy.
has he got his hearing aid by now?
He probably needs new glasses too.

fwengebola said...

Z ~ I LOVE that fact. Presumably the Vic's totally clued-up vis-a-vis the whole Big Guy Upstairs thing and is better off facing his congregation - A bit like the fire drill guy at work. Supposed to know what to do in a crisis, such as Judgement Day.
Liv ~ That's just blown my brain.
Nix ~ Thank you. And I still hope you're okay.
Ellie ~ Don't be scared. These days there's still a comfortable decades still in them.
Jesus, I don't feel right even commenting.
EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE.
There.
Luna ~ And this begins the first of my commenting on your comments: Right. Thanks.