Monday, June 21, 2010

Fathers Day

It’s Fathers Day, and the only felicitations I’ve received have been from a dear friend. I don’t expect to hear from my daughter, who was similarly preoccupied on Fathers Day in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009. Our estrangement used to bother me beyond my ability to express, but the pain has turned over the years into a dull ache, kind of like those in my knee and ankle. What bothers me very much more is the realization of what a rotten son I was, albeit not one who cut off contact with my parents for eight days, never mind eight years.

There wasn’t a time in his life when my dad wasn’t generous with me, and I let him die in the hellhole of a convalescent hospital to which my mother had banished him after the stroke that left him unable to walk. My grandmother, her mother, was also a patient there, at least until a couple of months after my dad was admitted, when she died. What a morale-booster for my dad!

He wanted to go home, but my mother wouldn’t allow it; she was sure there’d be a fire, and that she’d be unable to get him to safety. My parents weren’t the type of people to consider having the house modified to enable my dad, in his wheelchair, to get in and out of it on his own power. I didn’t know what he was going to do at home anyway, other than suffer my mother’s rage. I’d pleaded with him not to retire from Hughes Aircraft after hearing that his plans both began and ended with Playing a Little Golf.

Given that he was an implacable attention hound, I encouraged him to take an acting class at Santa Monica College, but it didn’t seem to suit him. He’d not bother to learn his lines for scenes he was supposed to perform with another class member, and he or she would want to strangle him. I think his greatest pleasure was going out in front of the house, on the loneliest street in the Lower 48, to smoke a cigarette. Heartbreakingly slim pickin’s.

I think, since I have no tie or socks to open and pretend to be delighted with, that I’ll torture myself a bit, and remember one of the saddest moments of the last year of his life. He shared a room with a poor old devil who, at 92, had very little of either his vision or hearing left, and who rarely had the strength to get out of bed. Another real morale-booster! I phoned my dad one Saturday afternoon from my home in San Francisco. He was heartbreakingly delighted to hear from me, but we were cut off. When I rang back, the poor old devil answered. As I struggled in vain to understand who I was or whom I wanted to speak to, I could hear my dad, unable to get out of his own bed, trying to get the guy to hand the phone over, cursing him, pleading with him. It tore my heart out.

But why stop there? A few weeks before my mother’s death two and a half years ago, I visited her at the (infinitely nicer) convalescent hospital in which she lived, if you could call what she was doing living; Alzheimer’s had taken just about everything it’s capable of taking. She didn’t communicate in any way, and gave no sign that she knew I was there. But then some sort of security alarm — one indicating that someone had gone out an emergency exit or something — began screeching at regular intervals, and I could feel her terror. I held her, and told her everything was OK, but the alarm wouldn’t stop. It seemed to take them forever to figure out how to turn the goddamned thing off. I wanted to find the person responsible and strangle him or her, but how could I leave my mother?

I was a rotten son, and what goes around comes around. My estrangement from my daughter is fitting payback (or at least was for the first year or two, after which the punishment came to be less and less proportionate to my crimes, whatever they may have been). I still love my daughter enough to wish I could communicate to her that, just as I have, she’ll surely reap what she’s sowing.

[Many of my books are now available for download from Amazon. They include The Total Babe & Other Wine Country Yarns, Lentils on the Moon (aka A Message From Jesus in Braille, aka A History of the Jews in the Hudson Valley), Self-Loathing: An Owner's Manual, Third World USA, The Mona Lisa's Brother, and, for baseball nuts, Foul Balls and Alpha Males. You need neither a Kindle nor an iPad to enjoy 'em; simply download (free) Kindle software for either Mac or Windows, and enjoy them on your laptop or other computer!]

1 comment: