I am home from a week visiting with my Mom and Dad. The kids and I had a great time, but I am worried about my Dad. My Dad is getting old, and I never thought he’d get old like this. No one ever knew how old Dad really was. At Dads 80th birthday party, the guests were all wondering exactly how old he was. Most of his friends thought he was in his mid 70’s but they were figuring out his real age. It helped that Mom is 20 years younger, and also that my Dad seemed so young. We thought he would always be sharp, fun, and fit. I just thought one day he’d be this miraculous 100 year old guy, who could still do anything he wanted, and would still be the same great guy.
When my 93 year old grandmother got obviously old, a few years ago, it did not come as a shock to me. Grandma just always seemed old to me, and I could easily accept her failing memory, depression, and physical limitations without any problem. I even tried to be her advocate, explaining to my Mom and Uncle that their Mom needed help around the house, or maybe even that shouldn’t live alone any more. . I thought it would be a good idea for her to live with me so that she could be included in my nuclear family activities and so I could watch her, make sure took her meds, and went to the doctor, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I fought and fought until a social worker helped me see that sometimes a person can’t be removed from their environment because where they are has become everything to them.
Now, however, my Dad is getting old, and acting old, and I am not able to take it in stride. He is cranky, self absorbed, combative, and worst of all, in denial of it all. He was even cranky with the kids. Normally he would have a little outing planned and he would take them fishing or to see something special, but this time he kept putting them off and didn’t have any enthusiasm to go on golf cart rides, or anything else. They begged him to go on a few, rides but I don’t think it was the same for them. The last time we were there he had a “graduation” ceremony for them with sparklers, and they loved it. This time they seemed afraid to just request a ride.
One day Dad told me that he heard an expert say that people should sing when they get older to keep their spirits up. He thought this was a good idea. He would quietly sing to himself when he stood beside me in the kitchen, or as he sat next to me in the car and we didn’t get to talk. He was singing during the times he should have been sharing and having discussions. It was definitely a behavior that gave me the message “Even though you are beside me, I am not interested in talking to you.”
Dad’s behavior really hit home when Matt said, on our last evening “Next time can we visit when it isn’t tax season so Pop-Pop can spend some time with us?” Matt had thought Dad was working on Wednesday when he spent the entire day reviewing the next days racing forms so he could spend the day on Thursday at the Track with his buddies.
On our last morning in Florida we all went out to breakfast. At first Dad had decided to play his regular golf game. When I realized he wasn’t planning on eating with us I began to cry knowing it was the last chance the kids would have to be with him on this trip. He came with us because I made him feel guilty. At the diner Dad started to work on a find-a-word game on the place mat. I suggested he do it together with Matt, but he refused and actually celebrated finishing it ahead of his grand kids. Then he snapped at them if they bumped him with their elbows, or touched him in any way. Dad was angry. The kids feelings were definitely hurt.
I am also quite worried about my Mom, who has to live with my Dad. I don’t think Mom has the support systems she needs. I don’t think there is anyone she can really talk to. Her friends are their friends and I do not think she would confide in any of them. Mom would never say anything “bad” about my Dad. They have too much mutual respect for each other. They have always had the greatest most passionate love affair with each other. He adores her and has had her on a pedestal since the day they met and no one could touch that. He has always been very tender and affectionate with her. He’s the kind of guy who makes loving toasts, so since and touching, that cause crowds to weep. It’s always been the kind of love that makes the rest of us jealous.
I know there is nothing I can do. I think there is no place for me here. It pains me to be so far away when I would like them to be more a part of our lives and us more a part of their lives. I’d like to be able to offer my Mom some relief, support and encouragement, and would like to spend more time with my Dad before he becomes a man that only looks like my Dad, but acts like someone else, someone I don’t know any more. There is so much time between visits that it scares me. Will he still be Dad the next time I see him? I am not ready to lose him, and I fear he is already entering into another world, a world where he isn’t a family guy anymore.