Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can you be from 3 states at one time?

                How appropriate that my father has become an officially licensed heathen (i.e. resident of California) on National Pagan Holiday or whatever evangelicals call Halloween while still buying Snickers in bulk...for the children.  His free gift with purchase was a fair amount of attitude from a woman in a multi-colored wig which was apparently not a costume (again, I apologize Shelisia) and stickers that make his Grapes of Wrath truck legitimate but only in the sense that it is not illegal to drive it.  It is still illegal to think you’re cute in it, as I am continually reminded each time I must commandeer it to transport him for the purposes of physician visit or yarn procurement.

This has been an arduous process the likes of which I have never seen.  When he moved to this great state in September 2011, his tags had expired the previous month.  When I asked him about it, he said he’d get around to it sooner or later.

                As the sole driver of said vehicle, I was jouvous every time I drove it, afraid that I would get a ticket for expired tags.  And CHiPs are serious about tickets out here, believe you me.  If you don’t know what CHiPs means, you are far too young to understand my humor and should laugh at random intervals so grown folks think you ‘get it’.  And that nervousness was apt when I was stopped back in January for an illegal U-turn while attempting to steal a prime parking spot outside Armadillo Willie’s BBQ.  If it hadn’t been for the scooter in the back of the truck I would have noticed that the car directly behind me was a full-on police car with lights and everything. 

                When I got out of my Daddy’s truck wearing kelly green chinos and said, “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see the ‘No U-Turn’ sign; it’s my Daddy’s truck and I’m not used to driving it”, the cop took pity on my misplaced preppy self and only gave me the U-turn ticket.  I informed my father that we were getting tags post haste or even faster.

                To make this story as short as possible, I have been attempting to get him California plates and a license since February.  We made it through the written test communicating across the room with more signs than an indecisive little league first base coach.  California requires you to take a written test if you are from another state, regardless of how long you’ve had your license.  And the rules out here are different and weird.  There are questions about smoking in your car (illegal), phone use in your car (illegal except when dialing 911) and other random things about light rails, child seats and something about twin babies in a back seat that both I and my Daddy both missed and still don’t understand.

                Once he had the license, we could get the tags.  That’s when I realized we were in for a treat with the lovely people at the DMV.  My father had, in his assortment of ‘portant papers, a Colorado license plate, a Louisiana registration and a title that had been transferred from Mississippi to Alabama.  When I asked how that was possible, he accused me of being too picky.  When I informed him that it was the state of California and not I that wanted these three items to be from the same state, he told me I was just trying to figure out a way to make him look dumb.

                So, cut to me, spending four different days of vacation time over several months attempting to get unwilling state employees to tell me what was acceptable as they changed their minds more than a political candidate.  Then I had to contact the respective states, finance companies and insurance companies to get the necessary paperwork while mi padre sat and watched loudly complaining that it was taking too long.  Don’t make me type out the thoughts that ran through my head because they are not fit for mouth or print. 

                I don’t know if the impending legality of his method of transport was the primary motivator for change or he was simply inspired by the political climate, but he decided very recently that he can drive himself to the doctor.  He was forced to drive himself while I was away for 9 days in the last two weeks.  However, upon my return he decided that he was fully capable of taking himself to and from his appointments for the foreseeable future.

This past Monday, I was headed to work around 7  o'clock in the AM while my Daddy had an appointment at 9:30.  That he left the house before I should come as no surprise.  I was so excited about it the prospect of a day not interrupted by the use of family care leave to cart him home that I took a photo of his truck when I was behind him at a red light.  It’s a strange photo because his scooter with side mirrors looks somewhat like a ghost from Pac Man wearing Mickey Mouse ears, but it was a beautiful sight indeed.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, I would’ve posted it to the blog and not actually written anything.  Alas, it is not worth that many words, but it was worth about that many calories as I celebrated with a turkey and cheese croissant from Palo Alto Baking Company which is serendipitously on my drive to work, if I take 5 extra turns and go about a mile and a half out of my way.

And the driving of himself has continued to his appointments yesterday and today and tomorrow.  I know that is a lot of appointments but we (the doctors and I) are trying to fix everything from bad feet, gnarly toenails and obesity to poor circulation, lung disease, diabetes and depression.  There should be a reality show about ‘refurbishing’ my Daddy to some semblance of good health.  We could call it ‘This Old Redneck’.  I’d be the unwilling family member, forced, do you hear me FORCED, to share the screen and subsequently steal the spotlight and finally get my own TV show that everyone’s always talking about.  And when I say everyone, I mean me.

And that is all I’m saying.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Psychology of Chili and Cheese

The hallmark of humor is honesty and I although I have over-shared in certain areas I haven’t been truly honest about the realities of living with my father.  I try to find the humor in the everyday differences betwixt us but of late there has been less and less to amuse or share. 

I admit, I was na├»ve about his moving in, expecting to be gaining a roommate, but since he has been here he has devolved into a difficult and depressed person.  It’s confusing and exhausting.  We have never shared a bond in the traditional sense of father-son relationships (as seen on TV).  Ours is more of a familiarity with each other’s reputation than anything else.  I know him well enough to accurately predict some reactions or behavior but in a vaguely anthropological way.  I’m Jane Goodall and he’s “Redneck in the Mist”.

There is, however, one behavior which I simply have not been able to become accustomed; the crying.  I do not remember my father crying at any time in my life before my mother died, including when his father died my freshman year in college.  I saw him cry for the first time at my mother’s memorial service but the impact was lessened by the fact that everyone was crying. 

Now my father cries randomly and often.  He sometimes cries when he is unaware.  He’ll be sitting at the dining room table and get this far-off look in his eyes and the tears start and when I ask him why he’s crying, he says, “I’m not crying.  What are you talkin’ about?”  Then he wipes his eyes, stares at the wetness and looks at me accusingly, as if I’m responsible for this unmanly moisture.

And he cries over any number of things but mostly it’s my mother.  He’s mad at her for “leaving”, as if she chose to die.  He’s mad at God for taking her away.  He feels God is punishing him by taking her and leaving him here.   What he thinks he’s being punished for, he will not say.  And I have asked.

                He cries when he talks about her.  He cries when he can’t dream about her.  And it’s all rather unsettling to me as I have been indoctrinated by him that crying is a weakness to be pitied.  And while I do not pity my father, I am at a loss how to respond to his tears.  If I acknowledge them, he gets embarrassed and then angry.  If I ignore them, he feels like I am cold-hearted and gets his feelings hurt, which causes him to be angry.  So I become the anthropologist; I question the root cause and keep a clinical distance from the response.  Of course, this makes me feel somewhat callous and detached and truthfully is taking its toll on me.

                When my mother was very ill and (we had been told) was about to die, I spent the night in her hospital room, simply holding her hand.  Having no frame of reference for how to act when losing one’s mother, I didn’t really know what else to do. We didn’t say much; she was too sick and I was fighting a sense of helplessness.  I ventured a question, “Why you?”  She responded, “Why not me?”  And that was what made her life so remarkable; she was always so wise, so loving and so important to everyone around her. 

                My father, apparently, learned nothing during his life spent with a prayer warrior and eternal optimist, as he continually laments, “Why me?”  He questions why she left and why she loved him.  The first answer is easy; the second answer is better left unsaid. 

Unable to ask her myself, this is nothing but conjecture, but I think it was she was attracted to someone who embodied the complete opposite of her good girl, church-going self and she was drawn to the "excitement” and by the time she realized the complexity and level of emotional baggage he had, she was too far along in the marriage to simply abandon it.  Baptists just don’t do that; her version of Baptist at least.

I don’t want you to get the wrong impression because my father is not a bad person.  He is not selfish; he would give you his last nickel.  But he is self-centered and there is a difference.  He doesn’t, even for an instant, think about how his words or actions will affect anyone.  I think my Mother thought she could save him from himself.

I know he is angry and he has every right to be, but he also needs to realize that no matter how much he wants it, she is not coming back.  She is gone from this earth.  She lives in my heart and my memory and I visit her often; sometimes with laughter, sometimes with an exquisite ache, but I don’t let it stop me from living.  That's not what she would have wanted.  She did not abide self-pity.  As someone who was pretty adept at planning pity parties as a teen, I know whereof I speak.

                My first year of graduate school afforded me the opportunity to take several education-focused psychology and counseling classes as my major was Education Administration.  I said that to state my frame of reference for recognizing depression in its various forms.  My Daddy is depressed and not in that “I’m sad because they cancelled the Rockford Files” way. 

As his frame of reference for proper mental health is himself, you can see why he would be unaware he was hosting a pity party.  As he talks to no one but me and only to share litany of woe involving his random aches, his unquenched desire for chocolate ice cream and continuous fart jokes, he doesn’t realize what he is feeling is not normal.  He thinks he’s fine and I suppose he is feeling most of the same things he has always felt, about himself and the world.  He has been somewhat irritated for as long as I can remember and my memories, however vague, begin somewhere in late 1973.

                As I am the “weird one” amongst his offspring, he doesn’t think I am qualified to dissect the intricacies of his psyche or offer suggestions for how one should feel.  He didn’t actually say that.  What he said was, “Stop tryin’ to get in my head.  You ain’t a shrink.”  And that is true.

                But as his primary caregiver I felt he needed to talk to someone and his doctor agreed.  They assigned someone to help with his chronic pain management.  When he asked me if (his doctor) was a psychiatrist, I said, “No, she is not a psychiatrist.”  And then I stopped talking.  She is a psychologist; there is a difference.  Judge not, y’all.

You see, his constant back pain makes him feel bad, which worsens his depression, which makes him more susceptible to pain.  It’s a vicious cycle and one that is not going to improve through my wishing and hoping.  It’s also not going to improve through the ingestion of Krispy Kreme donuts, as he continually suggests, but that is an experiment I support once every three or four months.  You know, just in case.

                And in the last couple of days, there has been a marked improvement.  He has actually requested to accompany me on tomorrow’s Columbus Day-inspired jaunt to the outlet mall in Gilroy, home of any true Southerner’s favorite duo, Sonic and Super Wal-Mart.  Nothing says happiness like clearanced priced Robert Talbott neckties followed by a cherry root beer. 

                Whether or not he will be able to maintain his improved outlook once he has witnessed the carnage of an outlet mall clearance event remains to be seen.  Regardless of how tomorrow goes though, I know that there is nothing so bad that a foot-long chili cheese coney and tater tots can’t temporarily fix, people.  And that is all I’m saying.