My Dad

I try to remember Dad, who he was, but it’s clouded by the problems we are having with him right now.

Dad wasn’t much involved with us kids, that was left to his wife.  Certainly any involvement was when it was convenient for him, unless there was some emergency.  I’m not sure about my sisters, but I don’t recall hearing many terms of affection from him, and certainly no guidance about life in general.

I remember wanting him to teach me things, about working on cars, and even how to shoot those rifles that he kept in the rack.  But I was a girl.   He did sometimes take us fishing when we went camping, but I think he preferred not to.  He did have us “assist him” when he was working on things because it was something he needed.  He was a mechanic and could fix just about anything.

We were what they now call “free range kids”.  I wouldn’t change that part in any way.

Dad once said that he wanted to raise us girls to be independent and do things for ourselves.  So that is what he thought he was doing (at least in hindsight) and in a way he was doing just that, but it wasn’t due to involvement on his part, but because of lack of involvement.

A few things that I contribute to my success are worth mentioning here….  I was a member of Civil Air Patrol for over a decade, and being surrounded by good people doing good things had a profound effect on me.  They helped me build my confidence, develop skills I would never have otherwise, and they exposed me to different worlds, as well as helped me hone my sense of right and wrong.  The CAP filled a void that I had growing up and made me a better person.  It’s kind of amazing how this can happen to a straight A student, but the only career advice I ever received in high school, was about 4 days before college admissions closed, and Dad suggested I apply to the local university instead of the local junior college.

But what saddens me about Dad, which I realized last year, is that I had grown up with a father that showed little to no empathy.  No wonder my mother lost who she was, she was always striving to win that piece of affection from Dad.   It is precisely this lack of empathy that is being amplified as Dad goes through his own process of dementia.

When I was a kid, there were only a few major tv stations, and, after hours, almost all of them aired that “test pattern” because they went off-air.  But on Friday nights, there were late night horror movies that I was allowed to stay up and watch.  I’m not sure how “late” that “late night” really was though – late for a kid not yet in high school.  Mom would go to bed, and I would stay up and watch while I waited for Dad to come home from staying out and drinking beer with the guys.  I don’t know how it started, but our routine became that we would sit at the counter and debate, and try to solve the world’s problems.  I was just a kid, but I guess I learned to argue with the best of them ;).  I grew older and this got old, and when I started to go to bed early instead of waiting up for Dad, he would come and wake me up when he got home, so he would have someone to argue with, and argue we would.

I always thought of those times as special.  I did noticed later, when I was working on my PhD and we would continue our debates, that he would think funny and not in a logical manner – it was often nonsensical and frustrating.  That had been the case since I was young, but I never thought twice about it then.  But I think about that a lot lately.  Every time he’s had a brain scan (since long before there was any thought of dementia), they have always wondered about a strange spot in his brain.  Looking at him through now adult and more knowing eyes, I suspect all along there has been some sort of brain defect, maybe even a previous head injury of some sort.

I lived at home until I graduated with my BA @ 23.  Of all us kids, I knew my parents the best, in some ways.  I learned to forgive them for being human and having failings.  As a now, uh “mature adult”, I am thinking now about different parts of them.  Part of this is survival.  How do I help Mom survive Dad, and how do I survive him and his illogical, uncaring and hurtful thinking?   And finally, how can I use this to find a way to grow older in a more graceful manner….

 

My Mom

I try to remember Mom, who she was, but it’s hard right now.

She was born in Austria in 1925.  She lived there during WWII, when Hitler took over, and when the Americans bombed.   She was forced into the Hitler Youth Corps during that time, which I could never get her to talk about much.  It was after the war when she met Dad, who was in the Army stationed in Vienna.  He came home to California, and eventually she got on a ship and travelled to Canada.  She worked there for awhile to repay the cost of the ship fare.  She was independent and she was brave.

It’s not clear that she came over because of Dad.  They both have told me no, but I seem to recall them telling me yes at some point.  When Mom was in the hospital back in 2009, and pretty delirious, she told me about a love of her life that she had, and it wasn’t dad, but I don’t know if that was a high school crush or what.  When she was recently in the rehab facility, she would talk of her love and her lover (very uncharacteristic of her), and then cuss Dad out when he arrived because he was not her husband – I do not know in what world she was living in at that point.  The reality is that my parents have been married for 61 years now, regardless of what happened before that, and that’s a VERY long time.

When Mom moved to the States with Dad, they moved to a very small town on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, where Dad had gone to high school.  Small towns can be difficult towns to live in.  Small towns can be difficult to assimilate into, particularly when you are from a foreign land with the wrong kind of accent.  They weren’t very kind to her.

I often wondered if she wondered what the heck she got herself into – travelling across an ocean, giving up an independent lifestyle in Canada, and moving to this hick of a town that wasn’t very nice to her, to a mother-in-law that also wasn’t very nice, and to a husband that she probably didn’t know very well at the time … she probably lost a lot of who she was.

She was nosy and snooped on us kids, but she really just wanted to be a part of our lives and know what was going on with us.  My parents did a lot of things wrong raising us, but it was a different time.  I am the youngest of three girls, now almost 54 years old, and the lasting memory I have of my mom is of her trying to help me, again and again, by figuring out ways to get around my dad.  She was very proud of me, and in later years, more and more dependent upon me, until I had to pull back some.  I know that she still worries about me, even in her compromised state.

I can’t help her in the home that she is in now with Dad blocking us at every turn, but I know that us kids are her last hope.  Now we are the ones that have to join together to find a way around Dad to help her.