May 28th, 2018
“Old man look at my life,
I’m a lot like you were.”
Neil Young from his song, Old Man
The nursing home is actually pretty nice. It’s clean. My dad’s room is small, but it’s comfortable. The staff is friendly and efficient. The food is good. My dad gets care 24/7.
He is still miserable.
Karin and I went to visit him on Saturday. We don’t see him very often. It is almost a three hour drive from where we live to the nursing home in Iola. When we go to see my father, it is an all-day affair. Even though we are retired, we still don’t usually have entire days that are completely free. So, it is rare for us to make that journey.
We spent two hours with my dad. Mostly, we spoke with my brother, who was also sitting in the room. My father sat between us, but he seldom joined in the discussion. This was very different from how things were years ago, back when my dad would dominate the conversation. He always had strong opinions, and he would never bend. Arguments would sometimes erupt, and they would not end until my dad had completely worn down his opponent. After a while, I learned to avoid hot topics. I tiptoed through a verbal minefield, making sure that we kept to safe subjects. Even so, sometimes I stepped on a booby trap and ignited a explosion of shouting from my father. Then I would shout back. It was always a bit awkward, and a little nerve wracking.
It’s not like that any more. Karin and I talked for a long time about immigration politics with my brother. My dad scarcely said anything. He only mentioned about how his grandfather was recruited by a mining company in northern Michigan to emigrate from Austria-Hungary. We talked about unions and workers rights. My dad had always been a big union supporter, but he didn’t speak up. My father seemed uninterested or distracted. He wasn’t quite there with us. Occasionally, he would bring up a story from the past, but the story didn’t necessarily match the topic at hand. He said what he wanted to say, relevant or not.
For most of his life, my father has been wound pretty tight. It doesn’t bother me to see him calm down a bit, but he’s beyond calm. He’s apathetic. His often mind wanders through the corridors of his memories, and he doesn’t seem very interested in what is going on around him. His world in mostly in the past. He occasionally confuses names and events from the old days. He knows what he means, but the words sometimes come out wrong. I can usually figure out what he is trying to express, because I know all of the old stories by heart.
When I was young, I just wanted to have a frank conversation with my father. I wanted to be able to be straight with him, and I hoped that he would be straight with me. That never happened. We either spent all our time talking about things that didn’t matter to either of us, or we engaged in a knock down, drag out fight. I only learned about what he was really like by reading between the lines when he went on a rant. Sometimes he would let total honesty slip through the during the argument.
Now it is too late to have that frank conversation. The passion inside him has died down, but so has his mental acuity. He’s calmer now, but that is because part of him is no longer present to me. I guess that I want to speak with the man I knew twenty years ago. Well, he’s gone. We can’t have that heart to heart. Not in this world.
I’ll talk with the man who is still here. I’ll love the man who is still here.