My father has given up on the world. Whenever I talk to him he is wrestling with despair. He doesn’t understand why so many terrible things are happening around him. Why God took my mother and not the alcoholic down the street. Why Uncle Joey, the kindest man on earth, has to suffer with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and now a broken hip. Why my mother’s niece, pregnant for the first time with twins, looked out in the back yard this past Saturday where her husband was mowing the lawn and watched him drop to the ground, dead from a massive heart attack.
Cliche is his only recourse. He says things like, it is what it is. Or, it’s a great life if you don’t weaken. He watches crime shows on TV and eats Keebler Cheese & Peanut Butter Sandwich Crackers. On Wednesdays he goes to the grocery store. He chats with the guy at the deli counter, teases the checkout girls, buys a lottery ticket. This takes up half his day. He goes to dinner once a week with a family member, and sits in the back pew at 4:00 mass on Saturdays. But it’s a shadow of a life. His heart is broken. His faith clatters around inside him like a rusty gate in the wind.
We used to talk only briefly. How’s the car running? Is it cold there? OK, here’s your mother. Now we go on and on. I try to sympathize, agree with him, hide my problems. I tell him what I’m cooking for dinner. I tell him work is busy but good. I tell him about the school plays and shopping for Converse All Stars for my daughter and the price of gas this week. I coo like a dove at his complaints and outrage. When I hang up the phone I feel bloated with sadness.
In my father’s high school year book under his senior picture it says that he wants to own a drug store one day. Instead he worked as a service man at the gas and electric company for 40 plus years. Once he spent a month as foreman of a grand jury. Every day he wore a tie and brought the secretaries donuts. When he finally retired, the OJ trial was on. He watched it religiously and took notes on a yellow legal pad. I should have been a banister, he said. I wonder how many dreams he deferred.
Sometimes I picture myself like my father, old and alone. What will I regret, wring my hands over, talk to my children about? It worries me, and yet, I think it will be different because I’ll have books. I’ll have writing. I’ll tell stories. These are my long-time companions For better or worse, I have made a life with them. They will stay with me until the end and keep teaching me, nurturing me and fueling my sense of purpose and hope. I think it will be ok. If I don’t weaken.