Ever have internal conversations in your head that you don’t even realize you’re having? My guy did a double take a couple of years ago because I asked him a question, then answered for him, then retorted to the response he didn’t say and quipped right back burning my own ass in typical Pookie-fashion. The scary part is that he admitted it was entirely accurate, but still scary nonetheless. I like to think it’s what makes me a decent writer. The honest to God scary part is when I realized I was having these conversations whenever I was driving to pick up my father.
Translating characters having conversations in your head produces some wonderful content for a book. It really does. That’s healthy. This other stuff isn’t. The hardest part about spending time with dad a year and a half ago was getting used to hearing the same story a couple times a day, seven days a week. It was, for all intents and purposes, the…same…f*****g…thing over and over and over.
When we’d go for a walk each night after I got out of work, he’d tell me three times in 90 minutes how sorry he was that he’d hunted and was glad I never did, that he was glad he never had to shoot anybody when he was a police officer, that he was a police officer, that he couldn’t write tickets to bad drivers anymore, that he was so lucky to have my mother as his wife, that she was a good driver and that I was a good driver.
They’re hardly satanic verses, right? And they’re good thoughts. They’re positive. Try listening to them every 5 minutes like clockwork for weeks on end. They start to sound like satanic verses. And taking him to the mall? Another series of stories visit after visit after visit. Driving in the Jeep brought about a whole new meaning of hell because dad would sit there and monitor the outside temperature reading. God forbid if it went up or down a degree because he’d inform you faster than the Weather Channel. Again, hardly the things nightmares are made of…and yet they got to be.
Mind you, my mother deals with this each and every day.
I’d leave work or home to go pick up dad and I would literally be running through each and every potential conversation in my head. If we went for a walk, where should we walk? Near the police station? Bad idea because he’d bring up the police bits again. Where there were animals? He’d bring up hunting again. Long drive? He’d certainly bring up the whole mom’s a good driver thing. Go to the mall? Which mall? He’d tell me about Macomb Mall again.
He also picked up the lovely habits of taking off and saying things to people in public that he couldn’t remember moments later. Or he’d become extremely impatient with the staff in a restaurant. Or he’d just say inappropriate things to people because he saw them interacting with me and wanted to be part of the conversation. So, when picking him up, I’m thinking about where I can take him that will minimize his saying something to somebody, then what he’d say and what my reaction will be.
Things got to the point where I was approaching being burned out and suffering from severe exhaustion spending time with him. I started hating every conversation with him. I think I even started hating the sound of his voice. And those thoughts made the exhaustion even worse. How awful a son did that make me? How awful a person was I for having those thoughts? After everything that man gave me in life, supported me in life and did for the family, why was I such an asshole?
Then something happened during the past few months that turned the tide.
I started realizing when these conversations were actually taking place and I began physically saying “No. I’m not doing this.” It wasn’t going to get the better of me. It took a while, but I started catching myself as soon as they started and I cut them off. Dad’s behavior isn’t going to change. He’s not going to adapt. We are. I am. And the moment I internalized that, the better things started to get. The tide started to turn.
He’s not the same man. He never will be again. The part of him that we all knew is locked away somewhere and to expect him to react the way he always has and be the person I’ve known all my life isn’t realistic. All my mother and I can do now is keep him comfortable, see that he’s happy in whatever form that takes–usually walks or drives–and help preserve his dignity.
The ugliness started to go away. It took me a year and a half to get here, but my role has moved towards caregiver and that’s a very good thing. It’s a good place to be in because it allows me to do the most good. Not only for my mother and her mental health, but also for my father. He may not be the same guy, but he’s still my dad and I’m going to have to answer to how I treat him one day.
Time is extremely precious because he’s never going to get any better. I can’t afford to lose more time than I’ve taken getting here, so I’m hoping this newfound mental revelation sticks. Time will tell.
Kage Alan is Bad Boys watching, Animotion listening author of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Sexual Orientation,” “Andy Stevenson Vs. the Lord of the Loins” and the first book in a separate series, “Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell.” He is looking forward to a nice summer’s slumber with the windows open tonight before his Pookie flies in tomorrow.