So on Tuesday I took the big (?) step of sending my dad an email.
In my mind, this was a big step, because it involved a lot of reflection about what I expected from my father and what kind of connection, if any, I wanted to have with him in however many years he might have left in the world.
He wrote back last night.
As I wrote earlier, I had sent a pretty simple email, just telling him in a superficial way how we were doing with sheltering in place. I mentioned to him that most days I go on a walk with my next door neighbor, both of us wearing masks and staying about six feet apart. Interestingly, that was the only part of my email he really responded to.
Here’s what he wrote to me:
You are approaching this problem correctly (from Dr. Seuss). Would be nice to have a friend here that could go on walks with – but that is a taboo exercise (even walkers or wheelchairs). We are not allowed outside our rooms and even fed meals in our rooms. Hopefully someday this all come to a screeching halt or an diminishing need.
I had to do some thinking to figure out what he was saying. He’d like to have a friend in his assisted living facility to go on walks with, he says. Okay got that. But it’s not allowed right now, since COVID19 restrictions mean residents have to stay in their rooms.
I think “approaching the problem correctly” means he approves of me taking walks? Or maybe approving that I wear a mask during my walks? And “from Dr. Seuss” is his way of joking, acknowledging he’s not really a doctor with the education of authority to tell me what to do.
That was literally the whole email, not another word, not “glad to hear from you” or “say hi to the family” or even “love, Dad.” But that’s fine. I don’t actually need him to say any of those things. I think I can already tell, because he responded in under two days, that he was glad I wrote to him.
His world is small right now. Literally, his world is the size of a small shared bedroom and bath. He can’t go anywhere else. I bet it does feel restrictive. No wonder that’s the part he responded to.
And how do my parts react to his email, I wonder?
Compassion says: Wow, you know, staying at home is a lot more restrictive for him than for me. I have a house and a garden and a family, plus my neighbor with the mask. I have Zoom happy hours and online therapy, frustrating as they can be sometimes. And even with all that, I can feel restless at times. My dad had a roommate he barely knows and has no attachment to, a television with headphones, and his computer. He sees the aides who bring him meals and the nurse who brings his meds; that’s it. It must be really hard to have a sense of meaning or purpose in his days.
Cynicism says: Well, as usual, he talks and complains about a fantasy. He used to call me once a week when I was in college and tell me what he was doing to grow his business and how it two months he was going to be a millionaire. That never happened. Now he’s fussing about never going for walks with friends, but the truth is, before COVID19, he never went on walks anyway. He never made any effort to make friends with other residents at the assisted living facility; in fact, he considered himself above them. So he’s not even talking about reality. As usual.
Daughter wanting a “good” dad says: I wish he had written something about me, about his relationship to me, about what I mean to him. I wish… maybe I wish he were just someone else, sigh.
Daughter wanting to get daddy’s attention and please him says: Maybe I can think of some story about the past or find some old photo that will make him laugh and cheer him up.
Anxiety says: I feel like eating some carbs. With extra sugar. Then I will calm down for a little while.
I’m glad Anxiety spoke up there. Otherwise I might not have noticed that she was present. I think I tell myself that I am not anxious about my relationship with my father. It’s just about emails, right? No big deal! (But then why is this my third post in a row on this topic?)
I think I will give myself a few days before I write back to him. And in the meantime, I’m going to rummage in the fridge to see what I can offer to Anxiety. She’s got an appetite.
CREDIT: Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash