“It was so much nicer this time. When you smile, you’re much….cuter? Is that the word?”
My father to me on the phone yesterday about why his trip home was more pleasant this time around. I started laughing as did my mother. I was talking to him through LINE, which mean she could hear him as well. He said, “Is that not the right word? Attractive? Is that better?”
By now, I’m flat-out laughing, but I tell him I know what he means. He keeps pursing it, and my mom says the Taiwanese equivalent–kuh-ai. I say, “Yes, cuter, but that’s not exactly the right word.” I kept telling him I understood what he meant, and more importantly, I didn’t get pissed as I would have a few years ago or even last year, even though what he was trying to say is a literal meme about one of the most condescending things you can say to a woman.
Last year, I would have lashed out and told him angrily how condescending he was being, blah, blah, blah. He would not have understood what I was saying at all, and it would have gotten ugly. I would have felt pissed off and insulted, whereas he would have felt confused and affronted. It would have gotten uglier and uglier until one or both of us exploded in anger. We both have terrible tempers and are very bristly, so we’re like oil and water.
Or we were, anyway.
I marvel at how effortless it was to keep my temper most of the time during this visit. The thing is, I’ve changed. He has as well, though he’s still more himself. One of my father’s biggest flaws is that he cannot imagine someone else not feeling the same way he does, but for whatever reason, I didn’t take it personally this time. I was able to see that’s just him. His narcissism. His prickly skin. His shaky sense of self and pride.
The thing is, I didn’t have any plan. I mean, I told myself to be chill about it, but I’ve told myself that in the past and failed miserably. He would say something incendiary, and I would explode without even thinking about it. This time, he could say the same thing, and it didn’t push my buttons. I was able to not react to the words and see the intent instead. I was also able to remember his limitations and firmly delineate his issues from my issues.
I know I sound like a broken record, but I credit taiji for the ability to deal more effectively with my father. It’s given me a sense of self that I didn’t have before, and, more importantly, it’s taught me how to relax.
I will admit there are still a few things that have made me snap or that have me on edge. One has to do with my mother. I’ve said before how she has a habit of narrating events from her life as if she’s Morgan Freeman. It’s fucking annoying especially if I’m trying to do something else. Another is her laser-like focus on my father’s ailments. It’s a tricky line because he’s failing in many ways, so it’s understandable that she’s concerned. However, she focuses almost all her energy on him, and I think it’s one way for her to not have to look at how lopsided their relationship is.
It’s difficult because as I mentioned, he’s definitely suffering from a diminishing of his mental faculties. I think it’s early onset dementia, but my mom is resistant to getting him tested. Why? Because he will balk at it. He’ll see the doctor for minor issues and things that he perceives as major but aren’t life-threatening, but as to tangible possible problems? Nope. She’ll have to approach it in a way that won’t shame him, which means addressing the memory loss. He’s acknowledged that and is concerned about it, but true to his nature, he refuses to think about what it might mean in the bigger picture.
In addition, the secret I know about him might play a part in what’s happening with his memory. My mom says how he’ll tell her he’s coming home for lunch or dinner, then doesn’t show up. He’ll say he forgot, and she doesn’t think he’s lying. It’s tricky because he’s not very considerate of other people’s time in general, so it’s hard to know what is just him and what is part of his potential problem. Plus, there’s a reason he might be distracted, and I’m wondering if I should tell my mother about it–or him. It could possible have an effect on a diagnosis of dementia, but it would be really difficult for me to bring up.
I’m having a hard time with how obsessed my mother is with my father’s health. She went to lunch with a church friend of hers who lost her husband to Parkinson’s Disease. My mom was recounting some of the problems the husband had with hallucination and memory loss, and she was relating it to what my father is going through. I tried to bring something up about a taiji classmate of mine, and my mother walked out of the room to get something to show me an example of why she’s worried about my father’s mental well-being.
It really pushed the button of me not feeling important to my family, and I was mad when she returned. Instead of yelling at her, however, I was able to inform her in a slightly-heated voice that I was mad because she had walked out on me while I was mid-sentenced. I told her it was rude, and it made me feel as if what I was saying was unimportant. She protested that she was afraid she would forget what she wanted to show me, and I said I understood, but it was still rude. I also said that I was concerned about how focused she was on my father’s health, and while she had good reasons for it, I still thought it was excessive. She’s able to turn anything to be about him, and she has a good excuse for it. She’s his primary caretaker and will be for the rest of his life. But, it’s too much. He’s like booze to an alcoholic with her. Her whole being is focused on him, and he’s not worth it.
A few years ago, I would have exploded at her and refused to talk to her for hours. I get that from my father. He’s the king of the silent treatment, and it can last for days. This time, I told her I was mad, then I took a few breaths, and I slowly got over it.
It saddens me to see her pour everything into him, and he just accepts it as his rightful due. Worse, he accuses her of not loving him if she doesn’t do exactly what he want the second he wants her to do it. She’s a fucking psychologist. She knows better–or should. But, he’s her fucking Kryptonite, and there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. So, do I tell her the secret? I don’t think she would believe me even if I do tell her, and will it make a difference? Probably not. However, when it comes to the question of whether or not he has dementia, it might be helpful.
The thing is, I find myself getting sucked into countless discussions of his mental state. I think it’s her way of being connected to him when he’s not here. I don’t think she could go a day without mentioning him. Hell, I’m not sure she could go for a few hours without talking about him. It’s also difficult because she enables some of his worst behaviors. The example she gave me of him maybe having dementia was…OK. I have to explain. She puts out his pills every day, laying them out on the table. Morning, afternoon, night. Which goes with food, which doesn’t, etc. She does it at the same time when she puts out her own meds. She’s gotten it mixed up a few times, so she’s been trying to teach him which pill is which so he can see for himself. No matter how hard she tries, he forgets. She showed me the two pill packets, and they don’t look alike at all.
The problem is, he’s had women doing shit for him all his life. His secretary used to print out his emails for him, for example. She scheduled everything as well, and he had a driver who drove him anywhere. My mom did everything at home, so he never needed to worry himself about the details. So, is he simply refusing to learn which pill is which? He’s resistant to learning things he doesn’t want to know, and he’s very rigid in his ideas. He always has. It makes it difficult to tell, therefore, if his not remembering which pill is which is willful attitude or a problem with his brain.
I will say I think his mental faculties are diminishing. My mom who is three years younger and has taken care of her health all her life has shown very little sign of mental confusion. She’s also had a bad memory all her life, but has been scrupulous about finding ways around it. She’s much more alert, and she looks way better than my father does.
The other thing that never fails to irritate me is when my mom talks to me from another room, continuing a conversation that only she has been having.
I really am a loner who doesn’t want to be talked to except on my own terms. It’s a real challenge to deal with having someone else around 24/7. Hopefully, the rest of the visit can go as smoothly as it has so far.