The room was dark…fortunately. He was lying on his back. I picked up his penis and put it in a plastic cup. As he peed, I tried not to laugh. The day before, with everyone in the room, he watched me cross the room and asked why I slouched like a “sad sack.”
My father didn’t slouch. But inside he was a crippled man.
He could never ignore what he perceived as insults. In the weeks before his death he talked about someone in high school who slighted him and said he couldn’t think of it without getting angry all over again. I estimate that event took place in 1953.
Throughout his life everyone unwittingly wronged him, over and over again, and he’d sulk and lash back. He seldom could articulate these wrongs. If I argued that there was no insult it only made him angrier.
When he wasn’t angry he was extraordinarily charming. He could also lie in bed and talk to himself. He worked in journalism and public relations. He tried to escape the money-is-everything values of his Jewish immigrant parents.
Later in life my brother wondered if he was bipolar.
I asked him why he didn’t write a novel (in my youth, that was a thing). He said he had started one when they first married. He didn’t say he no longer had an interest. He simply had no answer. After high school he traveled to Mexico to become an artist. I never saw him paint.
My mother had been a professional ballerina. That was her answer to what she did before marrying our dad. She said it without nostalgia, as if she had been a dishwasher.
They both had no idea what to do about us three kids. Few parents of the 1960s, borne of depression era parents, did. Of course, I didn’t understand that until well into adulthood.
What I learned about parenting is not to do what they did (though I’m not sure I ended up a better parent).
It was odd to me, even then, that they both encouraged us to pursue artistic interests. They bought a piano. I slouched over the keys and amused myself. They bought me lessons. I wasn’t talented and I didn’t take it seriously. No matter how little I practiced they paid for lessons until college.
Like them, I get no greater pleasure than watching one of my kids happily fooling around in another room.
The only political views my 84-year-old Dad expressed were against dying. I expected him to be in a state of terror when I arrived. He told me he was ready to “check out” but not to tell his wife (his second). She was 30 years his junior and loved his good qualities and ignored the rest. I didn’t expect him to die. I don’t remember all his symptoms. None of them made sense. It all started with his skin feeling itchy, weeks earlier, and ended in delirium.
During the previous decades, my father and I would go in and out of speaking to each other. As I mentioned, it was impossible to have a relationship with him without making him angry about slights he could never articulate.
When he almost died in a car crash in New Zealand 25 years ago I asked myself if I should make a bigger effort at our relationship, if I would regret not doing so should he die?
I was prepared. I called him less. I told myself any conversation could be our last, not because he was sick, but getting to that age.
After he died I realized I was wrong. It wasn’t as fun slouching as a sad sack without him.
And is too late to point out that I always thought him the smartest person I knew? Or that I too must keep the same anti-social demons at bay.
Anyway, we once watched the “Ox-Bow Incident” together. He loved that movie. The next day he called me and accused (“lynched”) me of stealing his pen (which later turned up in his bag). No matter how well my Dad understand people he had no control over himself.
I can’t explain my Dad directly. The best I can do is point out that everything I’ve written on Medium has been reviewed by the voice in my head that was my Dad. I’m always interested in what he has to say.