Thursday, March 23, 2006

"My name is Glenn. I'm a widower."

The view from my dad's lanai (Florida-talk for "back porch").

My dad has entered a new phase in his life. He is slowly figuring out how to live in this world as an independent being. He is not a part of a couple – he is just Glenn. He is so used to the roles and tasks that he and my mom had assumed that it becomes overwhelming for him, at times, to take them all on himself.

For example, the mail fascinates him because he never opened it before my mom died. Never. Last week, as I was trying to watch some mindless TV and decompress after a really long day with two overtired, whiny kids, he gave me a play by play of every piece of mail he received.

Dad: “This is the second time I’ve been invited to Norm Coleman’s fundraising party. (Names the address) I wonder where that is? Who are these people? They probably live in Port Royale. How did they find me? Look! (shows me the envelope) They first sent it to Minnesota. Oh – they make sure to tell me how much I can contribute…”

By this point I have stopped looking up at him occasionally and started to completely ignore him and stare at the TV screen. He is oblivious to this and just continues on.

Dad: “Oh good, my checks came. Deluxe. Haven’t heard of them.”

I begin to perk up because this just blows me away.

Me: “What do you mean you haven’t heard of them? They are one of the largest distributors of checks? Hell, they’re based in the Twin Cities.”

He interrupts my frustrated tirade in the same tone that he was in before I berated him. Again seemingly oblivious.

Dad: “What I want to know is where the bill is? When I ordered these online there was no mention of any charge.”

Me: “Dad, I told you that you will be charged. No one gets free checks.”

Dad: “So where is the bill?”

Me: “Dad, they’ll just take the fee out of your checking account.”

At this point is truly hits me how sheltered he’s been from the every day ins and outs of living independently. My mom must have done absolutely everything and he never bothered to take an interest in the details. I couldn’t handle it any longer. I had to tell him how I felt.

Me: “Dad, I truly care for you, but right now I don’t care about the details of your mail. I just want to watch a little television.”

Luckily he took this in the vein intended and laughed at himself. He then waited about ten seconds and started telling me that Sprint was “no longer” and was changing its name to some word he couldn’t pronounce, but desperately tried to pronounce for another five minutes. This quickly turned into a synopsis of all the details of the free address labels he received from the American Heart Association. “How can anyone use all these?” he added.

I am trying really hard to adjust to his new role. When I was with him through my mom’s last days and death, I helped him a lot. I took care of meals, thank you notes, the details, etc. I needed to because my dad has always been the one we have taken care of. He accepts help easily – hell, he loves it. Now that he has been alone in Florida for over a month, he seems to be finally starting to adjust. He still can’t accept that he is able to go anywhere, or do anything, he wants, but he does seem to be adapting to the single life.
Since we have been here, I have offered to do some things for him – laundry, deep cleaning and running errands for him – but he keeps refusing my help. I think it’s his way of exerting his independence. As if to say, “I’m old, but not helpless.”

I’m willing to accept this “new” Dad, but I’m not sure I can accept the new, single Glenn. He keeps bringing up the interaction he had with this woman he is somewhat interested in. He was seated next to her at a “Minnesota Night” dinner and learned that she was from a suburb next to his in Minneapolis. After further investigation, he discovered that she was raised within a mile or so from where he was raised in Chicago. They played in the same park and even attended the same junior college. My dad can’t seem to get over the “connection” he seemingly has with her. A comforting familiarity.

One evening during our visit my dad had plans of his own, so we took our time coming home from the beach. I was surprised to find the door open, when we returned, and my dad sitting in his regular reading spot with his Journal. His plans were cancelled at the last minute and since he wasn’t sure when we’d be home, he did something outrageous – he called the other woman – Ms. Humboldt Park/Wright Jr. College. He started to tell me about the phone call right away as if I were a buddy of his. I got the complete play-by-play – how he got his nerve up, dialed the phone to invite her to dinner at the club, and…a male voice answered on the machine. He hung up, without leaving a message, confused. I got to listen to speculations for about five minutes before I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to leave the room to get away from his rambling on about whether the voice was her live-in beau, a new husband (not listed in the community directory) or the voice of her late husband.

The next night we all went to the club and, as fate would have it, we sat at a table right next to Ms. Humboldt Park/Wright Jr. College. She was eating with a young couple and their two kids. It was kind of weird to see her, but not as uncomfortable as I expected. My dad declined greeting her and apparently she didn’t recognize him. She had her back to us and I caught my dad glancing her way a few times. He was curious. What’s her story? Who are the young people? Is it her daughter or son?

Throughout the week I noticed that my dad continues to refer to things as if a part of a couple. “We” went there. This is “ours”. He keeps everything exactly the way that my mom had it. He clearly is not at peace without her in his life. He doesn’t miss the misery she was in. We both shared remembrances when she struggled physically (i.e. getting in and out of the car, or shuffling down the hall with her walker) that we didn’t always empathize with her enough.

He likes being in an environment where he can run into one of her bridge buddies and they will go on and on about Mom’s charm and smile. He isn’t eager to sell the house in Minnesota – he keeps saying that he wants to wait for things to settle down.

I know he loved her the best way that he knew how. Seeing him, this week, in his element I believe that. He isn’t going to replace my mom. He only wants a friend. And if that friend happens to be from the old neighborhood – more power to her.

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