The Call from Dad
Have you started infantalising your parents yet? They say that it’s inevitable: you become the parent, they become the children. I will never know what it is to worry for a child (and I won’t insult you parents with a comparison to my dogs since I know how you hate that) but I do know very well what it’s like to worry for my parents. My mother was in hospital for 9 months last year. Suddenly I was changing her diapers and wiping the sh-t out of her ass. I was there when she woke up to feed her and I returned in the afternoon after work to give her something to look forward to. But beyond the concern for their physical well-being, it’s a complicated and uncomfortable life experience, that gradual realisation that you know more than your parents do, that you (might) know better than they do; there’s nothing worse than the phone call that was originally intended to ask them for advice when you end up spending more time explaining to them the background of the situation and the intricacies involved in the decision you have to make than actually receiving the counsel you were seeking in the first place. The world has evolved so quickly, too quickly for them to be able to catch up. And, as immigrants, my parents weren’t even all that caught up to begin with, even before technology and modern advancements made them, at times, totally incapable of existing independently.
Dad is in Hawaii right now. He went on his own because ma can’t travel and he’s there to make offerings at the Buddhist temple where they prayed for her recovery a few years ago, and to take some time for himself. Ma’s illness has been hard on him too -- the unsung, invisible hero behind her recovery -- and it will be good for him to get away, to not have to wake up in the middle of the night to walk her to the bathroom, to take a break from cooking every meal and administering every needle.
But all I could think about the other day when he left was whether or not he’d be OK on his own. All I could picture was him at the airport, making his connection, a short bald Asian man with a fanny pack around his waist staring up at a huge electronic board full of information, surrounded by harried travellers, trying to listen to the announcements being made through low quality speakers every thirty seconds. Of course I’m undermining his abilities here -- Dad’s English is excellent, he put himself through school in Canada, he can certainly read signs and understand the language. But they talk so fast these days, you know? And they use colloquialisms and shorthand that might be unfamiliar. And oftentimes they are so goddamn impatient, you feel bad just for asking. And I have seen those people, those old, confused people, I see them all the time in the airports, in a corner, clutching a piece of paper, terror in their eyes, lost and totally ignored, and since we are prone to imaging the worst when we worry, I couldn’t push away the mental images -- of the person who used to know how to get anywhere, who knew all the answers, who was never late to pick me up now not knowing much anymore.
Dad made it there fine. And if he knew about me writing this, he’d probably feel very sad, possibly a little hurt. He ran a half marathon earlier this year. He takes ma all over the city to all her medical appointments, and he still completes all their tax forms manually and reads a book a week from the library and 64 (in 2 weeks) isn’t ancient. But when you see the early signs - the driving isn’t as sharp as it used to be, and changing the television from DVD to cable is often a mystery, and there are an awful lot of weird viruses and programs that Jacek has to clean up on his computer every time we visit - it’s easy to project where they will lead.
Anyway, why am I depressing you like this today?
I saw these pictures of Suri Cruise in New York with Katie Holmes and she appears to be talking on the phone. To her dad? It’s a timely photo especially since Tom Cruise wanted PEOPLE Magazine to tell us on their cover this week that even though he hasn’t seen much of her the last couple of months, they talk all the time, several times a day.
Yesterday was my birthday. I have talked to my dad on every birthday of my life. Dad was supposed to call me, I couldn’t call him, from Hawaii because, of course, he was too cheap to bring the cell phone on holiday. (GOD THE FRUGALITY MAKES ME CRAZY SOMETIMES.) Unfortunately I missed the call. He left me the most lovely message and he sounded so sweet, I was despondent afterwards that we hadn’t spoken directly. But he said he would try again. So I refused to let go of my phone. And then ...my phone died. Not the battery, the actual phone. It just stopped working. It still isn’t working. And amazingly, in that desperation to talk to him, I felt like I was 10 again. When the only person who could make me feel better was my dad. Dad was eventually able to reach me on Jacek’s phone. It was the best moment of my birthday. As much sh-t as we like to give Tom Cruise, constantly, I want to believe that this was similar to what Suri was feeling at the moment that these photos were taken -- that having him on the line is why she’s so happy she’s almost skipping.