Now that I'm on the caregiver side, I'm more empathetic with his motives even if the actions sometimes seemed askew. He was concerned with my well-being and success, and tried to point me in the right direction, but I imagine it was hard for him to know what the right direction was. Unfortunately, growing up has unmasked the illusion that parents always know best.
We can aim to be good parents but it's a constant practice, not an end goal of perfection to be attained.
As the primary caregiver of my father, I practice to be a good caregiver. But I will be the first to admit that my practice falls short from time to time. With diligence, I pick up and try again.
And so did Dad. Again, and again. And that really is something.
* * *
The important things Dad got right but when it came down to 'daily' things, he was a bit 'off'. I don't think I really combed my hair until high school, and even then, I was clueless about it. One of the reasons in my adult life that I chose to grow my hair long was the advantage it gave me over my flippant hair, which invariably turned up at its ends. No amount of combing could tame it. And even though I was a child of the 80's, hairspray was an unknown in our household. Combed hair is overrated, anyway.
Dad was not much of a cook, and he will be the first to admit now - though he wouldn't admit it then. He'd put oatmeal in our hamburgers, and tuna in the Ragu. Consequently, most of our food was either frozen, or came from a pizza shop. Once a week was 'Bumby's' - that was sub night. I invented 'bacon bit' sandwiches. Delightful.
On Friday nights, we would often make a quick round of the bars in Columbia County. At Brookside Hotel in Stockport, I would pump quarters into Galaxian faster than my father could hand them to me. Some places had juke boxes. There was Joe's in Hudson. And Georgie Heintz, down by the tracks, used to serve pepperoni sandwiches. I can't count the number of pizzas we ate from Four Brothers in Valatie. Indeed, Dad knew all the places that let me sit at the bar! It didn't even seem 'weird', at the time. It was as if it was perfectly normal to take your 10 year old daughter to the bar.
I remember being very impressed with the unspoken rituals. Dad pushed his empty pint forward on the bar, next to a small pile of loose bills. The bartender would take his money, fill up his beer, and lay his change down - and Dad didn't even need to open his mouth. Amazing!
After making the rounds in Columbia County on Friday evening, we'd stretch out with our pillows on the living room floor of our home, furnished with stacked-up XEROX boxes, to watch Elvira, Mistress of the Dark on local Channel 45. Attack of Killer Tomatoes was one of my favorites... It was one of the few things my father and I agreed upon perfectly. It would sometimes take a few minutes for our TV to 'warm up', and Dad would endlessly have to move around the bunny ears until we got a good picture. Once adjusted, we'd sit together in the dark, basking in the glow of the TV, and eating mint chip ice cream.
He wanted to spend time with his daughter. He just had no clue about how to do it. But he tried. And honestly, I love to spend time with my father. But more and more, I find that I don't know what to do with him, that I do not know him anymore. He is Bob who is trying to find his father and mother, who is missing his brothers, who wants to go home. He is a Bob who doesn't have a daughter, who isn't married, who is in the service. He is a Bob I do not know, but I try.
Time is precious. Change moves swiftly and nudges you from the comfortable place you are in.
* * *
I try to be the 'best' parent, but I know I fail at this, too. I don't take my kids to the bar, but I am easily distracted and not always as focused on them as I should be. We must do better than our parents, who aimed to be better than their parents; we must pass on the good and leave behind the bad.
In this spirit that I ordered a Mystery Science Theater movie from Netflix. Seth and I used to watch MST on Saturday mornings when he was little. I thought it was time to share the same with Lil, who lives to be frightened.
"Want to watch a scary movie?" I asked her.
"Waaahhh!" Lil still doesn't pronounce her 'y' words quite right, so it comes out as more of a waaa when she says 'yeah'...
"It's the Ring of Terror!"
"Ring of Terror?" Lil's eyes opened wide.
"It's going to be scary!"
"It's going to be scary?" she repeated as she jumped onto the sofa, in between me and Dana.
So, with the lights out, Dana, Lil and I nestled into the sofa, hunkering down to watch the DVD. The movie, of course, was just awful - but in the best possible way. Dana had been reluctant to watch it, but he was laughing, too. Lil seemed genuinely confused.
She quite plainly said to me, "...Mommy, this is not scary..."
Quality aside, we were together. Laughing in the dark, being stupid, we were together.
Perhaps that is all any of us can get 'right'.