So… I’m getting a little frustrated with my dad. It’s a kind frustration, not an angry one.
My dad has struggled a lot since my mom died. To be expected, really. He has his good days and his bad days, but lately the bad ones have started to rack up with more frequency. My dad has been increasingly needy in the last few weeks. It all started when two former colleagues of his died- he got word within two days of each other. Now, he hadn’t talked to them in years, but still… it’s sad. My father is at that age where the death notices just start to roll in. Again, it’s sad… but what can you do? Stop 80 and 90 year olds from dying?
His messages to me started to get a weird panicky tone. He emailed and texted me several times a day. Then he texted me that my great uncle died (he was 96.) I got this text in the middle of a meeting. Not exactly the right time or place. Perhaps this is an example of older folks not understanding appropriate communication methods, but that’s just shit you don’t text.
Anyway… Sensing a disturbance in the force, I called him that afternoon. And he talked for 45 minutes mostly about my brother. (Context: my brother basically got fired because he got so depressed after my mom’s death that he stopped going to work. He’s been able to plead his case and is now “on leave” with the understanding that he is supposed to find another job while he is “on leave.” There is more nuance to that, but that summarizes what’s going on.)
Now, I get it. My dad is concerned for my brother. But this was different. It’s like my brother’s depression and all the people dying is proof that the world is a terrible place. He also implied that my mom’s death was easier for me because I’m “okay.” Cue brain boiling. Even though that insensitivity, I did my best imitation of a cheerleader, and talked with him about ways he can get outside, try new hobbies, meet with friends… you know, keep living even when life looks shitty. After the past few years I’ve had, I’m very good at this.
Several times in the last week, I emailed him an interesting article or podcast, and he’d either claim he can’t read it or access it. The end request is “Why don’t you call me and tell me about it/show me how it works.” Today he asked me to call him and tell him about a party I went to this weekend.
He emails constantly, texts me about people dying… Just as I was writing this, he texted me, my brother, and my sister an essay about Beverly Cleary’s birthday, and asked if Ramona Quimby was my role model. It was like an essay question over text. What, what?
Look, I love my dad, but I can’t be on the phone with him for 45 minutes every night when I get home from work. I have dinner to make, a baby to take care of, a house to make less chaotic. I can’t respond to every text and email because I have a job to do (and a big fat project I’m trying to keep from going off the rails.)
In the spirit of teaching a man to fish, I did a little research and found that there is a cooking class on May 14th that I thought Dad would really like. He’d get out of the house, it would give him something to look forward to, and he’d meet new people. Our exchange went something like this:
ME: What are you doing May 14th?
ME: Great, I’ve found a cool cooking class for you! It’s only 3 hours on a Saturday. You’ll go to a local farmer’s market, meet the farmers, and make fresh food from seasonal ingredients!
DAD: I appreciate what you’re doing but I have to get ready to go to my summer house. So no thank you.
To be honest, this is horse pucky- the man has 6 weeks between now and the class, which is plenty of time to get ready. He just doesn’t want to do it.
Anyway, this was my epiphany: my dad wants companionship, and the best I could possibly be is a cheerleader. He wants my mom back and is trying to replace that closeness through emails and texts, and it just isn’t going to happen. Every time I make suggestions about how he can find companionship elsewhere (like going to the pool, going to a cooking class, or joining a book club) he finds reasons not to do them. I offer him this support, and he says no, I want that. But I just can’t be the only thing he seems to want.
It’s a no win situation.
In the past, I’ve had to set boundaries with my dad and it looks like they need a refresh. The question is… how do you do this that doesn’t shake his already fragile foundation?