What Am I? A Rag?

In a crazy turn of events, I’ve had to move from my rented home in Kalamazoo, Michigan to my parent’s house in Naples, Florida. My parents are reaching (or have arrived) at the golden age of life, where they have difficulty doing for themselves. So, I packed up my things, stuck them in a storage unit, hopped into my little Aveo, and drove the 1300+ miles South.

The trip was grueling, as I dragged along my youngest daughter, her friend, and my dog. I had to leave my pup (who is actually about ten years old) with a friend, as my parents are severely allergic to cats and dogs. It hurts my heart to not have her with me, but I know she is in good hands until I can get her back again.

What’s really crazy is what I’ve been through the last few weeks.

My mother has two siblings in Cuba that are quite ill. My uncle Luminado and my aunt Celeste. Both have cancer and, from what I understand, my uncle is terminal. My aunt is fairing a bit better. My mother traveled to see them for ten days and, during that time, I was left to take care of my ailing father, who had suffered a mini stroke about two months ago.

My father is, at the very least, a difficult man. In our youth, he was somewhat a tyrant. He was intolerant of anything that was outside the “machismo” Cuban way of thinking. I cannot speak for my other siblings, but my experience growing up was hindered by the daily mantra of “you are a girl, you cannot do (insert activity here).” Whereas many of my friends were climbing trees, doing lemondrops off the horizontal bars, riding their bikes through their neighborhoods, and finding new friends at the mall, I was relegated to only playing in my backyard or on the front sidewalk, going to the store with siblings or my parents, or having to turn down invites to spend the night at friend’s houses. All in the name of “girldom” (a.k.a. “weaker-sex-istan”).

What my parents never imagined would happen was that I would grow up into a woman that does things for herself, as much as possible, if only because I refuse to believe the “you are a girl, you can’t do that” bullshit.

A prime example of this is the conversation I had with my father the other day, before my mother came home.

He was sleeping in his bed, taking an afternoon nap (which, apparently, old folks like to do). He comes shuffling out of the bedroom and into the back lanai, where I am sitting, reading a book. He sits down in his recliner, kicks back and raises the leg rest, and proceeds to huff and puff. I throw him some side-eye, because (thanks to my psychology schooling) I am certain he’s fishing for attention. (One thing I’ve learned in all this, is that my father requires attention and validation of his ailments just to feel “alive”.)

Me: What’s on your mind? 

Him: (shakes his head) Hmmm, nothing.

Me: That’s a lie. I can tell you are thinking about something and it’s bothering you. What thoughts have you got running around in that head of yours?

Him: Well, I was lying in my bed, with my eyes closed, thinking. 

Me: Thinking about what?

Him: When I die. I was thinking that your mother is going to need help and maybe, we can bring her sister here (from Cuba) and between her sister and your cousin, they can live here and take care of your mother. 

I have to admit, even using the skills that I have acquired after not only being a single mother of three kids, but also, from my five years of study, I have a tough time dealing with the things my father says in an objective way. But, can you blame me? He’s my father. There’s a long, and varied history there with many not-so-good moments that tend to rise to the surface when I am around him. However, I maintain composure and ask:

What am I, a rag? 

Okay, I lied. Composure was lost. I was a bit upset. To my logical brain, I had picked up in the middle of my life (albeit, a poor life, but I had left my two oldest daughters and my granddaughter in Michigan to come help my parents), left my friends and two of my children and my grandchild, left all my belongings (not to sound materialistic, but, that furniture was mine and I had paid good money for it), and then traveled in a teeny tiny car, thousands of miles, to sit here and basically be told I was insignificant.

He stares at me.

Me: Do you not realize what I’ve done to come down here to help you, but most importantly, to help my mother? (insert litany of all the things I listed above)

Him: (stammering) Yes, yes, I know. It’s just that, who’s going to take care of your mother when I am gone? 

Again? Really? Do you not realize you’ve now TWICE said that I am incapable or unworthy to complete this task of caring for my mother if you so happen to die? At this point, I’m shaking my head because I cannot imagine that he cannot see the forest for the trees (yes, I know, a cliche. Bite me, this is MY story!).

Me: Do you not realize that I have raised three kids on my own? (And, they are healthy, intelligent, and kind women.) I have owned homes, owned cars, worked hard, had money, not had money. I have traveled to new places, lived in two states, and, although my current circumstance is not ideal (yup, I am, by FULL definition, homeless), that does not mean that I will not continue to better my situation and that definitely does not mean that I am not capable of caring for my mother if you happen to die. 

Him: I know. I know. But – 

Me: There is no “but”. Do you know that this way of thinking has made me who I am today? You and mom always worried about me “finding a man”. What do I need a man for? I’ve built homes, cleaned shit, have technical and computer skills, can take out my own trash, wash my own car, buy my own things. I don’t “need” someone to care for me, because I am not a “girl that can’t do anything, or shouldn’t do anything” by virtue of being a girl. That phrase you always said to me, growing up, is part of what has fueled me to not let me get in my own way. And, when you say that my aunt and my cousin need to be here to take care of my mother, when I am already here and left everything to be here, that hurts my feelings. 

I left him pensive.

Did it matter what I said? I don’t know for certain. See, he’s not developing dementia or Alzheimer’s, but there is significant cognitive decline happening. Times where he asks a question, to receive an answer, then five minutes later, asks the same question again (presumably because his mind is still processing what he wants to know and hasn’t caught up yet).

This topic hasn’t come up again, but it really burned my cookies. I’ve been through quite a lot with this man as my father. Many of it, horrible. I’m fairly certain I have PTSD because of my childhood under his roof. But, at the end of the day, at the end of my lifetime and his, he is still my “father“. I don’t mean he’s my mother’s “baby daddy”. I mean, he took care of me by providing for my schooling, put a roof over my head, and made sure there was good food to eat on the table every day. He sired me and performed the duties of taking care of his offspring. He is not my “daddy”. That is where he fell short. However, I understand that he is human. I understand that, just as I was subject to the environment in which I was raised, thus was he subject to the environment in which he was raised. I could find fault in his behavior all day long, but if I do not consider that aspect, that he may have suffered something in his youth, as well, then I am no better than any judgmental person who has no empathy or sympathy for others. I would not be able to deal with this situation, without reminding myself that everyone goes through something, that everyone is influenced by the environment in which they are raised, and that many behaviors are the result of that environment.

Until next time –

 

Lisa

 

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One thought on “What Am I? A Rag?

  1. Initially, as you began writing the conversation with your dad, I thought your dad was trying to spare you the sole responsibility of ultimately having to care for your mother because he’s aware of your burdens and your sacrifice coming there. It would have been a sensitive, caring response to “What’s on your mind/” if it had come from my dad, who was a caring. protective father.

    The baggage we carry from our youth is hard to shake (as you realize– yours and his) and we don’t change behavior without a traumatic experience or a good therapist. You probably know this from your psych courses, if not your experiences.

    Talking and sharing thoughts about death is a personal, serious kind of sharing for many older people. Is it possible he’s softening and was pensive because he wasn’t trying to hurt your feelings; and was thinking aloud, trying to work out how to lighten your load after he died?

    Like

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