About Dad

I’ve haven’t said much about my father in months — frankly, there’s nothing funny, or farm-related about him.

But the real reason for his absence is that I’ve only visited him a handful of times since spring.

Of course, with three kids, including a new baby, I’ve had a worthy excuse to skip trips to the nursing home. But the truth is that I’m always fearful that I’ll transfer from illness to Brynn. Dementia addled patients have pretty terrible hygiene, and I fret that their germs will leap across the table or crawl across the bed that I perch on, and hitch a ride back to the farm, where they’ll scuttle over to Brynn.

And when it comes to uncleanliness, I’d guess that Dad leads the charge. With his particular dementia, he is extremely difficult to bathe and dress — sometimes combative and violent. Because of his rap sheet, some of the nurses leave him grizzled and grimy and await for Mom to take care of him, since she has the magic touch. Perhaps Mom should complain to management about Dad’s care but she doesn’t. Because she doesn’t want him kicked out due to his difficult behavior.

I stopped at the nursing home last week while Mom was out of town, keying in the passcode that gives visitors 20 seconds to slip through the door before the alarm sounds.

Dad was sitting on another resident’s bed — “he likes her room,” a nurse explained, smiling. He was parked on a bed, clutching a battered envelope, studying the address.

He looked shabby and a little gaunt, his cordoroys bagging around his middle and his sweater hanging from his shoulders, and he had about two day’s worth of stubble.

“Hi Dad,” I shout, even though he hasn’t lost his hearing. “Dad! do you know who I am?”

He looks up and offers nonsensical answers each time I ask the same question.

“I haven’t gotten that B.D.G.” …. “it’s in there but then I never did”…. “yes, I guess we could do that….”

I toss other softballs: have you had lunch? are you hungry? do you want to go for a walk? But he either ignores me or replies with gibberish.

It’s exhausting, this one-sided interview, and sighing, I settle on the bed next to him. Then I think about the germs and stand up again.

The room my father inhabits is loaded with pictures. Family members have done their best to make Alice feel at home and her black and white wedding picture is framed on the wall. The furniture is antique —  clearly not nursing home-issued — and there’s a credenza, better suited to a dining room by the bed. It’s covered with loose pictures. I can guess who they are: two teenage granddaughters in the Carribean, a grown son and his wife, with a mutt-like dog perched in her lap.