Special Torture (or how to grin and bear it)

The Hardest Part

March 13, 2020 / by admin

When I decided to move home to be the full-time caregiver for my family, I expected the hardest part would be to manage my mom’s ever-increasing dementia. Of course, this would be hard. The world tells you how hard this will be and I had few illusions. I also wondered if being a for-real stay at home mom to a then 5-year-old in half-day kindergarten might be a close second. I had always had breaks from the kid for at least 4 hours a day while I worked. Half-day K was basically 2.5 hours a day. She had had longer pre-k days. Anyway, those were my expectations and I guess at first that’s how I leaned into my new circumstances. Adjusting to mom’s increasing dementia will always be a challenge and a process. The year of kindergarten and that first real summer vacation were intense. I relied on screen time much more than I care to admit. 

BUT, all this said, the truth of my situation took some time to solidify and become clear. Months had to pass before the wool started to shift away from my eyes. The hardest part of my situation was not my mom or my kid. It was my dad. The 80 something-year-old man whose house I now lived in. And this is an important distinction. My daughter and I live in his house. Not our house. Not even my childhood home. An important distinction. I am really not joking when I say that the hardest part of my life now is because of fucking patriarchy and how it has allowed this man to be in charge for his whole life without really doing all that much to earn that control. I wish I was joking.

A year and a half later, there are plenty of humorous or frustrating anecdotes I can share with you. There are also things too sad or rage inducing for me to want to even share.  But please let me be clear – My Dad is the perfect product of the patriarchy. It’s just that simple. His needs and his comfort come first at the expense of all else. This is his house and these are his rules. In his house, what he says goes and our is not to question why. Ok, even as I type these words, I have a sense that they might be misleading. He does not say these things outright. In fact, he is remarkably distant and checked out, but man, this is the unspoken agreement that my father brokered with my mother decades ago. Before they even had children and I bet. And it was handed directly to my father by his parents and it was impressed upon me and I presume my siblings with a certainty and finality that leaves me breathless at times. It can be difficult for me to put into words something so enormous, that I was taught without direct instruction or acknowledgment. It’s gonna be tricky for me to convince you (and likely others are my family and community) how profound and pervasive my training was and what the expectations in this house still are. But I can easily insist that the hardest part of my life now is how the dominance of this male figure looms for me and my daughter. And for my mother. She has tacitly enforced all of these assumptions and programing and so to some degree, I feel inclined to say, “She made her bed” because honestly, I learned the importance of my father’s position FROM HER. But it’s still heartbreaking to see how little care my father is capable of offering his wife. How easily he can disregard her medical condition, her emotional needs, even her physical presence. 

So there we are. My dad is a dick. He has his kind, funny moments. He is a lot freer with his money than I ever expected him to be. But that’s about it. Most days, even his version of clam and laid back seems toxic to me. And that is mostly because of his media consumption. From 7:30 am to 10:30 pm, he listens or watches. Right-Wing talk radio. Youtube. Fox News. Law & Order SVU, Forensic Files, Court TV, Chair throwing talk shows. And all of it is at TOP VOLUME. He does not stop to think about how triggering or simply annoying this might be. Even after being told time and time again, he is confused about, for example, how a tv show about children being molested or women being murdered by their husbands is unpleasant and best and at worse, grossly inappropriate when a 6-year-old is in the room. But he wants it, so he gets it. 

And the absolute worst part? I watch as my father scolds and diminishes my female child and I am both enraged on her behalf and my own. Because each chastisement and belittlement, each insistence that our needs are less important than his, are a repeat of what was offered to me at her age. It makes my blood boil. 

When I was a teenager I hated my father. I just did. Did not have much love for my mom either honestly. I left their house with a “good fucking riddance” on my lips and thought I would never look back. And for years I stayed away for everything but major holidays. More years passed. Feelings were tempered. At some point, I returned home and everything seemed so quaint and kind that I thoroughly second-guessed my own experience. God, I was an angry teen. What the fuck had my problem been anyway? I told myself that the most significant difference was that my dad had retired and “gotten nice”. By the time I was in my mid-30s, I had forgotten my anger and told myself it had all been in my head.

Now, a year and a half later, I am completely blown away by how on point I had been as a young woman, how justified my anger had been. In the 90s, I did not have the literal or emotional vocabulary to express what they had done to me. I do now. I don’t want this blog to be a place where I only talk about how difficult my life has become or how much I hate my dad, but I am pretty sure I am not gonna be able to keep it all to myself. 

It’s the thing that will probably keep me from telling my friends and family about this record. We shall see.

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