Category Archives: dad

Salami and red wine for supper

One of the nice things about being a grown-up is that if no one is looking, you can have chocolate cake and soda for breakfast, or, you know, whatever.  It’s up to you to screw up your nutrition, or something like that.

I didn’t know that one of the things I’d miss the most about being married would be having someone with whom to split a bottle of wine over supper.  Still, though, I do.

Dad’s a sober alcoholic and unable to resist projecting his experience over everyone else as the Universal Truth(tm) so the minute I have more than one drink at a time, or one drink more than one time a week, he gets shit-headedly (it’s a word, shut up) condescending and hysterical about whether I need to tune-up my meds or see my shrink or somesuch.  I ignore it, since, erm, I’m the one taking meds and routinely engaging in mental health care, Mr. Self-Medicating, but it’s annoying.  (And also, all the drunks on both sides of our family drink G&T’s, so I think I am smart enough about my own drinking to 1) avoid gin, and 2) not drink when I really, really want a drink.)

There is also the fact that I’m a food snot.  It’s not enough for the wine to be “red” or “white” and therefore it goes with supper– it’s got to be a restrained Pinot Noir or an off-dry Riesling or some other first world problem of food and wine pairings.  When the ex and I were still together, we could keep a middling red and a middling white both open over a week without either getting sloshed at dinner every night, or letting the good wine go off before we could finish it up.  The in-laws were likewise pretty sensible– no one looked at you askance if you had a second Prosecco while you were waiting for the gas grill to preheat.

Every so often, though, my niece runs my dad ragged and he’s too tired to eat– which means I don’t have to make something low-salt, light in fat, and vegetable centric for the 73 year old diabetic heart patient with COPD.  And then… then, I can slice up some good hard Italian salami, a few chunks of provolone, and load up a bowl of cherries to eat with the perfect $15.00 Nero d’Avola, and eat that while reading at the table– and then pour myself that second glass while I polish off the rest of the cherries.

It’s not cake for breakfast.  It’s better.

You may call me the cream cheese assassin

Me:  (Smears cream cheese onto the back of the really good oatmeal cookies from work.  Hand one to Dad, keep one for me.)

Dad: (Eats one bite, eyeing cookie skeptically.  Chews.  Swallows.  Snarfs the rest.  Clears throat.)  Are you TRYING to kill me?  (Grabs for the tub of cream cheese.)

(Easier than) waiting around to die

(Trigger warnings for discussions of suicidality, family drama, and other A+ parenting issues.  Also, as usual, language.  This is a sort of undecided, sort of open-ended piece because I need to tweak my meds again and am feeling more than a little blue, but I have already called my shrink & let my therapist know I feel lousy, in case you’re wondering.)

I read some author’s line someplace that we sometimes feel like can’t be who we really are until everyone who’s known us is dead.  Sometimes, it’s even true by circumstances of money or other constraints– you don’t have the freedom to tell other people and their expectations to go screw, and sometimes just heading out for the hills and reinventing yourself somewhere, somewhen else is not in the cards. Continue reading

Decisions, decisions (it’s only dinner)

I didn’t make supper tonight.

Is that a failing or a freedom?  I don’t really know.  It is a decision, though whether it’s a capital D Decision or a small decision just for the right thing I needed today, I’m not really sure.  I do know I started to assemble things out of the fridge, all knackered out, and then looked at the ingredients out on the board in the pantry and said to myself– no.  I don’t want to.

When I came in, my dad had been sitting there for at least a half hour, snacking on all the various food he didn’t have to cook or reheat that was there in the house– and I was just wrung out when I came in on automatic and started to housewife, you know, in the ways that we do.

I didn’t want to, though.  I’m not hungry, because I’m upping the dose of the particular meds that kill my appetite dead (anorexic anti-convulsants, woohoo!), and also because I had a late snack/drink at the store in accordance with the preset alarms I’ve got in my phone and which I obey whether or not I am hungry, on the hard lesson learned that your body needs fuel whether your stomach feels like it or not.  But– having had protein and some carbs and some veggies on three occasions today, not to mention too much caffeine and other fluids, the idea of doing it all again just because I have let my dad get into the habit of me doing the cooking made me kind of sick to my stomach, physically and mentally, too.

Instead, I said– sorry, I was really just tired, I didn’t know what to cook & didn’t feel like eating in any event, and that there were X & Y leftovers to heat in the fridge & I was going to bed.  Dad did not understand the not hungry thing, so I explained, for the fourth time in two weeks, about not being hungry with the increased dose of the meds and feeling grossed out by food– and then retired upstairs.

I supposes it’s a measure that the increase dosage is working that I didn’t have a temper tantrum of rage or start crying because he just can’t pay any attention to what’s going on outside his own head.  And I suppose it’s good, too, that I still feel pretty calm and chill about the fact that I said no, sorry, I’m not your wife or your nurse, feed yourself, and am not feeling horribly guilty or like a terrible mooch.  The fact is, I do buy a lot of the food, cook & clean, do the yard work & heavy lifting.  If it’s not money, it’s still work, and it’s value– and valuable.  I’m starting to know that.

There will be a time when my dad can’t “do” for himself at all anymore, including the cooking, and then I will have to take care of him whether I feel like it or not– but right now he can, whether or not I’ve fairly/unfairly stepped into the cook/caretaker role in an attempt to pick up some of the slack my not paying rent leaves.  He taught me how to cook, after all– if he’s too tired to do it, well, then we’re both in that boat.  Any stupid decisions he makes about salt intake or junk food or excess fat or calories are just that– stupid, small-d decisions, rather than life-impacting Decisions that are the product of someone who’s senile, demented, or some other process of aging or illness.

Maybe, for example, an Illness Decision could be: someone who’s manic-depressed and making bad life choices instead of self-caring ones because they’re not really lucid?  Then again, Bad Life Choices can be really good learning experiences,  even if it takes a while in the rearview to bring them into perspective.  I think skipping dinner, though, isn’t so big as that.

Ask me next week.

One man’s trash

… is another man’s treasure, isn’t that the saying?  That little set of six glasses, espied through the window of a vintage stuff & art gallery called Hudson’s at MassMOCA in North Adams, was priced for $25.00.  I have a set just like it– maybe?

The set belonged to my mother, and she picked it up for some cheap price at some church white elephant, because she had notions of what kinds of things one was supposed to own in order to maintain a proper household.  When she moved to California to express her displeasure that I wasn’t giving her granchildren find her bliss in the sunshine, she pushed them off on me along with other sundry glassware, some of which I wanted because it had been my grandmother’s, and most of which I thought was just junk.

I say maybe I own something like it, because I really cannot recall if it’s sitting, wrapped in a box in the basement, unused with my grandmother’s china and other still-wanted possessions, or if I took the chance of leaving my husband to give it to the AIDS Action Committee thrift shop for them to sell to someone who might think that six tiny pressed-glass cordials or whatever the hell you call them would somehow make your life more complete than if you just bought some all-purpose lowballs at Ikea or Crate & Barrel.  Who knows?  Maybe the owner of this shop bought this very set from the Boomerang in JP, and it’ll bring someone else way more use and pleasure than it ever brought me, cluttering up the bottom shelf of the hutch full of shit I didn’t use and had had foisted on me by family insisting on the right way to set a table, entertain, put on a spread?

Seeing that set in the window got me thinking about the things that we keep and the things we discard– not so much that I’m going to go hunting downstairs through my stuff– but in terms of the trash versus treasure conundrum, and how invested we get in other people validating our treasure, and telling us how lovely it and therefore we are. Failing to take an interest in the same things as you is taken as a wholesale rejection of you as a person (and heck, sometimes it is but I do have some manners and usually manage to be polite, but asking for pom-poms and a brass band is too much).  That perceived rejection is a cause for drama, accusation, pouting, shaming, guilt or outrage (I don’t know your family, I just know mine, all those options are possible, sometimes within the span of five minutes), and if you dare state anything as inflammatory as a disagreeing opinion, you’re a terrible person.

You’re trash, in a word, for rejecting someone else’s treasure.  (Though you haven’t, you’ve just said you don’t want any yourself.)

People mistake the collections of objects they amass for pleasure and success, and project that mistaken impression of accumulation of happiness via stuff onto you, in a nutshell.  Go your own way, and you’re telling them that you think they’re all wrong.  It’s not that, necessarily (though sometimes it is, and sometimes it only becomes that after our progenitors start insisting you follow The Old Ways) but changing the arrangement and type of objects is deeply unsettling to some, and the lack of stuff is even moreso.  When I tell people I don’t have a TV or a car, it earns me these looks– and when I look at the house I have only one room in and think– the things I could do if I could get rid of all of this stuff– well.  I’m sure it’s crazy to some.  But I like not having to deal with the weight of so many things (or wanting them, any more) physically & mentally taking up space that could be better spent swinging into warrior pose, or spreading out in a sunny patch on the rug with a shelf-space conserving Nook.

In the two years that most of my stuff has been in the basement, there have been maybe four times when I’ve needed something.  Maybe it is time, in fact, to go down and unpack– not for keeping’s sake, but shed to even more.

Therapy homework (1-b)



I did a better job after a good, cathartic too-many-drinks with strangers gettin’ my drunk on & long, much-needed twelve hour sleep at listing some things that my dad has done right to be appreciative/positive/non-critical, or has done things that have made me uncomplicatedly happy since I moved in with him.   (Yeah, every four years or so I get four-drinks wasted.  I’m a cheap date.)

And now that I’m writing this I can think of two more:  buying me my DSLR and my smartphone, with which I took the above photo.

Therapy homework (1)

I started to see a new therapist just last week and while of course these things take time, it seemed to go well in that he listened and re-framed what I’d said and was actually kind of quickly & scarily perceptive about my main issues– though I had actually put together a list of things I knew were issues and had made a point to talk about them and my concerns about being stuck in particular ruts or being afraid about where certain things in my life right now were leading me toward.

Without boring you with a ton of the details here, one of the things I brought up was the problems I’ve been having with my dad, both long-term and of late, and how he’s really been getting under my skin and how I’ve been so wound up about him and about everything else that the temptation to be awful to him in retaliation for real thoughtlessness & inattention & old-dog-new-tricks stubborness & his self-destructiveness around his own health when his November hospitalization led to the diagnosis, in no uncertain terms, that he could change the way that he ate or he could be dead in a year.

All my responsibility & need for appreciation & guilt at not paying my way (which is bs but still) quirks and all my inner child crap that rebels every time he never says thanks or interrupts or tells me how to do a job he knows nothing about or… everything else– it’s a bad, toxic combination right now.  And I don’t want to kick him while he’s down.  But I do want to stand up for myself, and I always anticipate all the ways it will explode because he’s an unmedicated bipolar & so completely unpredictable (and sometimes just viciously mean or just a flat-out-screamer) that I often just don’t. I don’t want to continue to silence myself, though, or what the hell was the point in leaving the husband?

My therapist gave me homework to do while I’ve been on vacation:  to try to think of positive things about my dad.

It’s been hard, because every time I try to think of something nice there’s a counterpoint that says “except when he uses X characteristic to bludgeon you into compliance.”  His desire to share knowledge is also a desire to be a know it all and show off and he never lets you get a word in that yes, he’s told you before or yes, you actually read the review of the show before you attended it, thanks.  His desire to tell me how to behave at work has more to do with all the times he’s gotten himself fired from a job for being outspoken, but his outspoken = drunk & unmedicated, and mine = medicated and in a legitimate open door corporate culture.  The lectures just raise my hackles and make me feel stupid.  And I cannot get out of his way, or more accurately, he is always underfoot, and then he gets mad at me when he’s wandering around the kitchen like a zombie while I’m cooking supper and trying to use the small space to feed us & do something creative.

I am still feeling really conflicted and angry, I guess. But here we go:  some good things:

He remembered that I like W.S. Merwin & got me the Library of America for Christmas this year. And a collection of Mary Oliver’s prose, the only book of hers I didn’t own.

He’s mostly stopped questioning if I’m going to finish everything on my plate, and mostly stopped huffing when I pull my plate away from him when we’re out to eat and I leave half for lunch the next day.

He can every once in a while be counted upon to cook steak tips for supper, which are pretty much one of my favorite food groups.

He tries, tries again.  He sometimes succeeds.  He was trying harder to be less grumpy last week.  It wasn’t perfect, and he didn’t apologized when he did snap at me, but he did at least get the hell over himself PDQ.

… And… that’s it right now, which is sad, that those are only things I can think of that don’t come wih some flip side when he’s being an ass.  But I’ll work on it some more.

Something’s got to give

I don’t remember when I bought those old PJ bottoms– sometime before Victoria’s Secret stopped making things in simple, pretty, feminine, flannel– so, at least a decade, because they’re also sized extra-large.

Suffice it to say, as I was hauling the vacuum around the house at 8 or so this morning, cleaning up the pine needles from the tree I finally had time to take down, something about some way I bent was too much– not the girth, because I’d kept hiking them up– but the mere fact of the motion, and they gave way at the seam.

Really gave way, too, flapping in the breeze and all that metaphorical jive.

I finished what I was doing, first, because I had a robe on, over, and my dad was studiously ignoring the fact that I was doing all the hard work downstairs by pretending to be engrossed in the paper online, upstairs, but then, eventually, I made it upstairs and took a look at the rent.

They weren’t really reparable, and the only thing to do was ball them up and throw them away.  The house is already eaves-deep in dust rags.  (Every time I throw out more unearthed piles, I find even more, even more vintage ones.)

The whole time I was untrimming the tree and dragging it out to the back for hacking apart to lay on the beds, I was fuming– maybe the steam contributed to the seams’ loosening.  Because how can you not hear someone taking a tree through two rooms and the front door?

I don’t handle my anger well, and humiliatingly, I’m an angry crier.  I hate it.  I have been so stressed out with the nonstop at work and a few petty things that aren’t anything to get worked up about except that I’m feeling amplified by all my personal stuff– and my personal stuff looms large right now, because my father is being a fucking toddler about the fact that he has to follow rules about food and take care of himself.  Every time my back’s turned, he’s trying to eat himself into his grave with something sugar or salt– or being a bully about my taking the T and then yelling at ME about the damned traffic when I try to pacify him by letting him drive.

I can’t get in a word edgewise about work, can’t vent about something or share something about my day, either, without getting a lecture: the fact that I work for a hippie-dippie Fortune 100 company with an entirely different business culture where, by and large, I can say what I think and share what I feel does not compute.  Therefore, I must be wrong, and I must be lectured.

It’s made me be more and more silent at “home”, because the temptation to say “You know, I’m starting to think the only time I’ll get a word in edgewise is after you’re dead” is awfully strong.  Add to that the fact that he doesn’t listen, can’t fucking hear, and isn’t paying attention more than half the damned time, and I want to move out even though he needs me more than he has.  And is being as gracious about my presence here as a velociraptor.

I’d planned on taking a vacation this week– a little mid week trip to the Berkshires for some slow-poke art museum and craft shop poking around, some writing, lots of sleeping in, and lots of cheap eats– and then things slammed back into high gear at the same time that my backup decided she’d had enough of the job, and where I’d had a hiring freeze now I had 18 people to hire and NO ONE WAS DOING THEIR JOB INTERVIEWING THE PEOPLE I’D SCREENED.

Enter, pants ripping.  Cue me deciding, all teary eyed and ready to crawl back into bed (yes, I am on my meds) that maybe I’d better not go on my vacation at all, a feeling of creeping dread I’d been having all day yesterday, too, during the extra work I put in to get more screenings done because left to their own devices, bless them, my team leaders are horrible judges of candidates and everyone they hired during my last stint out of the store have ALL, to a one, been fired for sucking.

I actually went so far as to call in to talk to one of my nominal bosses about not going because there was too much to do– I’ve been feeling like (warranted or not) I’m behind the eight ball and that I just don’t jive with anyone there, and he didn’t precisely sing kumbaya but he did at least give lipservice to my vacation being deserved and to sitting down tomorrow to put together a specific task list of what had to get done while I was away so that things didn’t slip.  The fact that I’m feeling isolated and stressed of course has NOTHING to do with the fact that I’m overworked.  The fact that I work with adults who don’t do my particular job as well as I do doesn’t change the fact that– they are adults, and if they screw it up by hiring someone I said was iffy, or not waiting until I come back (because goddamn, they’ve been sitting on their thumbs all this time, anyway), well, it’s not like I haven’t been working my ass off and it’s not like I haven’t been trying.

I think that when I come back I need to sit down and ask for feedback and see if there are places I need to refocus– with 300 team members, I’m always spinning my wheels and sometimes I just need to say no and put things off some, delegate more, and remember– I hit the ground running in August and haven’t stopped since.  I need to stop taking care of everyone else, even if it’s only for three fucking days.  Because I’m ready to rip, too, and I am not in a place to accept feedback and refocus, because I’m strained at the seams on my own.

Now I just need to find a way to tell my dad I’m leaving town for three days without him losing his shit.  Or not crying when he does, anyway.

He taught me to cook; if he wants to eat crap while I’m gone and then not understand why he feels like shit, I need to let him.  Because he does not want to learn, and I’m exhausted of beating my head bloody on the wall of his stupid self-disconnect.

I don’t want to work myself into that disconnect, myself, ever again.  I need to go, before I can’t ever come back.  I need to go, so I want to come back.

When does it start?

I’m at that age now (39) (older, have more insurance, long live Fried Green Tomatoes) where I not only know but accept and sometimes even bless the universal truth that no one really knows what they’re doing, even when they’re supposed to be an adult.  I find that truth freeing, because it lets me laugh (internally) at the poser assholes who pretend that they do know it all (and inevitably get knocked off the pedestals they built for themselves), feel less insecure generally about my own talents, and get on with the general figuring out of what I think I should do in any particular situation/problem/whatever.  It also lets me feel Zen enough about things that I don’t feel the need to get up in poser assholes’ faces just because anymore– now, I only do it when there’s a reason like– they’re fucking over one of my employees, or me, or someone in my family.  Some random jerk being a jerk otherwise mostly garners an inner laugh with a side of compassion tinged with a soupcon of you poor miserable bastard.

However, I’m also at that age where I’m sort of in between lots of other age groups– the people born when I was graduating from high school, to whom I’m an authority or even a maternal-type (hah, hah, hah, hah) figure, the people 5-10 years younger than me who for some reason think my no-bullshit crankiness is actually cool (?) and seek out my advice, the people my own age who are also in the hohshit, all these people think we’re adult boat, the people slightly older than us who really don’t know that much more but whom we’re supposed to respect but really, sometimes we want to punch in the face because they’re just being a dumbass– and then, then there are the people who’ve known us over the whole course of our lives, be they siblings, spouses, parents, old friends, who refuse to let you be the person you are now that you don’t give a shit what anyone thinks, and they still insist and get really upset when you don’t care what they think– not because you don’t love them, but because you finally, finally, really love you, even to the point of letting yourself make mistakes and being willing to forgive yourself for them, because making mistakes at least betokens action, not stasis.

The looming precautions these long acquaintances wave over our heads are too claustrophobic– the feeling that you can never really be free of criticism for trying to find and be whomever your real self is– at least not until your loved ones are dead or you cut them the hell out of your life. It’s not unlike college or the first time you move out of the house and you have that chance to be just as you present yourself, except now, at this certain age, certain is what you’re finally beginning to be, and everyone’s calling that into question, saying you’re wrong to think, act, feel as you do.

It’s depressing to repeat same arguments over and over again, when family and old friends treat you like you are 9, not 39– and you can see all the behavioral patterns you’ve discussed in therapy so that now you’re aware of your triggers.

I’m not triggered, precisely– but I am tired of fighting with people for the right to be someone other than who they think it’s safe for me to be, based on their own fears and projections, and I am tired of not fighting with people for the sake of harmony, too, because, for the moment, affection outweighs my need for personal freedom.  The definition of psychopathy and masochism tend to intertwine here, because I can’t possibly expect anything different to come out of allowing the same behaviors over and over, and I’m definitely putting up with bullshit that hurts my feelings and makes me defensive and sometimes more than a little bit crazy.

It’s why I cut off my mother for good this time.  I was tired of fighting for attention I’m never going to get, tired of holding up both ends of a conversation and then being betrayed by her need for attention.  I was tired of having to be nice to her so she could reassure herself that she was a good mother, when really, her self-absorption and mental illness are so exclusive that I only register as a mirror, not as an entity in my own right.  It doesn’t matter if she’s not a bad person or if she doesn’t mean it.  It does matter that she can’t stop, and that she hurts me, a lot, every time I see her.  That’s the stop to that interaction.

It’s why I left my husband, because he didn’t want anything other than a fully functional wife who didn’t complain or ask for emotional support (and who made dinner and did the shopping and did the driving and didn’t nag him about anything unpleasant, whatever X=unpleasant that week.)  I wanted the freedom to be intermittently crazy, to ask for help, to complain without being told I was wrong to complain, to vent without being stopped mid-rant to be told I had no “right” to be angry because my situation was my fault when I never asked for advice, I only wanted someone to listen, to have emotional reactions to things without being told I was either wrong because of some intellectual reason or because I was crazy.  You don’t get to have it both ways– either you make an effort to understand and partner with me in my anxiety and depression and listen to me, or you shut the hell up and keep your thoughts to yourself when I need to vent, because your refusal to help denies you any right to interpret my actions as sane, “right,” or anything else.

It’s why I shut off needy friends who couldn’t see that they’d crossed boundaries again and again. There wasn’t a fight, I just let things lapse.   It’s why I shut off apathetic friends, who didn’t hold up their end of the communication, friendship, socializing, BFF bargain(s).

It’s why I try to keep reaching out to those friends who make an effort, even if we’re all busy & crazy at times.  Trying’s the thing, even when they have kids or I have a workaholic job or they have opposite hours from me or etc., etc.  Trying’s important.

It’s why I limit, now, my interactions with my brother, who doesn’t ever want to engage on an emotional level, because he is the king of denial, and he will not help out.  Ever.  I engage with his wife and his daughter instead, and if he wants to change it, he can make the first step to remove that iceberg I’ve put on my desire to have a real bond with him.

It’s why I am going to have a conversation with my Dad, though I cringe in advance about it, to remind him about the way he and his mother interacted the last few years of her life, and the way she would drive him batty with her constant questions and paranoia and interruptions.  It’s why he needs to understand that he can either treat me like I’m 39 and stop projecting his own fears for his own health onto me and stop being controlling and stupid about things like how I am getting to work and whether I’m going to be out socializing with friends during the week.  Because his having a shitfit about my riding the bus and calling me crazy at the top of my lungs is crazy, and I told him so last week.  I said it very, very, calmly, when I asked him to listen to himself and his tone of voice, then asked him again– who was the one acting crazy?  It did shut him right up.

I won’t be infantilized or controlled, because he’s scared about getting old or because I’m doing something he’s afraid of.  But I’m tired of feeling like I have to wait until he’s dead to finally be free of the last person insisting I be someone I’m not– because I don’t want him to be dead, I just want him to either like me for who I am now, or learn to keep his goddamned mouth shut.  I wish he was less of an asshole, because I find it hard to be compassionate to him as a poor, miserable bastard. For the first time in his life, he’s got a stable job, a decent income, and he doesn’t have to do all the work in the house.  It’d be nice if he’d try to start to find a way to be happy– and act 71, instead of 17.

It’d be nice to start over.  To start at all.

The year I went as Quasimodo for Christmas

I’ve always had a crappy immune system, ever since I was a kid, even before I came down with Lyme.  And I’ve always been prone to psychosomatic illness, so that I’d end up with the cold or a flu after finals or a really big paper (and one, spectacular year, during finals, boy that was fun) or after I was done with a trial.  My body has really grotesque ways of expressing its displeasure at the ways I mismanage my stress, from GI disorders to, well, I’ll get to the rest.  I blew it out of the water this weekend, reminding myself again that I hate this time of year.  Next year?  I’m rereading this post, so I can look at ways to opt out, early. Continue reading