What remains when all else is gone

I’ve been spending time with my father. He was a powerful man, once. Now he is not.

He has no money in his pocket, because he loses it and gets it stolen when he has cash, and he can’t manage a bank account. The hospital provides the expensive things he needs, my sister and her husband look after the accounts on behalf of all of us, and I provide things he shouldn’t have. There’s care for him in that, but he has no power.

He’s not living in his home because he’s in the dementia unit of a hospital. He doesn’t have my mother, the love of his life, with him so he is not a husband and a lover. He cannot protect her or lead her because she is dead. 

I asked him what he wants for Christmas, and he said, “A fast car.” And then he admitted that he couldn’t drive it if he had one. I remember that sometimes, when he was a younger man and I was barely a boy, he’d buy family cars that were a little racy. Muscle cars. I never knew till now how important the cars were to him. He married early, and had his first children straight away (I was a late afterthought), so he never got to drive the kind of cars he wanted. I wish I’d known when the knowledge could have done him and me some good. So now he can’t have a road racer, and he always wanted one. Damn. Damn. 

He’s lost his intellect. He’s lost the power and authority of his body and his voice. All he has, all that remains of the man he was, is his decency and his niceness. He tries to be kind; it’s his instinct and his habit. 

Because of that, the nurses and orderlies and doctors and administrators like him. They make sure any decision falls on my father’s side of the ledger. So he is looked after, and people are decent and kind to him. Decency and niceness are survival characteristics. 

That’s all. It’s a lesson. In the end, you cannot pretend to be someone you are not, because you lose the capacity to pretend. You live better if you are, by habit and nature, decent and kind.  

I don’t believe in any gods and I don’t believe in karma, but that observation about human behaviour (in ordinary, non-emergency situations): I believe that.

Kua hinga te kauri-nui o te wao nui a Tane.

Old man walking

I’m with my father. He’s very old and frail. It’s still startling to see how much power he’s lost, each first time I see him. I took him out of the hospital to a fashionable restaurant in an expensive sea-side township.

shortsThere were lots of girls in cut-off shorts, with only a few threads from the torn denim covering the lower half of their asses. Yay, I thought, though I was busy.

Also, there were the boys in board shorts chasing them, and richer middle-aged men chasing both. I don’t think anyone there had ever seen an actual old person before. 

I felt, noticing the shocked glances of the girls, that by bringing Dad there I’d introduced a memento mori into the scene, like the dancing skeleton among the beautiful young women in a Medieval painting.

I’m afraid I thought their shock was funny, just like those grinning skeletons did. People used to socialise outside of their own age group more, with courting couples and their aunts’ babies all at the same table. And old people. Now they don’t mingle so much: people the media would call attractive only mingle with other people the media would call attractive. It’s not their fault that they’ve been segregated from the very young and the very old, but it is silly. They’re impoverished, in human terms, because of it.  

I hadn’t thought about that aspect of, oh, life, when I chose the restaurant. I’d just wanted to take my Dad somewhere nice, near where he used to live with my mother. He’s been one year and a fortnight without her, since she died. So I thought the shock of the old was interesting, but I didn’t worry about it. And my father didn’t notice.

I could see him remembering my mother, his wife, and his eyes filled with tears. So I hugged him, told him I loved him, and bought him a glass of champagne.

I’ll tell you a bit more tomorrow. 

Going to California with an aching in my heart

I fly out to see my father today. He has dementia now, more or less all the time. He used to be good in the mornings, but he’s got no good reason to keep a clear grasp of a world that doesn’t have his wife in it. 

But my sister told me that in one of his clearer moods he said he’s going to die soon. Of course, that doesn’t mean that he will, but you never know. So I’ve made a booking and I’m going to see him.

He’ll know who I am, I’m pretty sure, even with his marbles gone, and I expect he’ll enjoy the visit. There are some stories he likes to tell, and I only have to drop a couple of key words and he’ll launch onto them. Having forgotten how many times he’s told them before. 

And that will be fine. He’ll tell a story, he’ll fall asleep, and he’ll wake up with a shock and find that I’m there. So he’ll enjoy my being there, while I’m there.

But mostly it’s for me, because I know that the next day he’ll have forgotten. But I need to see him before he dies, if he’s going to. No real reason. I’ve said good byes, and I suspect I won’t grieve much when he does die, because he’s already mostly gone. And he wants to be dead. He’s not in pain or unhappy, but he thinks he’s done and should rest. He’s done everything he needs to do, in his own estimation and mine. 

But we are what we are, and we need to mark these things by meeting. 

One thing, though. I still don’t know whether or not I have cancer. But I’m not going to talk about it with Dad, because he doesn’t need to worry about that. He wants to die knowing that his children are all all right. 

So I won’t talk about cancer, partly because I don’t know whether I’ve got it. And he won’t talk about dementia, because he definitely doesn’t know that he’s got that. 

My father’s chivalry, and bdsm

My father is very, very old. He is alive way past the usual human lifespan, so that even the youngest and the healthiest of his friends are dead.

He’s had a good life, working his way from poverty to mild wealth. He married happily, well and once. His wife, my mother, died in their home last year. His children are all well and we’re mostly happy, so he doesn’t have to worry about us. He can fill a hall with his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. I know because on his 90th birthday we did.

He remembers not just the Second World War but the Great Depression of the 1930s. When he was a boy he rode to school on horseback. The school had a paddock for its pupils’ horses to graze in during the day.

Women usually outlive their husbands, but although my mother lived a long time, she died first, leaving him alone.

Old age, very old age, takes a lot away. It’s inflicted a lot of indignities on my father, who is made to shower, and helped to shower, by nurses who cajole him  into cooperating with medical things as if he were a slightly naughty boy of,oh, seven.

They know he was a man of power and intelligence. But you can’t make a man do what they have to make my father do, so they treat him as a boy. It’s their way of dealing with the unfairness of human age and frailty.

My father handles this with great patience and good humour. Though there’s not much funny about most of it.

But I  learned some things about both of us in the days I’ve been looking after him. Though I’m a Dom I have a slightly Bertie Wooster-ish notion that you have to oblige a woman. It is my duty to look after women , and as far as possible I must go along with their wishes and even their whims. Being a dominant doesn’t make this any less true, at least for me. I keep a submissive obedient and disciplined, but I try to make sure that she achieves her dreams, including frivolous ones.

It’s interesting, I think, that my oldest brother used to spank his girlfriends, making sure that they loved it. My next oldest brother had a stash of bdsm porn books – a girlfriend of mine once babysat for him and his wife, and babysitters always find the porn. I know very little about my sisters’ sexual lives, so I’ll leave them out of it. But I do know that three out of three of his sons have some bdsm interests, though I’m the one it’s by far the strongest in. 

old youngWe didn’t get our interest in bdsm from my father’s example. If he ever played sexual games with my mother, he was successful in making sure that we didn’t know anything about it. Nor was he ever violent or bullying, the kind of man who imposes non-consensual bdsm on their partner and family. I suppose we’d provide some support for the idea that there’s a hereditary element to interest in bdsm, since it wasn’t in our environment. What there was, though, was a kind of chivalry that has a lot to do with the kind of dom that I am, or at least try to be.

I understood this while I was looking after him over the last week. There was a moment, one morning, when my father was drinking a cup of coffee. A nurse came by and picked up his breakfast plates. But he hadn’t finished the coffee.

He saw that she was hovering, and his first instinct was that she shouldn’t have to wait for him. So he swallowed his coffee in a few gulps and gave her the cup, with a kind of ironical chivalry. She thanked him, took it and left.

Then he had a choking, coughing fit that lasted for nearly three minutes, because he can’t eat or drink anything quickly. He waved at me to close the door, so that she wouldn’t hear it and feel bad.

It was a very small thing, but it’s also true to say that he risked his life just to save a woman’s feelings. The choking is alarming and dangerous, and it may be what one day kills him. He strayed onto death’s front lawn so a woman wouldn’t have to wait, or come back later, for a cup.

By the way, there’s no blame or criticism for that nurse, here. She does a hard job well, and she doesn’t yet know how my father thinks and acts.

That automatic deference to the comfort and convenience of women is inherent to my father, and I suppose that’s why I’m exactly the same, including as a dom. I would do that mildly foolish thing myself, one day, without even thinking about it.