Tag: Dad

The Year of the F-words

Foot, Far, Farley, Floyd, Fear, Far Far and the Future

I had very little experience with unprecedented times.  All of my life had taken place in that predictable peaceful precedented period.  

 -Some Blithering Idiot…me.

While it’s true that very few people in our country had lived through a pandemic, let’s face it, even though history does tend to repeat itself, no time is really “precedented.”  But to be sure, this year was confusing, crazy, and for some, catastrophic.  I’m calling it the year of the F-words.


My year, from March to March may come down to these f-words.  If the year of corona started on March 10, then the first word that comes to my mind is Foot.  Nancy had major surgery on her foot on March 10.  She would be non weight-bearing for 4 weeks, in a boot for 4 more, and then hobbling for who knows how long. I waited for her to come out of surgery on March 10, watching news about the virus and a review of a book about America’s race problems. Foreshadowing.


On March 12 we started school from afar.  It felt so very far.  At first I wrote out assignments and typed hundreds of responses to kids’ questions, trying to create a correspondence classroom.  Later, I started recording read alouds and recording lessons, trying to create an audio and video classroom.  Still later I began meeting with the whole class and small groups through Google Meet (not Zoom.  We didn’t trust Zoom yet), trying to create a virtual classroom.  No matter how much we approached a real classroom, every time someone froze, glitched, disappeared or just didn’t show up, it felt like we were far apart.


On March 14, we met the puppy we’d (foolishly?) decided to adopt back in February.  We had lost both of our old dogs on the same day three months before.  I was not sure I was ready for a puppy. I wasn’t sure my heart was ready to bond quite yet.   My wife and daughter were sure.  The rashness of this decision was not my reason for resisting, but when I think about it, it was very rash.  We were adopting a puppy, a large puppy, and he was arriving two days after my wife’s surgery.  For all we knew at the time of the decision, my wife would be home on a couch, I would be at work, and my daughter would be at work.  The puppy would take himself for walks?  He would rest calmly beside my wife?  


As it turned out, for the next five months, we would hardly leave the house.  Farley, the pandemic pup, would receive the most attention of any dog we’d had in our family.  He would also provide more entertainment than any dog we’d known, a constant marvel with his acrobatics, his rapid growth, his daring escapes, and his love of toys.  It would be an exaggeration to say that he saved our lives, but he certainly forced us to smile and take life easier.


Then came the confirmation in May that the Covid pandemic was not our country’s only sickness.  George Floyd’s death under the weight of brutal police force, showed us that we are still a racist nation.   Nothing felt unprecedented about that attack or the protests that followed.  The only difference, maybe, was how graphically we experienced it.  The video of a killing made the moment undeniable.  I spent the summer grappling with my own biases, understandings, and role in the healing.  I feel that thus far I’ve taken the easy path of reading books, listening to podcasts, and joining discussion groups.  So far, I’m not sure I’ve contributed much to addressing the problem.


At summer’s end, we re-opened our school, albeit in hybrid form.  Those first few days and weeks, I washed my hands so frequently they were raw.  We ate outside.  We wiped down desks.  We wore our masks.  We kept our distance.  I changed my clothes the moment I came home. Gradually the routines became…routine. 


Later in the fall, Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. Really? With everything else we were trying to avoid, this is what arrived? She had surgery in December and radiation in January and February. Fortunately the prognosis looks great, but we really wondered about the piling on.

Far and Farfar

In November my father contracted Covid.  We’re not sure how, since he lived with my mom in virtual isolation during this past year.  He spent five weeks shuttling between hospitals and rehab facilities, unable to advocate for himself and unvisitable.  He passed away in December.  Since the early 90’s he’d been known to my kids as Farfar (their father’s father).   We kept calling him that because it was just fun to say.  I didn’t know that the forced distance of his final days would make that name take on new and unwelcome meaning.  In January, on what would have been his 90th birthday, we brought relatives and friends from as far away as Sweden and Australia into a Zoom Memorial.  It actually included more people than it likely would have drawn had it happened on a December weekend in Washington.  That gathering of far-flung relatives and friends brought some solace to our family. 


And now we are fully re-opened.  The sequence of opening and vaccinating seemed inverted, but now gives some sense of optimism for the spring.  While the opening days of 2021, with the insanity of the insurrection, did not bring the sudden turnabout that we all imagined, now, perhaps, the prospects of a better spring and summer have me feeling some hope.  When I used to hike with teen-aged campers, we would have long days and tiring climbs.  Toward the end of a lengthy climb, we would sometimes see a break in the trees and a glimpse of what we thought was the peak.  Some in the group would get the urge to gallop toward the top.  The voices of experience often had to caution against “summit fever,” knowing that lots of Adirondack mountains have tantalizing and frustrating false peaks.  It’s always best to try to keep a steady pace.  I’ve been thinking about that as I watch spring fever and vaccination euphoria converge.  I hope that we can all maintain our steady pace as we head toward a healthier and fairer future.

Voting with my dad

I slide the newspaper toward my dad.  It’s the League of Women Voters guide to the local elections.  My father is three months away from turning 90.  He sits at the dining room table, his coffee cup to his left, his glasses on his nose, and a slightly confused look on his face.  My sister has been taking care of him for the past two weeks, since my mom fell and broke her hip.   

I feel bad about my sister’s burden.  Her days are not so different from those of the remote-schooling parent.  A judge, she gets up before 5:00 to do some of her work.  Then she scurries around setting up things for my father (meds, meals, clothes, music). Starting at 8:30, she conducts remote legal hearings from the room that has become her office, hoping she doesn’t get any interruptions or intrusions from a slightly confused or distressed gentleman.   It’s stressful.  My father sometimes wakes up at 2:00 a.m. On occasion, he has gotten dressed, turned on all the lights and proceeded to the dining room to await breakfast.   She escorts him back to bed and suggests that “daylight” is a good clue that it’s time to rise.

This weekend, when I visited, she tried to head off one added stress by asking me to help my father with his absentee ballot.  It seemed like the least I could do.  

So I sit to my father’s right, at a safe social distance.  I pass him the voting guide.  “What’s this?” he asks.

“It’s the voting guide.  I thought I’d help you with your absentee ballot.”

“What?”  My father has not heard well for the past 25 years.  He has hearing aids, but his hearing loss is pretty profound.

“I found the paper that has the position statements by each candidate.”  I remember a time when his hearing loss was just the f-sound and the s-sound.  We used to try to craft sentences without those sounds. I think of what I would have substituted for “found” and “statements.” Now he really misses all of the sounds…except musical notes.  My daughter nearly fell out of her chair last month when my father, who seemed not to be hearing a word of the conversation, lifted his head at the very first note of an opera overture, and said, “Oh, Don Giovanni.”  What?!

 “It’s the League of Women Voters publication, Dad.” He’s used this for years, but it doesn’t register today.

“I beg your pardon?”  Hearing this, takes me back to when my nephew, then about five, asked why his morfar was always talking about some person named Piggy Parton.  We explained that he needed to talk much louder.  Then Morfar would stop saying, “I beg your pardon.”  My nephew just turned 30.   

“Here, read this,” I say, pointing to the top line. Of course, all of this spoken communication is made more challenging by the fact that I have a mask over my face.  It’s hard for the youngest kids in school.  It’s also really hard for people who have grown accustomed to lipreading. I’m remembering the times my dad took me to the polls, leading me into the curtained booth, letting me watch while he clicked the levers, then lock in the vote with a dramatic swing of the giant handle.  No standardized testing bubbles in those days, just clicks, cranks, and curtains.

Today, we have a pretty easy time with the presidential choice, and my dad really likes his congressman, so that too goes smoothly.  Then comes the fun stuff.  There are six candidates for school board in Montgomery County.  You can vote for four.  This was a bit tough to get across.  I have to admit that my father has also experienced some cognitive loss in recent years.  Oddly, it shows in anything mathematical.  “Choose four out of six” requires some patience.  He recognizes one of the names and fills in a bubble.  I point to the words, “choose four.”  He shrugs and eventually fills in three more.  

Then come the judges.  So many judges.  I know it matters to him, so I give him plenty of time to read all of the statements.  I really  do understand why they don’t want judges listing their party affiliation (We’d never want a judge with political views, of course!), but it would have been so much quicker if we had those clues.  As it is, we read together, me with my socially distant binoculars, he with what I am just now noticing is a brand new fashion statement for him.  He has placed his reading glasses over his regular glasses.  Nice look, Dad.  I am sure this is not ophthalmologist-approved.  However, it seems to be working.  Ten minutes later he has made his decisions.  He appears to have decoded the subtle language and found the judges he likes.  You say judges need bias training?  “Yes, that sounds promising,” he mutters.  

We’re on the home stretch.  It’s only the ballot initiatives and a few proposed constitutional amendments.   One ballot initiative says that Maryland should really dive into this sports gambling thing so that New Jersey and Delaware don’t grab all the loot.  Of course, they entice us by saying that this will fund the education budget.  Bookies for Books!   Yay!  Dad shrugs and casts his vote.

Now the constitutional amendment.  They always write these so cleverly, with triple negatives, fancy words,  and compound-complex sentences, showing no consideration for the 90-year-old voter or his son.   “The state legislature may not overturn a veto of a bill wherein a governor hasn’t tried to overrule the spending amendment unless it wasn’t passed with a two-thirds majority and doesn’t exceed the spending limitations placed by the governor’s original budget proposal.”

“What?”  That’s me, this time.  

“What?” he echoes.

“My sentiments exactly.  Would you like me to flip a coin?”

“I beg your pardon.”

I know that I will soon have to swear that I have not influenced his voting in any way, so I simply slide the pen, the ballot, and a coin his way.  “You choose, Dad.”

He fills in the bubble for “No.”  Frankly, I have no idea if that was a wise choice.

This whole process has taken about 45 minutes.  My frazzled sister has watched much of it, even though she didn’t want to take part.  I think she may have felt compelled to monitor my actions in case she is forced to testify at the voting inquisition.  She compliments me on my patience.  I say it may be because I have neither had to wake up at 2:00 a.m. nor had to explain why we don’t wear our day clothes over our pajamas.

My dad signs his ballot, and I insert my “helper” affidavit.  My sister vows to put it in the mail tomorrow.  We’ve all done our civic duties…and I think it’s time for a nap, eh what?