3 Caregiver Lessons I Learned from Bad Fiction Novels
I’m certain that in the course of writing this Sandwich Generation blog that I’ll be waxing poetic about my father’s various heroics in certain situations and how much I admire him. However, that’s not going to happen today. Instead, I want to highlight his terrible taste in books.
Let me start with his obsession with W.E.B. Griffin, and in the particular, the Brotherhood of War series. I know he is obsessed because he bought the whole series (The Lieutenants, The Captains, the Majors, the Colonels, etc. etc.) in paperback multiple times. For someone who grew up in Depression-era Hungary and used to keep dead batteries in a drawer in his desk, because “you never know”, this is quite a statement.
Not content with that, he insisted that I buy him the series again for his Kindle. Which I did.
He also recommended that I read it.
The last book he tried this with was “The Panther” by Nelson Demille. Horrendous. It’s the story of a married couple in the CIA (I think) who is sent to Saudi Arabia (maybe) to kill or capture a terrorist mastermind called the Panther (probably). Hundreds of pages meander on with no action but plenty of cringeworthy puns about sex and violence. Every chapter ends with some variation on “…so we settled in and waited for happen. Maybe. Or maybe not.” The book is filled with barely disguised racism, celebrates ignorance, and there are pages where Demille just mailed it in and lifted passages from his other books, which he then passes off as reminiscences.
You would think that I would have absorbed the lessons from this particular experience. But I am a caregiver son who is grateful to have a father who still reads and recommends books almost at age 90, so I shrugged it off. So he loaned me one of his 3 copies of “The Lieutenants”, and I started reading.
It’s 90 minutes of my life I will never get back.
Ostensibly, it’s about U.S. Army lieutenants in World War II, which is a topic my father knows nearly everything about. But that’s actually not what it’s about. It’s mostly about American army officers’ post-war exploits in post-war occupied Germany, how terrible the Soviets were, and how the Germans actually really weren’t that bad. They were perfect gentlemen in the way they treated these guys when they were POWs, for example. W.E.B. Griffin says so.
One particular prison camp scene where the American and Nazi officers have a leisurely drink together was my tip-off that I was not going to dig this book. To make matters worse, the characters — many of them, each less likable than the first — run around talking about “niggers” in the Army and showing surprise when a troop of “fried chicken eaters” turn out to be decent soliders.
I guess I have 3 points. The first is that just because your parent thinks you will like something, you might not. I know now to approach any book my father recommends with a lot more caution. Apparently, even unconditional love has limits.
The second is that his book recommendations remind me that my father is a product of his era, and like the rest of us, fulls of imperfections large and small. A good man, I believe, but a flawed one just the same. If I am really honest about it, he has always been a little bit racist. Demille’s humor really appeals to him, I’m sure. He has had a complicated relationship with relationships. Of course he’d rather read puns about stereotypically dysfunctional ones. On certain occasions, he’s suggested that America’s best foreign policy strategy would be to kill everyone in a particular country, because what’s the difference — it’s really the oil we want. Books celebrating war just help reinforce that reaction.
It’s probably a 21st century sensibility to see the irony of someone who survived World War II being so enthralled by a book that whitewashes the Germans — I know. But since it is 2014, I’m not sure what other lens to apply. And when you are a caregiver for someone, it is easy to forget that this person who so needs you is actually a real and imperfect human being.
The third and most uplifting lesson is that he wants to connect. Wanting that connection with his kids was not really his thing in my childhood, and I suppose if I could have had it then vs. now, I might have taken it then. I don’t know. I have to make the best of what I have right now — as in today.
Postscript: I returned the Lieutenants, and placed it next to its other 2 green-colored-cover brothers on his shelf. I told him what I thought of it. He nodded, apologized a little, and then moved on to the next favor. Caregiver tech support never ends.