I moved to New England in 2003, trading the mild Bay Area climate for April snow. Needless to say, I felt some bitterness about this as I’d fled the Northeast years before to avoid this kind of unnatural condition. In response, I did what many adult males do: deluded myself. Specifically, I pretended that having no solution for removing snow magically would prevent snow from appearing. That didn’t work. I passed a couple of winters shoveling Massachusetts snow the old-fashioned way, which did not put me in a better mood about the situation.
Then Nova turned me onto the idea of a gas-powered snow thrower. Her logic was pretty simple: I couldn’t change the weather by pretending it wasn’t bad, so I needed better equipment. I relented, and I admit it: it was probably the best $800 I ever spent. Firing up its engine requires flicking enough switches and pulling hard enough on a starter cord that I feel like I’ve gotten physical. I get to use a choke switch. Who doesn’t love a good choke switch? And it is marvelously loud. Sure it is effective at throwing snow a long distance, but after the other benefits, I almost don’t care. It has changed the way I look at snow. And since we’ve had some winters where the snow hasn’t stopped, I deserve something that can do that for me.
Here’s what this has to do with being a Sandwich Generation father.
Over the past year, my father’s mobility has declined. It’s a fact. It’s to the point now where he shuffles his feet and not much happens. He has trouble turning. With a walker he can get himself down a hallway, but the clock is ticking on that as well. So about 3 months ago, he asked me to help him buy a motorized scooter to help him get around. Which I resisted. My logic was that once he started using a scooter, he wouldn’t be walking again, which itself would have downstream consequences that couldn’t be good.
I held onto this logic for some time. Like my pre snow-thrower delusion, I felt that I could hold back time a little longer. It’s like trying to wish away blizzards in Massachusetts; you might get lucky for a while, but eventually, the snow emergency is coming. And like that decision, it took someone else to point out that my logic was, in fact, delusional. Actually, this time it took 2 people.
But, in my defense (which is the opening phrase of most indefensible defenses), this is my father we’re talking about. We used to play tennis on the street where I grew up. He helped teach me to swim. He would lift heavy equipment onto his car’s roof as a core part of the way he made his living as a consulting cable TV engineer. I didn’t worship him for these things – we just didn’t have that kind of relationship – but I always knew he was especially strong.
When my mother passed away 5 years ago and I saw her laying there in the hospital, he was the one who kept me from falling over. He was 87. I’ve held onto that as proof that he can defy time, and maybe by extension, that I can too.
Then I thought about what the scooter what mean for him. Right now, he is trapped inside most of the time. With one, he’ll be able to spend a few days outside instead. He deserves to spend more time outside. He gave up his car more than a year ago, and a scooter will be a machine he can control. He deserves more things he can control. And most importantly, he appears to have found a potential girlfriend who lives far away (that is, in a different section of the community where he lives). For all his faults — more on this next time — he deserves to be happy, and I suppose this also means that he deserves a girlfriend.
These are all things that once pointed out to me were so obvious that I wondered what kind of daze I must have been in not to have seen them in the first place.
Do I do this with my children? I like to think I don’t. I don’t pretend that a lack of feminine hygiene products in the house is going to prevent my daughters’ bodies from changing. But then, as with the blind spot I wrote about before, I’m sure I have one here. I look forward to my next discussion on my back porch to discover what it is, and the particular Sandwich Generation delusion about my children that it is hiding.