It was much worse when we first moved in. My father would emerge from the master bedroom in the morning and lean over the railing on the staircase crying, “My life is horrible! I just want to die!”
I’d swallow and try to take it lightly.
“I think you’re just having a hard day,” I’d say slowly. “You’re depressed, Dad. I can get you some breakfast. If you’re feeling this way, I think you should talk to your doctor because a professional can help you, and I can’t. You need to take care of yourself. Let me get you something.”
He’d then yell at me that he didn’t want breakfast and that he wasn’t going to eat it at all, and so I shouldn’t bring him anything. He’d retreat back into his room, and lie down, reading.
About a half hour later, I’d eventually take him some toast and eggs anyways, by which point he’d take it and say,
“You’re doing the right thing.”
Here’s how I feel about this. Those words make me feel better, but not exactly stable. I’m almost 40 years old and living with my 80-year old dad along with my husband and our young two-year old son, and so I can take it… sort of.
The longer I observe my dad like this while I’m an adult though, the more I think that it isn’t just an old age thing. I think my dad’s been like this for years.
He’s always had a very high level of anxiety about almost everything, and generally been depressed. I just couldn’t see it for what it was before, because I was a kid.
Here’s how it’s played out. My father has used his professor’s mind to break apart the smallest point to bits. He’s become suspicious of his hair cutter, the newspaper, the neighbors, my employers, my friends, casseroles in restaurants and just about every politician imaginable.
And he’s always retreated from the world to read-that was part of his profession- but it always went far beyond that. Basically, that’s all he ever did. He never socialized with my mom, hung out with the kids, nothing.
There were no trips to the park, playtime, long bedtime stories, help with homework, advice on how to get by in life once I hit my teens and twenties, or hope and dreams expressed for my future. It was all a blank. “You’ll never be married,” he once said, and I believed him.
(He also actually told me one evening that my mom was the one who had wanted to have children, and so he went along with it. Tact isn’t his strong point, to say the least).
So, how do I handle him? By this point, I’ve lived with his personality for so many years that, to be honest, I’m not really sure what I’ve done to get by. I don’t expect anything form him-kindness, encouragement, nothing. He’s abrasive. He’s a ‘difficult person’, and he gets under your skin, if you’re close enough.
I guess I can say that I’ve talked back and argued with him. I’ve been labeled as “difficult”, myself.
Right now, I refuse to let his low view of himself and the world infect me, although I know it does. I tell myself that I grew up, moved away for a long time, got through more growing up on my own, and survived. I developed my own view on things, and left his negative mind behind.
Coming back to live with him though, has been tough. Somehow, we stick with it.
I go for runs, and work from home but get out of the house, to deal with things. I avoid conversations. I put things straight to my dad: “Why are you being so rude? Why are you yelling?” And I become angry.
Thankfully, my husband is a good buffer and this helps. He can talk with my dad when I can’t, and some days are better than others.
I’ve tried to talk with my Dad’s doctor about his depression, because I think he needs medication, but it’s hard. My dad doesn’t want to face it because he’s afraid of meds, and says he’s fine but sleeps on the couch all day for weeks at a time, doesn’t shower and never leaves the house.
Yes, I’ve tried to get him to seniors’ groups. Yes I’ve mentioned meet-ups and community ventures. He doesn’t want any part of it.
So, by now I can say that I’ve probably given up, and part of me feels that if someone wants to live this way at 80, let him. I can’t change him or the past.
Another part of me wants to hope though, and waits and tries to muster up the courage to motivate him again, in the future. Maybe I’ll try next week. Maybe I’ll ask him to go on a walk tomorrow.
Sure, I reflect sometimes on how my life has been affected by his problem, and how I might have grown to be someone else, if only he’d been mentally healthy. I could feel regret, and I do, but moreover I feel that I have to love who I am regardless, and work with what I’ve got.
I believe that I’ve created who I am, and that I can keep on doing so. Yes, I am who I am in part because my dad was lost in his own sea of worry, and could never reach out.
But who I am tomorrow is also mostly up to me. And that’s something to hold onto.
My hope for today is that tomorrow my dad wakes up in a good mood, and enjoys his breakfast.
It’s oatmeal and blueberries these days. He usually makes it in the microwave and actually eats it.
It could be a good day. As long as he doesn’t yell at me that his new computer and the email he uses have “f*ckin’ ruined his life”- that one I’ve heard too much- it may be a good day. We’ll see.