My father is the quintessential absent-minded professor.  A babysitter once described his absent moments as seeming as though he is consulting a giant invisible blackboard in front of him, full of mathematical equations only he can understand.  My father is very smart.  He has also been trending more towards the absent-mindedness lately.  He can’t seem to hold a job since September, and this, for a man who is 68 but defines himself by his work, is breaking my heart.  He apparently did something — some mistake, some errors, some oversight, some slip-up — at his last place of employment, and now they can’t even give him a fair recommendation when a prospective employer calls.  They can’t even let him move on with his life.  Each place he interviews, they find out about the last place, and the hiring process stops dead in the water. 

We the family have no idea what this mistake was.  My family is pretty tight about our personal secrets, and not so good about sharing difficult moments or talking about emotionally laden subject matter.  I may or may not have referred to my brother as “emotionally retarded”.  I’m lying; I call him that regularly, just not to his face.  He’s not a macho guy, really.  He’s trending more Euro-trash lately, thanks to the influence of his fellow cosmopolitan physics doctoral students.  However, he regards any displays of emotion as being “like mom” and dismisses them as some sort of genetic defect.  See?  Not macho; he just  has the emotional maturity of a 4 year old.  And the rhetoric skills to go with it.

Apple not fall from from tree, you say?  Yeah, Dad’s not so good at that either.  Yet the main difference here is that Dad knows he’s not good at it.  After some recent blow-out/family drama/weekly crying session, he admitted, “I’m not good at the emotional piece (of child rearing),” but he had sensed that I was sad.  So Dad, despite his brilliance, and his blunder, has not spoken openly about what happened at work.  Suffice it to say, it was a B.M. (Big Mistake).

It was recommended, after the B.M., and subsequent job-leads-gone-bust, that he be evaluated by a psychiatrist to look for some physical/chemical/neurological explanation as to why, after working consistently and competently since 1967, he suddenly can’t hold or acquire a job.

And he, non-chalantly, mentioned this to me on the phone.  I freaked out.  Of course, not while talking to him.  Any family members who share feelings might have had the following conversation:

“Daddy, that’s scary.  What do they think is wrong with you?”

“Oh, it could be dementia, you know.  Don’t worry.  We’ll let you know how the MRI turns out.”

“Daddy, I’m so scared.  Talk to me and make me less scared.”

Or something.  I’m imagining this conversation, clearly, because the last time we approximated it, I was afraid of a witch hiding in my walk-in closet while I slept, and I haven’t had a walk-in closet since I was 6.  In reality, it went more like this.

“Yeah, well, they did an MRI, because they think I have some early stage dementia.”

“Uh huh?”

“And I didn’t do well on the word recall test, mostly.  No matter how many times they gave me the list of words, I couldn’t recall enough of them.”

“Uh huh.”

And then I hung up the phone and cried on my husband’s shoulder.  I imagined all of our unborn children growing up without a grandfather, as I did.  My father’s father made it until I was about 7, but he had had one of those diseases that cause you to sleep in a hospital bed in the dining room and sit in a wheelchair without moving or talking, and scare the piss out of your grandchildren.  I didn’t really know him.  I remember making Betamax videos for Grandma Esther and Grandpa Oscar, so they could watch us grow up.  I remember more about our grandma, who died when I was in 9th grade.  But about my grandfather, I have very few memories.  I saw the same fate befalling my children, and it scared me.  What would we do?  What would happen?  What would it look like?  When would he stop remembering us?  He’s always called us by the other’s names, and I comforted myself neatly into Denial thinking of that.  He’s always taken 45 minutes to go change a pair of pants, and he’s been getting lost going to my mother’s office for the five years she’s owned it.  But what else could happen?  I didn’t dare think.  I just let myself be held, and I cried. 

Today, he called me to talk about the new computer he bought on my recommendation.  Dad’s a tech-nut.  Even as he isn’t always on the fore-front of gizmotry and gadgetude, he’s interested in technology.  We were the first family I knew to own a CD-ROM, a DVD player, and a Disc-man.  His latest thrill is some unlimited tech-support in Bangalore he purchased.  It’s called iYogi, or something, and they’ll help him for two years, even running his virus protection software for him.  He’s very happy.  And they transferred all his old memory files to the new computer, something I told him they could do.  He was even happier.  The MRI came back negative.  I was even happier.  They still don’t know what’s wrong with my father.  They’re looking into nutritional definiciencies, since he’s an almost-vegetarian 5’6″ man who weighs less than 130lbs.  They’re looking into sleep and alertness issues, since the 95lb chocolate lab pins him down at night and he can’t move.  But the truth is, they don’t know my daddy.  They might not find out what’s wrong, or what’s newly wrong, or what’s different.  As long as I get a reprieve from my fears, and more time to prepare myself.  It’s hard enough dealing with my father as he is, a true absent-minded professor.  Let’s hope nothing more, and nothing less.

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