I hadn’t lived with my father since I was six. It’s not that I didn’t know him, it’s just that I knew well enough to know that trying to assimilate him into our house, he with his bachelor routine of timely meals, crosswords puzzles at lunch and Fox news for dessert, was not going to be easy on a good day. And he hadn’t had a good day in a long time.
My three boys were busy with their homework, friends and teams and were not quite aware that I spent my days trying to console and counsel their grandfather. They knew he was in town, knew he arrived suddenly, and my oldest, the most protective of the bunch, was angry that I was in pain. He was starting to ask me questions, starting to wonder when I was going to leave well enough alone. And my youngest, then seven, would cry about my seemingly constant absence.
“You just saw him yesterday. Why do you have to go again?”
I couldn’t tell him that it was because his grandfather was a mess. I couldn’t explain that he up and left his life with only two shirts, a pair of socks and his passport in a duffel bag. He wouldn’t understand that I couldn’t trust the words that might come out of his mouth, painful, biting and ugly. I would have loved to embrace my elder as they do in other cultures, other homes, to bring him in to our house and let his wisdom enlighten my children, but at this time in my father’s life, it was I who had to muster up the wisdom, the reverse psychology to get him to eat a meal or wash his clothes. I had to find the courage to help and the sage-like foresight to let some of the responsibility to still be his.
This was no easy task. Yet as a sandwich, we all face it - the struggle of the balance between respecting who they were to us and who they are on the verge of becoming. And, courtesy of Father Time, our children are on the verge of "becoming" as well.
Some days my sandwich is an open faced mess.