In the evening of the day before yesterday I received a call from the care home where my Dad resides. They informed me that he had had a stroke. A CVA, they said, as if somebody who is never sick of anything and is not interested in anything medical should know what a CVA is. I looked it up. It means a cerebrovascular accident, i.e. a stroke. Over the phone it sounded like my Dad’s final hour had arrived. With a heavy heart and tears in my eyes I drove to the care home, but not until after I had checked my hairdo and my outfit. I was wearing skinny leather pants (brown) and a striped blouse (blue). The care home is in the town where I live in the country of my exile. My father used to live in a different part (in the southwest) of this humongous country. A little over one year ago I had him transferred to a home near me to be able to be with him a couple of hours every Saturday and Sunday. I have an older sister. She lives in the town where my Dad’s former care home is. But they don’t go along well. I don’t trust them with each other.
When I arrived, my Dad was asleep in a freshly made bed. Even without his dentures he looked young and happy. His features had smoothed out. The room was clean. Nursing staff said he wouldn’t wake up. They said there was nothing one could do but wait till next morning. His bed had been turned 180 degrees. He always sleeps on his right side (unable to turn over anyway). Because the bed was turned he would always be facing a nurse who would check in on him during the night. They said he had resisted the turning of the bed before dropping off into his Sleeping Beauty sleep. There wasn’t much of a fight though, they said. What with the condition they had found him in. There was little I found I could do. His dentures were in the nightstand drawer. They had been retrieved from under the bed. I cleaned them, not knowing if he would ever need them again. I stroked the old man’s head. I have my mother’s everlasting hair. My father, a very, very handsome man in his younger years, started to go bald at an early age (which did nothing to his beauty), but the process stopped halfway. Even at 96 he has a nice enough head of slightly wiry hair to rake a woman’s hand through. My elder brother has my father’s hair, except that he doesn’t seem to lose it. It’s not thick or densely planted but it is all over his head in requisite quantities. This brother of mine is a piece of work. But he is good to the bone and endowed with significant moral intelligence. I’ve always considered him a beacon to go by on anything ethical. I’m the more socially and economically successful though, by far. He has done well for himself, but I’m wealthy. I wear Missioni. He thinks he has a girlfriend, but I have children. He drives Chrysler. I drive top-of-range Tesla. My father loves him. But my father loves me best. Our genealogy is one of underperformance through the ages on both sides of the ancestral lines of descent. If my brother may be called an exception, I’m the exception that may occur only once in a millennium of generations. This includes my madness. My Dad has always managed to ignore my madness by focusing on my success. I’ve managed to remain successful (with certain intervals that my father at no time was privy to) by maintaining a healthy work-madness balance. My Dad is a snob.
I went home after two hours. I called the care home first thing next morning. They said that he lived, but that he was still sleeping. No change. I went to the office. They called me in the early afternoon. They said my father was awake, and that he had asked for me. He was unresponsive otherwise. I wasn’t nervous though. My Dad isn’t the kind of man given to gathering his children around his deathbed. He would be checking out without drama. I packed my stuff and raced from the office to the care home. I was wearing a boss outfit. A conservative skirt, a blouse, heels, hair in a bun. He was still in bed. A young, pretty nurse had accompanied me into the room. She is a favorite of my father. My father is a favorite patient of hers. She had told me that my father had not suffered a stroke, but a TIA. He had TIAs before. So I already knew what the letters stand for: transient ischaemic attack, a passing (transient) “interruption of blood supply to a part of the brain” (Google). The interruption is too short for brain tissue to start breaking down. A patient will typically recover from the aftermath of a TIA. When I had entered the room my father’s face lit up. The nurse couldn’t believe what she saw. My Dad began to speak. He asked how things were at work (his favorite topic to start a conversation with). The nurse beamed. I felt strangely happy for her, and proud of myself to lighten the hearts of two people at the same time. I told him to wear his dentures. I helped him put them in. There’s a handsome buck!, I said. He smiled with the hesitant smile of a child mildly being poked fun at by his mother in a company of grown-ups. The nurse went out and returned with a bowl of porridge. She spoon-fed him. Don’t swallow the spoon!, I warned him, emulating one of his feeble jokes when we were children. He smiled again. When he had finished, the nurse asked him if he would like to have some more. That I cannot deny, he said. Well, well, I said. Look who’s being smart! The nurse left in high spirits to get an extra bowl of porridge. I took it upon me to feed him this time. He finished the second bowl. What’s with the piece missing from the bowl? I asked, as if dismayed. My Dad looked at me, nonplussed for a second. Then he grinned. I told him I had to do a video conference at 4. He had no idea what I was talking about, but he knew it was about work. You should go, he said. I did, promising to be back on Saturday.
My brother was with me both that night and the next day. He does not live near my father. To visit our father requires something of a journey from him. I had told my brother that night about the CVA (which it was not). And I had informed him the next day that our father had the nursing home ask me to come and see him. I said: It’s not af if he’s dying. He would not ask for me if he were. He would just do it. My brother is a good man. He may strike one as a bit of a sociopath. But he isn’t. He’s a hero. He’s the anti-narcissist. I’ve always been a handful to him. I sometimes think that the only life I haven’t ruined is that of my Dad’s, whose snobbery has blinded him to the blackness of the youngest sheep in his flock. Oh, I know, my brother said.