In the list of well-meaning but tone deaf, insensitive half-witticisms like, ‘Cheer up’ to someone suffering from depression; ‘try to control your panic’ to someone in the middle of a panic attack; ‘you are beautiful and would be more so if you lost weight’; ‘your parents become your children when they age’ ranks number one.
It requires additional breath work, control that I don’t often have, to not snarl or be sharp, and instead just say ‘thanks’ (Of course, not a thank you) when I hear it.
There is a reason I chose not to have kids although I had my share of what I call the ‘baby bhoot’, the haunting, recurring thoughts of desiring to be a parent, through different periods in my twenties and thirties. In my life, it was simply not worth it to become a parent, in all likelihood a single parent at that, and rear another human being. Every day now, I laud myself over this decision. It was a damn fine thing that I chose not to procreate nor adopt in this asinine world.
My ageing, suffering-from-dementia father is not my child.
My grandparents clearly did a number on him, the repercussions of which my mother and I continue to face. I like to believe I would bring up boys to be open, communicative, respectful, and less entitled.
My father, like so many people (especially men of his generation), is incapable of self-reflection and so there is no scope of correction or commiseration. This has always been the case.
In his good times, my father was a social performer. I think back to my childhood and it’s so full of parties at home, meeting people outside, entertaining nearly all the time. He was clever, fun, seductive. Even as a child, I could feel how much fun everyone had and how popular he was. My mother says that was the only time he spoke that way or shared his thoughts. She was never privy to his thoughts, plans, or ideas. Unlike other couples, they never discussed the future. He wouldn’t allow it nor communicate. She wouldn’t dare disturb the peace (and I am glad she chose to do that, the hardest of things to do) for my sake.
I remember the no-communication from the time of his tumour. The silence continues to this day. I have to be attentive to body language and moods to figure out if he is doing OK. My father views illness, like I view religion, as a weakness to be kept entirely private and not shared with anyone.
The past couple of weeks, he hasn’t been doing OK. He flies into a rage over the smallest of things. My mother might tell him to close the door to keep the mosquitoes out and he snarls and fumes. When I say, here’s your cup of tea, he gets angry. Twice in the past week he tried to hit us again. He got incensed with my mother over something she said and pulled her hair out of her bun and tried to shove at her and hit her. I was there, so I could push him away.
Yesterday, I angered him when I told him that he had already had tea and the cup he was trying to drink from was our help’s. He flew into a rage and told me he would hit me. I am PMSing, also someone saying they will hit me or try to hit me is a trigger, so I said, ‘come and try it.’ So he did. He rushed at me with fists and it would have been really ugly if my mother hadn’t used all her strength to pull him off. So instead he called me horrible names and said I would suffer and die in a vile way. The insane violence ended only when, after he rushed to spit and beat me again, I ran out and armed myself with the mops outside our house and took the fight outside. He immediately went in because the conditioning of ‘what will people think?’ is not easily overcome.
To my mother and me, these episodes and the atmosphere at home are things we’ve lived through twelve years ago.
Rationally, we know it’s the disease. But when we see how kindly he speaks to outsiders still, emotionally, it feels like a betrayal. His behaviour towards us seems deliberate.
We live in fear. We are terrified of his physical strength, especially when he has his rage episodes. His hands and fists still feel like iron. He is currently incapable of empathy so he doesn’t worry about causing us any injury. The truth is neither my mother nor I might survive such a beating given our poor health. I worry about leaving my mother alone with him, even when I go for my classes. My mother never leaves me alone with him. We have pretty nearly stopped socialising unless it’s at home.
While I am taking him to the psychiatrist and getting him newer medication or doing whatever else that the doctor might suggest for us, I think what became clear yesterday was that I need to admit him to a rehabilitation centre.
The thought brings little relief, not just because of the cost and risks involved. It feels like we are abandoning him. I keep trying to visualise leaving him at a place and it’s heart-wrenching. This is not what you do to a parent as a child, a primary caregiver. Is this how parents feel about dropping off their kids at a boarding house? Such well-intentioned, sentimental stuff is pointless, though.
My T S Eliot/Upanishad tattoo keeps reminding me to be kind and sympathetic, to have empathy, to have control – da. The one da that has always proven to be the most difficult to follow.
Living in fear and apprehension in one’s own home should never be OK. It’s also deplorable (if entirely natural) to wish helplessly for the death of another human being, especially a strong, violent parent, or worry that you might be maimed or killed by someone else, especially a strong, violent parent.
I keep thinking about dharma – duty.
What is the right thing to do?
The subtle art of dharma has never felt more complex nor more difficult.
Dharma is caring and thinking too much. How many of us have that privilege?
The only thing to do is whatever we can do.