Sunday, January 13, 2008

A Father and His Son

On Friday afternoon, my father flew in from Florida for the weekend. My boyfriend Ken and I picked him up at the airport, which is always a challenge. My dad has emphysema and, although he had a lung bypass (he is the only surviving patient of this experimental surgery) and is no longer hacking up a lung every 5 minutes, he still gets very winded walking long distances. And, he vehemently refuses a wheelchair or scooter. He would rather stop every so often, lean against the wall, and wheeze. At Logan International Airport, it's impossible to avoid walking long distances. 9/11 fixed that.

Ken wanted to NOT park and just circle the airport while I went in and met my dad. I insisted we find a spot in Central Parking (and even got a little snotty about it). I think I wanted Ken to come with me because of how I always feel like I'm in trouble when I first see my dad. Thank God it passes after a while now. Also, I am having that Uthoff's Sign thing again and it's hard to walk and see at the same time. This makes it a bit difficult to navigate the airport and find people...the people you're looking for anyway. I end up having to look down at the floor while I walk which gives me the appearance of a person who has dropped something or is painfully shy. I've had a lot of trouble winding down and getting into bed at a decent hour the last several nights so I'm pretty sure this symptom resurfaced because of being overtired. With MS, there is no "get out of jail free" card when I abandon the self care.

While Ken took the very long walk back to the car, my dad and I just hung out in Baggage Claim, discussing symptoms and treatments for emphysema and MS--like two elderly neighbors comparing their long lists of ailments. Eventually, my dad, Ken, and I were in the car, headed back to my house to hang out for a while before I left to pick up the kids.

My dad is not staying with me--not because he doesn't like me or he's not welcome, but because he got a better offer. My older brother, John, invited and paid for my father to meet him in Boston and go to the Patriots' playoff game. I believe the Pats haven't lost a single game all season so people are really hyped up about it. Not me. Football is not my game. Actually, I don't really HAVE a game. I prefer HGTV to any sport on television. And, what happened to Monday Night Football anyway? It is now on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday! When did that happen and why??? One weekend night recently, I was looking to veg out on the couch in front of the TV and football was all all three major networks!

But I digress. My dad and Brother John (not to be confused with Ex-John) like football. So much so that Brother John bought heated box tickets to the game for God knows how much money, flew here from Lake Tahoe, flew my father here from Sarasota, got a hotel room at a very posh hotel on the Waterfront, and is booking a "car" to take them to the stadium 30 miles away.

I think Brother John is worthy of a bit more description. My brother is a self-made multi-millionaire who never went to college. He lives in Lake Tahoe right now but he's also lived in Key West, Hawaii, Australia, LA, Japan, and a luxury motor home last summer and fall. When people ask me what John does for a living, I don't totally know how to answer. He starts businesses, makes deals, buys property, sells business and properties, and makes money. As my dad likes to say, John loves the game of deal-making and the money is just the way he keeps score. It's very hard to believe we're related or that he came from the same family. We weren't exactly poor but we shopped at thrift stores, always used coupons, and my parents lived in a trailer when I was born. We did NOT grow up sitting in heated box seats at NFL playoff games.

John does not look like what I used to think successful businessmen looked like. He looks more like a rich white rapper or something. He is a very muscular, incredibly image-conscious man. He has a nipple piercing and many, many tattoos, including the Cat-in-the-Hat reclining on his lower back, a large flame around his navel, and a scene of some kind that looks like a female deity holding up his man boobs. He also has (or used to have--he's always editing his tattoos) various cartoon characters around his substantial biceps. John has sapphire blue eyes and a pearly white smile, both of which he flashes liberally whenever he's flirting with someone. And John is ALWAYS flirting with someone. He flirts with little girls, old ladies, gay men, women in the car next to him on the highway...he is ALWAYS flirting.

John dresses pretty casually but I'm sure his jeans cost more than my couch. He keeps his salt and pepper hair very close to his head and has a little goatee and mustache. (He's had many, many different looks over the years including very long, Milli-Vanilli kind of hair and a dyed-blond crew cut.) He wears knit caps a lot and has what I'm guessing are platinum and diamond earring plugs in his ears--the kind where they stretch the hole open and you can actually see through the earring to whatever is behind the person. (Ruby and Zane kept taking turns putting their pinkies inside the holes like it was some kind of magic trick.)

John's wife is Mardene, rhymes with Sardine. When John was newly sober, he met Mardene (who is also in recovery) at a meeting in Key West. At the time, Mardene was a professional juggler who also rode a unicycle and ate fire during performances. At one time, she was married to her performing partner and, apparently, they were quite famous around the world. Mardene doesn't juggle professionally anymore--apparently it's quite hard on your body and Mardene is over 40. Now, she does some acting, helps John manage his various stuff, and travels with my brother.

I knew Mardene for a few years before I ever saw her in a shirt that did not bare her midriff. Mardene is probably a size 0 or something and has BIG dark brown, curly hair. As of a few years ago, she also has BIG breasts. I didn't know about Mardene's boob job until a couple summers ago when they came to P-town for vacation and the kids and I drove down for a visit. We pulled up in my painted minivan (after getting in what was probably my 3rd rear-end collision on the way to P-town which I now think was my diminishing vision). Mardene very excitedly ran out to say hi (we hadn't seen each other in about 2 years since they were living in Hawaii at the time). She was several yards from the van when I saw her new, MUCH BIGGER rack.

Before my self-editor kicked in, I yelled out the window, "Where did you get the boobs?!" I'm a real class act. Very, very subtle. Ruby was horrified at my crass remark so I quickly tried to explain the reason behind my question. Mardene who was and is, incredibly proud of her new boobs, just laughed and told me she always wanted them bigger so she finally did it. Later, when we were alone in her room, she lifted her shirt to show them off. I have seen many breasts in locker rooms, etc., and I have to say, as breasts go, these were quite impressive. They were very, very "perfect" though and almost too round. I also noticed, throughout our visit, that they didn't move much. I guess mine don't move much either but that's because there isn't quite so MUCH of them.

Mardene is not John's first wife. When he was 19 years old, he married a woman named Lisa who was in the Air force. Their marriage took them to Japan until John got Hodgkin's Disease (cancer of the Lymph nodes) when he was 20 and had to go to Hawaii for treatment. The marriage ended, the cancer went into remission (and has stayed there for 25 years), and John began a live of travel, physical fitness, dysfunctional relationships, and, for a time, some heavy-duty drinking and drugging.

Between Lisa and Mardene, John has been engaged like 4 or 5 times. (There was a joke in our family for years: How do you know when John is going to break up with someone? He proposes.) I don't even remember all of his fiances. The ones I do recall are Tiffany, Barb, and Mardene. Only once did he go so far as to plan a wedding and send out invitations. It was with Mardene. Surprise, surprise, they called it off about a month before the wedding after everyone bought non-refundable plane tickets to Hawaii. THEN, several months later, they reunited and eloped to Vegas where they were married by a chapel minister dressed as Elvis. I think Mardene and John were made for each other.

So, back to my dad. After the airport, Ken dropped us off at my condo where my dad had never been before. Usually I see him at my sister's house in Connecticut when he comes North. We had some coffee and just sat and talked for about an hour...all alone...and I ENJOYED it! This is the same man I once hid from when he came into the Marshall's where I was working in high school. This is the same man who didn't come to my college graduation because I didn't send him a printed invitation. We have come such a long way and I'm very grateful.

When we picked up the kids at school they were very excited that Grampy was in the car and coming to our house! After the kids showed Grampy every single one of their toys and watched 2 episodes of Curious George, we met my boyfriend Ken at Jimmy's Diner. Zane is not the most well-behaved 4 1/2 year old in a restaurant and, for each minute after 6pm, it gets worse. We got there at 6:15. Uggh.

I do NOT love parenting in front of my dad. He always reacts to my discipline as if I'm being a hard-a##. I want to say, "Are you fricken kidding me?!! If I crawled under the table in a restaurant, you would have dragged me to the car by my neck and that would have only been the start of my punishment!" But I didn't. I just tried to breathe and remember that my dad has changed and I don't have to be especially tough or especially easy on Ruby and Zane in reaction to how he raised me.

After dinner, Ken drove my dad to the hotel. Can you imagine? Giving up a chance to stay on the pull-out couch I got from Craigslist Free Stuff to stay in a multi-star hotel with an elevated soaking tub and separate shower in the incredibly large bathroom? To each his own, I guess.

On Saturday, the kids and I took the subway into Boston to meet my dad and Brother John. What a fiasco! We got off the train at Downtown Crossing and, per my brother's instructions, we walked down Washington Street toward Borders where they were being dropped off by a cab. We played on benches outside the store until Brother John called to say they were a few blocks up the street and were taking a cab back to the hotel so my dad could get his inhaler. I suggested we let them go and then they could come back to meet us at a restaurant. (At this point, I was thinking Wendy's or maybe a food court.)

Brother John had something else in mind. It was almost nap time (he takes a siesta every afternoon, wherever he is, no matter what), so he wanted us to eat in the hotel so he could then go up to his room and get to napping as soon as possible. I expressed concern that the hotel restaurant was probably a little too "fancy" for my children especially when they were too tired or hungry (they were tired AND hungry since it was now 2pm). John disagreed and his vast experience as the father of 0 children knew best. He was buying and I didn't need to stay at the hotel after Ruby and Zane left their mark on the dining room, so I acquiesced.

The hotel restaurant was decorated in a French Provincial style with blue toile seat cushions on painted yellow chairs with big wrought iron chandeliers hanging from the ceilings. Naturally, there was no kid's menu. The children each ordered an Angus burger with cheddar cheese at $18 a pop. (Did I mention my brother was buying?) I made the mistake of ordering soup as a starter which I should have realized would delay the children's food even further since they were a one-course at a time kind of restaurant.

While we waited for the food the kids ate bread and crackers and were pretty loud even though they were trying to be quiet. Ruby kept making comments like, "Are these cups real glass?," "This is a fancy place. The menu isn't folded!" "This must cost a lot of money. I want to stay here!" Thank God I had my back to the rest of the dining room which was only half full since it was between lunch and dinner.

Zane kept kneeling on the floor and putting his head on the chair, saying he was sleepy. When he wasn't doing that, he kept picking up the knife and banging it on the water glass, repeating my brother's "Cheers!" in what was definitely NOT an inside voice.

I held the prospect of dessert over the children's heads in an effort to get them to be on their best behavior, hoping there would be something they would actually like on the dessert menu. After lunch, I ordered them each a dish of chocolate ice cream which arrived with a long, skinny beige cookie poking out of it and garnished with a sprig of fresh mint. Zane didn't want the cookie or the mint. I was afraid I might eat the cookie (I haven't had sugar since New Year's Day) so I offered it to Ruby who was skarfing down her $10 bowl of ice cream across the table.

She said, "How come I didn't get a cookie in mine?"

"You did!," I corrected her. "It was that long skinny thing sticky out of the top of the ice cream that you just ate."

"Oh," she answered, "I thought it was a french fry."

I doubt we will return to the restaurant in the Intercontinental Boston before the kids graduate from high school, but it was fun. We laughed a lot and it was time limited which is always good with Brother John and me. For most of our adult lives, there has been tension and misunderstanding when we get together. I think we just always assume the worst about each other which is really quite sad. I am going to examine the conversations we had a little deeper to see if I owe him amends. I think I probably do for my overreactions. Don't get me wrong. There weren't fireworks and we didn't swear or come to blows. It just didn't feel like I could talk to him without being angry and petulant.

When we finished lunch, the kids and I hugged and kissed my dad and brother goodbye, and wished them a fun evening at the football game. Then, we walked the three blocks to South Station which took about an hour and involved much whining and hand squeezing. Most of the time, it was Zane whining and me squeezing his hand (too hard, I have to admit), whenever he tried to break away from me on the busy sidewalk.

The subway ride home was long and tiring but it brought us back to our real lives with turkey hot dogs for dinner, baths, and an on-demand kids movie. I like my real life. I would, however, not be adverse to a long, solitary soak in that hotel room bathtub.

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