The key to reason

I got another call last week.

“Hello, this is the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department. Your father’s part of a program where we call him every day to make sure he’s ok. He didn’t answer today. I’m outside his house right now.”

“Oh, yes, I know about the program. What can I help you with?”

“Well, I called both key holders and I can’t get in touch with either one. Does your father have any keys hidden outside the house?”

“Oh, no, Officer, he’s not that kind of a guy,” I said.

“When did you last talk to him?” he said.

“Two days ago,” I said.

“Well I can’t get in the house unless I break a window. Do you want me to do that?”

I thought about what my father would say if I’d given permission to break his window. I was fairly certain he was ok – my gut said so, and I’d received this phone call before and he was perfectly fine, although I did entertain the thought that we might have to fly back to the East Coast the day after we’d returned. “No,” I said. “Don’t break a window.”

“That’s the only way I can get in,” he said, glass-lust on his breath.

“I really don’t think it’s an emergency. I spoke to him two days ago and he was fine. I do know someone else with a key, but she’s at work right now,” I said.

“Give me her number. I’ll call her,” he said. “I’ll call you back.”

I finished getting the kids ready for school and we were about to walk out the door when the phone rang again.

“Ms. Fisher? This is Officer Iezzi again. Your father just drove up. He forgot about the phone call and went to the store. He’s fine.”

“Okay, good. Thanks so much for your help, Officer,” I said, frantically trying to text my BFF to tell her not to go home for the key. It turned out the sheriff had called her off before he called me, God bless him. And, God bless him again, he had not told my dad that she had a key. Immediately, I thought, Imagine what he would have done if he’d come home to a broken window? Brrr.

I didn’t talk to my dad that day. I did talk to him a few days later. We chatted – he asked about the kids, I answered, then he launched into his list of things that were new. Eventually he got to, “The police were at the house the other day. I’m in this program, ‘Are You Okay?’ and they call me every day to make sure I’m all right.”

“I know, Dad. They called me. This was the second time,” I said. “I told you about the first time.”

“Oh, they called you?”

“Yes. They call me every time they can’t get in touch with you,” I said. “And both times they’ve told me they can’t get in touch with anyone that has a key to your house.”

“Well, Jay has a key and Oswald has one.”

“I know. And they work. In the city. An hour and a half on the train and twenty minutes from the station. They are not around when the police call them. The officer asked if you had a key hidden around your house.” I proceeded to tell him an ingenious hiding place my old landlord used once – sorry, if I make it public, it loses its power.

“Yeah, these crooks, they know all the tricks. You can’t hide anything outside,” he said.

“The Police Officer thought it was okay to hide a key,” I said. “He wanted to break a window.”

“Whaat? Naaah, don’t break a window,” he said.

“That’s what I told him, but he said he couldn’t get in any other way,” I said. “That’s why he asked if you had a hidden key.”

“Jay and Oswald have keys,” he said.

“And he couldn’t get in touch with them. Why don’t you hide a key somewhere that I can tell the cops next time they call?” I said.

“No, no, these crooks look everywhere,” he said.

Oh, Lord, “Okay, so next time I’ll tell him to break a window.”

“Whaat? No, no, there’s no windows breaking,” he said. “Maybe I could give a key to Mr. Schlotz.”

Hallelujah. Mr. Schlotz lives in the neighborhood and he’s retired.

“But he’s out of the house more than he’s in it,” Dad said.

“But he’s LOCAL. Wherever he goes, he can get back quickly. That’s what you want,” I said.

“Okay, I’ll talk to him about giving a key,” he said.

“Okay, good, Dad. That’s really good. Thank you,” I said.

My father’s changed a lot. Oh, not in any fundamental way. He’s still the same paranoid, antisocial shut-in we all know and love, but now that he realizes he’s vulnerable he’s sometimes reasonable.

This conversation was a cake walk compared to any other attempted persuasive discussion. Like six years ago, when the nursing home social worker called me in to try to convince my dad to check my mother in, instead of just having her rehab there. Ha! She actually thought I could change his mind. I politely explained to her that the nursing home cost money and under no circumstances would my father spend money. She argued that people save for a rainy day, and they don’t realize that it’s pouring. I finally just told her I’d talk to him. And I did. And he told me the nursing home cost $100,000 a year.

But now things are different. My dad’s realizing his limitations. He just turned 83. He hired a kid to cut his grass. He used to love cutting the grass, but he told me he physically can’t do it anymore. He fell off of a ladder changing a light bulb. He fell off of a ladder going into the attic. He said he’d ask someone to climb ladders for him next time.

He’s old. It’s not like he just realized it. He jumped on that senior discount the minute he turned 65, but now, after being capable for my mom for 13 years until the Alzheimer’s killed her, he’s realizing that for some things, he’s become incapable. And he’s doing something he’s never done before. He’s asking for help. I’m sorry it took so long, but better late than never. Maybe, just maybe, through receiving help from different people, he’ll realize that everyone is not, in fact, out to get him. I can only hope.