Today would have been my mom’s birthday. She’s been gone three months now, and this is the first time I haven’t had to remember to get a gift or send a card or make a call. Getting used to her absence isn’t much of an adjustment for me. The Alzheimer’s took her away eight years ago, long before she died, and I haven’t lived less than three states away from her in 12 years. But to my dad, who cared for her at home every day, my mom’s death means a whole new life.
My father retired about 20 years ago, when I was in college. For the first 10 years of his retirement, my parents were able to enjoy some travel, but then my mom’s disease began to really take hold and she wouldn’t climb or descend stairs, and when she did, she’d get so worked up that she’d shriek incessantly at whoever attempted the coaxing. My father was still trying to hide her disease from everyone, so he found the whole process frustrating and embarrassing. They stopped going out unless absolutely necessary. As my mom’s disease progressed, my father’s retirement turned into an excruciatingly frustrating new career as her caregiver.
When we were at his house in New York for the funeral, my father told us he was going for a walk. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve gone for a walk?” he asked me. Since walking was one of two activities my father enjoyed, I was pleased that he was able to start doing it again. He likes swimming, too, but he won’t be able to do that until at least June.
After we left New York, my father struggled to adjust to his newfound freedom. I started getting phone calls:
“I’m going to get a computer. How do I sign up with AOL or NetZero?”
“Well, let me ask you, how do you connect to the internet?” I asked.
“I’ll use AOL,” he answered.
“Well here’s the thing: depending upon how you connect, you don’t need those guys anymore.”
“Well I want to use the phone, like I used to,” he said.
“Didn’t you tell me you had Comcast phone?”
“Well, yeah, I got that a few months ago.”
“Ok, well if you have Comcast phone, you can’t connect over the phone lines, because you do not have a regular phone line. You have to buy internet service from Comcast.”
“What is that, about 40 dollars a month?”
“That’s what we pay, yes.”
“That’s too expensive. I don’t want to pay more than 10 dollars a month!”
“I don’t think that’s going to happen, Dad.”
“I don’t need all of this fast stuff they have now. I just want to get on the internet a few hours a month,” he said.
“Ok, well, it doesn’t work the same way now. You don’t pay by the amount of time you spend on the web. It’s all unlimited.”
“Well, I don’t need that.”
“That’s just the way it works. Call Comcast and se if they’ll give you a deal. They always have deals,” I said.
“Yeah, but what is that, for a year?” he asked.
“Depends on the deal.”
“And then what does it go up to, about 40 dollars a month?”
“About. But you can always call and ask for another deal. Just call them,” I said.
“Well, we’ll see,” he said.
A week later, he called again.
“I was talking to your cousin Mark, and he thinks I should get an email number. A free one. I can use it at the libary. He said Hotmail or Yahoo. How do I do that?”
If Mark told you to get it, why are you asking me? “An email address?”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“Well, hmm, I would recommend Google. Matt has a Google email and he loves it,” I said.
“Goo-gle? How do you spell that?”
“So how do I get there? I type in ‘http Google?’”
“Ok, ok, slow down. You go to the address bar at the top of the page, and type in www.google.com.”
“Http google dot com?”
“No. You don’t need the ‘http’ anymore. Just type in ‘www.google.com.’”
“W…w…w…dot…Google…dot…com,” he said, writing it down, “Ok.”
“Then when Google comes up, there will be links at the top of the page. Click ‘mail.’”
“Top…of…the…page…mail. Then what?”
“Find something that says ‘get gmail account’ or something like that. I don’t have gmail, so I’m not sure what it’ll say. It should walk you through it, though. If you have any trouble, ask the librarian. She should be able to help you.”
“What’s G-mail? I thought you said Google.”
“That’s what they call Google mail. Don’t worry. It should show you how to do it. If you can’t figure it out, ask the librarian.”
“When will they give me my password?”
“They won’t. You’ll make one up. It’ll tell you when it wants you to type in a password.”
“That’s James1234@.com, right?”
“No, that would be your email address, and it’ll be @gmail.com. Your password is something you make up that’s personal to you, like the dog’s name.”
“Just ask the librarian if you have any trouble,” I urged.
“Ok, well, I’ll be talking to you.”
I didn’t anticipate my father’s renewed interest in the computer. I gave him my old one about 10 years ago. He tried to use it, but the instructional software he bought wouldn’t run with the inadequate memory. He used to call me for tech support at least twice a week. I am not qualified to give tech support so we’d both wind up angry and frustrated. Then he bought WebTV, but he never hooked it up and as my mother began to need more care, he said he didn’t have time for the internet anymore.
I was relieved when he said he only wanted email. When he said he wanted to buy a computer, I had visions of censoring my blog in case he’d read it and object to my depiction of him. Anger is my father’s natural state. His tirades have done enough damage to my psyche that I would take a few posts down and scour the rest for his name rather than incur his wrath. But I have to thank my cousin Mark for his suggestion. If my father just uses the computer at the library for email, it’s unlikely he’ll ever find out about my blog, much less read it.
I am glad my father is moving on with his life. For someone who drives 30 in a 55, he’s moving pretty quickly. Just this week, he went out to dinner with a couple of neighbors, including the lesbian couple across the street (admirable for such a right-wing guy); he told me he was going to go down to the USS Intrepid Museum in the city; and he said he renewed his passport so he and Mark could take a trip to Argentina.
Most guys his age have been enjoying their retirement since they hung up their ties, but my father lost all that time taking care of my mother. I hope this part of his life makes up for that time. He made his choice when he refused to pay for a nursing home, but for 13 years, he couldn’t go anywhere or do anything. I think it’s good for him that he’ll only use the internet at the library, and not just for my sake. I’d much rather he go out and experience the world firsthand. And I’m glad he’s not wasting any time.