From ‘Homewrecker’ to Caretaker – The New York Times
Midlife crisis, we thought (though he was pushing 60). It won’t last. Also, ew (she was in her 20s, my age). Today, would my father be presumed a predator? Back then, in the ’90s, there were whispers, snickers, haughty rolls of eyes. Today, surely he would face condemnation. And she, if not a conniving, green-card-coveting gold digger, was naïve at best, a silly young woman, easily duped. Today, perhaps someone would protect her from her own foolishness.
His was a slow decline over many years. First the forgetfulness, pauses, gaps, easy to forgive. Then the same stories, repeated, looping across days, then hours, then minutes, seconds. One morning he lost his way driving to campus on roads he had followed for more than 40 years. A kindhearted undergrad found him panicking, brought him to his office. The term absent-minded professor took on a dark new meaning.
Another time, he called me in a panic. “I was working on my physics, and suddenly I felt so fuzzy, I had no idea where I was. Daughter, are you listening? If I lose my mind, I don’t want to live.”
He started to cry. I didn’t know what to say. My father, like all fathers, was supposed to be invincible.
Still, his deterioration was tempered by a sameness to these weekend visits. We had our rituals: Chinese buffet (she would bring her own tea leaves), Red Lobster for dinner (he would order the surf and turf), the 60-inch television on nonstop, Chinese soap operas or CNN.
We would go for a stroll on the sidewalks of their suburban neighborhood — first, all of us, one child in a stroller; then he, clinging to her arm, the children running ahead; then one of us pushing his wheelchair, blanket on his lap. Now, at 83, he hardly goes out at all. He can’t walk or urinate or eat by himself. She sits him by the window, the shades drawn up on sunny days.