Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Fathers, Friends, And Dreams

I did some time traveling this morning by way of a dream.

This wasn't a trip to ancient Egypt or the Roman Empire, this was the recent past--my recent past to be exact.

I dreamed my father was still alive, still elderly and still in need of care. Seven months after his death, seven months of not having to worry about him anymore, I was back on the job.

He was walking around the living room in his boxer shorts looking for his pants. I saw that he was dirty--there were feces stains on his legs, much like real life, I'm afraid. I had to stop him from getting dressed and gently tell him he had to wash.

I woke up just as we were going into the bathroom, where normally I would sit him down on his special chair and wash him down. That was always tough because it was hard to clean him and the damn water was either too cold or too hot.

It's hard to think about those days now, even though they weren't that long ago. I went back to sleep or maybe I never woke up, but the next thing I remember, the wrestler Hulk Hogan was in my face and quite upset at me about something.

That's all I can recall of that little episode, but I'm sure he was a stand-in for my father. Only instead of being a helpless old man in need of a bath, he was big, angry and menacing, all of which my father could be in his darker moments.

Maybe I was punishing myself by conjuring up this fearful image. Perhaps I feel guilty that I'm glad I don't have to take care of my father anymore, so my subconscious mind sent a monster into my dreams to lay down the smack.

I was thinking more about fatherhood over the weekend. I was walking through the park on Shore Road and I saw this man teaching his little girl how to ride a bicycle.

He helped her shove off, jogged a few yards with her, and then she was free. It looked like such a beautiful moment, but I'll never know what that's like.

Of course I love my two nieces more than I could ever say, but still, at times like these, the idea of having my own kid gnaws at me.

The problem was I chose to be a child for so long myself, I'm not sure if I would have much to teach him or her about life. I've failed at so many things, been so fearful to strike out on my own--what am I going to tell a kid about being independent?

I mean, it took me forever to learn how to ride a bike and I was unable to tie my own shoes--literally--for the longest time. I got used to the idea of people doing things for me at a very young age and I'm still having trouble shaking that notion.

But I know I could love a child with all my heart and, at the very least, I could tell the kid do not grow up to be like daddy.

I wonder sometimes what it would be like if I had child, preferrably a little girl (after the nieces, that's really all I want).

What would she look like? With my preference for black women, maybe I'd have a little mixed race sweetheart with dreadlocks and fine brown skin. What would she be when she grew up? As long as she was happy, I'd be very satisfied.

People say I can still have a child now, but at 50 years old, I don't think that's wise--though I'm not ruling it out. It's just that my career situation is still a bit shaky, so creating on a family would be a tough move.

And I'll be an old man when the kid is still pretty young. I'll be wheezing when I teach her to ride a bike and likely to fall on my face after the first few steps.

A Bicycle Built For One

He or she will be hosing me down while they're still in high school and I don't think that's fair to the child at all.

It strikes me that teaching a kid to ride a bike mirrors the whole parenting experience. You guide the child, show him or her what to do, help them along as much as you can, and then you let go into the world.

My problem is that instead of taking off my own, I rode around in circles, never far from home.

Back I was at the Pocono Record, nearly 20 years ago, one of the copy editors told us he and his wife was expecting their third child. He was so young, maybe 30 at the most, and here he was with this big family when I didn't even have a girlfriend.

This fellow seemed a little surprised himself by the news that he was going to be a father for the third time.

"There's never a perfect time," he said.

And he was so right. If you wait for things to be just right--in anything life--that time will never come. You'll be alone and you won't be able to teach anyone how to ride a bicycle.

Age is the issue of the week for me. I learned on Tuesday that a good friend of mine at the office is being laid off. He's 55 years old and suffering from several serious health problems that prevent him from driving and even using a cell phone.

This man has a confidant of mine and helped me many times with story ideas and career moves. When my position was in trouble, he gave me all kinds of advice about how to survive that particular storm.

"I had no idea this was coming," he said to me the other day.

It's upsetting to see someone you like go through this misery. I'll be honest: I'm always worried about my own hide. It's not easy finding a job now, particularly in my age bracket.

My co-worker told me that during interviews people have sneaky ways of finding out your age without coming out and asking you directly.

Hey, a friend of mine went to the same college. Did you know him?

My colleague, like myself, is unmarried and has no children. He tells that some companies ask about "the family" on the pretense that he may have to relocate them, when they may really be trying to find out if he's gay or not. Oh, brother...

I shook his hand and wished him the best. I promised I'd help him with references and job tips and anything else he needed. I asked him to keep in touch, though the workplace friendship can be a tricky animal.

You get so close to some people you think you'll be buddies forever; you're like soldiers going through combat. Then you go to different jobs and often that great connection fades away. That happened to my father when his best friend at his company left.

My dad called him a few times but this man was suddenly no longer interested in hanging around with my father.

"I thought this was a really solid friendship," he told me, clearly hurting.

Of course, I also have some great friends that I've met through jobs and I still keep in touch with them. But most of them are like me--unmarried with no kids.

I guess when you don't have the little ones running around demanding your attention, the friends become even more important.

On the way home tonight I stopped by a local bike shop and peered through the windows. I haven't ridden a bike in ages and I think I might treat myself. If I can't teach a kid to ride, I can always go for a spin myself.


Louise said...

Rob this was a very touching piece. You illuminate so much here. Remarkable. I will link to this tomorow. Louise

Rob K said...

Thank you, Louise. Your thoughts are greatly appreciated.

Brenda from Flatbush said...

I salute you for painful honesty. I wish I could tell you when the eldercare nightmares go away, but mine haven't yet after 7 years. As for kids, there are lots of them out there waiting to be taught how to ride a bicycle...even ones with dreadlocks...through mentoring programs like Big Brothers. The kid who gets you would be lucky.

Rob K said...

Brenda, thank you so much for these wonderful comments.

No one can possibly understand what its like to care for aging loved one unless he or she has done it.

Good point about the mentoring program. I can only hope that I'll live up to your high praise of me.

Thanks again and do take care.