On the descent into Kansas City, Missouri, to see my father for what he thought would be a final goodbye, I felt my backbone soften into a column of meringue. What was before me could very well require more fortitude than a lifetime supply.
My dad can be a harmless bovine, skipping through life with great charm and a convincing dose of masculinity.
Or one of his other characters can hit the stage and suddenly the comedy turns tragic, or childish and petulant. One can never be sure. The only thing about him that’s flexible is his mood. And his idea of humor is only funny if one is cruel and unusual.
Barking orders, Dad commanded me to dial a phone number for him. The recipient, Mick, is an old friend in his late eighties and in a home for Alzheimer’s patients. When the front desk asked who was calling, my dad said, ‘His father.” With his old man voice and New York accent it sounded like he said ‘his farther.’ Confused already, Mick had the switchboard operator ask again who was calling and Dad said, “Tell him it’s his father!” Then to me he said, “Jeeze, these people, Steph.”
For fifteen minutes, he attempted to converse with Mick. As they talked, Dad covered the speaker with the receiver in his lap, shaking his head. “Steph, this is so sad,” Dad said. “He’s in really bad shape and doesn’t know who I am.”
“Just tell him your name, Dad,” I said.
“Mick, it’s Arnold,” Dad said into the phone. Dad’s name is Sol: Sol Urdang. In all honesty, he and Mick called each other Arnold for years. But from Dad’s end of the conversation, it didn’t sound like Mick ever comprehended who he was talking to.
My Dad’s health is failing but his mind is as sharp as ever. He despises being old because it doesn’t fit into a lifelong model of physical vanity. Where I like to think I will age with grace, his approach waivers between rage and utter despair.
Everywhere I looked during this trip to Kansas City, towers were in my view. Like the lyrics of a long ago song playing over and over in my head, noticing towers in a town not known for them spoke to me. As old and sick as my dad is, he’s still standing tall, if not strong, in his idea of what it means to be a man. On Junes 21st, he will hit ninety, and the only thing I know for sure is, I can’t imagine what that’s like.
Veryoignant. You summed him up in one sentence-the only thing flexible being his mood.
Beautiful Steph. Why don’t I see these on Facebook anymore?
My Dad who will be 83 next month says, “Old Age is not for wussies”. I see many people in different age brackets in my line of work and find many are doing great up into their 90’s, some have lost their mental capacity much younger and the saddest is when the physical assets fail but the mind remains sharp as the aging process hacks away at the ability to do all the things that were once beloved. What a lovely reflection.
This is a chapter in your upcoming memoir to be published, right (heehee)? Beautiful and emotional!
Stephanie, on your next visit to Kansas City notice the various towers over Bartle Hall as you come downtown on I-35. My mother is in a similar place as your father. It is so shocking and upsetting to you because you don’t see it every day. If you did you would be numbed by the decline. That’s why they call it the “long goodbye”
Benny: It’s a time of decline of so many parents of my peers, the list is too long. I’m sorry your mother is in her long goodbye too. As often as I am in KC, I don’t even know Bartle Hall area by that name! It must be where the performing arts building is? But I do travel on I-35 every couple of months between my dad’s house and that of my brother’s, and have never paid much attention to the towers. But there they were, speaking to me.
I never met your Father, Stephanie. I do remember your Mother well – feisty, self sufficient, incredibly attractive. She carried herself regally in her tall frame. I do recall meeting you once, perhaps 40 years ago. You, your sister and brother had come to the absolute backwater of Powersite, Missouri for a family gathering of sorts with Jackie and Gretchen. Your Mother lived on the bluff above the dam that separated Lakes Bull Shoals and Taneycomo. My folks and I were fishing across the field and down at the end of the road on the lake. Your family piled into your Mother’s car and came down and visited at the water’s edge. I don’t know how that auto made it over that rough cow path! I graduated from high school, then college, then grad. school in Springfield and went off to the Army. I retired back to Powersite in 2007. Later I learned of the unfortunate accident that took the life of your Dear Sister several years ago. You wrote a most poignant piece about your father. One of the reasons I returned home was to help care for my own Dad after a stroke. We lost him in 2009. Now it is our turn to step forward into their very big shoes. Time waits for none of us. It was a real gift stumbling across your blog this evening and getting to share in the most exquisite story about your Dad.
Hi Brad: Was in Mexico with my sister, Melanie, when you wrote your lovely note about The Tower of Sol. Since I have not been very active on the blog, I wasn’t able to remember my password and use my phone to respond. Back in NY now and wanted to thank you so much for everything you said. Don’t feel obligated but there is another story about my dad called Ol’ Fuzzhead. Melanie and I both kind of remembered meeting you, your name as well, but it was all so long ago. So sorry to hear about your father. He must have lived to a good age. While I was away, I learned that a column I’ve done for hire for a couple of years is no longer…so I may revive Wild Nature of NY again, but am working at other longer pieces and trying to get yet another column gig, as I really like the structre, and have not run out of things to say. Hope Powersite is good to you!