After my mother died, my father’s mental capabilities took a nosedive. My job was to keep him safe in the world without compromising his dignity. I can only imagine how difficult it was for him—the parent—to take orders from me—the child. At 85 he was still driving, practicing law, and playing tennis–all to various degrees of success as this poem so clearly shows.
Pain in the Ass
says my father when his DVD player
refuses to play the tennis tape
he jammed into it. “Pain in the ass,”
says my father when the TV remote
won’t change the TV channels.
“Pain in the ass,” says my father
when the captions on his captioned
phone disappear. Everything
is a pain in the ass these days:
the dishwasher that leaves a soapy
film on his dishes, the clothes
dryer which won’t fully dry his clothes,
his electric toothbrush that won’t
turn on, his hearing aids which
whistle an unhappy tune,
the light in the front hallway that
recently burned out, the car radio
that remains stubbornly silent,
even the plastic shoe horn he has
used every day for 40 years
has just this morning cracked
in two. “I don’t understand it.”
My father throws up his hands
in despair. “Every single thing
I touch turns into disaster.
Look at this.” Home early
from work, he flings his brief
case onto the kitchen table,
flips open its two brass clasps,
raises the top, and points
to a disheveled pile of papers
before he even removes his hat
and coat. “What is it?” I lift
the stack of papers to see
if I can straighten them out.
“It’s a brief.” My father
who has never been known
for his patience tries to wrest
the document out of my hands.
“A very important brief
for a very important case.”
I don’t point out that every
case is a very important case
to my father, especially now
that he has so few of them.
“Why are there 27 copies
of page one?” I ask, “and
only one copy of the rest?”
My father grabs the document
out of my hands and slaps
it on the table. “I tried
to make copies today
and would you believe that
both copy machines broke down?
Pain in the ass.” My father
leafs through the pages as if
he can magically make
them right. “Isn’t making copies
your secretary’s job?” I ask
my father who is still shuffling
papers around. “She’s on vacation,”
he says, his tone implying
she has some nerve, leaving me
in the lurch like this. “Wasn’t there
someone else who could do it?”
I say, though I know my father
would rather break 100 copiers
before he’d ask for help. “What
could they do? I’m telling you
both machines were on the fritz.
Pain in the ass,” he repeats, stuffing
the pages back into his briefcase.
“I need to bring these to court
tomorrow. Ach.” He slams down
the lid of his briefcase, clicks
the clasps shut, whips it off
the table and hauls it into the den
where he finally removes his hat
and coat and slumps onto the couch.
With a disgruntled sigh, he bends
over and unties his right shoe,
the ancient shoe lace snapping
off in his hand. “Grrrr.” He growls
like a cur about to bite
then dangles the broken lace
at a distance between his thumb
and forefinger like it was alive.
“I”ll find you a new lace,” I say,
as I sink down beside him,
take the lace from his fingers,
and gently lay it on the coffee
table. “Don’t bother.” My father
kicks off his other shoe
and we sit side by side in silence
staring at his big toe poking through
a good-sized hole in the navy
blue sock on his right foot
which clashes with the forest
green sock on his left. My father
clasps my hand in his and uses it
to pat my knee a few times, then rests
his heavy head on my shoulder, and
lifts his glasses to rub his weary eyes.
“What can I tell you, kid?” he mutters.
“Your old man is falling apart.”
“Pain in the Ass” copyright © 2021 from I Wish My Father (Headmsitress Press, Sequim, WA). Used by permission of the author