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It’s the wrong season for this sort of melancholy post, and yet, it’s also the most fitting. Going home for the holidays is supposed to be joyful: full of warmth, good memories, and love. But it’s also a time for facing the realities of life.

This year, I’m stuck with a question:

What do you do when someone forgets how to care?

Normally, I’m a proponent of letting people do what they want to do. So many human conflicts boil down to someone asserting that others must do what that person wants. It’s better to trust that people are capable and deserving of deciding their own paths, and to make yourself okay with what they choose. But what do you do when someone you love doesn’t know what they want and doesn’t seem to want anything?

My dad, who is going to turn 80 in 2023, had a stroke in the middle of this year.

This is my first time seeing him since the stroke. We’ve talked on the phone at least once a week, so I’ve been tracking his recovery, but phone conversations certainly aren’t the same as living in the same house. Given those phone calls, I knew things weren’t going to be “normal”. He’s has trouble with recall, both long and short term. Following conversations is difficult for him. He gets embarrassed that he doesn’t quite know what to say. I’ve gotten pretty good at carrying the conversation and setting him up for wins. I ask him simple questions, request that he tell me a story from 40 years ago, etc. Before traveling, I had mentioned to a friend that while I felt somewhat prepared, I still had some nerves about seeing my dad for the first time. She assured me, given that she’d recently been in the same situation with her parent, that it’d all be okay. We’d settle into a new normal in no time.

Instead, I’ve been completely unprepared for how little my dad seems to care about much of anything day-to-day…

  • Within minutes of me being home, he was on the computer watching a movie on YouTube he’d started the day before. Frankly, he seems indifferent that I’m here.
  • My Tunisian aunt, who doesn’t speak English, is visiting and made a meal for us. One of the side dishes she made was pita bread with harissa; we suggested he try it. He was hesitant, agreed, took a large bite, promptly spit the entire thing back into his hand, and yelled “This tastes like shit!”. Social norms seem to have gone out the window.
  • At one point I noted, “You haven’t mentioned a single political comment in the last few days. Are you still doing your politics research?” to which he chuckled and replied, “Eh, it’s all meaningless.” I can’t say I totally disagree, but it’s weird to hear from a man that once wrote, sung, and recorded a song entitled, I’m a Proud Member of the Tea Party
  • We’ve taken a couple trips to see family and he’s refused to go. This point is slightly complicated by some family drama, but he seems unconcerned with maintaining relationships.
  • The many hours he spends on the computer are completely mindless. He goes to Facebook and clicks whatever he sees: boxing, cute dogs, women, Ukraine war videos, old westerns. I suppose we’re all guilty of too much screen time, but this is an extreme.

Note: I didn’t finish writing this post in December, and I don’t want to finish it now (6 months later). But it has some value to me as is, so I’m leaving it up.