March 13th, 2013

Holding On, Moving On

I'm at my parents' place, as I almost always am Wednesday mornings, which means performing the usual caregiving tasks for my mom -- getting her washed, medicated, dressed and fed -- but also the subtler sort that make a difference for my dad. I don't mean shopping for him, getting his mail, making sure all his household supplies are ready to hand, though those are all on my to-do list, so much as providing him the sort of intellectual sustenance that he isn't getting anywhere else.

I suppose "intellectual" isn't the right word, but I'm not able to summon a better word. When I'm over at the apartment, whether in the morning or the evening, I talk with him, help him with his New York Times crossword puzzles, read the articles he has set aside for me, watch classic movies and discuss whatever sporting event is currently capturing his attention. Mind you, those are all things I did with him when I was still living in his house, as a teenager, or when I'd visit in my twenties or thirties. But there's more of a sense of urgency now, as he has gotten older and, since having to tend to my mom every day, more tired.

Before my parents moved here in October of 2010, during the months after my mom had returned home from her time in a rehab facility following her terrible fall, it became painfully clear that his will to keep going was starting to waver. He had stopped doing his crosswords. His long-standing reclusiveness, coupled with the difficulty of getting my mom out of the house, had made it especially hard for him to find opportunities to talk with people in person. And watching sports by himself wasn't making him as happy as it usually did.

All those reasons motivated my sister to begin the process of getting him to consent to a move. Her plan was to have my parents join her in Boise. That would have worked out, I'm sure. But given the strenuous nature of her schedule, the fact that her son is seven years younger than Skylar, and the health problems her husband has been struggling with in recent years, I'm also sure that my dad wouldn't have had as much positive stimulation there as he does here in Tucson. There's also the fact that my own interests reflect his more than hers do, in part because I've always been a cultural chameleon, absorbing whatever the dominant influence in my environment is. And my dad, like Skylar's mom, has a way of dominating whatever space he occupies with his likes and dislikes.

I offer this lengthy prelude as a way of putting the importance of this week's activities into perspective. You see, as I sit here waiting for my mom to finish her tea, I'm also half-watching my dad's alma mater Syracuse play its first-game in the Big East Tournament. I've been watching the Orange play basketball with him since they were still called the Orangemen, back in the late 1970s. I watched them play in the very first Big East season and Big East Tournament with him. And I've been watching "alongside" with him, even when thousands of miles apart, ever since. Whenever something special would happen, we would talk on the phone afterwards, like we did after Gerry McNamara led Syracuse to improbable back-to-back titles in the Garden or when the Orange prevailed over Connecticut in an astonishing six-overtime affair.

Yes, I'm getting sentimental writing about this because, as any basketball fan will tell you, this is the end of line for the Big East Conference as my father and I have known and loved it. Next year Syracuse will play in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the other league that my father and I used to follow with some degree of regularity during my teenage years in Maryland. That will make for some exciting new match-ups -- Duke in the Carrier dome, North Carolina in Chapel Hill -- but also a good deal of cognitive dissonance. And for me and my father both, the prospect serves as a reminder of the inevitability of change, the fact that nothing lasts forever.

I look forward to watching games with him next year and will do everything in my power to make sure that he stays healthy enough for our daily rituals to continue as they have been since my parents moved here. But the sense of dislocation that he has already experienced in a physical sense moving to Tucson will now saturate one of the bedrocks of his old life. And mine, to a degree. While it might be hard for someone who doesn't care for sports to appreciate the full significance of this change, I know that the desire to preserve a sense of continuity in the face of serious obstacles will resonate regardless. Ultimately, it doesn't matter what the basis of a ritual is, provided that it facilitate a feeling of togetherness that isn't at the mercy of time's passing.