Hero.Posted: May 25, 2007
When I saved several pieces of ledger and legal-pad paper containing my father’s jottings a few years ago, I had never heard of the word “blog.” But last week, when I came upon them for the first time since then, I decided I should write about them.
My father’s responsibility to his wife and children caused him always to keep a close eye on the family finances. (I think he defined himself by his sense of responsibility.) So when, in his “golden years,” statements from his financial institution started arriving that didn’t make sense to him, he was driven to figure out why. He never could. What he didn’t realize was that there was a reason he never could. The Alzheimer’s that had taken away his ability to add and subtract had also taken away his ability to know that he was unable to add and subtract. So month after month he kept trying. On my visits, he would show me his cipherings, numbers that “proved” to him that money had mysteriously gone missing from his and my mother’s accounts.
Of course, you can’t double-check a statement when you can’t do arithmetic anymore. In some cases it’s not even clear that the characters he wrote down were numbers, or letters; some of them seem to be hybrids of the two, or just shapes and squiggles, hieroglyphics. He would put one line under the other, and come up with a sum or a difference, but one devoid of meaning.
I knew it wouldn’t allay his anxiety if I just said, “Dad, they wouldn’t make an error of that kind.” My mother had tried that. I needed to be able to tell him, and mean it, “They didn’t make an error of that kind.” And the only way to do that was to go through all his statements for the previous twelve months and reconcile them myself. It didn’t matter that I was certain of the answer I’d find; I knew that settling his fears would require not pretending to take him seriously, but taking him seriously. Luckily, when he saw that where I came out was based on computation and not an assumption of what “had” to be so, it would make him feel better.
I didn’t really know at the time why I wanted to save all those pages of his, but now I do. They represent to me my father’s valiant, impossible effort to go on being himself, his responsible, diligent self, even long after disease had robbed him of any shred of ability to do that. I think there’s heroism in that. These pages make me feel sad, but they also make me feel proud.