Is better than living with your mom


Growing up, Mom was “the Law” and Dad was “the Bank.” I learned early that I needed to play by her rules, which more often than not, proved challenging. And I needed to come up with a rotating host of compelling reasons for him to give me cash until I would be old enough to earn my own.

My relationship with Dad has always been easy. Make no demands. Be pleasant. Don’t wear red nail polish (you’ll look like a hooker). Bake him his favorite “Pillsbury Easy One Egg Cake” on Friday.  In exchange for following these simple rules I could expect a weekly stipend large enough to cover a new outfit, a tank full of gas and a rack of wine coolers.
This relationship has always served us both well provided my expectations remained low. Food and shelter, he had it covered, but spending holidays together? Now you are pushing it.

Last night I overheard my daughter asking Papa if he would come to Easter dinner with us today. He told her no. He can’t walk. She explained that we wouldn’t be walking there, we would be driving.  Even her nine year old charm and pleading big brown eyes couldn’t sway him. She still doesn’t understand the rules.

I recollect years of holidays we spent without him, not because he couldn’t be there, but because he opted out. He simply wasn’t interested. How do you explain this behavior to a nine year old? I write it off as He’s old. He’s crabby. He’s tired. I truly don’t care. Is it horrible that I am so jaded that it doesn’t even register with me that it is not only unusual, it is downright rude? Are my kids going to grow up coated in Teflon like I am because of his influence?  In a way I hope so. It seems to serve me pretty well.

The lesson I learned from him was the same one we continue to learn as parents. Pick you battles. If you don’t want to eat ham with us, I don’t care. But you had better not let me catch you picking up waitresses at the pizza parlor when I get home.




The Memory Game

“Dad, how’s it going today?”

“Good. The satellite not working today? I’ve got no tv.”

“Satellite? you mean the cable?”

“Yeah, it’s out. Can you fix it?”

“Sure Dad. (cable, power, on)”

“Thanks!” (I am a technical genius)


Memory is a funny thing. I can recall the feeling of the synthetic shag carpeting under my knees as I crawled up the stairs in the house I was born in. I can summon up the taste of mom’s cremated well done pork chops and can still see their gray pallor in my minds’ eye . I can feel the velvety soft fur of my first pet. I could draw, from memory, the pattern of the floral wallpaper that graced the walls of our guest bathroom in 1979. I can not however, remember what I ate for dinner last night.

As my father ages I can’t figure out if his memory loss is a result of old age, of disinterest, or if he’s just always had the retention of a gold fish.

Everyone knows that my father doesn’t know my last name. It’s Braun. He comes close with “Brown” so I’ll let that one slide. Dad doesn’t know my birthday. He passes that one off with a “it’s not important to me.” Not nice, but I share his thick skin so this I can also live with.

A friend recently told me that her son and my father spend time together at my dad’s favorite restaurant. They share stories and laughs. I ask Dad if he knows this young man’s name. He lights up and answers “of course I do!” He can name every waitress, driver, cook in the building. He can name the proprietors of all of the local shops. And their wives. But ask him the name of his youngest grandchild and he answers every time, (in his thick french Canadian accent) “I got no fucking idea.”

I’m not sensitive and neither is my sister. I do sometimes wonder if people think I laugh on the outside but am secretly crying on the inside. I’m not. I’m laughing right along side my sister, the mother of this unnamed child.


I can’t sleep. I’m tired, beat even. but still I cannot fall asleep.

My mind races with all that I have to do this week; chores, work, travel, kids, but that’s not it.  What I think is really keeping me awake is my father.

Or the thought of what my father might or might not do.

When my inlaws met my parents I felt an obligation to ensure they were adequately prepared. I braced them for the worst, but prayed for the best. You see, my mom and dad were great. Just not together. They didn’t argue. That wasn’t it. They just weren’t very tolerant of eachother.

Dinner with my family was always slightly reminiscent of a Mark Wahlberg movie. Just swap the Southie accent for a French Canadian slur.

A typical scene might go something like this.
“Denis, it’s 8:30. Your dinner is cold. You said you’d be home by 7. We were waiting.”

“Tabernac. Do I tell you what to do? When to come home? (Turning to his audience with half a buzz). She thinks I can’t feed myself! I’ve been feeding myself since I was fourteen fucking years old. When I left Canada! I don’t need no one to take care of me!”
And so it went…

This weekend we are meeting some of our Canadian cousins for the very first time. Dad left Quebec at 14, or so the story goes, and hasn’t returned again or spoken to anyone since 1967. Weird, right? Ask him why and he says, “what for?” End of story. Did something happen? He says no. It’s been a question ny sister and I have pondered always.

We grew up without cousins and were jealous of friends who had them. Holidays would have been so much more fun with a family full of kids. But Mom spoke no French and they spoke no English, and with Dad unwilling to bridge the gap, well…

So this weekend after 38 years of being the only kids, we are getting cousins. We still speak no French. They may still speak no English, but who cares? That’s part of the adventure.

What’s keeping me up is the concern that Dad will disappear. He hasn’t shown up in 55 years.
What makes me think he’ll show up now? Or worse yet, he may show up and do his over-sharing bit.

You know. The one where he tells total strangers the dollar amount on my paycheck to show how proud he is of me.

Either way. I’m looking forward to the visit. What makes me cringe is that my crap French is only good enough to know when he’s humiliating me, but not good enough to stop him. I’m sure as usual,  no one will mind but me.

Happy Birthday Papa!

My crazy mother (God rest her soul) ranted daily at my father about how his hard working, beer drinking, cigar smoking, steak and potatoes eating, soda swilling, twinkie snacking was going to kill him. Worse yet, he wasn’t just going to die, but he was going STRAIGHT to hell- Do not pass go, Do not collect $200, because he was a heathen.

Well Mom, I miss you to pieces, but I know you are watching from your perch at that Deluxe Scrabble table in heaven, drinking your shot of wheat grass, shaking your head saying, “I CAN NOT believe this man outlived me.”

Sometimes it’s just good genes.

Happy Birthday Papa! We love you.

The Donkey Express

For the past few years a friend and I have employed a system for transporting goods that we like to call the “Donkey Express.”

The Donkey Express is a system by which our husbands, who conveniently share an office, are used as mules to transport goods back and forth between us. For example, if she needs to borrow a dress for a party Friday night, on Tuesday, I will send a selection to the office with my husband and he will then pass the goods to her husband who will drive them home and put them in her hands. Simple, right? Both convenient and cost effective. For busy working mothers this is pure genius.

As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Where the Donkey Express excels in terms of cost effectiveness, it tends to rate low in performance. Often the freight will sit in the car for a week or two on the sender’s side, and more often it will remain on the docks in the office until one of us calls looking for it.

Here at home we employ a secondary system for items that require shipment to locations off the island. This branch of the Donkey Express is wholly owned and operated by Papa. This system requires that I pre-package the parcel and leave it by the front door with a large, clearly written sticky note attached. This note contains instruction for delivery as well as the senders full name and address.

Yesterday I requested a package be returned to Zappos by way of the Postall on Aquidneck Avenue. The items were neatly packaged, return shipping label provided in the box, sitting by the door ready to go. I contacted Papa, made my request and returned to my day.

This morning Papa and I were in the car heading to an appointment in the city when I noticed the Zappos box in my back seat. Without thinking, I had picked it up myself the day before and put it in my own car.

“Dad, remember that box I asked you to return? Here it is. When we get home I’ll put it in your car.”

“The box? I mailed that box.”

“You didn’t Dad. It’s right here.”

“Well I mailed something.”

“What box did you mail Dad?”

“I mailed that big box that was on the dining room table. It had some sort of nets in it? I was really hard to get it to my car with my cane. Boy was it heavy! It barely fit in my sports car. I had to put it in the front seat. And it was funny. It had no mailing slip in it. So I found the receipt in it and used that address”

“Dad you mailed a $300 box of craft supplies, that I just hauled 600 miles home in the back of my van, to an unknowing woman who works in a tin warehouse on a dirt road in Wanchese, NC.”

“yeah. I know. I have the receipt right here.”


Hee Haw.


I watched the Charlie Sheen comedy roast on cable the other night. I don’t usually watch these shows but since Charlie made such a spectacle of himself earlier in the year, I was curious. It was what I expected, some mockery and the usual banter about his love affair with drugs, hookers and the f-word. Then Charlie had his turn to speak. His response was articulate, well timed and so well crafted that it made me think that his “winning” debacle was simply a publicity stunt. His closing line was “I was the highest paid television star in the history of tv. Then I did something every person in America wants to do. I told my boss to F-off. And so he fired me. But I have a family that loves me and in the end you are all here celebrating me so I am no longer “Winning”.  I have won.”

He is clearly a talented individual.

I had “winning” on my mind last night when my husband I were heading out to play tennis after dinner. We put the kids to bed and Papa agreed to keep an eye on them while we were gone. On our way out the door I overheard him ask my husband to buy him a Powerball ticket. Papa buys two tickets twice a week and he was concerned about not being able to get to the store, since he was babysitting, to make his purchase.

It struck me at that very moment that Dad really believes he is going to win. He feels that if he doesn’t get this ticket, today, he will miss his turn. He doesn’t just think he can win. He truly believes he will. He just needs to be patient and his number will come up.

I have always used a number of words to describe my father but until that very moment, optimistic wasn’t one of them. Funny that at 38 years old I am still learning things about my parents. And about myself.  I am also genuinely disappointed when I don’t win the lottery. I never expect that I won’t win. Why wouldn’t I? I have as much opportunity and luck as anyone else. I just didn’t realize that he felt the same way.


People always ask “What is your favorite holiday?” Everyone has a different answer. I usually answer Thanksgiving. I pick it because I enjoy the build up before Christmas (as opposed to the let down that is January), the start of a new season, the sun shiny, not too cool weather we always called “football game” weather. I like that it is time to redecorate and that it’s my birthday. I like the smell of wood fires, the crunch of the fallen leaves, canned cranberry sauce and Stove Top. But I also love Valentine’s day.

I’m not a big chocolate junkie, but there’s not much better than that shiny red box filled with chocolate creams. One of my favorite childhood memories is of my dad giving us girls each a box of Russell Stover’s every Valentine’s. Mom got the big heart and my sister and I graduated from the small to the medium sized hearts. Part of my affection for the holiday was the candy, the other part was that Valentine’s Day is the only holiday that my father remembers to celebrate. Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, your birthday, anniversary… all will pass without mention. “you’re turning 13, 16, 21, 30? Really?  Ah, it’s not important to me.” But you put a shiny heart filled with sugar in front of a Type II Diabetic, and my friend, now you’ve got yourself a HOLIDAY!

Papa can still be counted on every February for candy and cards. I love the candy, but what I love more are the cards. He isn’t much of a reader. Without benefit of a formal education and receiving the limited amount he did in another language, reading comprehension isn’t a strength. Yet he never fails to get me a great card. They are always inappropriate and always heartfelt. I can say with as much certainty as I can say  that I DID NOT win the Powerball jackpot today, he has never actually read a card prior to purchase.

Last week Dad went to the store and returned with three heart shaped boxes of chocolates and three Valentine’s cards. The whole lot went into the fridge for safekeeping.  The kids and I had polished off the candy by dinner, but I showed some restraint and held off on the cards to give to them from him tomorrow morning. Tonight I snuck a quick peek at my card. I cracked it open to hear it belt out Billy Joel’s “You’re Always a Woman.”  Tomorrow I will find this signed as I’m sure most dad’s sign the cards they give to their daughters, “Sincerely, First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name.”


This hasn’t been a great week for me. It started off with a disappointment on Friday and never managed to resume it’s pace. I’m not sensitive and I’m not quite insensitive.  I’m just realistic. My mother believed she was “the eternal optimist”. There is a difference. I see the best in people and expect good things. I do not expect manna from heaven in exchange for positive thinking. I believe in being optimistic.  I believe in looking for the best in people and that every cloud has a silver lining and I believe that what comes around goes around. I will go the extra mile for a stranger and it’s no coincidence that someone is always going the extra mile for me. I’m lucky. I believe that the harder you work, the luckier you get, true, but I am also just plain lucky. When I was younger I remember being called “Lucky” by friends. I still get called “Lucky.” You know those lists in the newspaper that advertise “we’ve found money in your name!”  My name has been on that list not once, but twice.

Today I had a friend at my house. He is a friend I met while working on a community project. I joined this group initially because I thought that my father, in his retirement, would embrace the idea of building homes within our community for families in need. I was wrong. His response was, “I don’t work for free.” I didn’t know what to say to this. He had build plenty of “free” homes for people with loads of money that simply decided they didn’t want to pay for them.  I  can tell you that not a single person involved in this home building project worked for free. Every single one of us was paid. We were paid in life experience and practical experience, we made new friends, we became part of the community, we provided a family with a home.  Don’t get me wrong, we  had our ups and downs, but every single one of us walked away a winner so it made my heart ache to see my own dad, who I always knew to be so  generous, miss out.

Tonight I got my father into the shower, hauled out his laundry, took out his trash and just finished making up his freshly laundered bed, complete with a mattress rotation when my little girl came in the room. She was wearing her feetie pajamas, memo pad and pen in hand, and was looking for an audience on which to practice her joke telling. Papa was in his recliner catching his breath from his bath so she climbed into his lap to share her jokes with him. He taught her how to spell his name, the French way, not to be confused with how the Americans spell it, and then she taught him how to spell mine. I stood in the doorway and I remembered being about her age, wearing my feeties, sitting on my father’s lap asking to read my favorite book to him. In my mind I could see the photograph my mother had taken of this same scene just about thirty years ago and I couldn’t help but think just how lucky I am.


There are days that living with your father is not all cupcakes and kittens like one would imagine.

Moments like this make me miss my mother. Not because she would have been easier to live with, but because she would be in charge here.

Last week I received notice from the Social Security office office that my father’s monthly benefit was being increased by $20 per month. Bring on the parade.

The very next day I received notice from Medicare that as a result of this financial windfall, dad has been bumped out of the earnings bracket that allows him to receive prescription coverage assistance.

Four strokes, one heart attack, two cataracts, type two diabetes, congestive heart failure, renal failure, neuropathy… while my formal medical training is light, my practical experience is deep.

If anyone with aging parents thinks Medicare will be enough to take care of them, it’s time to start doing your homework. (I recommend joining AARP to enroll in United Health’s “I” plan)

The cost of the necessary private “gap” insurance is almost the same as what we pay for our own family medical insurance and it is 100% self funded. (By the way, that nursing home bus your siblings will tell you is going to swing by and grab mom or dad when they start to lose their marbles? It’ll be right there. You can see it just behind that white knight on the stallion charging in your direction. PS It’s also self funded).

Like any good caretaker, I took the time to read and explain the documents to Papa so he would be prepared for the new charges on his next trip to CVS pharmacy. The charge for his cocktail of magic pills, drops, and injectables that keep him alive and smiling despite a daily diet of Classic Coke and Little Debbie snack cakes was going up.


“Goodnight Pop. Here’s a tea and some snacks for you.”

“Thanks, Dee Dee. Hey. I went to pick up my eye drops today and they charged me $88 for them!”

“I’m sure they did Dad. Remember? We talked about this? Your coverage has changed and you are now responsible to pay  additional charges for supplemental prescription insurance  which doesn’t cover the cost of your prescriptions.”

“But I pay 10$ each”

“You did. Now you pay more. Your meds are $800 a month. Brace yourself. If it makes you feel better they would have charged me $150 for those drops on my insurance.”

“F%$# them. I’m not paying it.”

“You have no choice.”

“Yes I do. I won’t take them anymore. None of them. I’ll show them.”

“Good plan Dad. Lose your sight to save $88.”

“I will.”


Typical Sunday dinner at our house.
A friend brings over a great chicken he cooked on his rotisserie. Everyone is sitting around the table. While we finish serving I try to reinforce some basic manners (i.e. wait until everyone is served to eat) hoping my father will absorb a few lessons just by fact of being in the room. Dinner is served.
Papa- “Who cremated the chicken?”

There aren’t a lot of topics that I can cover with my father these days. At least not with children in the room. I have unspoken rules here which render him relatively speechless. No swearing. No racist comments. No locker room talk.

It’s not that he intends to say things not meant to be heard by children, disrespectful to us broads women or minorities in general. It’s simple ignorance.  I try to discretely move him to modify these behaviors without embarrassing or angering him but time trumps reason and so far I’ve only succeeded in getting him to say “thank you” and drop the occasional “please.”

“Pop, if your legs are up for it you should come upstairs and see our new room. I finished redecorating it and would like you to see it.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

“You know, your room could use an update. Maybe I could make you a new headboard too.”

“I have one.”

“I know. But it’s a little nicked up. I could give it a fresh coat of paint.”

“I’d like one of those new mattresses where you can put a glass of wine on it and it won’t spill.”

“Dad, You just got a new mattress.”

“It’s worn out already. We (you) need to turn it.”

“You could sleep on the other side until I change your sheets.”

“No way. My lamp is there next to me. My water, my pills… No”

*If you won’t reach for your own water and your 14 hour stints of immobility have created an actual rut in your bed in less than one year, who or what activity is in danger of spilling your wine?