Why must everything fancy be so God damned complicated? The coffee pot on my dad’s granite countertop hisses at me, all stainless steel and expectations. I swear to God, the ratio between the number of buttons and rational uses increases exponentially the more you pay for an item. I punch a few more buttons. I wait.
I drive to Starbucks.
I am shamelessly catering to my demographic, perpetuating the convenience-oriented ideals of my generation. But at least I’m caffeinated.
Upon my return, I sit on the back porch of his Tennessee home and contemplate the accumulation of products my dad has collected throughout his life. For as long as I’ve been alive, he has always striven for the highest quality technology can offer. Receivers, DVRs, iPhones, and top-notch speakers filled (although some might say, “cluttered”) our home and made watching Ellen damn near impossible without his guidance. He pre-ordered Xboxes, was the first person I heard of who had TiVo, and is rumored to have placed a down payment on a self-driving Tesla, although those plans may have faltered some given recent events.
Many of these products now sit idly in boxes in a kind of forgotten solitude reminiscent of Toy Story, their once-revered services growing more obsolete with each passing day. The top-of-the-line coffeepot garnishes the countertop of a man who no longer drinks coffee. The Murano glass pieces that adorned my childhood home wait politely encased in Styrofoam at the behest of someone who no longer trusts himself around glass.
My dad has worn many hats throughout his life: high school football star, lapsed Catholic, self-made businessman, and now, perhaps due the culmination of some karmic wrongdoing or simply a predisposition to substandard dopamine receptors, a Parkinsonian vessel.
My dad has Progressive Supranuclear Palsy.
The man for whom the only real career goal was that of professional baseball player and who beat my brother and I in leg wrestling every time now requires both hands held to walk down the driveway. He is a ghost of the person he once was, shoveling meals prepared for him into his expressionless face. Facing his own mortality has been sobering in more ways than one. He quit a 40-year smoking habit, a borderline drinking addiction, and the only vice he intakes anymore is an endless stream of television that keeps him entombed in his home alongside his boxes of possessions.
The many ironies of being here do not pass me by unnoticed. Summer mornings during my teenage years often began with the sound of him mowing the lawn. Six AM, without fail, he was revving back and forth past our open windows, much to my brother’s and my chagrin. As I labored with the push lawn mower yesterday morning through his unkempt backyard, I wondered if he awoke at any point from his restless slumber. I make him what he used to call “The Big Breakfast:” sausage, buttered toast, and scrambled eggs laden with Velveeta, in what feels like a veiled attempt to acquiesce a whining child. It’s a role reversal so complete it takes me by surprise. It’s a nearly-universal tradition to deal with an ailing parent, but using the same techniques to calm their nerves and make them feel important that they used upon you is one aspect no one ever warns you about.
An indigo bunting sings somewhere nearby, unheard by anyone but me. The porch door opens and my dad peeks out. “Watcha munchin?” he slurs. “Cheese and crackers,” I respond (Velveeta, to be more exact…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). “Gross,” he cringes, his inability to ask for help lessening with his worsening condition. So I go, to cook and clean and mow, and watch life imitate art as my dad recedes into himself and becomes nearly as unused as his previously-prized possessions.