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Stephen Holmes Headshot

I Remember Papa

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It should have clicked when my father blew up his house. Okay, maybe not the entire house but enough to blow out windows and rip the corners' embrace from each other, exposing the street from the living room. What saved his life that day was a very thick door which buffered the explosion. I always thought that after a nuclear war, there would be roaches and my father. As it turns out, what finally brought him down was just as devastating as a nuclear winter.

There was something broken in my relationship with my father. I could never quite figure out why he and I could never mesh. I knew that, in his way, he loved me and in my way I loved him, but something was out of sorts. He could never keep friends because he distrusted everyone. My mother left him, with me in tow, on several occasions for months at a time -- my brother, who had a worse relationship with my father than I did, for some reason always opted to stay behind.

My father wasn't all bad. I remember things like him reading me the funnies on Sundays or sketching pictures of famous people and comics. There was also an extremely virulent family car trip to the World's Fair in Montreal that evolved into a family bonding experience. If Hollywood were to ever attempt to tackle the re-telling of that trip, it could only be done as an episode of The Simpsons.

Mostly I remember a demonstrative man who ruled his home with an iron hand. Times so insufferable that once, when he left for work, I shouted with elation only to run in terror when I realized he had heard my joyful strains from the street. He took the time out of his busy day to come back in the house and whip me with his belt. Today, that would have caused him to be reported to the authorities, then it was a common child-rearing method.

When my mother's body began to fail we became a family, all pulling together to take care of her. But like that period after 9/11 when we returned to normalcy, our cohesive family bond began to melt away after she died. Because of our dynamic, once I moved out, it became all too easy to walk away whenever my father said the slightest thing out of line. The older he got, the more difficult it became to deal with him. I turned deaf to most of his complaints about the government, doctors and his own family being against him. I shut the ringer off on my phone to prevent hearing his 3 a.m. rantings.

As we grow older, our decisions become more complicated. When I began writing this, my father sat in a hospital room unaware that his children were trying to place him in an "extended care" facility for his own good. In a mind ravaged by Alzheimer's, government, doctors and family are all plotting against the sufferer. Alzheimer's doesn't confine itself to just one body, it attaches itself to the host's family as well. As I finish this, my father is no longer suffering from the disease. Its lingerings keep me awake nights thinking about my ever-maturing decisions.

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