I’m not sure when the morbid thought first hit me. Probably about the time I began to feel I was becoming my parents’ new guardian. I didn’t ask for, or relish the role of
whipping boy sounding board in their decisions but none the less I was allocated that position of responsibility without power one day – I must have missed the meeting – and forever after they asked my opinion, something they had eschewed for the first 4 decades of my life, even if they rarely did what I suggested if it didn’t happen to accord with their thinking. Why bother asking me? Because they liked to have someone to share the blame if things went wrong.
And the morbid thought?
Given the statistical likelihood that they would not die together which parent did I want to survive.
I know. Dreadful. But brutally realistic. On the one hand I did more with Dad, had more in common with him. He would be easy company, easy to please and, probably despite the fluster and bluster, reasonably malleable. On the other mum was self reliant. She wouldn’t need cosseting; I wouldn’t panic about her feeding herself or changing a fuse or buying too many envelopes and not enough toilet rolls. One would be fun and high maintenance; the other easy to run and something of an enigma. Because as they approached their eighth decades I realised most of the family news was filtered through dad’s story telling machine. How well did I know mum?
I’m lazy; I was a very busy lawyer trying to pretend I was also an involved parent. The idea of having to parent my father more than I was already doing seemed too much an extra burden so, logic said, if one has to go, and necessarily I didn’t want either to, it had to be dad.
That is was didn’t make it any better.
I run thought experiments all the time. What if scenarios. Great if you’re a writer; a bit creepy and sick sometimes when applied to family and friends. So having thought the thought, I imagined what the world, post dad, would be like. Neat. Compact. Structured. Understandable. Logical.
No one told mum. And she didn’t tell me that, in these circumstances what she needed was not a caring son giving helpful advice, but a better, new improved version of her husband – Desmond 2.0 – a version that did away with the huffing and puffing and mild ranting, and fell in with whatever her thinking was. Diligent, compliant, available when needed but absent when not.
I was to be her apprentice.
To be continued