I was in the kitchen finishing the dishes, my daughter was washing, I was drying, and we were both listening to the conversation in the living room.
My sister had flown in late from the west coast for my mother’s burial the next day, having missed the visitation because of weather or something, it wasn’t clear. She always gave off the air of needing to stay out of the sun and so it seemed natural that she was sitting in the recliner in the living room while we cleaned the kitchen after the meal we’d made and put on the table. I wasn’t resentful, just observant.
My sister was telling my father it was time for him to sell his home in Michigan and move near her and my brother in Oregon. She pressed her case. He was alone now. There was no reason to stay. He would enjoy the better weather. He’d be safer there, there would be people to take care of him.
He waved her suggestion away with his right hand, the one with the crooked little finger that he’d broken somehow fifty years before. My sister was undeterred. It was as if she’d plotted this gambit with my brother, who was sitting on the sofa but silent. I could hear him nodding though and waiting to make his move.
“She’s right, Dad. You’d be a lot happier.”
Now they were double-teaming him. He’d listen for a few stanzas and then do his wave.
“It’s not for me. I’m staying here.”
He had a lot of patience. It surprised me. My sister took up the fight once again, listing on her fingers all the reasons he should move. He was old, he could fall, he might get sick, he should come live with them.
And then he shut her down. “You know how they tell an artist to stop one stroke short of what he thinks will finish the painting? You’re a stroke over.”
I thought of my dad today and my sister’s arrogance in telling him – a grown, self-sufficient, intelligent, but very old man – what he should do. I thought of the presumption of privilege, that moment when a child somehow believes she should become the parent, and I admire how my father kept his life in his own hands until his hands fell to his lap one day in August while he was watching C-SPAN. He was a role model in a lot of ways.