I Regress Whenever I Visit My Parents


I flew to Wisconsin last weekend for my father’s 85th birthday. I’ve known him since he was in his mid-20s. In fact, except for mom, I’ve known him longer than any other living human being.

I love to visit him because, fortunately, he’s exactly the same guy I’ve always known.

Of course, I have changed dramatically.

I’ve grown up physically, matured mentally and have almost super-human powers due to the vast amount of street smarts and book knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years. Right?

Wrong. The smartest people in the world are those who provide for others exactly what those “others” need. In my case, I need my dad. And he knows it.

He will say things like, “Do you need any help doing your taxes, Debbie? How are your investments going? What’s the housing situation like where you live?”

Then he will ask his grandchildren questions geared to their interests. “What’s up with the job? I heard you’re up for a promotion. Well, you’ve always been sharp, so it’s only a matter of time. And, say, is that a new car you’re driving?”

In between doing all this, he will make funny faces at the great-grandchildren or read to them or walk them around the block in their strollers — whatever their age dictates they would appreciate him doing at the time.

My mom is 85, too, but it’s different for her. She doesn’t have time to sit around and talk. Yet she is also providing others with everything they need. While dad rules the den, mom is busy making dinner, handing out pre-dinner snacks and telling you where the shampoo is kept… or the towels, Q-tips or phone chargers — whatever we, in our infinite wisdom, have left behind. Mom is the only one who knows where to find the Sunday newspaper, the Scrabble dictionary and the remote control.

My brothers and sister and I always swear we are going to take good care of them while we’re up there — no cooking or housework for mom, no babysitting for dad.

It never works out that way.

Mom shoos us out of the kitchen, and dad lures us into the den.

If we buy any groceries, they repay us. If we brought them anything they requested, they repay us. And heaven forbid we all go out to dinner — they pay for everything. When we leave, they try to reimburse us for rental cars, airport parking and the plane tickets themselves.

To celebrate dad’s birthday, we all went out to dinner, ambushing the waiter in the hallway before he could bring the check to dad. It didn’t matter. Mom still stuffed money into our pockets. (“You can pay for your father’s dinner, but here’s the money for mine — and for my share of his.” She did all the math in her head.)

In 2015, mom and dad will have been married for 65 years. We want to throw them a party, but we don’t know how. Our only chance is to guess where they want it, what they want to eat, whom they want to invite and to pay for everything in advance.

We ought to be able to pull it off. We’re street smart, well-educated grown-ups.

At least until we get there.