Mom is in the House

An article in today’s House and Home section of the New York Times made me squeamish and guilty.  It was about families that not only allow, but enjoy having senior mothers in the house.  Inspired by the fact that Michelle Obama’s … Read More

By / January 15, 2009

An article in today’s House and Home section of the New York Times made me squeamish and guilty.  It was about families that not only allow, but enjoy having senior mothers in the house.  Inspired by the fact that Michelle Obama’s 71-year-old mom will be moving into the White House, the article suggests that it is only this new crop of middle aged boomers who are beyond the hangups of the hippie-era parents who invented the generation gap.  Without much of a fuss, adult children are accepting parents into their homes these days, in some ways not unlike African tribal societies, where elders are made to feel useful and respected.

It pains me to admit it, but the idea of having either of my parents living with me when they were still alive seemed like a fate worse than death.

In my book, Assisted Loving, which is about me helping my father find love after my mother died, there’s a scene in which he proposes we move in together.  He suggests buying us a house in the Hamptons, an area I’ve always loved and not all that far from our Long Island home of 50 years.  Idealistic as it might have been as a proposal for bringing together a bachelor son and newly single, octogenarian Dad, I could not imagine it.  He would talk my ear off.  He would want to control my life as a writer, pounding me with suggestions for what I should and shouldn’t write.  He was a slob who left trails of bank statements across any surface he touched, along with free newspapers, half eaten sandwiches, dirty clothes and bridge contract sheets.  How could I stomach waking up in the morning to find him at my breakfast table pouring orange juice and Splenda into his tea?  It would be impossible, in my mind, to see him before the first cup of coffee in that ski parka he liked to wear over his pajamas until noon.  And what if he were to pick up my phone calls or intercept my mail?  He was a terribly friendly man who wanted to be heard, and wanted to feel useful.  There was no way I was going to live under the same roof with him.  I could never even consider the notion of letting him get that close to me and shanghai my autonomous bachelor life.

Yet, my parents had done such a thing years before for my mother’s father.  Grandpa Moe, a craggy, old-school, tough little retired salesman was there, across the hall from my childhood bedroom when I moved home after college.  Grandpa Moe wasn’t much of a presence my whole childhood.  He lived far away in upstate New York with a second wife, with whom my mother and her sisters were not close.  When his second wife died,  he needed company and care.  So he moved in with my parents.

At first, I was peeved.  Why did I have to share my bathroom with this old man?  Worse, why did I let him push me into getting up several days a week at 7 am to take him to Minyan?  In the course of our year under my parents roof, I had to force myself to pretend to like him – a conservative Jewish man at the end of his life who read the National Enquirer for his news, and drummed his fingers on our formica kitchen table because he had nothing else to do.  By pretending to like him, and forcing myself to converse with him, I became interested and amused by his humor, and I did come to like him in the five years or so he was in the house.  I also came to like the minyans I drove him too, seeing, at his shaky side, a hidden world of little old Long Island men reveling in their devotion to Judaism.

Seeing my parents reamain so patient and welcoming to an old chauvinist who they had plenty of reasons to find disagreeable, gave me new respect for them as people.  Their careful upbringing of my brother and me was one thing.  Now they were doing it again, this time for the older generation.  My father, who had every reason to silence Grandpa Moe as he talked through the news on TV, was terribly patient with him, never raising his voice.

So of course, it plagued me when my father suggested he and I live together when he was 80, and alone and in need of companionship.  Never, I told him.  Instead, I went into full gear in helping him in his search for new love, thinking if he wasn’t so lonely then I wouldn’t have to worry.  Of course, it turned out that the more I concerned myself about helping him find love, the more I came to love him myself.  Pimping for my father was the best way for me to learn about his charms.  Just not while we were living under the same roof.

Today’s New York Times article about mothers living with their children.

Bob Morris, author of Assisted Loving: True Tales of Double Dating with My Dad, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.

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