Moving My Dad Closer To Us and Helping Him Start A 'New Life'

by Alisa Schindler
Originally Published: 

“This is a new life. I want it,” I say to my father who is racked with nerves. “Say it,” I insist.

“This is a new life. I want it,” he repeats.

It is the night before his big move from New Jersey to Long Island to be closer to us. Even though he lobbied for this, stress emanates from him like hairs on a caterpillar. He is so charged, it’s electric.

My doorbell rings and rings and rings interrupting us. It is my husband and two younger boys coming home from the park. My youngest son pokes his big happy face in the side window. His smile is as wide and unrestrained as the curly hair bursting from the sides of the helmet covering his head. He has been practicing on his new roller skates. I open the door and put a finger to my lips. He nods in understanding, still beaming, then awkwardly stomps and slides his way to me for a hug to keep from falling down while simultaneously lifting my spirits.

Weeks ago, I asked my dad to fill a single box with books or tapes that he felt he couldn’t live without, not an easy task for a hoarder.

“Can I have three boxes?” he bargains.

“Yes, but let’s start with one.”

“How about five. Can I have five boxes?”

“Probably, but let me see you fill one.”

Yet, instead of filling even one box, he spent the weeks negotiating over how many boxes he could take and then working on stuff to give away. Now the night of the move, he has not packed a single box. It’s no skin off my nose. His place is a cluttered shit hole. The more stuff he takes, the faster this new place will become a cluttered shit hole.

“Dad, you don’t need those things anymore. Let’s start fresh.”

“But collecting these things is all I’ve accomplished. I know it’s small, but it matters.” He’s regretful, but thankfully he sounds rational and lucid.

“You’ll find new things that matter,” I say looking out the window where my middle son and husband toss the ball back and forth to each other on my overgrown lawn as the day slowly moves into night. My son peddles back for a high pop-up, catches it and the last bits of daylight.

“I need to find a purpose. I have no purpose,” he laments. “And I can’t fill these boxes. It’s too hard. It’s too painful.”

“I know,” I soothe, unsure where my newfound Zen is coming from. I’d spent these last few weeks gaining weight, sprouting grays and blooming cold sores as I called social services, doctors and advocates for the elderly. We were blindly jumping ship, which isn’t great when you haven’t secured your lifeboat.

“Don’t worry. I’ve bought you all new things. You’ll have everything you need.”

I walk past the computer room where my oldest practices his haftarah for his upcoming bar mitzvah. His voice swells with such beauty and hope I could cry.

“This is a new life,” my father repeats the mantra. “I want it.”

I look at the love surrounding me and think that if this doesn’t fill him with joy nothing will.

“Good.” I confirm. “Because tomorrow it begins….”

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