Gilbert is charming, especially to strangers and acquaintances -- note he considers all of them friends. When I was growing up, though, I mostly knew Gilbert to be quirky in terms of interpersonal interactions. He is the kind of guy who will actually give the shirt off his back to the stranger on the street, but can't seem to remember his family's birthdays (or his own).
Lest you think I exaggerate, the year I studied abroad, he moved a homeless man, Frank, into my bedroom. My dad picked him up on the road somewhere. My mom nearly moved out. Frank was out of the house before I got home, but my dad still brought him around. It's one of those charming/outrageous things, I think. The more a "friend" upsets my mom, the more my father wants to hang out.
On the flip side, we all learned to cherish a gift or card from dad because it was such an occasion that he remembered. His gifts are always thoughtful if offbeat. I could almost picture my dad picking it out -- giggling as he thought about how it was just the right thing. Given how offbeat the gifts were, then, it was probably okay that we only got them on select birthdays and holidays. I am not sure he cares if we like his gifts or not -- if the way he treats his own gifts are a guide as he frequently gives them away.
This push pull tendency with my dad extends to much more important situations, such as his health. Some time ago, he decided that western medicine was not for him. Since then, his aversion has grown to near paranoia. He reads health pamphlets, he pays for them, and calls the writers of these pamphlets (that are very thinly veiled sales pitches for the latest THIS WILL CURE EVERYTHING supplement) his doctors. My doctor says ... and these doctors are against many traditional medicines, like aspirin.
My dad has been fired by several real live doctors for refusing to take medication. Notably, he did manage to keep his heart moderately healthy until he abruptly stopped walking because his knees hurt. He won't even contemplate any kind of surgical intervention -- instead he uses light therapy (he does it himself -- read it in a book), takes supplements, uses a machine that sends electrical pulses through his body ... and eats donuts.
The donuts are not part of the cure, but they certainly are part of the problem. And he does all the things, and eats all the things he is told not to ... with more and more vigor the more you tell him not to do it. He smiles when he tells me that he only ever eats half a donut. He swears he throws the other half away. I have had to break it to my dad that as a former teacher that kind of "story" does not work for me in any way. I counter with "how many halves of donuts did you have?" He giggles.
Last week we got the final final say on the diabetes (he had been pre-diabetic for years, and then diabetic but not that bad) ... the quack doctor I can't stand put my dad on meds and asked him to at least walk the dog around the corner.
We made a deal, and he broke it promptly. I yelled, screamed, he yelled back ... no more giggling.
The hard part is that he doesn't hear me when I talk logically, patiently, like the pamphlet. He only hears what he wants to hear, or says "yes" to whatever I said ... since he wasn't really listening, he had no intention of keeping the agreement.
But when I yell, and make him so angry he accuses me of trying to kill him by asking him to exercise and make healthy food choices ... somehow it also breaks through a wall. At least for a little while... he has mostly done some walking every day for the last week. He has mostly eaten at home, the healthy food I make him.
All of this, though, is under the cloud of having to go back to the doctor and get another sugar test this week... fingers crossed that he has learned a lesson... or that I will figure out how to let go of my expectations. But how do you come to grips with your dad being sick - making himself sick?