Los Angeles, CA–I’m accustomed to advice columnists giving men short shrift but Salon.com columnist Cary Tennis’ man-blaming in the tragic case below is mind-numbing. In “My mom left my dad in a nursing home and lied about his chances of coming home: He thought he’d be returning home to die. But she just strung him along until he was gone,” a young woman tells Tennis the sad story of how her father was betrayed. She writes:
My mother said keeping up some sort of illusion of his eventual return was a way to keep him busy there, but it ended up being something that seemed so cruel in reality. With that “return” in mind, my father would plan to the best of his ability in order to be prepared for the big day. For instance, my mother would keep telling him he would have to do an increasing number of stair climbs to be allowed home, so he would do as she said — working up to 20, 50, finally 100 and more, as many as she required — and talk excitedly about how, when he had met her goals, he would get to go home.
For my part, I just felt like a coward in this whole situation. I had no power of attorney and no decision-making authority in any of this, and my mother had the legal power to place him straight from the hospital, even though I offered to try to find in-home care if anyone felt it was needed for any rehabilitation. I feel that she charged ahead with the nursing home plan, in part because she was bitter that he had frequently left her alone when he traveled for his job and she had found an ideal, ironic opportunity to get back at him (a lonely divorce-by-nursing-home: something his nurses told me was more common than anyone would believe).
My father never complained, but he would sometimes ask me if I knew when exactly he was going home. I always said that he would have to ask Mom (who never visited, but spoke with him on the phone about his “progress” and whether it was good enough for him to return). But I was just too weak to say anything else.
My father finally died after two years in the nursing home, having received the best care possible from his nurses, but never having heard the truth from us. Would he have been better off knowing he’d never go home again?
I hope I’m not the only one affected by this dilemma, and that others may be helped by your advice. On the other hand, it would be nice if I really were the only one who has had to deal with something like this. Thanks.
Tennis manages to spit out one sentence of sympathy for the poor guy out before he launches into blaming the man for his own victimization. Tennis writes:
[I]n this story can be heard the laughter of the gods…Day after day a dying man dreams of going home. He wants to die among his loved ones, near his daughter, his wife, his family and his cherished possessions…One day he finally understands: He’s not going anywhere. He never was. This is where he has been taken to die.
The true horror of it strikes him. One day, she used to say, she’d … one day! She wasn’t kidding, was she! He always dismissed her complaints about his work-related travel. True, some of it was required, but some trips he could have turned down; at times he took the trips as a welcome respite from a difficult home life. And he lied to her about those. Of course he did…
Amid his horror at what she has done comes a flicker of admiration. She has done it! I should have known she would! She has finally done it! She’s having her revenge!…
In the end, it all comes home to him.
You see, her betrayal and cruelty is his fault. Why? Because (gasp) he was working hard to support his family and sometimes had to be away from her. As the daughter explained, his wife “found an ideal, ironic opportunity to get back at him.”
Yet Tennis doesn’t condemn this, but instead portrays her betrayal as something arguably worthy of “admiration.” Tell me, if a husband lied to his wife and brought her to this bitter, sad end, would anybody have one iota of sympathy for him?
And if anybody thinks this all too common ethic of excuse-whatever-mom-does-and-who-cares-how-dad-feels doesn’t have any bad consequences in the real world, you’ve never been in family court.
Thanks to Eric, a reader, for the story.