My dad is losing his mind. He’s always been pretty difficult to navigate, but in the last five years he has gone from being the guy who occasionally repeats a story he told you last week then smirks sheepishly at his mistake to the guy that repeats the same story five or six times in the same weekend while you make increasingly less patient attempts to nod along and humour him. The last time I let him under the bonnet of my car to perform a simple oil change he ended up removing a cooling hose, informing me that it “was pretty much useless anyway.” (Well, no, Dad- it’s probably a vital part of the mechanical integrity of my car, given the fact that it was there in the first place.)
To say that he’s losing his mind might sound like a complete over-statement, and without a lengthy explanation of my father’s mental history it probably is; so to get you up to speed, let me simply state that while Dad has one of the hungriest and sharpest intellects I have ever come across, the scars of his torturous childhood have left him with the emotional intelligence and coping skills of a potato. This paired with a raft of mental illnesses, the majority of which have neither been formally diagnosed nor treated, has created a mess of a human being. He has always tried hard, and he truly loves me and my brother and my Mum in his own mad, fervent and completely irrational way, but he’s broken. He just doesn’t know how to function in the world, and he’s not as good at hiding it as he used to be.
This fractured existence is, at different times, equally entertaining and upsetting. For instance, the time that Dad proudly relayed the conversation he’d had with my 12-year-old cousin asking if he was “getting some poontang” at high school, and then listened in bewilderment and disbelief as I translated the phrase as meaning “having lots of sexual intercourse” while my mother erupted into hysterical and slightly horrified laughter: entertaining. The unconscious yelling and kicking in his sleep: upsetting. The time he mixed up his medication and sleepwalked outside after sleep-unlocking the front door and then proceeded to sleep-tidy the front yard in his underpants: entertaining. The time he stopped taking his meds because he was paranoid that we were trying to get him addicted to them: upsetting. His refusal to watch any of “that gay Masterchef shit” and his complete loyalty to Better Homes and Gardens as his only source of homemaking and gardening advice: entertaining. The time he tried to seduce my best friend with the hopes of starting an affair and then tried to pass it off as an episode of food poisoning: upsetting. The time he offered to meet Mum at work and take her out for lunch, then refused to take her anywhere but McDonald’s because he didn’t want to eat “another fucking lentil salad” despite the fact that she can’t eat anything off the Maccas menu because she’s gluten intolerant and besides, he doesn’t even like McDonald’s and has never been made to eat a lentil salad in his life: in hindsight, entertaining.
It’s going to get harder. As it is, not many people are aware that all of this is happening beneath the surface. His quirks and irritability are often excused by others as the result of an “off day,” or being “just his way.” But even at this early stage there are times when I weep in despair – not for Dad, but for my incredibly long-suffering and remarkably strong mother, who somehow manages to keep it together even when he’s throwing plates around the kitchen or hiding the remote from her because it’s the only sense of control he feels now that he is unemployed and spends his days alone. How will she cope when he becomes more erratic, more insular, more paranoid? I can’t handle it. It makes me too sad. I am physically ill with the thought of it.
So, instead, I like to imagine my dad’s inevitable mental decline as his transformation into the full cast of characters from Seinfeld. His growing assortment of irrational neuroses and strong rage impulse are simply the work of his inner George Costanza. His egotism and complete reliance on routine are just his Jerry-isms, no biggie. The ease with which he is irritated by anyone and anything around him can be attributed to the Elaine Benes side of Dad’s personality; while the occasional, completely ridiculous and nonsensical verbal outbursts and physical tics can be put down to a case of the Kramers.
It doesn’t stop the situation from being what it is, but it certainly makes it easier to live with. And since it’s been a good 15 years since the last episode of Seinfeld aired, there’s a part of me that can’t wait to see what Jerry and the gang get up to next.