Updated: Jun 29, 2020
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be sharing stories of my father and entitling an essay Funny Man. I really wanted to call it Pain in the Ass, but thought better of it. As I was sitting in his hospital room while he slept, watching him snore away, I was feeling completely overwhelmed. Having a mixed bag of emotions is an understatement! Conveying my complicated feelings about my father and his life, what he has meant to me, is filling me with both joy and another emotion I really don’t have a word for – something like “frustrempathy (frustrated and empathetic), Sangry (Sad and Angry) or Fissed (Fucking Pissed).” Am I a horrible person for putting into words what is on my mind, even if some of it may be unflattering? Formulating my thoughts and communicating through the written word has always been cathartic so I am able to deal with what comes next. Going through this exercise also allows me to share with my father, so he can hear the profound impact he has had on me, the good, the bad and the not too pretty.
My dad, Benson Joseph Schultz, has been a constant in my life. A constant of what I am not sure because he fits the bill for so many things.
Looking up and to my Dad
The past few months have not been kind to him, as age and a lifetime of unhealthy habits finally caught up to him. Unfortunately, this happens as a parent ages and while we were kind of expecting something dramatic to happen, this downward spiral of him losing his physical and mental abilities wasn’t part of the equation. I am not quite sure how to handle his struggles, or mine for that matter. I am continually amazed at his body’s ability to keep going and how far the wonders of modern medicine will sustain him. Besides his multiple afflictions, he has fallen several times over the past 6 months, has been in and out of hospitals and rehab. This time, he fell twice in one day, and acting in his usual obstinate fashion, he refused to be brought to urgent care until my husband and I failed to get him to his feet several hours later. As I was waiting with him in the hospital to be transferred back to the same rehab he went to after his last fall back in November, I realized this has been going on for months. He hates being in the hospital, detests rehab, yet this is the cycle we are now living. Since my parents moved to the Raleigh area, my father has been on the frequent flyer plan with the area hospitals. I know he would love to be at home with my mother, the person he adores more than life itself. He repeatedly tells us and her (which drives her cray-cray) how beautiful she is, and how life has no meaning without her, and how much he loves to be in the wonderful house they moved into 3 years ago.
My parents on their honeymoon
To be apart from my mother is punishment for him and a much needed reprieve for her. My dad needs more care than he is willing to admit, and my mom, who has her own health issues needs to focus on herself for the first time in her life. Being in rehab is the safest option for both of them right now, and unfortunately for me, that means more time away from home, work, and my immediate family. My father’s physical needs may soon become too difficult for us to manage, and potentially force us to make extremely painful decisions no one wants to talk about.
After 61 years of marriage, a tremendous milestone by any standards, my parents celebrated their anniversary at the Emergency Room while both were brought in separately, and needed medical attention. By sheer coincidence, they were on the same wing, and able to see each other through their hospital masks, IV poles, and other medical paraphernalia attached to their bodies. It was actually quite endearing and bittersweet seeing them reunite in the most trying of times. That is until my sister made a joke to the doctors and nurses that they needed privacy for a conjugal visit. Laughter ensued, and it alleviated the stress all of us were feeling.
While this appears to be our new reality, my dad could have avoided going to the hospital for falling. I want to, scream “What the fuck are you doing, Dad?!” when he gets up and fails to use his really cool Rollator. My dad has always done whatever he wanted, when he wanted, regardless of the consequences. By him deciding that it was OK to walk without the assistance of a walker, he put everyone else’s life in a tailspin, yours truly included. I haven’t worked consistently since mid-November because both of my parent’s care required more of me and my siblings. With me being the one in the area, I am the first phone call, the first ride over, and the first on hand to help. I am fortunate to have an extremely understanding and compassionate employer and amazing colleagues who have picked up the scattered pieces when I couldn’t, yet at a certain point, their good will may run out.
Buz, as he is known by, or Poppy to my son, continues to entertain us. For starters, he is charming, witty, has the gift of gab, and is enthusiastically funny. When we returned to the Rehab, I can tell you all the nurses were happy to have him back. He keeps the inappropriate jokes coming and they indulge him. From the stories I heard of his childhood, he was always the mischievous kid, and the one to have funny and completely inappropriate remarks to share about a person, situation, or event. Politically Correct he is not.
My father as a child on his father’s lap, Grandpa Sam. You can see the look in his eyes – mischievous!
As one story goes, my grandmother Ruth, drove him and others kids to school when he was in middle school. As the school year was winding down, Ruth asked the kids if they had any summer plans. As the story has been told over the years, one of the other kids in the carpool replied she was looking for a summer job. She, like many of us, was a little Zaftic (Yiddish for being full figured). Without missing a beat, my father said “the highway department was looking for help, I hear they need road blocks.” Recounting the story some 60 years later, my father said “that was the year I had bruised ribs”, as my grandmother would constantly elbow him while she was driving to keep his mouth shut all while she continued to drive.
My Bat Mitzvah
While I cringe at the thought of my father, then a teenager, saying something insulting and inappropriate to someone else, I laughed along when he told me the story. This story epitomizes who my dad is: funny, inappropriate and said what he wanted to say despite the repeated requests not to from his mother.
Through encouragement from my father, my siblings and I learned to sail, as our parents had a sailboat for much of our lives. We were enrolled in sailing lessons at Huntington Yacht Club, enjoyed being on the water as they kept their boat first in Huntington, Northport and finally Shelter Island.
One of the many boats my parent’s owned.
We took day trips around Long Island, moored up with friends who had boats at inlets and harbors and took weekend trips to a variety of places including Connecticut, the giant sand pit in Port Jefferson and enjoyed a family sailing trip in the British Virgin Islands when I was in college. I miss the days when we would go out for a sail, with wind in the scuppers and the boat heeling over (actually that gives me anxiety, but it sounds so good). Irreplaceable memories I once took for granted, and if it wasn’t for my dad, I am sure we wouldn’t have had a boat, or gone on these adventures as my mom is the more conservative one. For that I am profoundly grateful to my father. He pushed my mom, me and my siblings out of our comfort zone. To this day, it still amazes me that my Brooklyn born parents worked off of nautical charts and safely navigated us from Tortola, Peter Island and ending in Virgin Gorda.
Family photo when we arrived at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda
My father was the one who taught me how to drive a stick shift, and in order to prepare me as a driver, gave me a few non-traditional emergency tips to include starting an engine in 2nd gear going downhill, syphon gas, downshifting, not ride the clutch, and not be afraid of being behind the wheel. When I turned 16 and got my learner’s permit, my sister Marla, a driver with a little over 2 years of experience, had more confidence in me than I did by allowing me to drive when my parents were away for the weekend. I slowly backed down our complicated driveway, and as I was putting it into first gear to turn the car 90 degrees, I hit the large oak tree at the base of the driveway, damaging the front left bumper and headlight. “I found the perfect place to teach you how to drive – Shelter Island” he said excitedly when they returned home that Sunday night. Nestled between the North and South Forks of Long Island, Shelter Island was perfect to learn how to drive. It wasn’t overly crowded with idyllic winding roads or very few lights or complicated intersections. As he made his declaration, my face went white, broke out in tears, and immediately fessed up.
Me ferrying my parents back to the boat from the marina in Shelter Island
The overwhelming fear I had of their reaction to the news was all I could think of that entire weekend. In addition, the damage to the car, although minimal, had compounded exponentially in my head over the 2 days (pre cell phone era), I nearly vomited. My dad was the first to speak. Not only did he not get mad, he hugged me, said the most important thing was that I wasn’t hurt, and encouraged me to get back into the driver’s seat immediately, and not be afraid. “Stop saying ‘no’ first”, he would always say.
I got caught ‘Syphoning’ off alcohol from my parent’s liquor cabinet in high school, after my friend got sick on her parents’ shoes, immediately after getting picked up at my house one Friday night while my parents were out. Her parents wanted to ‘discuss the situation‘ with mine. Before that fateful call, my dad asked “Are you more upset you got caught or that you were drinking?” He was clearly upset with my answer of “getting caught. ” I have never seen my dad thoroughly disappointed, and abruptly ended the conversation with ‘You are the bad influence’ and in his eyes and my own, I was. Needless to say, his words resonated and had given myself a self-imposed grounding for a month. His words of disappointment lasted long after the incident had been forgotten.
Shelter Island, Long Island on the last boat my parent’s owned (I think).
After he retired, Marla, the professional comedian, entered Buz into a contest for “Funniest Senior in New York” at the ripe age of 70. He along with other seniors performed at Stand Up New York comedy club and won! Without much protest or practice, he got up on that stage and killed it! It was almost as if he was doing stand-up his entire life, and to us, he has. Regardless of whatever my dad was immersed in, he would stop, tell a family member, friend or stranger, a joke and was always appropriate for that specific occasion. He always has the right story or anecdote. It continually amazes me his ability of remembering the entire joke AND punchline. He might not remember my birthday, what he ate for breakfast, had breakfast 3 times in one day, but the joke is always the right one. In fact, last spring, my father performed for a sold out crowd at Piedmont Hall, the clubhouse of their retirement community for the Shalom Club. It was the event to attend. The 51 minute set was filled with anecdotes, stories and off-color jokes that had the crowd in stitches.
For all the wonderful things my dad has provided, I openly struggle with my feelings and acceptance of his other personality traits which aren’t as warm and loving. Dad isn’t always a the easiest person to be around. He can erupt in anger if things do not go his way, can lash out by saying something hurtful. And just as quickly as the outburst appears, he quickly forgets it and moves on. Those on the receiving end are left in his wake, picking up our proverbial pieces. His reactions are kind of like me when I drive. I admitted previously that I have a truck driver mouth which rears its ugly head when I drive, screaming and cursing out other drivers in the privacy of my car.
At this most recent hospital stay, we had multiple medical professionals tell him the safest place for him to recuperate and get stronger is at a rehab facility, yet he convinced the same medical team he could make the decision to go home and take care of himself. If he was able to get up and walk by himself, he would have. In the long run, we had a wonderful case manager who convinced my father to agree to go to Rehab and then back home.
Dad and Teddi (Buz’s grand-puppy)
And so the cycle begins… again.