I Don’t Care That My Dad Is Homeless and Has Dementia
What happens when the parent-child relationship can’t be repaired but the elder is in need of a caretaker? For this writer the answer wasn’t handle with care.
I’m on the corner of 23rd Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. There is a disheveled man pacing in front of me. He has gray hair on his forearms that’s set against brown skin with red undertones. I see the stub of a cigarette clinging to his cracked lips. He’s having an intense conversation with himself.
I’m waiting for a friend, but she’s late. I find myself looking for my father in the creases of this man pacing and mumbling.
Like him, my dad is homeless too.
And as dementia grabs hold, wherever he is right now, he’s likely talking to himself as well. Is someone staring at him, wondering if he has a family or a place to stay? He has a family. But not a place to stay.
My friend jolts me from deep thought.
“Hey! You okay?”
I’m not okay.
Last year, my uncle told me my father was homeless. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. I can count on one hand how many times I’ve seen him since I was a child. I immediately decided I was not going to help. Why should I? Why should I fight for the life that created mine? He never fought for me.
My mother and I moved to New York from Jamaica in 1985. My dad stayed in Jamaica and came and went as he pleased, sometimes popping up with no announcement. I did spend one summer with him in Miami when I was in elementary school. He spent the entire time criticizing everything from the way I walked to the way I sprinkled salt on avocados. When he was around, he expected me to eat what he ate, adjust to his ways, excuse years of his absence, and then resume one-sided debates about his outdated politics.
I’ve cried to my mom about my dad. Once, I asked her why she chose to mate with him of all people. It was a cruel thing to…