Living with and caring for my 91-year-old father is a privilege, a learning experience, an opportunity, and a challenge. A middle-of-the-pack baby boomer, I clearly recall a childhood in which few women worked outside the home. Homemaking and childcare combined were full time responsibilities. Several families had a grandparent living with them after the death of a spouse. It wasn’t until the end of the Vietnam War that most women entered the workforce, thereby increasing  the demand for housekeepers, childcare providers, and homes for the aged. 

Because we Boomers were there during the seismic shift from stay-at-home mom to corporate partner, we like to think the improvements in childcare and elder care are partly due to our intervention. Childcare providers must be certified. Assisted living facilities smell clean, are well lit, and serve fresh fruit every day. The pandemic upended the complacency: Lockdowns forced parents to provide 24/7 childcare while trying to navigate online learning platforms.  For over a year, visiting our elders in care facilities was forbidden.  Millions of Boomers are traumatized by the guilt inherent in placing our elders in care facilities, compounded by being unable to see or comfort them as they languished, and too many passed to the mystery alone.

Yes, yes, yes.  I am grateful every day for the privilege of assisting Dad as his life journey winds down.  Slow and deliberate in his gait, falls are a risk.  His mind is sharp: ready to advise NASCAR drivers, boxers, football coaches, Jeopardy contestants, and politicians, to name a few.  A few months ago, he decided to quit driving.  For most 91 year olds, this decision would be a gift to everyone on the highway.  But Dad is an excellent driver.  He obeys the rules of the road and he anticipates dozens of variables simultaneously. Since I took over the driving, my inadequacies as a motor vehicle operator are in stark relief, inspiration for a running monologue from the patriarch. 

No. (Despite my best efforts) I have not turned Dad into a tea drinker.  Every morning, he looks at my little mound of moist tea leaves and raises an eyebrow as if to ask, “You consumed this?” (The eyebrow somehow manages to pass negative judgment in the same instant, bringing out the defender in me.) So I was not totally surprised when Dad compared those spent leaves unfavorably.

The Clogged Drain

The drain in Dad’s bathroom was sluggish for a few days, followed by emptying s-l-o-w-l-y over several minutes, followed by several hours.  I tried the baking soda and white vinegar method of drain cleaning. Results were not dramatic, so tools were obtained and that piece of plastic pipe that looks like a U was removed.  

“Rinse that out,” the patriarch ordered.  Stupidly, I went to the kitchen sink, turned the water pressure up, and poked the spigot into the piece of pipe.  After a bit of backwash, a large rubbery plug came shooting out of the pipe.

“Whoa,” I was shocked.  It was black and slightly glossy.  Using vinyl gloves, I carefully placed the plug of stuff on a paper towel and carried it into the bathroom with the clean piece of pipe.  “What IS this?” 

Dad’s eyebrow flew up, “It looks just like those tea leaves you put in the compost every morning,” he grinned mischievously. “But it is mostly denture adhesive I use for the partial.” Not going to lie, readers, his tea simile made me a little nauseous – and defensive.  

One of the photographs below is of my beloved Assam. The other is of Dad’s collection of drain-stopping denture adhesive. Can you tell which is which?

Never a dull moment in this Life With Father.

Damp tea leaves on a paper towel.
Damp solidified dental adhesive on a paper towel.