My father has been in bed for ten days now. He is not a man in his prime, but he is not yet old enough to be acting infirm and/or terminal. All of my life, I have never known him to sleep more than six hours a night, and taking naps or staying in his room during the day light hours, was always considered an act of sacrilege. Instead, my father always believed that time was money and the thirty-five years that he spent working as a Podiatrist, earned him enough money to have an abundance of time. Along the course of his economic life, he made some smart investments that allowed me to grow up in a gated community and drive a luxury sports car at the age of sixteen. He was always a strong supporter of capitalism and he lived to make money- and make money is exactly what he did well. Now three houses later and a dwindling expense account that is causing him to struggle to support my mother and their luxurious lifestyle- he has given up. I try to talk to him (to make him feel more fortunate) about the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the conditions that immigrants live in, the struggle for survival that most children currently live through- but he does not want to hear my attempts to help him feel redeemed. Instead, all he can do is think about the thirty three million dollars that he has lost in such a small amount of time.
My mother and I are both struggling to get him to walk. He has been lying supine (on his back) in bed and staring at the ceiling since he resigned himself to his bedroom ten days ago. We keep his legs elevated on two down pillows and my mother keeps the comforter up to his chin (so that he does not catch a cold). He speaks little and when I talk to him about genocide, war or global warming (he was always interested in these subjects) all he seems to say is, “they took my money and built a jail.” He can’t understand how an American self-made multi-millionaire, who has worked hard his whole life and then lost everything in the stock market- could be left to bleed, while the government continues to put hundreds of millions of dollars into building jails. “The government bails out corporations but not those who are and have always been its backbone,” he repeats. I have talked to a therapist about my father’s condition and she feels like he is suffering from a deep feeling of betrayal. “This is a chronic psychological condition that a lot of Americans are suffering through currently,” she told me. He never thought for a moment that his entire fortune would be permitted by the United States government to “go up in smoke,” simply because a few idiots dropped the economic ball. Now, my father curses these negligent men in suits, and he stares at the ceiling, not knowing, what he is going to do or whom he is going to trust.
I go to my parents home every few days (it is close to where I live) and spend a few hours with my dad. I have noticed that the gardener has not been coming as often and there is no longer a live in maid. A refrigerator that was always filled with fresh food is suffering from neglect, and the house is cold because my father will not let my mother run the heat. “What am I going to do son?” he says as he looks at me with clear trepidation in his eyes. “I am a man in jail and I don’t know how to get out.” I try to talk to him about metaphysics and psychology. I tell him that a man is in jail only because he chooses to be. No one can put him there. “We create our jails from the inside out, from the ways in which we choose to think,” I say. “Humans have the remarkable ability to be confined behind bars, living in cardboard boxes or stuck in terrible holocausts and still feel free and happy. It is all in how you choose to focus or think about your life, your environment and your world. This singular ability is what makes human beings unique and durable.” My father has never been one for new age speculation or alchemical realizations. Even though he has seen the film The Secret twice, he looked at me and said “easy to say son when you have not lost everything you have worked your whole life for.”
To take my father’s mind off his current uncertain predicament, I have been reading him Kafka short stories, T.S. Elliot poems and a section from 2666 (a novel I am currently reading). I get the sense that his mind becomes more syncopated, less forlorn, when I read to him. He seems to be lying in front of me in a state of peace, a man not yet dead, but also still unsure if he is willing to remain alive. I try and suggest that we take a walk, but he says, “there is nowhere to go son. Everything is closing in.” I suggest that we have a family dinner at his favorite restaurant, but he replies, “I would rather not go where I can no longer afford to be.” His voice is slow and lugubrious and reminds me of the sound of a man who is recovering from a serious mugging. For some reason, he feels as if losing his treasure chest is akin to losing his life- and I am trying desperately to make him understand, there is life after cash.
Years ago, when I decided to become a writer (or when becoming a writer decided me); I gave up on the pursuit of money. Instead, I resigned myself to being financially idle and made peace with the fact that I would never earn much cash. While the nineties and first few years of the twenty-first century seemed to me to be overly excessive, I was struggling through the worst personal recession of my life. I worked in bagel shops, cafes, shoe stores, mortuaries and restaurants. I refused to take, or ask for money from my parents, who seemed to be always vacationing. They resented me for abandoning the family obsession with achieving high social status, and they thought I was foolish to try and write fiction for a living. As I age (and am yet to see any economic harvest from my fiction) I am realizing that there was some practical truth to their literary disdain. But now, I find myself in an unusual predicament. My inheritance has dissolved before I could get my greedy hands upon it, my father wont get out of bed because he is unwilling to face the fact that he might be poor- and frankly, I am getting fed up with my father’s and every one else’s recession depression. To be so dependent upon your fortune, that when it disappears, you loose all lust for life- is an American mental illness that is wreaking havoc on our entire collective psyche. Life can be just as wonderful, if not more wonderful without the cash, cars, houses and corporations. I am personally insulted that now, as the middle class, the upper class, and the corporate elite are strapped for cash- they seem to be worrying about becoming poor. I have been living as an economically poor man in recession for many years, and frankly, there is not a dam thing that I do not love about it (well, maybe this is not true, but it sounded like a good way to end this paragraph).
It is only a matter of time, before I impose my frustration upon my father. I am going to tell him to get himself together and pull himself out of his self-induced pity party. I will give him a few more days to mourn his loss, and get over his illusory American dream. Then I will get real, serious and specific. I will remind him of his health and his wife’s good health. I will remind him of his beautiful son and daughter. I will remind him of the sound of the swaying and enduring redwood trees, where hopeful birds make their homes, right outside his bedroom window. Somehow, I will find a way to bring him back to the world of the living, which eventually I know will be much more fulfilling than his priority corrupting thirty three million dollars ever was. I am determined to resuscitate my father, to put air back into his wilted soul, and help him to see that this economic crisis is really the greatest gift he has ever received.