Saturday afternoon illustrated how significantly my family dynamic has changed — and how much some things remain the same. I took Dad on errands, pushing him around in his wheelchair; Sean and Duncan in tow.
The four of us Brenner guys together for an afternoon is a lot like Godzilla running around Tokyo. The difference is that our chaos is usually unintended. Godzilla repeatedly destroyed Tokyo on purpose.
It’s harder taking Dad around in his current, post-stroke condition. But it’s nice having control of the car. Dad behind the wheel was always a nightmare. I drive more slowly than he did, though my driving is clumsy in other ways.
As awful as it sounds, I kind of like pushing him around in his wheelchair. He’s always been there for us, and this is something I can do for him. Sure, he’d rather be walking. We’d all rather see him walking. But recovery is an unpredictable thing, and for now I feel like I can talk to him about the deep stuff and show him things in a way that was tougher when he was mobile and hard to pin down.
I took him to a jewelry store in Malden so he could get his watch fixed and see an old friend (the store owner, who hired me a couple times in the 1980s to stand outside his shop in a Santa Claus suit on Christmas Eve, waving to passers by). I took him to fill and later pick up his multiple prescriptions. I took him to Target and his office, though I refused to let him upstairs. We went to the old neighborhood, the Point of Pines, so the kids could run around on the beach and blow off steam. While they ran around, I wheeled dad past houses of old friends. He took us for dinner at the Porthole restaurant in Lynn. I had to cut up and mash his veggies, just like he did for me when I was a little kid.
As trapped in his body as he is right now, Dad showed in a lot of ways that he’s still the same guy he’s always been, including the loose cannon part.
As we stood at a Malden crosswalk waiting to go to the other side of the street, a car was coming. The driver showed no signs of slowing down to stop for us, so Dad flipped him off. The driver screeched to a halt and, as we crossed, I waved a sheepish thank you to the guy behind the wheel. The guy smiled and waved, clearly amused that a crotchety old guy in a wheelchair just flipped him off.
In the jewelry store the first thing he said to his old friend was that he was packing on the pounds. Dad is always quick to point out to someone that they’re getting fat, oblivious to his own past problems with weight-control.
At the office, he barked orders and asked questions of his employees as if he’d never left. They were just happy to see him out and about.
Everyone knows how Dad can get. But no one seems to mind. He’s done so much for so many people that most know where his heart is at. If anything, his antics are usually a source of amusement. Sean and Duncan, both of whom are at an age where bathroom humor is present and growing, eat it all up, chuckling at their grandfather’s antics as if they were watching “Despicable Me” for the hundredth time.
They accept their grandfather as he is. They study him in fascination, and they don’t pass judgement the way we adults tend to do.
By the time we dropped Dad off we were wiped out. But we were grateful, too, because there’s something special about the Brenner men striking out on their own for a few hours of trouble.