The man looked at Matt, our son, and asked, “What do you do?”
Matt gave his practiced answer. I wish I remembered what it was; it was a really impressive answer and made me proud our son had such a great job description. Marty and I made a good man…yes, it was all us, okay maybe Matt did part of it on his own but we loaned him DNA.
The guy looked at me and I knew he was about to ask me the same question. I hate the question, I don’t have a real defining job or label and I don’t like any of my answers, they either seem trite, inaccurate or over involved.
More than ten years ago, before the strokes, right before my corporate divorce from big business Marty had warned me, “Get an answer to the question, because people want to know what you do.”
She had been down sized, she had gone through the work identity struggle and while not having income from work is the worst, the second worst is that you lose part of your identity when your job goes away.
I’m prepared for the question, sort of. Even before the man asks me what I do I am mentally sorting through my options:
“I’m a caregiver; I take care of my wife, she is a stroke survivor. She had her first of two strokes almost ten years ago and that’s what I do now. It takes a lot of time and there is a lot of anxiety involved and I’m not really a medical kind of guy but it is frankly the most decent thing I have ever done. “
This is not the answer I want to give. It’s too long, too convoluted and the din and clang of the people and machines around me made a long answer too difficult, besides I don’t want to get the “aww, that’s too bad” response with the accompanying sad looks.
With this answer I also have to describe Marty’s life by providing her a label, a name, a reason for her existence. She is not a stroke victim; Marty has never been a victim in her life. In spite of the fact that Marty is my hero I have never been fond of the whole stroke hero thing. Stroke survivor, yeah, not so much, stroke patient, not really…..I don’t know….I just call her my wife and she has had some strokes.
The 2nd option is to say I’m retired. This is mostly true but frankly I don’t like that answer because I am much too young and handsome to be old enough for retirement and I don’t feel retired most of the time. I clean up dog poop from a 17 year old incontinent dachshund, my life is directed by four care givers and a wife, and I manage the intricacies of a Marty’s major illness. My life vacillates between boredom and high anxiety and the whole thing is demanding and simply saying retired does not feed necessary parts of me, my ego and my id.
The last option and one I choose most of the time is to simply say, “Nothing.” I laugh a little and say, “I don’t do anything”. It’s short and sweet and just self-deprecating enough to get a smile and generally shuts down the whole idea of having to explain my existence by the way I feed and clothe myself.
Marty gets it. On one of our trips to Dalhart U.S.A. to see Marty’s mother, her mom, before she quit talking, asked me what I was doing now. Before I could answer, Marty, the two stroke survivor, chimed in, her sarcasm meter on high, and I quote, “He sits on the couch and watches TV.”
Now that’s not true at least not in broad daylight.
Marty was right ten years ago, you need an answer, we all need an answer to help people understand us and to help us with our own identity. I’m really pretty cool with my new one; I’m comfortable being a care giver, being the husband to Marty and the other women who direct my life. I’m cool with being the father to Matt and Erin, the father-in-law to Lyle and Sarah and the son to Bettye and Larry. It really is where I belong.
I just need a short answer for the question, it does come up and people really want to know.