The disappearing dad and globalization
May 02, 2009 by libjpn
My brother called the other day and said that he came home early for lunch and found that our dad had gone missing. WHy this connects with globalization, I'll try to explain below.
We had relatives visiting us, a cousin and family who, when we lived in Maryland, often visited. My brother started by checking all the places he would go, and then expanded the search radius to about an hour from our house and when he couldn't find him, started making calls. He also checked his credit cards and found out that he (or at least his card) had checked into a hotel on the West Bank of NO. (When my mom passed away, we made arrangements for my brother to have power of attorney on the credit cards, etc, so I suppose we can congratulate ourselves on our foresight)
A short note about geography, getting over the the West Bank is tough, so we thought that perhaps he got in the car, drove out past the town he often goes to for gas and got lost. My brother called him and really gave him an earful, then caught a few hours sleep. He work up early in the morning and, with his son-in-law, was planning on going down to get him and bring him back. He made a call to the hotel and was told that my dad had checked out. So he hunkered down and waited for him to come home, as it was about a 1.5 hour drive. When he didn't come home by early afternoon, he started getting worried and began calling up the Louisiana State Police as well as filing a missing persons report.
Late that evening, he gets a call from a deputy in Shreveport, because my dad is checking into a hotel and for his id, he shows his social security card cause he doesn't have his driver's license. Bear in mind that Shreveport is 6 hours in the opposite direction of home. Because of a quirk in my dad's SS card (he doesn't have a last name, and a middle name was 'required' back at that time, so they did an English version of his first name, which means that the name on his SS card and his real name don't quite match), his missing person's report didn't come up when they ran his name, but he was confused, so they asked if they could contact someone and he had my mom's card with the family numbers written on the back and that's how my brother found out.
When my brother talked to the deputy and explained and they searched on his last name, they got a hit and so they asked my Dad, who was there saying that he works for the government and is consulting. Unfortunately, he retired from work about 18 years ago, and the time he was down in Louisiana consulting was 30+ years ago. My brother asked that they let him check in (obviously, they have no facilities to keep him while my brother drives 6 hours to bring him back home) but to hold his car keys. (another note, the policeman who dealt with this was a saint, swinging by the hotel several times to make sure everything was ok, and staying in touch with my brother, so the taxation is confiscation crowd at the mothership needs to get a grip)
A brief aside, an aunt of mine passed away, right as hilzoy posted about domestic violence, which, along with school starting here, had me cut back on commenting. While real life was a big reason, another reason is that in our extended family, domestic problems, that is, problems within the family rather than external to the family, have never been an issue, though one never knows, I suppose. I love all of them, but (or because of that?) we can have long breaks in not seeing each other and, when we get together, we pick up right where we left off. This gives this strange timelessness, so I don't really notice long gaps until times like these.
Anyway, my brother and my cousin get down there in the morning and I'm able to call when they meet dad and talk to him a bit. I ask him what's wrong and he sound embarassed and says you don't want to know, I really did something stupid.
I let them get home, and I just called my brother there, and he's still awake, but sounding like a zombie. I'll try and call again after things have settled down a bit.
Aside from the small lessons, which are legion, I'm left wondering, as I usually do, about being here in Japan, and what our world has become. I love my job, I love that I live in a foreign country. I envy my daughters, who will be bilingual and will thus be able to walk thru doors that I have to carefully open. I can't imagine how I would have returned to my hometown (which isn't really my hometown because we moved there in junior high school) and made a living. I can be in touch with anyone in my family in an instant, and even do a video chat with them.
But with all of that, there is an underlying distance, an unbridgeable gulf that gets papered over, but remains. Globalization is inevitable, and we have to embrace it, but I am aware, now more than ever, the costs it incurs. My father, like so many other Hawaiians, suffered from island fever, an urge to escape the confines of the island and seek out broader horizons, and he was the firstof the family to leave Hawai'i, going to the University of Wisconsin on a boxing scholarship to get a degree in geophysics, and I'm sure I suffered from the same urge. Still, everything has a cost, and I'm left totalling up the bill.
May 02, 2009, 11:22:30 DaveC wrote:
I hope this doesn't sound mean or dismissive. There are times in your life that a person wants to claim ownership of their own life. One time is after high school. I "ran away", even though I told my folks that was what I was going to do. Now, it may have been stupid to do that even though I got away with it, and my feeling was that I had the power to do anything I wanted to do, and by golly, nobody could stop me. It could have turned out badly, and did in some respects, but it was an adventure.
Then there are the issues with being later in life, whether you still have ownership. The window of opportunity is rapidly shrinking, and you may not have the capacity to get away with it, but you have got to go for it, at least for one last time.
I don't think that your dad was motivated by whether you were nearby. Surely you want to protect him, like parents want to protect their teenage kids. How can you protect a wanderer? People that have that urge to explore, to be out in the world, cannot ever be fully protected. For an elderly person, the loss of freedom is not only potential but perhaps months or weeks away. One last joyride may be a stupid thing to do, but you have to sympathize.
May 02, 2009, 11:53:18 dr ngo wrote:
FWIW, more than twenty years ago I was teaching in Australia when my father was diagnosed with cancer and then, in short order, died. I couldn't afford to get back (and didn't actually get the news of his death until the day of the funeral, IIRC). In fact I only made it back to the USA once in the four years I was Down Under (and my wife and son not even once). But that's what I had to do to maintain my career as an academic - there were no stateside jobs for me in the 1980s.
In the 1960s I spent three years in London on a scholarship, and did not see or speak to any of my immediate family the entire time. I missed, among other things, my only sister's wedding.
And then I thought of my mother and father, who were missionaries in China in the 1930s and did not set eyes upon, nor speak to, any member of their families on either side for more than [i]seven[/i] years. They missed weddings and a host of other family-related events.
Globalization is real, and it has its costs, and you have my sympathy.
But it isn't new.
May 02, 2009, 11:55:57 DaveC wrote:
My mother in law moved from about 45 minutes away, to 2 blocks away, then to a fancy old folk's hotel (independent, then assisted living), as her second husband had more and more difficulties. The time when he drove us to and from a Cubs game (he won a sweepstakes, and I got to take batting practice!) was pretty scary, and he stayed closer to home after that, but he even drove places after he gave up his license after being diagnosed with dementia. He never got into an accident with another car, but banged his car up pretty good. I think that giving up a driver's license is a pretty traumatic thing, and probably should be preceded by a gradual voluntary restriction to short trips to the store, etc. Eventually your dad will have to give up driving, the question is whether there can be an agreed upon process.
May 02, 2009, 22:37:04 libjpn wrote:
DaveC, I appreciate the idea behind the thought, but in place of a long explanation of family history and foibles, suffice it to say that's not how we roll. And the fact that he's telling the cops about what he's doing as if it were 20+ (or more) years ago suggests that this wasn't a wild hair.
dr ngo, I am sure I am idealizing the past, but it seems to me that there is something different. I can talk to my dad anytime, if I were nerdy enough, I could figure out a way to bring a webcam to the park so he could be 'there' with us and it wouldn't require much of an outlay. When you were separated, I'd suggest that you knew you were and you planned your emotional life accordingly. This may sound stupid, but it would be a lot easier if things were still like that, at least from the standpoint of handling my emotions.
Part of it too is the choice of being an academic, which enforces a sense of rootlessness. A friend of mine translates Terentius Afer's phrase homo sum; humani a me nihil alienum puto as 'There is not such thing as foreign studies'. It's a nice sentiment, but plugging into that means that the (possibly imaginary) village that one can construct vanishes. I didn't have to be a university teacher, I could have come back and been a high school teacher at the local high school. My life would have been much poorer, and maybe I would have been always resentful of the narrowing of my horizons, but sometimes, to have spent more time with my mother and my father seems like a pearl of great price.
May 03, 2009, 12:59:49 dr ngo wrote:
LJ: I'm sure you're right about (emotional) expectations. Certainly I grew up assuming that one traveled the world to wherever one's vocation took one, and if this meant being away from family, then so be it. But I have relatives who find this assumption almost unimaginable - or unbearable - because they feel that being within close distance of their families (I'm thinking a half-day's journey is about their max) is central to living right.
So I'm not trying to say that my way is right and that you should just tough it out. The violation of our expectations hurts us, and it is no help whatsoever to learn that others' expectations may differ. I'm sorry for your situation, and apologize if I appeared to be diminishing your sorrow/angst. What hurts, hurts.
May 03, 2009, 14:40:20 libjpn wrote:
No worries, no offense taken. I'm just trying to wrap my head around it. Part of it may be that I am a bit of a reluctant academic, and here in Japan, 'academic' is, given the nature of higher education here, more of a courtesy title than what I do, and perhaps if I thought more like an academic, with the idea that I was actually contributing to a body of knowledge rather than just that I fell into this work I might think differently.
But my academic work has been to try and establish social networks within the language classroom in order to push/prod/cajole students and have them do better, so I am left wondering why, if social networks are so good, we abandon them.
May 06, 2009, 08:55:10 OCSteve wrote:
I had to think about this for a couple of days LJ Ė but if there is any doubt as to health Ė take some time and be with him now. In this case, if there is any doubt that he may not know you a year or so from now Ė go now.
I was in Germany when my dad got sick. I didnít get to see him before he died. I didnít even get to his funeral. On my Army wages at the time there was no way I could afford the round-trip airfare. But Ė I could have gotten an emergency loan. I could have swung it somehow. Itís been one of my biggest regrets. I didnít go to the mat to see him before he died. It haunts me to this day.
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