CHICAGO — Mayor Lori Lightfoot had to go bragging that, before the new coronavirus pandemic got guys like me worried about their elderly parents, she usually called her mother, who is 91 years old, every day anyway.
Since the statewide stay-at-home order, Lightfoot said, she’s been “making a special point of reaching out to her, checking in with her, making sure she’s OK. She’s got food. And then she’s not feeling isolation even though she’s socially, physically isolated from other people. I think that’s important.”
I admit, I hadn’t called my parents for days for fear of finding out exactly how the septuagenarians are out in the world risking their lives in defiance of their gubernatorial grounding.
For this bad son, Lightfoot’s mayoral guilt trip landed like a gut punch.
Maybe you’ve read about my doctor-sanctioned efforts to guilt-trip my folks into staying home. Well, it didn’t work. Bunny and Mike have become increasingly difficult to deal with. And the longer the governor keeps my dad from exercising his constitutional right to go to the Dollar Store, the worse it gets.
My friend, Antoinette McGinnis said her father, Anthony Gemmato, who is 77 and on oxygen treatments, keeps going out to buy Italian sausage and chocolate cake. “I asked him if that was worth dying for,” she wrote, “and he said, yes.”
My inability to keep my father from sneaking out of the house like an idiotic teenager keeps me up at night. He doesn’t have a cell phone. He doesn’t tell anybody where he’s going (it’s usually the Dollar Store). He’s made it perfectly that clear no Democratic governor is gonna slow him down.
That’s why I hadn’t called for a few days — until, that is, the mayor made me feel bad for mentally distancing myself from my devil-may-care parents to avoid excessive worry that they’re exhibiting signs of diminished mental capacity.
When I talked to Dad about these things, it’s pretty clear he’s not losing his mind. The immunocompromised guy knows exactly what he’s doing. His coronavirus quarantine defiance is an ill-timed payback.
“It’s like that spring break when you drove through a snowstorm to go to Daytona Beach and didn’t even call your parents who thought you were dead. Talk to you in a few weeks,” Dad deadpanned, before laughing like a tired hyena. The guy cracks himself up. My poor mother.
After our chat, all I could think about is how many times I could have died, gotten arrested or been swept out to sea on that crazy trip to Daytona Beach that my parents don’t know about.
And that’s when the anxiety really kicked in. I vented on Facebook: “Anybody else wish their elderly parents would JUST STAY HOME? Tell me your story.”
It struck a nerve, inspiring a string of comments too numerous to share in their entirety.
The biggest takeaway: Some parents are the worst.
“Rudy told me yesterday, in my best Costa Rican accent, “I invincible,” my pal Liz Salas wrote about her father’s social distancing defiance. “It’s like herding f—— cats.”
A college pal said her Floridian father visited four grocery stores the other day and has plans to go “shooting” with friends. He thinks “because it’s hot there, and he’s outside a lot, he’ll be fine.”
My friend Antoinette McGinnis said her father, Anthony Gemmato, who is 77 and on oxygen treatments, keeps going out to buy Italian sausage and chocolate cake. “I asked him if that was worth dying for,” she wrote, “and he said, yes.”
What’s a son or daughter to do?
Daily Southtown columnist Ted Slowik offered some advice: Parents are “incorrigible but not uncageable,” along with a picture of an old woman locked in a giant bird cage that I hoped to buy for my mom’s birthday in a few weeks.
“It’s a joke … stole it from Twitter,” Slowik said, breaking my heart.
“You know my dad,” Kerry Czerwinski Carey said of my former colleague, retired Southland journalist Ed Czerwinski. “Stubborn Pole. He’s going to multiple stores in a fruitless search for toilet paper, which he doesn’t need yet. Every time I Facetime him; [he says,] ‘Is this costing extra?'”
“I’m considering an electric fence and shock collars,” I replied.
“Great idea!! I’ll help you market it,” she replied, getting my mom’s attention.
“WHAT!!!” Mom wrote.
Dozens more internet pals expressed similar parent-inspired frustrations. But there were some people, like Chicago Fire Capt. Danny Sheahan, who don’t have problem parents.
“Mine have been following CDC guidelines for 2.5 weeks. They do daily walks,” he wrote. “They are 80 years young, and want to be around for a while. They won’t go near me.”
Same goes for Denise Workman Riley, a college pal living in the do-what-you-want state of Texas. Her mom figured out how to order groceries online, and her dad “prefers his livestock over people, so he’s OK with his lockdown … They live in the country. They’re used to isolation.”
That gave me a great idea. “I should send my parents to the country!” I wrote.
Within seconds, my Facebook-stalker mom chimed in on my very public threat to send them to live with cattle if she can’t keep my dad in the house: “I heard that!!!”
Maybe so, Mom. But too many of your kind — stubborn, AARP card-carrying know-it-alls — still refuse to obey simple rules in place to keep the new coronavirus from killing old people like you.
Plenty of “kids” my age are terrified that Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick might be right when he told Fox News that people our parents’ age are rightfully willing to sacrifice their lives to the coronavirus if it means saving the American economy and celebrating Easter in a crowd.
So, like Mayor Lightfoot suggested, I’ll be making a special effort to call my parents every day.
The guilt trips, public threats and online shopping for a bird cage big enough for both of them will continue for their own good. I’m going to hate every minute of it.
Now I understand what Dad meant when prefaced a well-deserved spanking by saying, “This is going to hurt me more than you. It’s for your own good.”
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Now get back in the house, Mom and Dad, and think about the consequences of your actions.