A Dog and Her Grandpa

Hey y’all, my Dad is doing an emergency guest post this month. I found myself getting surgery (and recovering from it) around the time I would have normally been working on a post. The surgery was nothing major or life threatening, though was my 75th time getting anesthesia (which earned me a doughnut (well, three) from my good friend, Phil).

I’ve talked about Kerrin and the story of how she came into my life often enough that I thought it deserved a closer look via my Dad. And I figure that since I’ve gotten a break that everyone else should get a break too – and my Dad does just that, with all the self-deprecating dry humor I’ve come to expect and which I love about the man.

There have been terrible things that have come about as a result of my mental illness, but there have also been some wonderful things. Kerrin is easily the most wonderful. Kerrin has been nothing but a blessing – a blessing for me because of what she does for me (everything from my responsibility for her for her well-being to her actively leading me home safely if I dissociate while on a walk), a blessing for my family and the people around me who know her (she’s the official greeter of my apartment building when we’re out on the stoop and takes her job very seriously), and she’s been a special blessing for my Dad. Most Sunday afternoons, when Kerrin and I come to Aurora to visit, she and my Dad can be found someplace comfy, taking a nap, Kerrin nestled comfortably in her Grandpa’s lap. My Dad, once completely against me getting a dog, has built my dog a website – www.kerrinpuppy.com

~~ Chris

It’s been approximately 1.5 years since I last guest-posted on Chris’ blog. Chris figured you have long since forgotten so it’s safe to come back.

He asked me to write about my relationship with Kerrin (his puppy you may have heard about).

Kerrin and I are very close. Frankly, I am a bit surprised by that. I’m pretty sure it surprised my family too, given my often-repeated insistence over the years to maintain a pet-free household.

I feel somewhat justified in my anti-pet sentiments. I grew up with a series of poodles and at least one cat that I can remember. They were never my pets. The poodles were always my mom’s. I’m not sure who the cat belonged to. For some odd reason I got to name one of the poodles. I named him Napolean, after that French person. By the way…although he was somewhat short (the French person…not the poodle), so were many of the people back then…so what’s the big deal about his lack of height? I later learned I spelled it wrong. It should have been Napoleon. But I now see I was way ahead of my time. Apple Computer later copied my idea and spelled the name of their first good computer after the McIntosh apple but spelled it Macintosh.

Back to the topic.

The dogs represented work and responsibility and did not come with a balancing benefit of companionship. The children of the family, one of which I was at the time, were expected to clean up after the dog’s frequent indiscretions and blatant assaults on the wall-to-wall carpeting. It never seemed to happen on the much easier to clean linoleum floor in the kitchen. The dogs knew what they were doing, and I often took it personally.

I became the designated mower of lawns when I grew to the minimum standard height and strength. The first phase of mowing the lawn was the poop-patrol. I had been issued a standard Sears Pooper-Scooper and a suitable container into which I was to deposit each pile as they were located. A lovely task…especially when performed in a hot and humid Wisconsin summer. It behooved me to do a thorough job lest I ended up running over a dookie (that’s a euphemism for poop…it still seems weird to say/write the word “poop” these days…you used to be sent to the Principal’s office for saying that word out loud on the school playground and my dad was the Principal so I was wise to avoid even thinking the word) with a wheel of the lawnmower or stepping on one with my deck tennis shoes. Those shoes had deep narrow treads making it difficult to effectively remove the offending dookie material. I would occasionally miss one or two or three dookie piles and had to suffer the consequences. But eventually, I became pretty good at finding them all during my pre-mowing ritual. I guess I should be somewhat grateful…it forced me to develop a sense of attention to detail; something I am known for in my IT career.

What finally did it for me was the ill-famed “stairway” incident. Chris often mentions this in his speeches. I am grateful for this opportunity to set the record straight. The truth is Chris is correct…he just doesn’t have time to go into much detail in his speech.

I was coming down the steps one evening after I was supposed to be sleeping (children do that, you know). I was not wearing shoes and I was not wearing socks. I was barefoot (children do that too, you know). Left-handed people tend to lead with their right foot when going down or up a stairway (that is based on a non-scientific study involving one test subject…me). Being left-handed, I started down the steps with my right foot. Doing so positioned my left foot to eventually step directly on an unfortunately placed and, from the feel of it, fresh dookie.

Side note – An unspoken and undocumented rule of the house back then seemed to be “you found it…you clean it up.” Which, by the way, included a “Feld” interpretation of that rule. That being if no one saw you find it and you were able to successfully exit the area prior to anyone discovering you had found it, you therefore did not, in fact, “find it” and you are left with no responsibility whatsoever. However, you must then avoid the area in question until such time a sibling enters said area. To complete the ruse, you must then ensure the sibling realizes you witnessed them discovering the dookie, lest they attempt to vacate the area undiscovered. The possible downside was the mess remained and no one ever went in that room again.

Back to the step.

It was then I made one of several decisions I was to make when I was young. I decided when I grew up I would never have a pet and, as a result, never have to worry about such landmines again. No dog…no dookie. The cost-benefit analysis just didn’t support having one. The dogs weren’t “mine” so we didn’t hang out a lot, yet I was expected to participate in the more unpleasant responsibilities of owning a pet. It was all part of being an indentured child of the early 60s.

I successfully maintained this attitude well into adulthood. Rachel and Chris tried but eventually gave up asking for a cat or a dog. We had a goldfish once or maybe twice, but they were a poor substitute for a real pet according to our children (and they were right).

That does not mean I did not like cats or dogs. I have always liked them provided they belonged to someone not currently living in my house. But I avoided being too obvious about liking them lest the weakness in my barrier be exploited by the children.

But what does this have to do with my relationship with Kerrin? Worry not, young Padawan…I’ll get to the point soon.

Now we are approaching the story of Milton the Cat.

Chris’s Dad with the beloved Milton

But first, some thoughts about our children and my stubbornness. Anyone who knows me well is aware of my tendency to be stubborn. It can be a good thing and it can be a bad thing. As Becky said recently it is one of things she loves about me but also one of things she doesn’t love about me. Becky is very wise. There are times I can maintain a certain attitude or belief so strongly I cannot (or choose not to) see other points of view until I am hit in the face repeatedly with them.

For example, our daughter Rachel has been on her own for a while now. Back in 2009 she adopted twin kittens Sophie and Zoë. I truly like cats and I liked Sophie and Zoe immediately…even before I met them in person (Rachel lived in Wisconsin at the time). I was being true to what I wrote earlier (“I have always liked them provided they belonged to someone not currently living in my house”). But in addition, I also saw how important the kittens were to Rachel. That was more important to me than the kittens themselves. They made Rachel happy and, as a father, that was good enough for me.

Here is where my stubbornness and inconsistency start to show.

While I was fine with Rachel getting cats, Chris was getting sicker with schizoaffective disorder. Becky and I were doing what we could to help and support him. As Chris has mentioned numerous times in his posts, he and I would go on walks around our neighborhood. We would frequently come across dogs. Some were being walked by their owners and some would bark at us from behind tall fences. We would give them silly names based on their unique characteristics. Doing so would make us laugh…which was very important at the time as there wasn’t a whole lot to laugh about. During our walks Chris would occasionally mention how a pet, especially a dog, could be helpful to those with a mental illness. Rachel and Chris learned when they were little that if they really wanted something, they had to prepare a proposal that included a value statement, a justification, a cover page, and at least one spreadsheet. That probably sounds weird, but it actually helped develop useful skills for them later in life…plus while they were off writing, I had time to think about what they just asked for. Chris had done his research. He demonstrated how pets are, in fact, very helpful for those with a mental illness.

Here is my stubbornness.

I had decided years ago I would have no pets in my house. Chris was living in my house and, therefore, he cannot get a dog. Done. It seemed simple to me. His research did not matter.

Here is my inconsistency.

Chris was clearly demonstrating the importance of acquiring a dog. Even Becky joined in on Chris’ campaign. I should have realized if it was that important for Chris then it’s important to me too. My stubbornness was selfishly blocking my compassion for Chris.

We come now to Milton the Cat.

In addition to encountering dogs on our walks, we would often meet a particular cat. After the first few meetings Chris gave him the name Milton. When we would walk past his house, we would often hear a meowing from the bushes. Milton would saunter out and meow up a storm while walking straight for us. We would stop for a while and take turns petting Milton. Sometimes he would cross the street just to meet up with us. Once he tried to follow us home. He wasn’t always there but when he made an appearance it made the walk special for us.

During our walks Chris would frequently become psychotic. I never knew exactly what was going on in his head but outwardly he would become silent, unresponsive, and disconnected. If he did talk it was more often than not to yell something cruel and spiteful. His walking pace would increase to a point where I could not keep up.

One day we were walking back home when psychosis hit again. I learned from experience when Chris is psychotic but seems to be walking in the correct direction, it’s best not to try and alter his course. I remember realizing how Chris’ course on that day would take us past Milton’s house. As we were passing Milton’s house I heard his familiar meow from behind a bush. There was Milton walking toward us. Chris saw him too and immediately came out of the psychosis. He began talking to Milton and petting his head as if nothing was wrong. The rest of the walk home was uneventful.

That was significant for me. Where Chris’ words could not break through my stubborn anti-dog attitude this little demo performed by a cat named Milton did.

If you are a faithful reader of this blog, you know the rest of the story. If you are not a faithful reader of this blog, you need to become one.

We now come to Kerrin.

Kerrin and her Grandpa in the waiting room of Chris’s psychiatrist

Kerrin is the most important thing in Chris’ life. Kerrin is why Chris is able to live on his own these days. Kerrin is why Becky and I feel better about Chris living on his own.

Kerrin is very important to me too. I love Kerrin and I love Sophie and Zoë. Yes, I love Kerrin because of how important she is to Chris. And I love Sophie and Zoe because of how important they are to Rachel. But that can happen without being personally involved with Kerrin or Sophie and Zoë. When I finally realized my anti-pet attitude was pretty stupid, it allowed me to get to know Kerrin and get to know Sophie and Zoe. Kerrin is our family. Sophie and Zoe are our family. I get it now.

Both Chris and Rachel have commented that I should get a dog. I find it interesting that I still think I should not have a dog. But my rationale is entirely different these days. Watching Chris and Kerrin I have seen how important discipline is to raising a well behaved dog. Not much different than children, really. I wasn’t much of a strict disciplinarian with Rachel and Chris (perhaps they would disagree) and I probably wouldn’t be with a dog of my own. I would likely raise an unruly spoiled dog. For now, I have Kerrin; a very well-behaved adorable puppy and Sophie and Zoe; the most snuggle-friendly kittens ever.

There’s really not a specific point to this post. It’s just a story of how sometimes an old man can be taught new tricks. Pets serve a very useful purpose…especially those with a mental illness. It’s important for caretakers like me to understand the significance of a pet as well as the role of a pet. Kerrin gives Chris a purpose and a sense of responsibility. A parent’s “job” is to love their child. It’s not a dog’s “job” to love their owner…they love their owner unconditionally. A parent can tell their child and demonstrate to their child that they love them unconditionally…it’s just different with a dog.

This post also gave me an opportunity to occasionally ramble tangentially about off-topic stuff. That was fun. Speaking of rambling…it could have been worse…I thought I showed a decent amount of restraint here…much better than in the Christmas letters I used to write years ago (go to www.timfeld.com and you’ll see what I mean). Sorry about that shameless plug. Well, not really.

Now I’m trying to figure out how to wrap up this missive and end it.

Let’s see…Chris will be back next month with something more relevant to why you visit his site in the first place.

OK…so…that’s all.

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