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The final goodbye

Gay author shares bittersweet memoir

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Bobby Wonderful, gay news, Washington Blade
Bobby Wonderful, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy Twelve)

‘Bobby Wonderful: An Imperfect Son Buries His Parents’

 

By Bob Morris

 

Twelve

 

$25

 

192 pages

 

“It’s perfect!”

Once upon a time, those words were music to your ears. But then you grew up. You learned then that a made bed didn’t make the man, good enough generally was and, as in the new book “Bobby Wonderful” by Bob Morris, sometimes it’s better to ignore perfection and focus on a life, or lives, well-lived.

As Bob Morris watches his husband Ira struggle with his mother’s aging issues, Morris understands the emotions Ira’s going through. Caring for an elderly parent, “has become the new normal” Morris says, and he should know: he helped tend to his own parents at the ends of their lives.

As his mother lay dying first, Morris remembered how, when he was a child, she encouraged him to see beauty in the world around him. She loved music and was “a good mother” whose messy, painful death brought out the worst in Morris and his brother. Oh, how they fought, though her passing also showed Morris how much he truly loved and admired his older sibling.

At the funeral, Morris only wanted to talk about his mother but “nobody seems to know how.”

Not long afterward, on a “sunny summer Monday,” Morris’ father tried to commit suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. Though he’d seemed to heal well from his wife’s illness and death — at age 80-something, he’d plunged back into the dating scene — his “quiet despair about his failing heart,” previously unnoticed, shook the Morris brothers to their cores. Things became worse, and as their father began to desperately “hound” Morris for pills to end his life, Morris looked for ways to enhance his father’s days, but time was running out and they both knew it.

During his last hospitalization, the elder Morris told his sons that he wanted off life support. It was a wish they let him have.

“Caring for your parents is an opportunity,” Morris says. But “We have no parents now, nobody to love us in the way they did. … And we also have no worries now, no concerns for a suffering so close that it often felt like our own.”

Some 65 million of us, says author Bob Morris, are caregivers; most are caregivers for someone over age 50. That could be why this memoir will strike a chord for many Baby Boomers but, aside from common-bond feelings that children of aging parents will find familiar, “Bobby Wonderful” is also a love letter wrapped inside a very beautiful, moving story. Morris’s cherished memories of his parents’ good times seem to buffer the pain of loss, and that he shares those vivid personal recollections is a delight. Still, readers get real peeks of irritation here, exasperation, even anger sometimes, which totally fit in this memoir. I would have been disappointed without them.

My best advice is to grab tissues before you start this book. You’ll have abundant reason to use them, especially if you’re caring for your own parents. If that’s the case, for you, “Bobby Wonderful” lives up to its title.

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1 Comment

  1. Ronda Anderson Parsons

    June 29, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    No experience in your life can prepare you for the daily challenges you face when caring for a dementia patient. It is physically draining, heartbreakingly sad, and stretches your patience to limits you never thought you possessed. It
    rearranges the tiny molecules that hold a family together. It reassigns the
    roles that we have played for a lifetime; mother becomes daughter, daughter
    becomes mother. It is like watching someone slip into a dream while they are
    still awake.
    I know this to be true because I spent ten years caring for my mother-in-law, Nan, as she spiraled down through the stages of this devastating illness. I know what it means to care for a dementia patient day-in and day-out for many years. I know that it is a demanding reality that can bring the most loving caregiver to their emotional breaking point. For dementia doesn’t just affect the sufferer, but reaches its tentacles into the lives that orbit around the patient, often leaving them exhausted and defeated.

    Initially when I began caring for Nan I was in a defensive mode, solving problems as they were thrown at me. I’d lie awake at night attempting to fix unfixable problems, searching for answers when none existed. I made lists, attacked daily problems with vigor, all the while feeling taxed and frustrated. And the sad truth was that despite my efforts, Nan continued to spiral further and further into oblivion. Neither of us was making progress. My initial plan wasn’t working.

    Through observation I had come to realize that Nan no longer lived in a world made up of days or even hours, but instead she lived inside spontaneous flashes of reality. In other words, she was living her life from moment to moment. As quickly as recognition arrived, it was gone again. I knew instinctively that although her understanding was temporary, these moments were not unimportant.

    So I set about creating activities that would bridge the gap between the outside world and her awareness by focusing on instincts universal to us all – the beauty of nature, our six senses, the power of music, the love of family, and the balm of laughter. We sat outdoors, touched flowers and fed birds. We leafed through a clearly labeled family album I made for her. We sang hymns and listened to her favorite music. Occasionally we even danced together. (Yes, I found that a wheelchair can easily roll to jitterbug music.) We ate her favorite foods, painted her fingernails and scented her room. We prayed and talked about the many blessings in our lives. I constantly reminded her that she was a good and wonderful person who had led a splendid life. And as the disease progressed, we watched cartoons and took turns holding her dolly. Each day I tried to create little surprises that would ignite even the briefest moment of spontaneous happiness.

    Soon I discovered that no happiness was too small or its effect too insignificant to affect positive change. For when she was content and at peace, the old Nan from long ago would suddenly appear out of nowhere in the guise of a familiar comment or facial expression. These moments became the encouragement that I needed to work harder to build a bridge of connection between us. Those moments reminded me of the woman I missed so terribly and proved to me that she was still in there, lost in dementia’s thick fog. I made it my mission to harness these moments and utilize their power in order to bring joy and meaning into her life.

    Granted I wasn’t always successful. But slowly my small achievements began to build and it wasn’t long before our connection grew. I found that as my attitude relaxed and calmed, so did Nan’s. I learned that as a caregiver, I possessed the power to alter the tempo and undercurrent of our relationship. I could choose to inject hope and understanding into this heartbreaking situation. And since then, somehow amid all the confusion, we have been able to share surprising moments of unexpected joy and love.
    Author of ‘Creating Joy & Meaning for the Dementia Patient’

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Books

Book details fight to repeal ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Clinton-era policy was horrific for LGB servicemembers

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‘Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’
By C. Dixon Osburn
c.2021, self-published $35 hardcover, paperback $25, Kindle $12.99 / 450 pages

When Senior Airman Brandi Grijalva was stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base, she talked with a chaplain’s assistant about some problems she had at home. The chaplain’s assistant said what she told him would be confidential. But when she revealed that she was a lesbian, the chaplain’s assistant no longer kept her conversation with him confidential. Grijalva, after being investigated was discharged.

Craig Haack was a corporal in the Marines serving in Okinawa, Japan. Haack, who had made it through boot camp, felt confident. Until investigators barged into his barracks. Looking for evidence “of homosexual conduct,” they ransacked everything from his computers to his platform shoes. Haack was too stunned to respond when asked if he was gay.

In 1996, Lt. Col. Steve Loomis’ house was burned down by an Army private. The Army discharged the private who torched Loomis’ house. You’d think the Army would have supported Loomis. But you’d be wrong. The army discharged Loomis for conduct unbecoming an officer because a fire marshal found a homemade sex tape in the ashes.

These are just a few of the enraging, poignant, at times absurd (platform shoes?), all-too-true stories told in “Mission Possible: The Story of Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by C. Dixon Osburn.

As a rule, I don’t review self-published books. But “Mission Possible” is the stunning exception that proves that rules, on occasion, are made to be broken.

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was the official U.S. policy on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving in the military. Former President Bill Clinton announced the policy on July 19, 1993. It took effect on Feb. 28, 1994.

Sexual orientation was covered by DADT. Gender identity was covered by separate Department of Defense regulations.

Congress voted to repeal DADT in December 2010 (the House on Dec. 15, 2010, and the Senate on Dec. 18, 2010). On Dec. 22, 2010, Former President Barack Obama signed the repeal into law. 

DADT banned gay, lesbian and bisexual people who were out from serving in the U.S. military. Under DADT, it was not permitted to ask if servicemembers were LGB. But, LGB servicemembers couldn’t be out. They couldn’t talk about their partners, carry photos of their girlfriends or boyfriends or list their same-sex partner as their emergency contract.

It took nearly a year for the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” to go into effect. On Sept. 20, 2011, Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff “certified to Congress that implementing repeal of the policy {DADT} would have no effect on military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion or recruiting and retention,” Osburn writes.

Before DADT, out LGBT people weren’t permitted to serve in the military. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was intended to be a compromise—a policy that would be less onerous on LGB people, but that would pass muster with people who believed that gay servicemembers would destroy military readiness, morale and unit cohesion.

Like many in the queer community, I knew that DADT was a horror-show from the get-go. Over the 17 years that DADT was in effect, an estimated 14,000 LGB servicemembers were discharged because of their sexual orientation, according to the Veterans Administration.

But, I had no idea how horrific “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was until I read “Mission Possible.”              

In “Mission Possible,” Osburn, who with Michelle Benecke, co-founded the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), pulls off a nearly impossible hat trick.

In a clear, vivid, often spellbinding narrative, Osburn tells the complex history of the DADT-repeal effort as well as the stories of servicemembers who were pelted with gay slurs, assaulted and murdered under DADT.

Hats off to SLDN, now known as the Modern Military Association of America, for its heroic work to repeal DADT! (Other LGBTQ+ organizations worked on the repeal effort, but SLDN did the lion’s share of the work.)

You wouldn’t think a 450-pager about repealing a policy would keep you up all night reading. But, “Mission Possible” will keep you wide-awake. You won’t need the espresso.

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Books

‘Two Omars’ is uneven, but remarkable memoir

Celebrated actor’s gay grandson charts own path

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Omar Sharif Jr. came out during Arab Spring. (Book cover image courtesy of Counterpoint Press)

‘A Tale of Two Omars’
By Omar Sharif Jr.
c.2021, Counterpoint Press $26.00 / higher in Canada / 224 pages

You always wanted to make your mark.

There’d be no footstep-following in your life. You’d carve your own path, select your own adventures, seize the opportunities that appealed to you, and blaze trails for the sake of others’ journeys. You’d take the best of those you knew and loved, and you’d go your own way. As in the new memoir, “A Tale of Two Omars” by Omar Sharif Jr. you’ll also make your own mistakes.

Born into a family that had ties on several continents, Omar Sharif Jr. never had to worry about money or a place to live. On one side of the family—his maternal side—the Holocaust left a mark on his mother’s parents, who’d barely escaped the concentration camps. On the other side, Sharif’s paternal grandparents were both famous and beloved actors with roots in Egypt. Sharif was close with his entire family, but particularly with his grandfather, Omar Sharif.

Sharif recalls many a dinner party, listening, while his grandfather held court at dinner, laughing and telling stories. Everyone, everything seemed so elegant and refined and those meals showed Sharif a life that he could have if he wanted it. As time passed, the lessons he received were paid back: He was one of the few allowed to help his grandfather as Alzheimer’s took hold at the end of the great actor’s life. 

But this is not a story of a famous actor or a grandfather. It’s the story of a man who’s not just half-Jewish and Egyptian. He’s also gay, a part of himself that Sharif kept hidden until well into adulthood, although he says that other children must’ve sensed it when he was young. It was a part of himself that he feared revealing to his father. It helped him land a dream job that ultimately became a nightmare. 

The title of this book—”A Tale of Two Omars”—is a bit of a misnomer. Judging by what author Omar Sharif Jr. writes here, there are several Omars: The activist; a globe-hopper; a son and grandson; a writer and a grandfather whose life was impactful but who has a surprisingly small footprint in this book.

Which is not to say that readers will like them all.

Indeed, parts of this book may seem as though you’ve read them before: Bullied as a child, fear of coming out, the college revelation, the mismatched first love. Those ubiquitous bits are here, but they pale in comparison to Sharif’s ultra-urbane life and the hair-raising, terrifying account of getting and getting out of what seemed like the ultimate job with a wealthy sheikh, a job that slowly grew dangerous. That story-within-a-story is so edgy, so mouth-drying, that you’ll throw away the thriller you bought last week.

Then there’s the part about his life-threatening activism, a tale that starts and ends this book …

And so, beware at the unevenness of this memoir, but understand that the tedium doesn’t linger. Skip past the ho-humness of “A Tale of Two Omars” and the rest is remarkable.

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Books

‘Charm Offensive’ suffers from too much drama

A cute story but we all know how it will end

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‘The Charm Offensive: A Novel’
By Alison Cochrun
c.2021, Atria $17.00 / 368 pages

The applause is all for you this time.

It’s deafening, really — perhaps because there’s a standing ovation beneath it. All the work you did, the emoting, the emotions, you know how much your fans appreciate it. So take a bow. Drink in the love. As in the new novel, “The Charm Offensive” by Alison Cochrun, that’s one thing that’s sometimes missing in life.

Dev Deshpande was good at his job. He knew it, his colleagues knew it, it was fact. He might personally be terrible at love – case in point: he was still smarting from a three-months-ago break-up with his boyfriend, Ryan – but Dev was a pro at his job as producer for the reality TV show, “Ever After.” In fact, he’d been in charge of making dreams happen for six years’ worth of beautiful “Ever After” contestants; it helped that he believed in fairy tales.

Maybe one day, he’d find his own Prince Charming.

Just not this season.

This season, his lead director made him handle the “prince” instead of the usual “princesses,” and that was a challenge.

Charles Winshaw was 28, devastatingly handsome, extremely wealthy, and a nervous, introverted nerd who rarely dated. Geeky, awkward, and prone to panic attacks, he sincerely had no clue how to be romantic. Truth was, he was only there because his best friend and agent put him on “Ever After” to counter a reputation for being weird.

Still, Charlie was weird, and it was up to Dev to make him work for the show.

Shoring up Charlie’s confidence didn’t work, and neither did a pep talk. He couldn’t seem to just perform a role without freaking out and it was becoming obvious. By the time Dev’s assistant suggested having a few practice dates, Dev was willing to try anything.

He took Charlie to dinner. He spent time doing jigsaw puzzles with him, and he got Charlie to relax a little. If sparks flew, well, it was one-sided: Charlie was completely straight.

Wasn’t he?

You know what’s going to happen in the end, don’t you? Of course, you do. You’ll know it by page 30, step-by-step, with virtually no surprises, which leaves a long way to the final sentence of “The Charm Offensive.”

Now, it’s true that this novel is cute. It has its lightly humorous moments and author Alison Cochrun gives it a good cast, from contestant to show creator. It doesn’t lack details; in fact, reality dating show-watchers will feel right at home here. It even has the ubiquitous panoply of exotic locales for the “challenges” that the contestants must endure.

At issue is the length of this book. There’s too much of it, too many shirts that creep up, too many mentions of vomit, too much needless drama, too many will-he-won’t-he, when we know full well he will. This extra doesn’t ratchet up the tension, it makes things slow.

And so: cute story, familiar scenes, good characters in “The Charm Offensive.” But if taut is what you want in a rom-com, leave this book and bow out.

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