My wife’s first cousin was sent to a nursing facility recently because his wife could no longer take care of him. I never liked the man. He was all that I am not and which I dislike in a man. He verbally abused his wife and four children to the point that all five of them now bear permanent psychological scarring from the abuse. He never was much in life other than a blow-hard. He manipulated others to his advantage all throughout his life. My wife recalls times when he and his father brawled, with actual punches thrown at each other. He called his wife, ‘Babe,’ but never her real name. He clearly was a male chauvinist pig. Several months ago, before his dementia became too severe to handle, he told my wife’s brother that he never cared for my wife because she was ‘too liberal.’ What a dirt bag.
Did I mention that he listened to Rush Limbaugh every day of his life- the entire three hours of it for 30 years? He’d never miss one minute of it. He could never schedule any appointment or activity outside of the house during those three hours of the day. Nor could his wife talk with him during that ‘holy’ time of the day. Interestingly, he often sounded like Limbaugh too, in his phrasing, in his tone, in the total brainwash.
Then one day, said his wife to mine, he didn’t turn on the radio on at noon. He just ate the lunch that his wife had always prepared for him at 12 sharp. She didn’t remind him either. She knew how agitated and angry he became during those 3 hours. She just walked back to the kitchen and ate in silence for the first time in 30 years. At that point she knew that his slow-onset dementia had reached the tipping-point. Several weeks later, she could no longer care for him, and put him in a facility.
What is remarkable, said his wife, is that he’s a ‘different person’ now. He no longer is angry or feisty. He doesn’t shout and scream any longer. When she visits him he seldom knows her but the nursing staff comments to her what a ‘nice man’ he is. At first, she thought that they were confused as to who her husband was, but then came to the realization that he had, indeed, changed- for the better. After 54 ugly years of marriage, she finally saw a man who she could have deeply loved, rather than the brute she actually lived with. The irony screams loudly and pathetically.
My amateur psychological analysis wonders if there are many American men who feel the need to wear this thin veneer, this protective layer of odiousness, to shield themselves from ‘the world out there.’ To shield their deeply-felt, internal emotions. Anger, hate and aggression may be that thin ‘armor’ to cover their perceived weaknesses. I confess to donning that suit during my adolescence and early adult years. My machismo ruled supreme. Luckily I moved beyond that odd state of life. I cannot imagine being stuck there for eighty years!
Is there a connection between the perceived need to don that armor veneer and listening to 30 years of right-wing talk radio? The answer to that question is a masters thesis yet to be written. Yet, in the case of my wife’s cousin, the connection is remarkably clear.