Part 1: My dad has been trying to escape his whole life

A few days after Thanksgiving, my dad ran away from my niece’s home where he was staying after running away from his home in Kentucky. He wandered the streets for a few hours until my niece found him and tried to take him home. Unfortunately, his dementia has progressed to include “behavioral disturbances,” a very clinical way to name uncontrollable emotional — often violent — outbursts. He threatened to hurt my niece or smash the windows. On their way to the local hospital, he ran away again.

Throughout his life, running away has always been the ultimate solution. He has run away from his marriages. He has run away from his children. He has run away from his landlords. He has run away from his jobs.

Said another way: my dad has been trying to escape his own life.

Throughout my childhood, I can remember a lot of the excuses for leaving jobs. They usually revolved around broken promises; the job was harder than they said, a promotion was not coming around the corner, employee housing was not available after all. His most recent job, which he took at age 71 in early 2021, wasn’t the right fit because he didn’t need “fat women” telling him how to drive — he had driven professionally since the 1970s.

He had the job for three weeks before quitting. He probably didn’t need it anyway.

The excuses for leaving other things – women, children, landlords – were similar and sometimes more abstract. He left us in Las Vegas in the ’90s because the gambling was too much. He left other women because they were too controlling or whatever. Sometimes he would just wave his hand at a problem and say “Naaaaah” and that’s all it would take.

Taken September 14, 1989

He has been in the hospital on a legal hold since Nov. 28. It occurred to me that he is technically homeless now. He literally has nowhere else to run. He’s scared. He’s sad. He’s suicidal.

We’re a few days away from getting him into a group home. The family feels a deep sense of foreboding. What if he doesn’t like this place? What if he finds an excuse to hate it? What if he runs away again? Everyone has asked the same questions.

Two months ago he finally said he was fed up with his home life in Kentucky. He didn’t like how his wife was treating him. He had threatened her a few times, too. He packed up a barely functioning 2007 Honda Odyssey and started driving around on his way to Las Vegas. He got lost. Went home. And tried again the next day.

He made it to New Mexico where my brother and niece tried to meet him. He forgot he was meeting them. The New Mexico State Police found him instead. My brother and niece took him home to Las Vegas.

In Las Vegas, he stayed with my brother and sister-in-law for a week or so. But he didn’t like their house, he said it was too loud. He made threats there too and bailed again. This time my niece picked him up at a gas station and took him in. He liked it better there. For a time.

When I visited during Thanksgiving, my dad pulled me aside several times to discuss his plans to escape. He grew paranoid people would steal his money. This is apparently super common with dementia victims. Once the gate broke on the gated community, he found a way to escape. That’s when my niece picked him. Full circle.

I never put the escape mentality together until now. My brothers have always thought of it the same way. As a kid it felt like one-offs; often easily justified to a pre-teen. As an adult, now I see it as an underlying theme.

Where does it come from? A feeling of rebellion? The ultimate expression of independence?

It’s fascinating though. Because his need to run, to be free, to escape, has been his ultimate prison.

When he runs from marriages, it brings along alimony. When he runs from children, it generates court-ordered child support. And when he runs from that responsibility, it creates mountains of debt. When he runs from landlords, it destroys his credit. When he runs from jobs, it leaves him impoverished.

There is no money to steal from him. And if there was, it would already be spoken for.

He built a prison of bad choices. There is no way to truly run away from six wives and five children. Most of us are still here. But now he has dementia. And he’s locked inside his own brain; a place he can never escape from. The walls will just close in tighter every day until they crush him.

It’s inescapable.