Sunday, December 2, 2012

Taking Care of Dad

Oscar H. Moore, a.k.a. Dad.
I spent the first 19 years of my professional career living in an industry Never Never Land, a place where my life could be all about animation.  My troubles were cartoon troubles.  I knew that heavy, grown-up problems existed in the world, but I had somehow dodged them for twenty years while pursuing  animation glory in Hollywood.

On December 22, 2003, my mom died suddenly of a heart attack at age 74.   I was launched into the world of genuine heaviness.  My Dad was 76 and a complete wreck.  In an attempt to keep his life running as close to routine as possible, I moved in with him, in the house I'd grown up in in southern New Jersey.  It was a surprisingly easy decision; Dad needed me.   I would take care of his bills, take him grocery shopping,  to doctors' appointments, and make dinner.  I was 41 years old and sleeping in my childhood bedroom.  For my efforts, my brother and his wife accused me of 'playing the martyr".

I was working for Blue Sky at the time, doing storyboards on Robots.  They were kind enough to allow me to spend four days a week at Dad's in Port Norris, New Jersey, and three days a week at Blue Sky studios in White Plains, New York.  For ten months, I did a three hour commute, twice-a-week, up and down the Jersey Turnpike in a Mini-Cooper, accompanied by my faithful dog, Yogi.  I did storyboards from my childhood bedroom, at the very same desk where, as a kid,  I spent so many hours drawing cartoons, dreaming of making animated cartoons. 

As emotionally heavy and logistically difficult as this was, it was through this new arrangement that I met my wife.  Through a mutual friend in South Jersey, I met Donna and her foster children, Christopher and Megan.  We were soon a family.  On January 1st, 2005, Donna and I married.  In November of that year, we officially adopted the kids.  I went from having no life beyond work to being a family man.  In sad irony, it was Mom's death that started my life.
The Moore Family, Adoption Day, 2005.  
Meanwhile, contrary to being "a martyr", I continued working in animation, on The Wild and Coraline,  and then for Illumination Entertainment on Despicable Me, The Lorax, and now Despicable Me 2.   I graduated from my old bedroom to a commercial building down the street as a studio.  

I wanted Dad to live out his life in the house he'd lived in for fifty years.  Donna and I bought the house next door to make caring for him easier.  As he grew older and weaker, our routine for care became more and more involved.  On November 21st,  he passed away.  I had just seen him not ten minutes earlier, and he was fine.  He went without warning, no last words, no suffering, no prolonged illness.  He passed away at 85,  in the comfort of his La-Z-Boy recliner, watching Red Skelton in I Dood it! on Turner Classic Movies.  We should all be so lucky.  
Dad, right, watches "The Lorax" in 3-D last March  with Megan, Donna, and Chris.  This would be his last movie seen in a theater. 
I tell this story because it's on my mind, but also because a lot of colleagues of my generation are going through the same thing with their parents.  It's a very strange time, when the roles become reversed and you end up taking care of people who once took so much care of you.  And if anyone out there reading this is facing this daunting task, I hope this story is helpful.  Don't freak out, you'll get through it!   When I think about some of the crazy shit I went through with Dad, like trying to hold him up when he's passing out in the snow....there's a movie in this - not a maudlin Lifetime drama but a Wes Anderson comedy!  

Dad and Mom, 1947.


  1. This was touching, heartwarming and honourable - you were a great son, Steve. Yes, it is coming up to that time for us all. Like you, many of our friends have already lost both of their parents. I am still fortunate to have both of mine - but it is very difficult to be thousands of miles away from them on the other side of the world. I try to skype with my parents every couple of days. I don't want to imagine myself, old, with my daughters living so far away that I never see them. That would be horrible.

  2. That's a great story Steve.. lots of details about you I never knew. My mom died in Feb after a few years of failing health. But she went quickly and peacefully, in her own bed. I've got a sun hat, a cookie jar, things like that. My dad, chugging along and dealing with it pretty well is 89. But it's hard being so far away.