I've spent a lot of time with my dad in the last six months. When my mom passed away he lost his best friend and his #1 care provider. He was diagnosed with vascular dementia a few years back but he continued to function adequately with my mother's constant help. At the beginning of the year the responsibility fell to me. Yesterday I marked my 38th round trip this year to San Antonio. I went down to see how he was doing with his re-entry into his memory care facility after our stay in the hospital the week before.
My sister was down for the entire week in between and helped him get back into the swing of things. The two of them had always played Scrabble together and they had many matches this past week. My sister (who, among other talents, has a degree in English from UT Austin) was soundly beaten by dad in several of the games. While my father has lost some of his memory, and had other parts of it scrambled, he is still verbally eloquent and an avid reader and writer.
At 90 years old my father scorns things like walkers and wheel chairs and insists on getting places under his own steam, with the use of a cane I bought him many years ago. When I visit him these days I bring him the Sunday New York Times and a small bag of his favorite candy; Hershey's Milk Chocolate Kisses. When I pick up and recycle the previous week's NYT I'm always impressed to see that he has worked diligently and well to finish the Sunday crossword puzzle.
We have lunch together at his favorite table, along with several of his regular friends. They are all 90 or older. Sometimes, in private, my father will remark, "I don't know how I ended up here...some of these people are really quite old." After lunch I brief him on the activities of the week and of his current financial condition. He craves the news. His father was a banker and he can't help his need to keep track of his money and comment on the performance of his "staff" (meaning me of course).
My dad has always been there for me and my brother and sister. My parents were more or less model parents. They never could rationalize the cost of buying a color television or getting cable but were more than happy to put three kids through college and graduate schools without thinking twice. My dad never missed an early morning of getting up and driving me to swim practice before school, and at every family crisis my parents showed up, check book in hand, ready and able to beat back hysteria and desperation (which thankfully for all involved were very rare occurrences).
I went down to San Antonio yesterday not out of a sense of duty but because I wanted to stay our course and maintain a recent routine which seems to have made him satisfied with his new home and mostly happy. His face lights up when I walk in his door. My heart swells a bit when we hug. We are so frank and honest with each other now. There's so much less in the way.
My dad made a good recovery from his recent cardiac scare. His private apartment is beautifully appointed and filled with portraits of family and friends. The staff has given up trying to introduce my father to some of the mindless activities of the facility and we've agreed to let him do the things he has always done; sit in a comfortable chair in his room, listen to classical music on his sound system and read books about world history. Even with the handicap of dementia he probably knows more about American history than 99.9 percent of this country's population. He's always been a person who cherishes his privacy and solitude. He's always been an academic. It's fun to see him continue on his own terms. He's a great role model for me and my siblings.
Happy Fathers Day to all of you fathers out there who have done your work, raised great kids and dealt, for better or worse, with all the curve balls that come along with the joy and responsibility of moving people from potential to success.