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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/448249-My-Father-the-Child
by Kenzie
Rated: ASR · Article · Family · #448249
I wonder how I'll react to my new dad – the one who might not remember me.
My Father, The Child
By Marilyn Mackenzie
April 2, 2002

I have heard and read about the aging process. I have even experienced the many travails of weighing nursing homes and assisted living centers over home health care, when my ex-mother-in-law occupied the other side of our duplex home. But naively, I guess, I never imagined those decisions would be something I'd have to face with my own parents.

My dad was such a strong man, both physically and emotionally. As a sheet metal mechanic, tin snips that as a child I couldn't even work with two hands exercised his hands daily, hourly. As a kid, I remember wanting to kiss his "boo-boos" – calluses on those mighty hands.

But the tough guy turned to jelly, like most dads, when he interacted with his kids. The macho man, who was used to being waited upon by my mom, learned how to heat up a can of Spaghetti-O’s or to make tomato soup and sandwiches on those rare occasions that took mom away from home during the dinner hour. If mom was away and dad was in charge, we knew what the menu would be.

As he sat and watched TV (probably some western or sports show), he "allowed" us to massage his scalp and forehead and to comb his hair for hours. We'd put mom’s curlers in his hair. He'd pretend to "forget" with us that the curlers were in his hair, and when we finally pulled them out, he'd laugh with us at his new curly hairstyle.

We'd stomp around the house in dad’s big, smelly work boots – clodhoppers he called them. They had steel toes for his safety. How heavy that made them, and even my little brother wondered if he'd ever be able to "fill dad’s shoes."

Dad was a drinker – a heavy drinker, at least on weekends – like many of the tradesmen of the time. He was prone to fits of anger if antagonized in his state of inebriation. But for the most part, I've always remembered my dad as a kind and gentle soul, especially since he gave up drinking and smoking years ago for health reasons.

I've never seen my dad get very emotional, but other family members have, when I left my first husband. I escaped an abusive marriage, and rather than run home where I imagined I'd end up coddled and turned into a spinster, I fled from everyone. For three days, my family didn't know where I had gone. Dad sat on his porch and cried. When I learned that I also learned, for the first time, that my dad really cared about me. He had never vocalized his love to any of us.

He has now, though, over the past few years. My baby sister and I have learned to finish our phone conversations with, "I love you Dad." And he responds, "I love you too."

Today, I'm flying to see my parents and my sisters, so we can decide dad’s fate. I'm the "Switzerland" or neutral party in a battle that already rages about whether a nursing home is today’s answer to our new dad.

I wonder how I'll react to my new dad – the one who might not remember me, the one who sees cars racing up and down the walls. His mental decline has been so rapid that I never had the chance to visit one last time before he started forgetting and imagining.

Is it really a surprise that dementia and Alzheimer’s patients go through an angry stage? Imagine suddenly seeing cars running up and down the walls. Then imagine coming out of the fog just briefly...just long enough to recognize how silly your visions seem to others. Wouldn't you be angry if you had to be introduced to your daughter, or worse still to your wife?

I was pondering all of this as the airline personnel announced that my plane was boarding. Once settled in my seat I took out my notebook and pen and started to write, rapidly. The man next to me was quite curious about what I was scribbling so fast. On the trip from Houston to Chicago, I wrote two stories one and a half poems. (Sadly, one poem might not be completed until I'm back up in the clouds again. That was such an inspiration!)

I wondered as I wrote...if the tears welled up in my eyes when I hugged my dad, would he sense the love I have for him? In tears and in silence, my dad always communicated so well.

My dad. My father, the child. When mom wasn't around, I leaned over and whispered, "Daddy, may I wear your clodhoppers?" And just a moment, he smiled and straightened from his normal (now) elderly slouch. For an instant, he became once more my dad, the man, strong and proud and brave.
© Copyright 2002 Kenzie (kenzie at Writing.Com). All rights reserved.
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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/448249-My-Father-the-Child