To say the words “Hi, Dad” is a privilege that sadly we will all lose one day.
“Hi, Dad, It’s Hil.”
“Hi, Hil, how are you?”
“I’m doing great, Dad, how are you?”
The very familiar response: “Better now that I am talking to you,” his only response, it seems, up there in his brain they label “a messy file cabinet.”
A few sentences back and forth, usually informing me of his solitaire game woes, and then:
“Well, I love you, Dad…so much, and I am so lucky to have you as my dad.” Hoping, praying that this will give him a little warm fuzzy from all the way across the country, even if he only remembers it for a second or two.
He responds: “I love you too, more than you know.”
“Talk to you soon.”
This 3-5 minute very familiar conversation leaves my heart aching for more as I long to ask him for advice and tell him all that I’ve been up to.
Sometimes I say things like: "I think you would be really proud of me, Dad, I am starting my own business, the kids are happy here in Topanga, and Nick is finally feeling better." Or "Hey, Dad, isn’t it cool that you, Liz and I are all writers?” But it usually falls on deaf ears as he can’t hear very well, and he doesn’t really have the tools anymore to compute all that I just said and respond. So, instead, I keep it simple and feel filled with plenty as I get to hear that familiar voice of “DAD” one more time, the one I have heard for the past 41 years.
Sometimes I get off the phone and cry as I miss my Dad, the one that was—the familiar voice is there—but the beautiful mind is not. And sometimes I hang up and just feel that warm fuzzy myself—feeling blessed that I got to hear his voice again. I think 86 is pretty darn good, and I know, for the most part, he is happy. It’s really the rest of us that feel the heartache and longing for the man we once knew. An iPad with solitaire, some food, a visit from my mom and a few lovely ladies to compliment throughout the day, and he is happy.
I hang up and reflect on a beautiful mind gone awry. A man so vibrant yet so quiet. So smart yet so humble. So goofy yet so consistent. The father of 7. The Pepsi Cola Kid, the Yale graduate, the ghost writer, the physics major, the romantic, the singer, the dancer, the editor, the bartender (some of you may have been lucky enough to have tasted his famous Aunt Dossie Specials), the stock broker (oldest man to ever go through The Shearson Lehman training), the supporter, the lover of family, food and fun—this is the incredible man I call Dad.
After 8 years of dementia it’s easy to forget all the amazing things one does in a lifetime. It’s easy to forget conversations and fun times of the past. It somehow becomes blurred, and I fear I will only remember the short sweet repetitive exchanges we have had in recent times. I think others too forget that man that once was. Life keeps moving, fast, for everyone. New memories are being made, and I am watching my own kids experience their “Dad,” and relishing these years before they too become “the good old days.”
A tricky disease, dementia. How cruel for a man whose mind is his strong point, to lose his mind, and such a beautiful mind at that.
I say beautiful as I look back on the things that I do remember most about my Dad. A man who really never said an unkind word about anyone, and he was/is always happy to see you. I try to emulate this quality of my Dad’s as I think it’s a great quality to have and a great example to set for my own kids.
He always took time to pause. He worked hard, came home to a few drinks, and either walked outside and gazed at Mt. Manadnock from our backyard in New Hampshire or sat on our porch swing in Maine gazing at the Atlantic, quiet, still and reflective…a beautiful mind, rebooting, listening, connecting with nature.
I don’t think this habit was purposefully planned, like I need to go and do my daily meditation type of thing. I think it was instinctual.
Integrity, a man of integrity for sure. I will never forget the letter I received after lying to my parents in college when I snuck off for the weekend to see my boyfriend. I wish I still had it, although I am sure back then I crumpled it up and threw it away. He told me the importance of honesty and integrity. How developing trust with others was so important. If I could not be trusted I would have a hard time getting a job, finding a partner and succeeding in life. I hear myself echoing his words sometimes to my kids, and I am thankful for the strong foundation he gave me.
A man who valued education. The only Dad, I believe, to receive the award at my high school for paying the most tuitions. We did not come from lots of money, but he saved, he planned, he invested and he sacrificed so that all 7 of us could have the benefit of a great education.
A simple man connected in his own way to the land, to his family, to his co-workers and friends. A man of often very few words, but always kind and honest words at that. A man of great work ethic, honesty and integrity. A man of love and strong values. A man I am proud to call my Dad.
As I move forward in my life these are some of the many of lessons I take away from my Dad. I hope in sharing them with you that I have inspired you to:
Connect to nature
Bite your tongue, or reconsider, when you have unkind words for another
And with that:
Well, I love you, Dad, more than you will ever know!