Happy Birthday, Dad

Hi, Dad. Today is your 77th birthday.

And after that, I have no idea what to say, and for that I feel guilt. Our family is in the process of adjusting to the addition of a new, uninvited and, so far, unappreciated member of the family, named “dementia.” Months ago I took solace in labeling it “early onset,” unconsciously feeling that I could keep it at bay and somehow control its pace of intrusion into our everyday lives. (Note to self: “You’re just not that powerful. Get over it.”)

I am thankful that we have another day together. You remembered our names today, and the names of your grandchildren, and I know that makes you feel good. But no, just like yesterday, and the day before that, you still cannot drive your car, and you need to have one of us go with you if you go for a walk. It is a safety issue both for you and for the other unsuspecting residents of our quiet little town. And yes, I know we will have this conversation again this afternoon, this evening, and tomorrow morning – although it may need to be with my wife, or with mom, because none of us can consistently withstand your anger and frustration yet remain compassionate. We promise to keep trying. You don’t need to take your car in to the shop for work, and, more importantly, you don’t need to pick it up. It is parked in the carport outside the back door, just as it has always been. I did not have it impounded, and you don’t need to speak with anyone at “that outfit” to restore your driving privileges.

Just as we’ve discussed every morning for the last month, we need you to un-pack your clothes and put them back in the dressers and closets, because this is your house. This is where you and mom have lived for 43 years. There is no other “home” to go back to, and, as you blow out the candles on your cake, I silently wish for the words to help you comprehend that this is your home – to somehow cut through the fog and anxiety that are clouding your acceptance and understanding. This is where you raised your children – your daughter and me. The neighborhood barbecues, the base to which we returned from all the school functions, the ballet recitals, the Little League games you coached, the high school games of football and baseball. This is the home you came back to after we all gathered for an incredible week of fun at Disneyland last year to celebrate you and mom being married for 50 years.

I know your world is getting smaller. But we’re trying to help. We’re all on your side, committed to supporting you (and each other) through this.

Then again, this afternoon, after discussing that we would walk to REI together, you snuck out the back door, to prove to us that you don’t agree with the new life rules and have no intention of respecting them. That was an hour ago, and I don’t have the grace to drive around looking for you. I hope you’re not trying to buy Red Bull (that your doctors and family have expressly prohibited), which you have typically done when unsupervised. Or that you are not roaming parking lots, as you’ve done before, trying car doors, looking for one that’s unlocked so that you can drive it (nevermind that the padlock key you carry will neither fit nor activate the ignition).

Yes, I’m angry, and I tell myself that I’m angry at the dementia. But it’s my father that is telling us over and over again that his family does not matter, is less important than his “right” to drive and does not deserve to know where you go when you disappear. And I’m having a very hard time separating the symptoms of dementia from the behavior of my father right now. And it sucks.

Happy Birthday. I wish.

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4 Comments on “Happy Birthday, Dad”

  1. Carrie Says:

    I really don’t have “the right” words. But I am sorry, and I wanted you to know my thoughts are with you and the family. 😥

  2. Frank Says:

    Hey big guy,
    Just know that as you face the big decisions ahead, you’ve got friends in your corner. I feel terribly for all of you, and I know there are plenty of challenges ahead. I know it is tough, but you and Gigi have conquered plenty of challenges: foster children and separation from those kids you loved, oh so many hurdles that you have dealt with raising special needs kids and will continue to face more hurdles going forward, and now this. But, buddy, it’s just one more hurdle, Dementia is a thief in the night. It takes away someone you know and love and piece by piece and replaces him with a dark photocopied version of him. Celebrate the moments of lucidity. They are rare and precious.

    I know you are a proud and sometimes solitary man, but if you need to talk, I’m a good listener.

    Frank

  3. Ron Says:

    As always, well said. I wish there was an answer.

  4. Earnest Says:

    Whoa! This blog looks just like my old one! It’s on a entirely different topic but it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Excellent choice of colors!


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