My father passed away five years ago, on March 2, 2013. Seems like it was just yesterday because there are times when the sadness washes over me in waves that can be difficult to navigate. Most of the time though, I just miss him. Something funny will happen, or something important or interesting will occur to me, and I’ll think, “I’ll call Dad and tell him.” But of course, I can’t call Dad. I’ll never be able to call him again.
We’re marked, I believe, when we lose someone who’s been in our lives since the day we were born.
Daddy was 93 years old when he died; he outlived my mother by about 40 years. That also seems hard to believe. You see, Mom always seemed to be the serious one of the two. Dad was the comic relief. Sounds like a good balance, like they complimented each other well, doesn’t it? In reality, I believe there were more than a few times over the years when my mother’s patience was stretched paper-thin, and my dad got a kick out of stretching it even thinner. As a kid, of course, I thought my parents’ relationship was typical of every mom’s and dad’s. I mean, don’t we all think that the way we grew up was the same way that everyone else did? It’s not until we get out into the real world, the stark, cruel, un-sheltered world, that we understand that everybody’s upbringing was probably very different from ours.
We begin to see our parents in a much different light as they age, as they begin to depend on us for care rather than the other way around. That change can be difficult, for both the parent and the child. It’s a role reversal with which we are never fully comfortable, or at least I wasn’t. But it was during that time of transition - when Dad depended on us to get him to and from doctor appointments, to watch his nutrition, to make sure he was taking his medications properly – that I really began to see my dad in a different light. Maybe I began seeing him more like my mother might have, so many years ago.
For a time, I shared the responsibility of taking Dad to his doctor appointments. When you’re his age there are a lot of them, let me tell you. Still, I always tried to make the best use of the time we had on those days; I’d take him to lunch or buy him a cup of coffee, and he always seemed to enjoy those little things.
I watched him change, though, as the years advanced. I watched him change from a carefree jokester to a sort of absent-minded mischievous kid, to (and there’s no other way to say this), a man who could be mean and grouchy. Oh, he could be sweet, no doubt, but when he decided to be cantankerous, look out. And he could turn on a dime. I’ll share an example of what I mean by that.
Now my dad was a ladies’ man, and I guess he always was. I don’t mean that he ever betrayed my mom, but he was very handsome in his day, and oh how he loved to talk. Glib, tall, dark and handsome – that was my dad. As he aged, he truly believed those characteristics never left him. He believed the “old women” in the assisted living home were after him, clamoring to marry him, all the time. They didn’t attract him at all; the nurses, on the other hand, did. In fact, nurses everywhere attracted him. I took him to the doctor one time, a neurologist who was added to his long list of physicians simply because he refused to answer a simple question in the Emergency Room after a nasty fall: “Who is the president of the United States, Mr. Adams?”
“Mr. Adams, can you remember the name of the president?”
His refusal to answer caused the attending physician to suspect that he had Alzheimer’s Disease, so I cheerfully added another appointment to my monthly “take care of Dad” calendar. You might have guessed by now that Dad knew full well who the president was; he just didn’t like him, so he refused to answer the question. I knew that, but when I tried to prod his memory or encourage him to answer, I was told not to interfere. He had to answer on his own. I even shot him a few looks, warning him not to be belligerent about this, but he wasn’t budging.
So of course, I took him to see the neurologist for that first visit, and on the walk from the car to the office, Dad offended everyone who crossed our path (and when you walk that slow, a lot of people cross your path). The reasons? Oh, it didn’t matter. Whether we encountered a woman, man, child, doctor, patient, nurse, service dog, it didn’t matter. He’d find something rude to say to everyone. I got in the habit over the years of walking a few steps behind him and mouthing “I’m sorry” to everyone we met.
In fact, there were a few times when I had to threaten to leave him at the doctor’s office if he didn’t stop talking altogether. He could be relentless, exasperating.
On this particular day at the neurologist’s office, a cute, young, little blonde nurse came to get us and walk us back to see the doctor. Now that combination of “cute, little, young and blonde” were a magic tonic to my dad; he could go from snarling and foaming at the mouth to sweet and charming (or his version of those, anyway) in a split second. This particular exchange went something like this:
“Mr. Adams, the doctor will see you now.”
“Well, what if I said I came here to see you instead?” You see, by now, I was invisible to him. The blonde had blinded him.
(Smiling) “Come along with me now, Mr. Adams.”
“O.K. Would you like to take a ride on my walker?” he asked in a sickeningly saccharine voice. And I’m not kidding. That is an exact quote about the walker proposition. He was completely unaware of his daughter’s presence by now, and that was fine by him. In fact, it’s safe to say that he was completely unaware that he had a daughter by that point.
“Oh Mr. Adams, you are such a flirt. You’d better behave now!” Oh please, I thought. Please don’t encourage him. And for Pete’s sake, don’t ask him to remove a piece of clothing!
The afternoon just got worse with each exchange. The nurse would good-naturedly try to steer the conversation back to the reason for Dad’s visit, and he would respond with an equally inappropriate suggestion. My face was beet red, and I secretly vowed I’d never put myself through this again, or at least, not until his next doctor appointment.
Finally, the neurologist walked in, and nurse Blondie left. “Well hello, Mr. Adams! Do you know why you’re here today?”
“It seems you’re having a little problem with your memory.”
“I’m having a problem with MY memory?” Dad fired back. “I sat out in that waiting room for a half hour because YOU forgot I had an appointment at 1:00! Don’t tell me about MY memory! YOU seem to be the one with a problem remembering.” And just like that, Dad was back to being Dad again.
Cool as a cucumber, the doctor ignored Dad’s quip and moved on. “I’m going to ask you a few questions, and you try to answer them as best you can, O.K.?”
I cringed. I knew what was coming.
“Now, can you tell me who the president of the United States is?”
I penciled in the neurologist one Tuesday a month on my calendar indefinitely, and sure enough, we saw him once a month right up until Dad went on to Glory. Wonder how he and Mom are getting along?
Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was named Finalist for 2017 Georgia Author of the Year in the Detective/Mystery genre. Her previous three books are written with loving humor about the South. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, and at www.caroletownsend.com. When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, writing, family and life in her beloved South. www.caroletownsend.com. Follow Carole on Facebook (Carole Townsend-Author), Twitter @caroletownsend, or Instagram @carole.w.riter.