PREFACE: I have prayed about, worried, and discussed this post. I am going to post it, but I want to add that my dad has been better these last few weeks, and that we don’t discuss this as openly as we should. I just want other families to know that they are not alone. This aging process takes a toll, and I want to reach out and say “This stinks!!” And that I need help in going through this!! I need your prayers, your words and your encouragement. My family needs that. Just a hug, or a smile and a pat on the back. Please respect my dad’s need to continue as he does, and if you know him, treat him just as you would. I didn’t write this to injure or malign my family; rather to encourage and lift up those who have been where we are, or going through what we are experiencing. The Bible says “Two are better than one; when one falls down, the other can help them up.” I want to help my dad, and my family, to get up.
The difference between $2.50 and $250.00 is only two decimal points, but to me, this fall, that $247.50 difference represents a paradigm shift; those numbers started a tectonic shift under my corner of the world, and my life as I know it will never be the same.
I have a Dad who has been probably the single most influential person in my life. He adopted me at the age of two months old, and I have always felt a gratitude to him for “taking me in”. His love for me has been evident over the years, even though I can count on one hand how many times he has told me “I love you”. I mentioned once that I needed to put a lockable doorknob on my bathroom door and guess what was on my front porch the next day? Yep, a knob with a lock (don’t ask where that is, the hubs and I are not the handiest around the house). When my car breaks down, or something goes wrong, I have to curb the urge to call my dad instead of my husband, and my dad always knew what to do, and then could just do it.
Granted, we butted heads a lot. My dad is always right, always. Even when he’s wrong, he’s right. I was a fairly compliant child, but I did stand up to him several times in my life, and I never came out ahead. I then worked with him in our office for about 4 years, and he fired me at least twice a year. I did things the way I wanted to, and he couldn’t stand it. I asked for the mail one time (he had a tendency to open my credit card statement), and he threw it at me and said “Here!” I looked at our employee who was standing there in dumbstruck silence as envelopes and magazines fluttered around her, and said, calmly, “Would you excuse us, please?” He has threatened to disown me a few times over choices of boyfriends, but when I had my heart broken by one of those, he called, wrote me cards, and generally tried to cheer me up.
He is an amazing man. He grew up dirt poor, on a farm, in rural Alabama, with a disabled dad who didn’t work, yet my dad has one of the strongest work ethics I have ever witnessed, and he has made more money than I even know about. We traveled all over the world, and our family summer vacations were to the beaches of Mexico, and we snowskied in Colorado every winter. Now that I’m the one paying, guess how many of those trips my family has been on? Ummm, we did go on a cruise once.
My dad has some faults, but so do I. Some of ours are the same ones. But one thing my dad has always been spot-on with, never make a mistake with, is money. He could add figures in his head, and keep up with all sorts of deals and negotiations. He has always owned real estate and was constantly flipping or building or selling houses. He (with the help of my saintly stepmom) kept up with it all, and I had confidence in him.
Until the earthquake. My walls have been tumbled down, the roof is gone, and I smell smoke from somewhere in my vicinity. My dad has been diagnosed with dementia, more specifically, Pick’s Disease, where protein deposits end up in the frontotemporal area of the brain, and cause all manner of devilry. This disease is not like Alzheimer’s, where short term memory is affected; this disease causes profound changes in personality, destroying a person’s inhibitions and their reasoning and their ability to make sound judgement.
This is now the diagnosis we have received. It’s been going on about a year, but we know he’s had it longer than that. My older brother is having a hard time understanding how bad it is sometimes, and has almost completely removed himself from our circle. I don’t blame him; our mother (my adoptive mother, my dad’s first wife) lives near him and has her own tremblings. She no longer drives and has always had health issues; my brother and his wife take care of her.
But my dad is still driving, still functioning, still spending.
But back to my earthquake…my stepmom, to whom I am very close, told me about an incident this past week.
He told someone that he only charged $2.50 for his first treatment as a chiropractor, then looked at my mom and said “Is that right? Was it two dollars and fifty cents or two hundred and fifty dollars?” I asked my mom if he was serious when he asked that…she said, with a tremor in her voice, “Oh, he was very serious.” He’s also sold some coins for much less than they were worth, because of those two decimal points.
I have tears in my eyes as I am typing this, and I have had a week to compose myself. I knew about his diagnosis, I have seen him change in the last year, but these instances of confusion are so NOT my dad that I am starkly faced with the facts: my dad is no longer the man he was. It really is a disease. And I am just one of many people who are going to face this or who are facing it. The population is getting older, and my generation will be taking care of their children and their parents.
But mostly I am sad. Deeply sad. I am already mourning the loss of my dad, and he’s still here. This is not going to get easier. I was a little slow doing something he wanted the other day, and he got this fierce look in his eyes and said, “You don’t want to make me mad, do you?” No, Dad, I just want you back. This is a new normal for us, and I’m praying that we are made stronger, not torn apart. I hope we can help him be as functional as possible, without making it seem like we are controlling him.
I want him to be the grownup I now have to become.