If I’m reunited with Dad again in another life, I fully expect him to be wearing his navy blue sweater with the red and white overlapping diamonds. It might as well have been Dad’s weekend uniform during the winter. In the summertime, he had a stable of short-sleeved shirts, always with a pocket where he kept his smokes. But for some reason, that sweater stands out in my mind more than anything else he wore.
The famous sweater, as much of a Christmas staple in our house as our tiny fake Christmas tree.
It’s probably because he wore it for holidays and “special” outings. The sweater itself was nothing special. It probably came right off the rack at Kmart and was made in China by illegal labor. It was thin, but those Southern California winters weren’t exactly brutal, ha. Dad’s smoking habit stubbornly clung to the threads of that sweater, no matter how religiously Mom washed it.
I wouldn’t be surprised if that old sweater, probably mended by Mom a dozen times over the years, still exists. It may still be hanging in their closet, or tucked away in a dresser drawer, never to be worn by its original owner again.
Today is the first Father’s Day I’m celebrating without Dad being alive. As I’ve mentioned before, Dad was not big on holidays, so there are not a lot of sentimental memories for me to tear up over today. It was odd not sending a card to him this year. It’s also odd not speaking to him on the phone, even though most of our conversations centered around mundane topics like the weather.
I decided to go ahead and buy a Father’s Day card this year, just so I could write the message I should have written to him all of those years he was alive and well. As those of you with dementia in your family know, the loss of that person’s identity can begin years before the physical death takes place. We love them whole and broken, but it’s important to show them that love while they can still fully recognize it. We just don’t know how much they know and feel once dementia takes hold.
Here’s the card I got. It’s actually one of the better ones I’ve found over the years, too bad Dad is not here to see it.
Here’s the message I wrote:
I’m thinking about you today and every day. It may be too late, but today I am saying thanks for all of the sacrifices you made over the years. Love, Joy
As we head into Father’s Day weekend, I’m reminded of some of the quirks of his personality. It drove Mom crazy that Dad insisted upon folding the corners of pages of books borrowed from the library. To him, it was simply practical; but Mom thought about those poor souls who would check out the book after Dad and have to deal with all of the creased corners.
I did my part to support Mom’s campaign. I bought Dad multiple bookmarks over the years, all of which were never used.
Dad also used library books as his day planner. He would stuff letters to be mailed, bills to be paid, etc. in the pages of library books. I wonder how many cards I sent him accidentally went back to the library, to be tossed into the trash by an annoyed librarian!
I for the most part read books electronically now, so there’s little opportunity to follow in Dad’s footsteps. But every time I see a poor book with abused corners, I will think of Dad.
As I’ve mentioned before, my parents were not beach people. One of my first (and only) experiences hanging out on a beach in Southern California came courtesy of a school field trip. Of course, as anyone knows who has been to the beach with kids, sand sticks to kids like a magnet. Despite doing nothing more than walking along the beach on the overcast day looking for seashells, I managed to collect a lot of sand.
Dad picked me up from school that day and much of the sand transferred into his car. He was none too pleased about having to clean it out! He knew Mom would complain if she sat down in a seat full of sand the next time she got in the car. It may have taken him awhile, but Dad had caught on to being a good husband that stays out of trouble!
I remember trudging into our apartment, leaving a trail of sand behind me. I never thought I would get rid of all of those tiny grains clinging to my clothes and body!
Needless to say, I’ve joined my parents and am decidedly not a beach person.
When I was about 7 or 8, my parents bought me a tiny Casio keyboard. It was very lightweight and portable, and sounded nothing like a real piano. Then again, I sounded nothing like a real musician.
As I graduated from “Happy Birthday” and “Skip to My Lou” to slightly more “complex” pieces, I would perform “concerts” for my parents. This would consist of me adding a few notes to the pre-recorded ditties on the machine. I would always pick out something Irish-sounding for Dad. He smiled politely and sipped his coffee as I played. Mom was over-enthusiastic but every kid wants to hear praise for a job well done.
Alas, I never mastered any music keyboard beyond that cheap, tinny Casio. I briefly owned a full-sized keyboard in college, but never found the time to teach myself the basics. Playing the piano is still on my bucket list. I’d like to learn a classic Bing Crosby tune and “Danny Boy” in memory of my dad.
I was reading today about a study that suggested drinking coffee could delay Alzheimer’s. My first thought after reading the article was that it didn’t do my dad much good, and he drank coffee morning, noon and night.
But then I thought about it in another way. Wonder if all of my dad’s coffee drinking (I did a rough estimate based on his habits and age and estimated over 85,000 cups in his lifetime) delayed the disease by years? Dad was in his mid-seventies when he started to show signs of dementia. Maybe his love of coffee (he would drink it with anything, pizza, pasta, you name it) held off the crumbling of his mind for a few years?
Unfortunately, there’s no way to know and hindsight is 20/20. If we knew what was to come, and that his coffee habit was keeping Alzheimer’s at bay for a few years, perhaps we would have lived our lives differently. Sadly, I doubt we would have changed a thing.
Other than a cigarette, a cup of coffee is the thing that reminds me of my dad the most. Even the last time I saw him alive, he asked for a cup of coffee.
When Dad was in his twenties, he started writing a novel about a boxer. He said he wrote about fifty or so pages, before abandoning the project, throwing the pages carelessly into a dresser drawer before eventually tossing the words spun from his mind into the trash can like so much rubbish. I always was disappointed that the ending of the story was never created, having been rudely terminated with my father’s lack of drive.
Of course, many people at that age tackle fleeting careers as writers, artists, musicians. A few lucky and talented souls are able to exist on that charmed path for the rest of their lives, while most of us are forced to step onto a more realistic, humdrum path of responsibility. My dad was no different than the rest of the world, taking a stab at a fleeting dream.
Still, I wonder about the story. Who were the characters that my dad was fleshing out and bringing alive in his unfinished book? Was there a character based upon his brother-in-law, a fairly well-known Irish boxer by the name of Dixie McCall, whose boxing career was cut short by a drowning and burial at sea, never to be seen again by his family?
The novel’s characters are mere ghosts now, just like my father.
Dad’s wallets have been the source of some great finds, and this photo is one of those treasures. I have no recollection of the photo, but Mom thinks it was taken during a weekend visit to Santa Monica. It was one of those day outing trips that families take to keep the kids from getting bored. There was probably some cotton candy and a carousel ride involved. I do remember the shirt Dad is wearing, it was green and white, and it was one of his favorites. It’s funny how our mind throws away these happy memories that we would like to recall, while retaining darker memories that we would be relieved to let go of.
At any rate, this photo is just bursting with happiness. As I’ve mentioned before, Dad rarely smiled in photos because he was ashamed of his teeth, but he is flashing a big grin in this photo. I look angelic (for the moment, I’m sure that was subject to change at that age) and every bit playing the part of Daddy’s little girl.
The fact that Dad kept this photo tucked away in his wallet all of these years makes me wonder if he ever pulled it out and reflected back on these happy family times, or if it was just a forgotten moment that he carried around with him unknowingly.
My mom and I found Dad’s old, beloved jacket as we were going through some of Dad’s old belongings. Dad was once a pretty sharp dresser, but as he got older, he gravitated towards a few favorite items that he would don on a regular basis. He had certain caps he loved wearing, and this was one of his favorite jackets.
When the dementia became more severe and he began wandering, we were happy he loved to wear this jacket because at least his name was stitched on it, even though it was becoming frayed. I took this photo to accompany a GPS tracking service offered by the Alzheimer’s Association.
Dad never had the chance to use it as he had a medical emergency that landed him in the hospital. After that, he was housed in secure facilities so we didn’t have to worry about him wandering away anymore.
The jacket now resides in my closet.