Thursday, November 15, 2007

Happy Birthday, Dad

Yesterday was my Dad's 76th birthday. I went to the store and stood for quite a while trying to pick out the perfect cards. One card would be from the boys and one from the hubby and I. As I looked my eyes fell on a card with a picture of a little girl sitting on her daddy's lap. I read it and I started to cry. It was so true to my Dad and I. It said that Daddy was the first man to ever place a whiskery kiss on her cheek. The first pal she ever had. The first man she ever loved. The first man ever to believe in her. I just sat there reading, and crying, wondering if Daddy could appreciate this card.

My Dad has always been a very sensitive person. Full of emotion. But these days it is hard to know what he will be feeling at any given moment. More so it is difficult to know what he will be able to understand.

Daddy has Alzheimer's. He has had it for at least the last seven years but has gotten much worse over the last two. Watching him slowly lose memory and ability has been enormously painful, to say the least. But even worse, seeing my Dad's personality slowly disappear. Words can not express the sorrow.

My Dad has always been a caretaker, a romantic, a joker, the life of the party. He could do anything. He could build anything. He was a sportsman. He played semi-professional football. He could sing like an angel. He had leads in numerous musicals. He was a fabulous dancer and every one watched my Dad in awe as he swept me across the floor to Frank Sinatra's "The Way You Look Tonight" when we danced the father/daughter dance at my wedding. He sang in the church choir and people would come to midnight mass every Christmas Eve to hear Dad sing "O Holy Night". He was a storyteller. A joker. He was a hard worker. The "go-to guy". You could always depend on Dad. He stood up for what he believed in. He ALWAYS took care of those who could not take care of themselves.

My favorite story is about my Dad when he was in third grade. Dad had heard that a group of fourth grade boys were following one of their classmates out of school and beating him up because he was Jewish. Dad (who is Catholic) told the Jewish boy that he would walk him home from now on, and when they left that day the fourth grade boys followed them. They told Dad to get lost because they wanted to "take care" of the Jewish boy. Dad stood directly in front of the boy and told the fourth graders, "If you want to get to him, you've got to get through me first!" He took them all on, and won. The fourth graders never bothered the boy again.

That's my Dad. It still is, really. I can still see him in there sometimes. Some days he is the Dad I know. Other days he is lost inside himself somewhere. The disease has eaten away at his personality making him vulnerable and unsure of himself. My Mom takes wonderful care of him (which is a miracle in itself as she is also fighting terminal cancer), but recently we have been wondering if it is getting to the point where he should be in an assisted living facility. More than once he has wandered off. Thankfully, he still knew enough to stop at a gas station and tell them he is lost.

So, for his birthday this year I was questioning what kind of card I could get him. What would he understand? I know he still understands some jokes, so a happy card might be a good idea. But when I saw this card I just had to get it. Maybe more for myself than for him. I walked out of the store with three cards. One from the boys, one from hubby and me, and one from just me.

Mom brought Dad over to my house yesterday before they were to go on their daily walk. I greeted them at the door and told Dad "Happy Birthday" right away. "It's my birthday? Oh, that's nice." Dad said. He happily came in. He was in a good mood. A birthday gift in itself. He sat down on the couch and played with the boys. Although he sometimes forgets who my Mom is, who I am, who my sibling are, he always seems to know the boys.

I brought in his presents (his favorite chocolate covered raisins and chocolate turtles) and his cards. He managed to open one of the envelopes, but got confused with the rest. My Mom opened them for him, and the boys happily opened his presents for him. I watched his face as my Mom read the cards to him, searching for a clue of understanding. He smiled and said how nice they were.

Then she got to my card. As she read it her eyes welled up with tears, as did mine. Dad listened and began to laugh at us, confused as to why we were crying. He didn't get it. And it was okay. Mom and I gave each other knowing looks and moved on.

We played with the boys and Ben showed Grandma and Grandpa how he can stand up by himself. We talked about the beautiful day outside. I showed them my new blinds.

I noticed Dad had been holding something in his hand the whole time. It was my card. He kept looking at it. Reading it again and again, trying to catch it's meaning. The other cards sat next to him. This one he held.

As my parents got up to go on their walk I noticed my card still in his hand. And I don't know, maybe I am telling myself this in some false hope, but I really think he got it. I think he felt the love in that card. I think it was another birthday gift, this time from God, and not just to Dad but to me as well.

(Dad passed away from Alzheimer's on June 29, 2009.  I miss him dearly.)


the dragonfly said...

What a beautiful tribute to your dad. I love the story about him standing up for the Jewish boy. It sounds like your father is a wonderful man.

Kellan said...

Happy Birthday to your dear Dad! I'm sorry about the Alzeheimer's - it's such a horrible disease and so sad for the family. I will hold to the belief that he knew - he knew. Take care.

Julie Pippert said...

This is such a lovely tribute. I'm so sorry about the Alzheimer's. It's hard to lose someone by degrees like that.

Thanks for sharing stories and your fondness for your dad with us.

Using My Words


I showed Dave this, and I know he
had to walk out of the room with
tears in his eyes. I won't show him I wrote this comment.
I understand your pain. JGirl

painted maypole said...

Oh Kathryn. I am crying for you... tears of joy and of sorrow. Happy Birthday to your dear, dear, Daddy.

the dragonfly said...

p.s. I tagged you!

Bea said...

This is such a poignant post, but what grabs me most of all is the real sense of gratitude in it. Your dad sounds like a really wonderful man.

Anonymous said...

Oh I do so hope that's it, that it's true. My father is also beginning to succumb. A long time ago [pre kids] I volunteered to help this lovely guy with alzheimers and parkinsons. The lucid moments were magical.
Best wishes

Kellan said...

Hey Kathryn - thanks for coming over and leaving such a nice Anniversary wish. Take care and have a great weekend. Kellan

Family Adventure said...

Kathryn, this was a lovely post. I can't imagine what it must be like to be going through this for you, your mother but also for him.

He sounds like a great guy. A wonderful father.

Happy birthday to your dad. And best wishes to all of you!

Hugs! Heidi

Rose said...

Okay, this did make me willy-eyed. You have wonderful parents and many more wonderful memories with them.

Wishing your family well.


Lew said...

I found my way to your blog by way of David's blog. Happy birthday to your Dad! And I believe that people with Alzheimers do have more lucid moments than they can express. My Mom passed away in 2000, and we experienced then what you are going through now. Dad was in his early 80's and Mom in her late 70's when the deterioration from Alzheimers began to be really noticeable. Mom and Dad had talked about moving to a retirement community but did not. Dad was her primary care giver for a good while, but with further deterioration, it was clear he needed help and she resisted any mention of assisted living. Dad was able to obtain dya-time help 5 days a week with Mom's care and housework which eased the burden on him. Later, this care became around the clock. Mom had brief moments of recognition even late in the progression of the disease. The christmas before she died, I was steadying her as she walked from the table to the den, and asked "Do you want to dance?". She got a twinkle in her eye and twisted her hips back and forth a few times. Her spirit was willing, but her body did not have the strength to do more. She would also point to Dad and say "that's my husband over there". I am sure both of them were happier living a home until the end.

Anonymous said...

I'm here from Britt's

This is a very beautiful post. I know your Daddy felt the love that day. This is how I feel about my dad. Thanks for sharing this with us.

katsidhe said...

Hello, love, I'm popping over from the Red Dress Club.~ ^_^

This...this really struck me. What a beautiful and loving tribute.

My dad's birthday is in four days. He died suddenly at age 53, four years ago. Dads really are a girl's first love, aren't they?

I am positive that your Dad felt the love in your card. They always somehow know. Always.

Jessica Anne said...

This is such a lovely and poignant post. Alzheimer's is such a cruel disease. I think you're right, he may not have completely understood the words, but the sentiment and love he understood.

Barbara said...

What a beautiful post! I stopped by from the RDC.

Words To Live By

Be grateful for each new day.
A new day that you have never lived before.
Twenty-four new, fresh, unexplored hours to use usefully and profitably.
We can squander, neglect, or use them.
Life will be richer or poorer by the way we use today.
Finish every day and be done with it.
You have done what you could;
some blunders and absurdities crept in;
forget them as soon as you can.
Tomorrow is a new day.
You shall begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be
encumbered with your old nonsense.

-Ralph Waldo Emerson