An upbeat and heartwarming journal about how a father and his adult daughter overcome the challenges of dementia. Real life moments reveal vulnerability isn't limiting but liberating when love and respect are mixed with humor, adventure, exercise, good nutrition, hobbies and calm.
Dad is barefoot wading in the water at our local beach. It is his newest favorite pastime in any weather to walk, collect rocks and shells, and watch the shorebirds and surfers. The other day he said, “Get your children and grandchildren down here on the beach. I wish I had gotten myself out there on those boards when I was a younger man.”
It hasn’t always been this way. In fact is has been a lifelong process. Dad has naturally been a fit muscular guy. He looked great without a shirt and in swim trunks which he wore without hesitation. Yet in our early teens my sister and I noticed he didn’t wear shorts. We talked with him about it and finally persuaded him to try the popular cutoff jeans around the house. He liked them and has worn shorts since the 1970s. But our job wasn’t finished. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that we convinced him to wear sports socks with his shorts. We reminded him how great his legs looked. Who knew it was that easy?
This past spring Dad arrived for an extended stay with us in southern California. During our regular walks on the beach he was always high on the dry sand wearing socks and shoes. Invariably he would get wet even though he tried not to. Then one day after watching us remove our shoes, he spontaneously took off his sneakers and socks and joined us along the waters edge. Now he loves it! Then another miracle happened. We bought him a pair of flip flops to wear with his shorts on the way to and from the beach. He loves them! We found a light weight pair with a soft toe insert and we stay nearby to avoid falls. But he really does great with them. It only took him until age 82.
We go to the beach every few days. If not he asks when we can “go to the water”. Dad fills his pockets with shells and rocks every beach walk. He displays them on trays and looks at his collection every day. If you visit us he will bring them out to show you. He has so many rocks we created an outdoor space for them in the garden. Dad especially enjoys the colored rocks and rocks with holes. He is particularly fond of a Chestnut Cowrie he found. We recently purchased a seashell identification guide for him.
Yesterday we packed our lunch and beach chairs and set ourselves right in the tide. He laughed as the water washed up around our feet. Then we watched the sanderlings scurry and the pelicans diving for fish. We combed the beach for shells and sand dollars. Dad has expressed many times how much he enjoys our time on the beach. We treasure it! But our work is not finished yet. We are still practicing knowing the difference between sand dollars and sea gull dollars.
Dad has always been a “car guy”. Nearly every story he shares begins with a car, truck or tractor and then as the tale unfolds I learn about family history. During his teen years Dad and some of his friends started the Road Rebels club. The purpose of the club was to share a common interest and learn more about automobiles through hands-on experience. The father of one of the young men owned a garage where meetings were held. Dad enjoyed it so much he continued to wear his Road Rebels leather jacket for years afterward. One Sunday morning, as the story goes, the family was running late for church. As he ran out the door Dad grabbed his favorite jacket. Dad and mom settled into the last row pew just in time for the service to start. When it was time for the offering, the Deacon was short an usher and gave Dad a tap, asking him to help. Dad willing assisted in collecting the offering, moving row by row up the aisle to the front of the church for the blessing. As the congregation prayed over the collection, Mom looks up and sees in large white letters R O A D R E B E L S across Dad’s back. I never heard anything more about the jacket after that Sunday. Since then Dad has worked on many automobiles and enjoyed restorations. Industrial and truck engines became a significant part of his successful career. What I appreciate the most is that Dad taught me how to maintain my own car.
Dad is a NASCAR fan. Over the years I would often buy him tickets to races as birthday or Father’s Day gifts. He would always take Jim; his best friend of more than 40 years. They had a great time and every year gave me a detailed accounting of their day at the raceway. Lately, I have been recording the races for Dad to enjoy in shorter segments during the week since he doesn’t sit through a full-length race anymore. Dad loves it if someone watches the race with him so I sit nearby and get computer work done during the race. Imagine my surprise when I started a race for him today and he said, “This is the same one as yesterday.” I reminded him that yesterday we watched the end of a race in Atlanta and this race is in Miami. He said, “It can’t be. Its the same drivers in the same cars with the same numbers.” I wasn’t sure what to say and replied, “Yes Daddy, that’s how it works. There are quite a few races in a season.” Dad then inquired, “You mean all they do is drive around in circles for hours?” I said, “Yes Daddy.” Dad continues, “and they spin out and hit each other and roll over?” I nodded yes. Dad shakes his head and says, “That can’t be good for those drivers.” I said, “We hope they don’t have accidents but sometimes they do.” Dad jumps up and exclaims, “Stupidity!” Although still bewildered, my brain is finally catching up to the moment and now I’m trying not to laugh. I asked, “Who is your favorite driver?”, Dad says, “All my favorite drivers are dead.” I told Dad we could turn the race off if he didn’t want to watch it. He said, “I want to watch it. ” I asked him who he was rooting for and he said, “Jimmy Johnson”. Dad is enjoying the race and even laughing at a few comments by the announcers. I haven’t told Dad Jimmy Johnson is retiring this year. All I can say is, “God bless the Road Rebel!
Dad and I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We went because he did not remember having been there and always wanted to go. While we were waiting to check in to our cabin we decided to hike the Bright Angel Point Trail. The trail starts near the lodge and winds along sheer drop offs with dramatic views of the canyon. While we were hiking, Dad began to tell me how much he “hated this trail” sharing he hated it the entire time he helped build it. I was surprised but just listened. He explained that it was cold and snowing and he and all the workers feared they would slip and fall. I encouraged him to walk away from the edge and we continued along the trail. I asked him where he lived when he was working on the trail and he told me he drove to work from his home every day. He lives more than eight hours one-way from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. He also told me a good friend of his, one he worked with for years at his primary profession, quit after just one day. He was adamant about his experience, so I just hiked along with him in his moment. Along the way we stopped for a few sips of water under a shady rocky overhang. At this same stop was a couple visiting from India. Dad told them in great detail how he built the trail sharing how the stones were placed along the edge and about the dangerous work. The couple listened to his story with interest and became excited to meet him. I just stood there quietly watching and listening. After all, my mission was to give Dad a happy visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We had a wonderful evening watching the light sweep across the canyon at sunset and a glass of wine with dinner. Our cabin was just 20 yards from the edge of the canyon. We slept peacefully under the pines with a fire in the stone hearth. We woke early to watch the sunrise and enjoy the changing hues as much as possible. Just one day – a few hours together as father and daughter to be remembered…or not. A few days after we returned home, Dad called me and said he needed to apologize. I said, “Dad, you never do anything you need to apologize for.” He said, “I never built a trail in the Grand Canyon.” I said, “well, there is a couple in India telling their friends they met a guy that did.” We laughed and laughed. Dad still remembers our trip to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Sometimes we look at the photographs together, talk about how beautiful it was, and laugh about our adventure.
Photo: National Park Service
“A short trail leads visitors from Grand Canyon Lodge to a
viewing area at Bright Angel Point. Looking east, hikers can see Roaring
Springs Canyon, a major tributary to Bright Angel Creek and the source of
Roaring Springs. Deva, Brahma, and Zoroaster Temples are visible to the
southeast. To the west is The Transept, a large tributary canyon of the Grand
Canyon. The Colorado River, however, is hidden among the multicolored buttes
and rock outcroppings that fill the Canyon’s depths. Along the trail are
displays of marine fossils and crinoid fossils that illustrate the evolution of
the landscape and life through the millennia as revealed in the exposed layers
of the Canyon.” Bright