Friday, February 27, 2009
Memories of Old Dad: Loving the Dad of Today
We, as humans, are so much inclined to judge a person by how he looks, that we spend most of our lives misjudging the people we meet. This is probably in our DNA: we meet to mate, to fight, and to hunt as our ancestors did, long before Freud explained to us the inner meaning of all our curious behaviors.
My father is so very handsome, I'm sure he spent most of his life surprising people by not being at all what they expected him to be: that is, if they expected him to be suave, charming, sophisticated and as elegant as he looked.
Look at that picture of him with his Jaguar XKE. He looks like an ad from Country Living or Gentleman's Quarterly. And I think I've explained that he wasn't like that at all. He was a serious nerd, in the nicest meaning of that word.
Now, with his disease, there is so much of his life he does not remember and the nerd part of him has kind of faded away. But he still remembers that Jaguar! Not because it was elegant, or exclusive, or expensive-looking (naturally he bought it from a guy for just a few thousand dollars and restored it himself) but because of its engine. That is after all, the root of the word of his profession: engineer.
"That car was really hard to drive and I had to work on it all the time to keep it running," he told me the other day, remembering the Jag as if he'd just let go of it recently. "But when you took it out on the freeway, I had to work hard to keep myself from getting a ticket. That car was really fast." And he smiled, remembering it.
I told him about the bumper sticker I had seen on an old Jag that read: All of the parts falling off this car are of the finest English craftsmanship. He laughed and said, "That was the Jag. But she really could go."
Cars, airplanes, trucks--anything with an engine--always interested my Dad. He actually liked working on them himself, even though he always could have afforded having someone else do it for him. Once, he was working on a Ford Thunderbird we owned and he seriously cut two of his fingers. Thoughtful and kind as he was, he held his fingers together with his other hand and went to a neighbor and asked to be driven to the hospital. He didn't want to frighten my mother. When he was settled at the Emergency Room, the neighbor then came over and told my mother. When Mom arrived at the ER to check on him, her face was so white they almost admitted her instead of my Dad.
We were at the doctor recently for my Dad's three-month checkup and after the doctor had told him how healthy he was--blood pressure, blood oxygenation, weight, all the rest--he asked the doctor if it might be okay for him to drive again. My mother and I looked at each other with seriously raised eyebrows.
"No driving," his doctor wrote on a pad for my now-totally deaf, Alzheimer's afflicted father.
"Well, I knew you were going to say that," said my Dad, "but I thought I should at least ask."
When I told the story recently about having the firemen take my father upstairs to my apartment, and the confusion that resulted, my sister said it made her sad, because the Old Dad is gone.
Well, she's only right in part, I think. And anyway: some things about the Old Dad were somewhat challenging. I remember very distinctly how the Old Dad once gave one of my boyfriends a tour of the City of Palo Alto Sewage Treatment Plant, primary, secondary and tertiary systems included, and how I wanted to disappear into San Francisco Bay as he discussed how the effluent was treated, in colorful detail. That was the Old Dad, all right.
And the one we have now hasn't left that guy behind entirely. He still remembers the engine power of his old Jaguar XKE, and how it felt when you shifted it into fourth gear and it leaped ahead on the freeway.
And dementia or not, he still wants that feeling again and still wants to drive a car, God forbid. Fortunately he never mentions the sewage treatment plant, which he helped design and where he spent the last part of his career. But he still remembers he loves us, something the Old Dad was much more reticent about than he was about sewage. I didn't make it over to see him yesterday, because a friend of mine is very ill, and today Mom called to say Dad wanted to know if I was okay and wanted me to come over as soon as possible.
For every time in life there are compensations. I miss the Old Dad too. But I'm learning to love the New Dad just as much for whatever time we have left to love him.
I had a new camera one Christmas and got Dad to pose for these pictures. He looked so happy--not always a look you saw on Dad's face.