My father has never been the father that I wanted or needed, but he is, indeed, my father. He left our family in 1987, 26 years ago. He immediately met a woman and they married in 1989. We were either graduating high school or were in our 20’s, when he left. There were no custody battles, and support for college was provided for those of us who were of college age.
We saw him a various gatherings, dinners or what have you. Certainly no day to day contact as he moved away. The years went on and some of us got married and had babies. He always come to see the babies and was appropriately excited upon good news. When he did practice medicine, after he left our family, he always told the front desk, “If my children call, come get me out of a room.” So when we did call, we could speak to him. He sent the monthly "I love you and am thinking of you" emails and rarely called. He loved us as best he could and many of us have come to accept that.
We have also accepted that he is a weak man and whatever his wife says goes. So when he had cancer in 2006 and subsequent surgery in 2007 we were not allowed to be at the hospital because his wife "can’t handle the family," we complied. He survived that surgery and is now 77 years old.
In April we received news that he had some “memory issues” and can no longer work or drive.
I cried. I have never been more important to his man than anyone else in his life and my only claim to him is that he is my father. And now he will forget me? It was and is so very painful. But, the truth is, he, his life and his medical condition have no material impact on my day to day life. My husband and four children need my emotional investment and moreover, want it. I am happy to sow the seeds of these people, for I love them unconditionally, and I invest in them unconditionally.
We were again, asked to stay away because it would drive his wife, “ape shit,” if we came around. He and I exchanged a few emails and spoke on the phone. He can no longer tell his right from his left and is having a very hard time accepting the changes in his mind. All I can do is tell him I love him, and so I do. I pray that he will lose his mind quickly so he doesn't have to suffer the knowledge of the loss.
This past week there was a very dramatic decline in his abilities. We were told that the, “visiting restriction had been lifted” by his wife, as he had been hospitalized. I was so very conflicted about going to visit him, unimaginably so. Stay away, stay away, stay away, no COME. Come NOW. It is the story of my childhood, repeated mixed messages.
I went. I went because he is my father and he needs my memory. He needs to know that he has memories and they are meaningful. He may not remember yesterday, but he would remember when we were little and when he was little. We were asked to bring pictures, they would help too.
According to the nurses, he had been unresponsive, blank stares, veritably catatonic. When his sister called, they told her that he would likely not remember her and they would hold the phone up to his ear. He did remember her, he was quiet in voice and clearly confused, but he did remember her.
My mother and oldest sister went on Monday. They brought his favorite food, and one that is rich in my memory of childhood, Kentucky Fried Chicken. He has had no appetite for a long time, has lost a lot of weight and was able to eat some of the chicken. They took him outside, with permission of the medical staff; he sat in the sun and had a visit from his dog. They rubbed his feet and got him some warm, cozy socks. They held hands and Mom told stories of when they were in the army so many years ago. He remembered the story! He said he was not able to recall that memory but that he did remember it. He had a smile.
I took his sisters up on Tuesday, they too, had been shut out long ago. I was there to hug him and let him know I loved him. I helped my aunt prepare a book of pictures of when he was little. We added a few pictures and it was so lovely.
We stayed only an hour and half and he ate some leftover chicken, an entire plate of macaroni and cheese, side of tomato salad, a slice of blueberry pie. He had a cup of coffee and a glass of milk. When it was time to go, I hugged him good bye. I told him that he was loved, “I know, ” that I love him, “I love you too,” that I would come see him again soon, “I may not be here,” I’ll come to wherever you are, and I said that we would be his memory. He literally melted into our embrace; he shuffled closer and held on so tight. As tears spilled over, I held on, too.
I knew. I just knew, as this is the way it has been, and even more so now, that this window of welcome, of visitation, would soon close. My father is weak and now he is incapacitated. His condition improved so dramatically as a result of visits from his family that he was discharged on Wednesday to go home with the care of the VNA. He has many tests coming up that will hopefully pin point what is going on with his mind.
His wife sent an email yesterday updating some things, but the message that she needed to deliver was this:
“…he has asked me to tell you that your visits meant a lot and he loves you all very very very much. But he is terribly tired and asks that you hold back from phone calls and visits for a while. He says he’ll call when he feels up to it. I know you want to hear from him and encourage him on his way. He feels that love even when he isn’t up to conversation. I’ll try to keep you up to date with any changes or new information that come our way.”
Was I surprised by this email? No. However, it is a lie. He doesn't have the capacity to have these thoughts. If you do not want to talk on the phone, you do not answer it. He is suffering and we gave him a glimmer of hope. We warmed his soul and let him know that his memories are there.
As I said, he is not in my day to day life and the repeated rejection of this woman is overwhelmingly painful at a time like this. I often wonder if she will let us know when he dies or if we will be ‘allowed’ to attend his funeral.
So I will let go of him. Although I told him I would come see him soon and now I cannot. He may not remember that, but what if he does? He did not say these words and this is not his sentiment. And I KNOW this to be true.
I love you dad.