Watching my father in his favorite recliner, eyes closed deep in thought, I wondered what was going through the mind of this ninety-five-year-old man. What problems could is he solving? What memories was he reliving? Gently touching his arm to get his attention, I had to know.
“Dad, what are you thinking about?” I asked.
Slowly opening his eyes filled with wisdom, he smiled and said, “I’m playing tennis. It’s a great match.”
Stunned, I sat back not sure what to say but then began to giggle. My father never picked up a tennis racket in his entire life.
“You’re playing tennis? Who with?”
“My other children,” he said smirking. “You don’t know them, but they’re wonderful.”
Leaning in closer, I interrogated, “Your other children? Are they as good as us?”
“Yes, they’re very special,” he answered as he shut his eyes once again. “I think you’d like them.”
Seeing he wanted to get back to his activity, I kissed his forehead as I stood up, “Ok, dad. I’ll let you finish your game. I’ll check on you in a few minutes.”
Sitting at my desk, pouring over piles of bills, I couldn’t get over the fact that my dad was making up stories in his head. Was it because his vision no longer allowed him to read?
As a child, he was always quiet about life – his and everyone else’s. He never told tales of his youth nor did he ask anything of what was going on with us. That information he got through my mother. His life was about hard work. It was not only his responsibility but his recreation. He never knew frivolity.
Forty-five minutes later, I checked back in. “How’s the tennis game going?”
“Oh, I got tired and went for a hike in the mountains. I’m hungry. Can I have a cookie?”
Cupping his chin in my hand, I looked into the face of this man I was just beginning to know truly and said, “Sure dad. I bet all that exercise has made you hungry.”
Caring for my father has been one of the most beautiful treasures of my life. That is not to say it’s been easy. It’s also been one of the most difficult as well.
When a parent moves in with an adult child, everything changes for all concerned. The parent has lost every shred of independence they once knew. The home they raised their children in is gone. They’re no longer in charge of their finances, their schedules, and, in many cases, their bodily needs. Baths and toilet necessities become a part of the caregiver’s daily routine.
For the adult child, life becomes about precise schedules. Diaper changes are a must at frequent intervals. Full meals must be prepared and spoon fed. Spontaneity is lost. No longer can a trip to the grocery store be made for a carton of milk on a whim. And a weekend away is a laborious check off the list. There are supplies that must be purchased (diapers, wipes, food, medicine) and “parent sitters” lined up for every minute of the day. It’s a delicate juggling act of an 18 count carton of eggs. One slip up creates a complete mess.
But the gifts outweigh the inconvenience. With this time with my daddy, I have learned not only about the remarkable human being I call my father, but I have discovered more about me.
With my father as my roommate, I have discovered I’m more like him than my mother. Besides the fact I closely resemble him (only a little softer and shorter), our easy going temperaments are identical along with our optimistic approach to life. We are firm believers good will come out of even the most desperate of situations and acceptance is our middle name. And now, it’s our quiet enjoyment for imagination that bonds us closer. Him in his mind, mine on paper. We are both storytellers for those willing to take the time to listen.
As I walk by his chair, I wonder what exciting tale he’s creating. What river he’s forging, what mountain he’s skiing on, or what company he’s the president of. Watching this creative process makes me less fearful of growing old, for as long as I hold onto my gift for the imagination, I too with have a fabulous life in my aging years all in my mind’s eye.