Saturday, June 16, 2007

Father's Day

Happy Father's day to all fathers out there. I want to wish a special Happy Father's Day to my nephew Nate and to my niece Sapphira who recently had a baby boy!

Father's Day brings up a flood of various emotions. My Dad wasn't the perfect man expressed in Hallmark cards. It would be difficult for me to find a card for him today. For a long time, all I could remember is a strict and mostly stoic man. He was highly critical of me, and no matter I what I did, I could never please him. He said many cruel things to me, as I did to him.

It wasn't always that way. I do have some good memories of riding the ferryboat each Autumn and eating ice cream along the Susquehanna River. We had camping trips that turned into adventures. We hiked along the Appalachian Trail, and he'd tell me the histories of the towns we saw below us, and he knew all the names of the trees and wildflowers.

But then my mother left, and he became a different man. At 10 years old I was expected to take her place with the chores and the disciplining of my 2 younger sisters. What a rift that caused, a rift that almost didn't mend. My father spent less and less time at home, and we had to fend for ourselves. Sometimes we had no food in the house. I felt worthless and unloved most of the time. And lonely. I couldn't wait to leave home. I ended up dropping out of college to do it.

Things changed recently. I received a midnight visitor telling me had been missing. He had never shown up for his Wednesday night chicken pot pie dinner. At first, I thought my elderly visitor was being a nervous Nellie, blowing things out of proportion. My father was the type of man who disappeared for days and broke promises.

I didn't sleep that night. I didn't know whether to be angry or worried. Arriving at his home the next morning, it was obvious he hadn't been home. I panicked. The local police and fire department broke into the house. My sister and I had no keys. The house was in more disarray than I last remembered. The police were able to find him. My father had been in a near-fatal car crash and was taken to the nearest trauma unit. He had been unconscious and couldn't give any information about next-of-kin.

Upon arriving to his hospital room, I was shocked. He had been taken off the vent and was free of IVs and was cracking jokes with the nurses who doubled over with laughter. This little 78-year-old grey-haired man behaved so child-like. He brightened over an offering of vanilla ice cream. He was not the father I had left behind. Normally a very active, strong man, he winced as he hobbled around the hospital room. How long would it be before he could tend his gardens again? He had planted the most beautiful gardens, so that something was blooming year-round. The azaela bushes were trimmed to perfect spheres. The flowers lining the walk never had a dead head. Oh, and I can't forget the horseshoe pit in the backyard. He brags that that it is regulation sized. He was both intimidating and inspiring.

I had to laugh when during his period of lucidity, he asked about his camera. I've never seen him without a camera. I remember being in the car with him at times, and he'd suddenly pull to the side of the road to capture a rainbow or a beautiful sunset. Once we chased a hot air balloon to its landing, and he took a series of pictures of the landing, the folding of the balloon. He also had an annoying habit of taking pictures of me when I looked my worst. He said he liked things natural, not fake.

We told him that the car was totalled in his accident, that it was unlikely his camera survived the accident as well. The next day, my sister brought him his camera. We took turns taking pictures of him. After we left him, he chased down the nurses and snapped pictures of them.

Later, I learned he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease. The symptoms became more apparant the more time I spent with him. Sometimes he did recognize me. I stopped moaning about the picture-taking.

He's been home for months and has gotten back to his normal activities. Photography field trips. Roller skating Tuesday nights. Polka and Square dances with his friend, Minnie. Evening bike rides. Hiking. He now calls me more frequently, but usually, he has forgotten that he had called me yesterday. I listen to the same stories and jokes. I laugh along with him, but inside I am crying. I listen and hold those storiesclose to my heart because one day he'll completely forget me, and all those stories he's fond of repeating will be locked inside him.

I wrote two stories about father/daughter relationships. They were written at different points of my life. "Rose Petals in a Jar" is written by an angry daughter. "The Roaring Bull and Electra" was written years before I'd know my dad would be diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Now for some writing prompts:
*Freewrite using the prompt "These are the facts about my father..."
*Write a good memory about your father. Develop it into a scene. Use dialogue and all your senses.
*Write the opposite. Create a scene with conflict. The worst fight you had, a disagreement, something that caused you misery.
*Write about the things your father has taught you.
*Write about the things you wish you had said or cannot say

These exercises are not supposed to be easy. Take a deep breathe and let go...

No comments: