“I got a new job!” I said to the man. He looked at me blankly. “I’m a Creative Director now!” I said, pointing to the press release on my phone featuring my picture. I thought at least with a visual aid, it might help hit home what a big freakin’ deal this was. “Oh” he said nonchalantly.
Then he waved his fork in a circular motion toward his beef stroganoff. “Well, this… this work. I’ve got to work on these things…“ he said, pointing now at little mound of baby carrots nearby. “And then the work, it…” he trailed off.
The man isn’t a stranger to me, but, I am mostly, to him. That man is my dad. And he has Alzheimer’s. The reason I even tried telling him the news was because I had told my husband that it really stung not to be able to share something I knew would make him so proud. Feeling my pain, his own dad gone for many years, my sweet husband encouraged me. “Tell him! Maybe he’ll understand.” And so I did.
I didn’t really expect him to light up with a hearty congratulations. Or to shout about how proud he was of me to his “friends” who were sitting in chairs, staring blankly at a National Geographic special about baby water buffalos getting eaten by crocodiles. I guess I was just hoping for a glimmer of recognition. A sign, that deep down, even though he doesn’t even know who I am most days, he was proud of his little girl.
I don’t spend a lot of time being sad about my dad. Despite my easy emotions at everything else in life, I am have a certain stoic calm about the whole thing. (Which I'm sure will unravel someday.) Maybe it’s because my grandmother had the same disease and followed the same patterns, and I watched my dad handle it with a certain resignation and a healthy sense of humor. Maybe it’s because it’s such a slow process and I find solace in the fact that he’s not in pain, not an active mind trapped in a body that’s failing him. In fact, it’s the opposite. I swear the man still has a 6-pack under that shirt I’m pretty sure he took from someone else’s closet.
Mostly, our family deals with my dad’s Alzheimer’s with laughter. In the 2/12 years since he’s been in memory care facilities, he has told us in broken sentences how he’s played for the Mariners, reffed a Seahawks game, done some casual welding and gone “up North” for projects multiple times. He escaped (for real) once, which was terrifying for a few hours, but now we retell the story about how my daughter and I came upon him, 3 miles from his care facility, carrying a huge, wire dog cage. I calmly convinced him to put the cage down and get in the car, and we drove him back to his home without incident. But I bet the people who lived in the house where I found him are still wondering where that cage came from.
Increasingly, words are difficult for him. But he’s still polite as can be, offering bites of his stroganoff, smiling when we say his name as if he recognizes us on some level. All the nurses and caretakers tell me what a kind, polite guy he is. And in that way, he’s still my dad.
As usual, when I left, I gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He smiled kindly, which is something else that hasn’t changed. But you could almost see him thinking. “Wow. That lady with the new job is nice, but a kiss? We just met!” Or maybe he was thinking about stroganoff. I’ll never know.