As Father’s Day approaches, it will bring me immense joy and happiness to see my three girls celebrating their father and my wonderful husband. He is their super hero, and the term “daddy’s girls” is an understatement.
Not only will my girls celebrate their father, but I will celebrate my father as well. He will come to the Father’s Day BBQ that I host year after year. He will sit outside on my patio and eat a hamburger, and for dessert, he will have a linzer tart, which is his favorite. He will be in the midst of our boisterous family.
But the father I once knew won’t be there.
My father has been battling frontotemporal dementia, specifically, corticobasal degeneration (which is early onset of dementia) for the last seven years. Each passing year, the disease progresses. Every year we think, “This is getting bad,” until the next year passes and it gets worse. At this point in time, he cannot speak or communicate with us in any way. He cannot perform daily activities and relies on my mother and a home health care aide for full-time assistance. His infectious laugh was his hallmark trait and we lost that this past year.
I am 37 years old, and I still have my father on this earth. For that, I am grateful. I don’t take it for granted. Not for a second. I had him for all of my childhood and now my adulthood. He was healthy when he walked me down the aisle at my wedding. He came to the hospital at 3 a.m. when I was in “false labor” with my first daughter. He returned the following week at 4 a.m. when I really was in labor and she was born.
He was recently diagnosed when I was pregnant with my second daughter, but he was there when she was born and excited that she was the first of his grandchildren to look Sephardic, like him. He took my girls to synagogue, the zoo, the merry-go-round, and the park. He held hands with them. We went on two family vacations to the Caribbean, and he danced with my daughters.
He was barely speaking when I was pregnant with my third daughter, but he was the first person I told when I shared the news. He came to the hospital at 6 a.m. when I gave birth to her. I have a really great picture of him standing over her bassinet in the hospital, looking intently at her. He could not speak but became very emotional. She is named after him. He was at her baby naming and he heard the rabbi say wonderful things about him when she received her Hebrew name.
Most recently, we took another family vacation and my father was there with my mother and all of his children and grandchildren. He could not participate in most of the activities as he was wheelchair bound, but he knew that he was surrounded by the most important people in his life. I know he was happy because he would look at us and shed a tear and give a weak chuckle.
We have had almost seven years to cope with his illness. My mother, sisters, and I have become each other’s support network. We have finally gotten used to the fact that he cannot take care of all of us, and everyone, especially my mother, has become more independent as a result. Despite my anger and sadness, for the most part, I learned to accept it. It’s the circle of life, right?
But on some days, I relapse and can’t cope. I can’t accept the fact that my father is fighting a losing battle. It robbed my father of his mind, his dignity, and his independence. It robbed my mother of her husband and, of course, his daughters of their father.
Father’s Day reminds me that I am not only an adult, but also someone’s child. His child. It is hard to remember this when you are raising kids, working, maintaining a house, and being a wife. The times I miss my father the absolute most is when I want to regress and leave my adult world for a while. And he used to allow me to do that. Those are the days when I want to crawl up into his arms and tell him about everything going on in my life. He would stay on the phone with me for hours and listen to any problem I had, no matter how trivial. He was the voice of reason, optimism, and hope. He cracked jokes (albeit, bad jokes) when I needed to laugh. His greatest gift, and one that I appreciate so much, was to show me the silver lining in the most unpleasant scenario. That would always help me move on.
Now, he is no longer there to coddle and comfort me the way that he used to, and for that, I miss my father, my superhero, especially on this holiday that is dedicated to fathers.
At my wedding, we danced our father-daughter dance to “I’ll Remember” by Madonna. I listen to that song from time to time. The lyrics resonate with me even more so nine years later then they did at my wedding. “I’ll remember the strength that you gave me, the love that you gave me, now that I’m standing on my own… I’ll remember… happiness.”
I feel privileged to have experienced my father’s unconditional love and guidance for the many years he was able to provide it to me. I always wished that one day my father would be the same role model and teacher to my daughters. But as this is no longer the case, I find myself teaching my daughters many of life’s lessons that my father taught me in a positive and upbeat manner. I cradle and coddle them (and will do so as long as I can). I walk hand in hand with them to synagogue, sharing my father’s stories, teachings, and anecdotes. As I do so, it makes me feel a stronger connection with my father.
Perhaps, if he could, he would say that is the silver lining.