The other night (Dec 10, 2012) I had the chance to spend a few minutes with my wife and son on a skype call to my mother and father on his birthday. It was their first skype at their house, they’d been involved in a few others but still it was just so much better than a phone call. 75 years old and 75 years young.
My dad is special. I’m hopeful that all sons and daughters are able to say the same thing but sadly I know that is not always the case. For me, for my life, my dad has been special even if there were times I failed to recognize just how special, how wise and how instructive he was.
Why share this in a post? Like millions of other sons around the world my dad has recently been diagnosed with Alzheimers and things have become pretty short term in what seems like a flash. I know he’s given much and has more to give, my reflection provides one side of a set of mirrors and his presents that eternal reflection over time.
Perhaps your dad’s have taught you similar lessons.
At the top of the list for me my dad taught me work. I don’t know for sure when the first time was he said it, I’ve always told others it was a time I was weeding the garden but I think most of those times it was my mom cracking the whip…metaphorically of course…but I hated spiders (daddy long legs specifically) crawling on me while I was doing it and I’d beg to be excused. “I wish I didn’t have to do this…” Any wish that avoided work was met with the phrase “Wish in one hand spit in the other and see which one fills up faster” He’d illustrate by spitting on the one hand slapping it against the other, rubbing them together and grabbing the shovel to get to work. It has stuck with me my entire life…sports, coaching, teaching, working on my own degrees, raising a family….I wish…well get to work.
From as early as I can remember my dad was a great story teller, teacher (though not university trained most of his teaching was in Sunday School/Seminary settings) and public speaker, he loved to draw the connections of outside experiences to whatever situation connecting metaphors wherever he might from whatever he could connect. I always wanted to be that teacher who could help students, in whatever setting see the connection and understand the why…that’s from my dad.
I don’t know anyone who was better able to sleep whenever and wherever he needed to sleep. In the early 60’s there was a “trading post” just across the bridge into/out of “downtown” Banff. As kids we’d go into to get stick candy, Dad worked for the morning paper in Calgary at that time, The Calgary Albertan so he worked all night. We came out of the store and there he was lying on the grass sound asleep snoring like a lion and I recall Japanese tourists taking his picture. Not at all uncommon was his falling asleep during a football game or show on tv and then insisting he hadn’t missed a minute. My wife will tell you I do the same. Need the rest, take the rest where you can.
I have coached volleyball, basketball and for most of my life football. My interest in coaching came from my dad though “just” a newspaper man he volunteered and coached volleyball and basketball. As a volleyball coach he took Sir Winston Churchill High School to a city championship in the early 70’s and I believe to the provincial finals. He coached church basketball and volleyball as well. Church basketball in Calgary and Southern Alberta…well it could be pretty competitive, the joke in the church is that it is the only war that starts with an opening prayer. Dad took the volleyball team all the way to “All-Church” when that tournament used to exist. There are hundreds of men today who remember that he introduced them to basketball through the “mini-basketball program” particularly in Edmonton later in his life and finally while he and mom were serving missions in the Ukraine he arranged to have basketballs shipped over and taught the game there while in his 60’s.
Service leadership…not sure I have enough space to write about this, suffice it to say that Dad has always been available to help whoever needs help in whatever way he can help. As seniors he and mom have served to missions spanning 3 years and only the downturn in his health prevented a third mission. They have shown all of us the way. My dad is not a great cook; that’s my mom’s area, but he is a great cook’s helper packing food to catering jobs and working in the kitchen even to this day.
My dad loves my mom. I don’t think too much more is required there and I really don’t think a father can do anything more important than this in raising his boys, love their mom. They’ve been married since May of 1958 through 4 boys and all that 4 boys can bring and a life time of victories and defeats and through it all my dad loves my mom.
As the weeks and months pass on Alzheimers is doing what it does and Dad’s memory is going, he knows it and we know it but our feelings – all those feelings they don’t go away. It is the one thing the desease cannot touch. We may lose the ability to express what we’ve felt, what we’ve experienced, even who we are or what are relationships are…but the feelings stay.
A week or two ago sitting in a James Bond movie of all places I found myself listening to the words of Tennyson from the poem Ulysses. It hit me that even in the sunset of life there is always so much we can learn from each other and that I can and will continue to learn from and share with my dad. I share the last stanza with you below:
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
Thanks Dad, I continue to learn from you and the feelings and memories are eternal.
Sir John Gielgud shares a few words from the poem Ulysses by Lord Alfred Tennyson