I haven't written anything on my website in several months. But I was trying to think of the best gift I could give my Dad for Christmas this year. While I think I've picked out many nice things that he will enjoy, I've decided the greatest gift I can give him is making sure he knows how much I admire him. I wish I could tell the world how much I admire my Dad. And although I may not be able to tell the world, I can tell anybody who is willing to read my words.
The older I've gotten, the more I've learned to appreciate my Dad and the sacrifices he made for his family. Anyone that knows my Dad can tell you that you don't even have to be related to us for him to treat you like family. His door is always open, and he's always willing to help. I could tell a lot of stories about him, but I'm not sure there is anybody that could tell better stories about my Dad than my Mom. My Dad met my Mom on a blind date. I remember my Mom telling me that she thought he was charming and that he could make anybody laugh. There is one story about my parents dating history that I have always found particularly funny. My mom used to love to tell it, and my Dad always swore to us that she was exaggerating. My Mom worked at a bank and was getting ready for the annual Christmas party. My parents were broken up at the time, and Mom said that Dad found out she was bringing another date to the party. He called her and told her she needed to "ditch the guy" and go out with him instead. My Mom, being the nice girl that she was, told my Dad she couldn't just "ditch" her date. So my Dad told her he needed to warn her about something very serious. My Dad proceeded to tell my Mom that he had heard the guy my Mom was going on a date with had "stuck his head out of a car window and it had been hit by a bus or something" and that the guy "wasn't right in the head." My Mom said, "Oh come on, Dean, there is no way that's true!" It obviously wasn't true, but my Mom said she couldn't help but laugh every time she thought about what he said. Of course, it was my Dad, not the poor guy who "got hit by a bus" that my Mom ended up marrying. My Dad always knew how to make my Mom laugh, even when she was mad at him. I also remember my Mom telling me that my Dad was very romantic. That was something else she loved about him. When I was a kid, it wasn't that unusual for me to see my parents slow dancing in the hallway to "Just The Way You Look Tonight." It wasn't until I was older that I realized not everybody's parents were that close. My parents raised three kids together. Whenever my parents felt like they messed up, they would apologize to my brothers and me. That's something else that I now realize isn't that common. My parents weren't too prideful to tell their kids (or each other) when they made a mistake and ask for forgiveness.
Dad would never want me to lead people to think he is perfect, but I think that's one of the greatest things about him. My Dad always taught my brothers and me that people are flawed and that it's okay. My Dad taught us how to have empathy for others and to put ourselves in someone else's shoes before we judged them or took something personal. If it wasn't for my Dad, I might have grown up to be a bitter person who believed that everyone that wronged me was out to get me. Instead, my Dad taught me that most people are just the same as me. They want to be loved and appreciated. And that when they mess up, it's best to try and understand their side of things, realize their past has shaped them and forgive whenever possible. My Dad made a conscience decision that he wanted to be there for his kids. He made a real effort to be at every school or church program, every recital, and every baseball or basketball game that we had, even if it meant he had to work even later after we went to sleep. My Dad taught me by example that family and friends are what really matters in life. He didn't just say these words, he lived them. He still lives them by example every day. Most people that know my family are aware that my Mom was diagnosed with younger-onset Alzheimer's about five years ago. She probably had it for several years before that, but she was misdiagnosed several times. My mother was still young, beautiful and vibrant. It just didn't seem possible to anyone that she could have "an old person's disease." Over the last five years, everyone that knows my mom has had to watch Alzheimer's steal her from us. And it has stolen something personal from each and every one of us that has known her. Alzheimer's has stolen a friend, a sister, an aunt, a cousin, a mother, a wife, and a great woman. We have each felt a personal loss because every one of those relationships was different and meaningful. But I'm not sure that anyone has felt as much pain as my Dad has felt losing his wife. My Dad had to become a caregiver when my parents were supposed to be starting the next chapter of their lives. This chapter was supposed to be filled with traveling, time with family and good memories. Instead, it has been filled with devastating heartache, pain, endless stress, financial burdens, anger and unspeakable tragedy. To try and explain everything my Dad has dealt with in caring for my mother would be impossible. There is just no way for me to fully convey the deep ache I feel watching my Dad lose the love of his life. My Dad does EVERYTHING for my mom. There is nothing my Dad hasn't done for my mom. My Dad, who would tell you himself that he wasn't very good at anything domestic, learned to cook, do laundry, paint nails and help my mom put on her makeup. He ironed her clothes, he did her hair, he gave her baths, he brushed her teeth, and he did pretty much anything else you can imagine. Things that you or I couldn't even fathom having to do for another person, my Dad has done for my Mom. He did all of this while also working full time and raising my little brother, who was only 14 when my mom was diagnosed. When you do these things for a child, the reward is seeing them grow up and learn new things, and feeling the love they give you in return. When you are doing these things for an adult with Alzheimer's, you don't get those rewards. The person doesn't thank you because they don't understand what is happening. A lot of times, they even get mad at you. They don't learn new things, or remember what you told them, and they get worse every day. There is no reward, or feel good moments. It's not pretty or heartwarming, and that's a big reason the growing epidemic of Alzheimer's disease is still ignored in this country. My Dad could've easily shut down and said he couldn't deal with any of it. But he didn't do that. In fact, it wasn't until a few months ago that we were able to convince him that my Mom would be better off in an Alzheimer's specific facility. Even now, it's still a very stressful time for us as my mother's condition continues to deteriorate. Each day brings something new and difficult to deal with. It's been hard to watch my Dad deal with all of this. My Dad has never had an easy life. Even well before my mom got sick, my Dad was caring for family members. He lost his own Dad when he was younger than me. He lost his mother, sister and aunt (who was kind of like a second mother to him) all within a few short years of each other. My Dad, more than anyone I know, has every right to hate the world. I wouldn't blame him at all if he completely shut down. Life hasn't dealt him an easy hand. But even with all the tragedy, I've never once heard him blame anyone else. It would be wrong for me to let people think all of this hasn't impacted my Dad. It has definitely taken its toll. But even now, my Dad continues to amaze me with his determination to see the positive in every situation. My Dad is a testament to picking yourself up, and pressing forward. He teaches me every day that life is what you make of it. My Dad has taught me that even though all of life isn't wonderful, I can still do my best to make it a wonderful life for me and for others. He has taught me that life is short and that most of what we worry about doesn't matter. My Dad always likes to say that everyone needs three things in life to make them happy:
1. Someone to love.
2. Someone that loves them.
3. Something to look forward to.
My mom will never be able to thank my Dad for all the things he has done for her. But I can do my best to thank him on her behalf. So thanks, Dad, for loving my mother so unconditionally. Thank you for everything. She would be so proud of you and how well you've continued to take care of our family. You are a great husband, father, brother, uncle, and friend. I have never once doubted your love for me, my brothers, my mom or our family.
So I think it's safe to say that you love us, and we definitely love you. I also know Mom would want you to spend some time looking forward, and she would want you to still try and make it a wonderful life. You deserve happiness more than anyone I know. Thanks for making it a wonderful life for me, Dad.
I love you more than words can say.
Your Daughter, Katee
I hope that me writing this will encourage others to do something similar for the special people in their lives. Happy Holidays.