Early in 2007 my youngest brother Jason called and said that Dad was changing, and he thought that we should put together a family canoe trip.
(My Dad had been mugged outside a restaurant in Ocala, Florida in 2001 and was hit hard on the head. He started having headaches right away, and then memory losses, and then his personality started to change.)
We took that canoe trip later in the year, all six of us surprising my Dad for a wonderful weekend together in North Carolina.
It’s been a slow decline for my Dad and painful to experience. When I asked my Mom what year he was mugged I couldn’t believe that it was so long ago.
I noticed on that canoe trip that my Dad was different – he was fading from the gregarious person that someone once called, “a compulsive talker” to a more reflective and quieter person. He stopped working. He stopped driving. He stopped writing stories. He stopped calling. He stopped emailing. And as I write this today he is not only forgetting the visits of his children, he is forgetting who we are. Of course, none of this was his choice and his doctor said that it was intelligence that slowed the decline.
It’s difficult to write those words but we have all accepted the reality of my Dad’s condition and are concentrating on supporting him and my Mom as best we can. We just hope that his final days, no matter how many, are peaceful.
On this Father’s Day I remember the time when I was ten years old when I learned the importance of having a father.
It was 1976, and I had a block of wood and a bag of parts to build a race car for the upcoming Cub Scout pinewood derby in Rockford, Illinois. I started whittling away at the wood but didn’t make much progress.
My Dad had an idea, and he took the block of wood to a friend’s house and shaped it on the bandsaw into a streamlined replica of a soapbox derby car like the ones he raced when he growing up in Indiana. He helped me to sand it and paint it red white and blue, in honor of the bicentennial — but my Dad did most of the work.
I remember feeling angry, that my Dad had taken over my project.
When we arrived at the pinewood derby at the next pack meeting, I saw my friend Danny Brown’s car. It was still the square block of wood that came in the kit. No whittled wood, no sanding, and painted with water color paint.
Danny’s dad didn’t live with him – his parents were divorced. He had to get that car ready on his own. In retrospect it was the most beautiful car that I have ever seen.
My anger faded away when I saw that car and I was grateful to have a Dad. Later that night my car won 3rd place in the pinewood derby.
My pinewood derby car sat in a checkbook box for many years. The axles had broken, the wheels were long gone, and it would never race again.
One day in New Jersey about twenty years ago I found a set of pinewood derby car wheels in a hobby shop, and asked my Dad to fix my car.
He formed new axles, touched up the paint, put on the new wheels, and built me a beautiful stained wood base to display it proudly.
It’s been some time since my Dad could operate a bandsaw, or sand wood, or send me an email or tell me a story. That’s okay, he helped me make that car and I’ll remember him for all of the times that he was there for me.
Thank you, Dad. I love you, and Happy Father’s Day.
My dad died on April 23, 2021, and I sang, “Back Home Again in Indiana” to him as my brother Jason and I held his hand and said goodbye. We will miss him.