I Love You, Dad

To commemorate Father’s Day this Sunday, this weekend’s guest blogger is Mary Baum.

She honors her father by providing a candid, detailed account of her favorite memories with him:

My Father has Alzheimer’s disease. Ironically, I have worked in the field of Alzheimer’s care for 15 years. However, this does not make one immune from the emotional impact of the diagnosis. This is after all my Dad.

For Father’s Day I’d like to honor my Dad by telling a little of his life story and some of my favorite memories. He was a stoic man who rarely wore his emotions on his sleeve, but showed us that he loved us every day. My Dad grew up in Rockland, Maine, joined the Army, and after his four-year stint looked forward to his discharge as he recalled, “I didn’t much care for the Army life.”  He attended the University of Maine and married my mom, Rosalie. They moved to Massachusetts to begin his career in the insurance business. They raised me and my sister in a two-story cape where he finished the upstairs of the house on nights and weekends. I was his constant shadow and he would take this time to teach me how to wallpaper, how to install a new light fixture (always turn off the circuit breaker) and how to install trim molding (measure twice, cut once). Mostly I just carried a hammer and had my very own carpenter’s apron with a pocket for nails to hand him when he called for one.

My father was a loyal Red Sox fan and he took me to a Sox game once a summer. He taught me how to fish, how to ride a bike and how to play catch using the glove that he grew up using; there were no laces between the fingers, just a leather mitt. I remember shopping for my very own glove with him at the local department store, J.M. Field’s, where they made fresh donuts in the store-front window. We would pause to watch and invariably get a donut or two for the ride home. Good report cards were rewarded with a father and daughter outing for a Jim Dandy Sundae sitting on the red vinyl seats of the chromed stools at the counter of Friendly’s.  My father played the piano and even had a Sesame Street sheet music book just for me.  I think of him when I hear Scott Joplin’s The Entertainer; that was one of his music staples.

Family vacations were two weeks in Maine visiting with my maternal Grandfather “Papa”.  My father was ingenious in keeping me occupied and avoiding the inevitable call from the backseat of the station wagon, “Are we there yet?” as my sister and I struggled  for real estate in the back seat (this is before Wi-Fi, tablets and in-car DVD players). He simply handed me a map and put me in charge of looking for the road signs, locating the next town and calculating how many miles were still ahead of us. Even though I have GPS in my car I still check a map. Thanks, Dad.

After his retirement, Dad wintered in Florida. He has been married to his wife, Sally, and living in Florida for the past 17 years. As his disease has progressed, my sister and I have been a long-distance support to his wife in negotiating this journey. She has been a devoted and loving spouse and care partner.

I visited with my father for a week in May. It took him a few moments to make the connection as to who was standing before him. “Hi Dad. It’s Mary.” He pondered quietly then with a twinkle in his eye he looked at me and asked, “My Mary?”  “Yes Dad,” I replied, “Your Mary”.

I was happy to see that he is content and has a good appetite. I brought with me framed pictures of the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse where we fished many a summer and a framed map of the state of Maine. I hope that these mementos have the ability to transport him back to happy memories whenever he looks at them. His wife visits with him daily and departs gently saying “I’ll be back in a little bit” so he won’t be anxious by her absence. When I left on my last day, I mirrored her by not saying goodbye. “Dad, I’ll be back in a little bit.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. I love you.

About the Author:

Mary Baum is an expert in Alzheimer’s care with 20 years experience in assisted living and long-term care settings in Massachusetts. She has a BA in Psychology from University of Massachusetts and is a Certified Dementia Practitioner. Mary was instrumental in the development of several innovative programs that Senior Living Residences, of MA, implemented in all of their Memory Support Neighborhoods. The Reconnections Program, a curriculum-based adult learning program is based on research that cognitive stimulation may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and recognizing that individuals with memory loss still have the desire and ability to enjoy learning. The Lifetime Achievement Award, by conferring personal recognition and dignity to individuals with memory loss, offers an antidote to the isolation and anonymity they experience.

On a personal level, Mary came face to face with the disease she is expert in treating when her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She knows firsthand that professional knowledge does not make you immune to the emotional impact of that diagnosis, and her own personal experience has intensified her commitment to helping individuals and families cope with dementia.