Thursday, July 12, 2012

My Dad

I got a call from my dad’s neighbors on Sunday. They were concerned about his well-being.

My dad loves the beauty of the outdoors, and has chosen to live in a rural area that provides the serenity he enjoys. But that means he is not nearby, and so we don’t see him too often. And while we go to visit him from time to time, it has been years since he came to stay with us.

But when I got that call, I made the nine-hour round trip to pick him up and drive him back to our house.

I was shocked when he allowed us to take him to see a doctor. To my knowledge, it was the first time in his adult life that he so consented.

Actually, it didn’t happen so easily.

I had hurriedly scheduled an appointment for him, but he said he would not go. He was fine, he insisted. I told him he was not. He still refused to go. We argued.

My wife asked him to go. He likes her better than me. But he still refused. However, on the morning of the appointment, he told my wife, not me, that he would go see the doctor after all.

So we went to see that doctor, and the next day a neurologist. And the following day he went in for an MRI.

And when it was all said and done, we got the diagnosis that I knew was coming. My dad has Alzheimer’s.

Though I’ve known for some time that it was likely the case, as long as no doctor confirmed it, I was able to keep deluding myself that his problems were not so severe.

I will now have to accept it, even if my dad doesn’t. My dad is a tough old coot. He is independent. He is stubborn. He has never admitted a weakness in his whole life, probably because he never had a real reason to.

Even now, he insists he is fine. He believes that he can go on living by himself in the middle of nowhere with no assistance. He is adamant that the neurologist is wrong. That is, when he can remember that he even saw a neurologist.

Though, this morning, I saw a different side of him. As we sat waiting for him to be called in for his MRI, we talked about his situation. For the first time, he told me that he understood that I was trying to look out for his best interests, and that he appreciated it. He acknowledged that he might have to change his ways.

Of course, a couple hours later, he had forgotten that conversation and was back to saying that he was fine and nothing needed to change. But I will remember that little moment.

In fact, between all of the medical business, there have been other moments that I want to hang on to.

At dinner the other day, my dad regaled us with stories about his boyhood days growing up in Hawaii. This man, who forgets anything I tell him within minutes, has perfect memory of his youth. I enjoyed hearing him talk about how he and his friends made their own spear-gun out of scraps, and used it to catch fish and octopus in the ocean. I had no doubt the story was true because I had witnessed countless occasions throughout my life where my dad built things from scratch with no directions. He had ingenuity that I thought came naturally with all dads, but am finding is not so much the case with me.

As his dinnertime stories continued, I asked him when he first learned to hunt. He said that he was about eight years old, and my son perked up. Kai had not appeared to be interested in his grandfather’s stories, but suddenly piped up and asked, “When can I go hunting?” My dad told him there was no place to hunt here, but Kai said that he would go to his grandfather’s place so that Ojiichan can teach him.

There were a few other interactions between them. I don’t remember my dad ever being all that kid-friendly, especially when I was a kid. But with Kai, he made an effort to talk with him. And for a boy who doesn’t always speak clearly, and a man who has difficulty hearing, it was surprising to see how much they did connect.

My dad asked Kai questions, watched him at his swim lesson, and enjoyed seeing him play piano.

Aside from our arguments over his condition, my dad has been remarkably happy all week. In fact, I don’t remember him being this happy in years. I think being around Kai, and my wife, has a lot to do with it.

I know he will not remember the specific events of the week. I’m sure he has forgotten most of them already. But I’d like to think that the good feelings will stay with him.

I know they will with me.

For a week filled with doctor’s appointments and examinations, a terrible diagnosis and lots of discussions with my sister about what this means, the thing I will remember most from this week will have nothing to do with that.

I will always remember it as a week that my dad connected with us like never before.


  1. I am so sorry to hear about your father. My father died early last year and he had suffered dementia for throughout his last year. Although my mother was there to take care of was sad to see. My father and I had discussions during times of lucidity...and as he neared death...he was once again lucid. His last moments were spent with, and his last vision was of, my mother.

    My father and I had talked of life and death...and I discovered his wish to be cremated. I told him that his ashes would be placed in an urn for my mother to have. I also told him of my plans to have a polished black granite family cremation urn holder on my retirement property. It would be approximately four feet high by eight or so feet wide and would have openable doors over compartments designed to hold several urns in each. On the doors I would have the names of the deceased. Inside I would have their life history, their achievements, and their pictures with the urns. I would also have a polished black granite engraved tablet mounted near it showing our family tree. In front of the urn display would be a polished black granite bench for seating. All of this would be set on a particularly beautiful portion of the property filled with fragrant flowers and shade trees, and with the bench facing the viewers may think of their loved ones as they view the to associate serenity with life and death...and to reflect upon their life. It is also a constant reminder that if one is to accept the beauty of life...death is also a part of it. It is the inevitability of death which gives life so much meaning. A memorial shrine serves a great purpose to the living and to the dying.

    The idea, to my father, had given him peace knowing that he would be remembered...and that he would always be with his family. My mother would be placed next to my father. My wife, and I, would be together. My son would be there...etc. I intend to get property to hand down from generation to generation...for my son's retirement home...and for his children...etc. This gives comfort to not only the dying...but to the living. This way...each knows that he will be immortalized in the minds of the one's he cares most about...and of the future generations. This also gives incentive to the living to achieve so their story will be filled with great deeds to be remembered. It is to be...a sort of...Hall Of Champions.

    To be not be acknowledged for one's, I think, one of the saddest things about death. Something such as this, greatly eases the thought of death for all concerned, in my mind.

    Of course, this is my view. I remember in Japan, the stacked mochi with
    the sole mikan on top...the pictures of the deceased on the wall...and the Joss sticks burning.

    And, of course, this particular affliction may not finish its course for another 10 years or so. I cannot say what to say to your father. I merely wanted to give you a description of what I had done...and what I shall order to give you possible options. As you are already doing...cherish the lucid prepared for the times when they are not.

    You must stay strong. Exercise to build your endurance for what is to come...and to be your safety valve for stress.

    Keep your spirits up. You are the Tiger...the leader which the others shall be looking to for stability. You are the Titan...upon which your shoulders your family may rest.

    You must take care of yourself, now, more than ever.
    And always remember, you are setting the example of how to handle your son. He is always watching.

    Take care Yuji.

    1. Shiroi,

      Thank you so much for sharing the experiences you had with your own father. I can always count on you to provide wisdom and good ideas. And it is good to hear what others did in similar circumstances.

      I really like the idea of capturing and preserving the life history and achievements. Long ago, when my mother passed away, my father set up a memorial on their property, with a place where his ashes would be placed next to hers when the time came. He probably does not remember that now, but it gave him comfort back then.

      I appreciate your encouragement. Thanks, Shiroi.

  2. I'm so sorry for the diagnosis. It's a hard one, for sure. But yes, there were many bright spots in your week! Thinking of you as you work through decisions and changes. He's lucky to have you, Yuji. I truly believe that!

    1. Thank you very much, Betsy. There were many nice moments, and I am cherishing those. I appreciate the kind words and support.

  3. Yuji-
    I'm so sorry about the recent diagnosis and the worry that you must be experiencing. I think it is amazing that you and your son have the opportunity to hear your Father's stories. It is true that grandparents have the luxury to have a different relationship with the grandchildren.

    I am sure that you have thought about this, but there are brain/memory exercises that could be helpful. Consider watching the TED Talk Jane McGonigal-The Game That Can Give You 10 more extra years.

    Blessings to you and yours!

    1. Thanks for the tip about Jane McGonigal. I'm watching her video and she has me curious to learn more. I don't know that my dad would be interested, but I may want to do this for myself.

      Thanks for the support, Kelly.

  4. Yuji-
    I don't know if you participate in the blogger awards, but I nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. You can find the details on my latest post!
    I find you inspirational!

    1. Kelly, thank you for the compliment, and for the nomination.

      Things are hectic around here right now, even more than usual, so fulfill all of the obligations, but I appreciate the honor.

  5. OMG I am sending you so many positive thoughts
    LOts of positive vibes to your dad as well
    Hugs Yuji


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