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It’s two months, three weeks and two days ’til my Berfday.

January 31, 2013

My dad used to call me every day: always to say he loves me, often to offer unsolicited professional advice, and sometimes to provide a countdown to his Birthday.

“It’s two months, three weeks and two days ’til my Berfday,” he would inform me, his genuine giddiness a product of growing up an only child, eternally in his parents’ spotlight. Immediately after inhaling cake and ice cream with family gathered at the dining room table, he would say, “I’m ready to open presents now.”

“Well hold on Robert, people aren’t done eating,” Mother would roll her eyes but also giggle.

Daddy would count down to Timber’s and my Birthdays as well, beginning about a month beforehand.

“It’s about 12 hours and 10 minutes ’til yer Berfday,” he’d say, referencing the exact minute I entered the world.

Nowadays, Daddy neither calls me nor cares about momentous occasions such as a tornado that smashed the countryside near my childhood home, my wedding and—most shockingly—his Birthday. Daddy’s even-keel apathy isn’t his fault but a manifestation of Alzheimer’s disease. And my sister Timber thinks he’s stopped calling us because he no longer understands how to fully operate a phone. Several months ago he asked Timber for instructions on how to place a call in case he needed something while left home alone for a couple hours.

Mother will put Daddy on the phone with me when I ask, and after an average of 30 seconds he anxiously hands it back to her. I recently accepted that Daddy probably never will call me again: a difficult realization, particularly since his past telephone prowess brought me so much joy »

In June 2011 Daddy’s colleagues noticed declines in his job performance, and Mother had picked up on weird behaviors but only would stop to think “Hmph…” Neither party disclosed their observations to each other, or me. At that point I still assumed my parents peacefully would die of natural causes in their sleep in their mid 90s. However, a voicemail Daddy left me on the morning of the first day of summer uplifted me so much that I saved it for months, resaving it every time Verizon threatened to delete it in 14 days. After Daddy’s diagnosis I stored the file on my external hard drive, rejoicing that my gut convinced me to salvage it in the first place. The voicemail perfectly encapsulates Daddy’s defining qualities: high energy, a Southern twang and public speaking grace:

The following Christmas my nuclear family along with Daddy’s coworkers knew something was horribly wrong, but the casual observer claimed he seemed perfectly fine. Despite Daddy’s irrational behavior, such as driving around in the middle of the night, calling his secretary with the same question several times a day, and extreme obsessive compulsiveness overall, he managed to leave me a normal-sounding holiday voicemail:

After that, the voicemails stopped, until Daddy called on my Birthday in March 2012—also the day of his Alzheimer’s diagnosis. His vibrancy had vanished; his once rhythmic cadence, an apprehensive stutter; his formerly poetic diction, forlorn and to the point:

While the third message makes my stomach fall, I will keep it forever—an aural scrap of Daddy’s former self, my real father who used to get jacked up about life especially Birthdays.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 5, 2013 8:58 am

    Bobbin,

    My Dad is 5’4″ and has never weighed more than 145lb, but I remember his personality was once titanic. When I was a child, his demeanor around others was colorful, boisterous, and magnetic. He lived in India until he turned sixteen, then he traversed to England, where he married my mother at nineteen. In this time, he also managed to cultivate an accent so ridiculous I’m not sure I understood a full sentence of his until I was six… and he was thirty.

    This is when he moved us to America, leaving behind his friends, parents, siblings, and the only world he’d ever known. Still, he powered on, never quite making his mark on life, but leaving a small-statured impression in people’s hearts. Even as I hit my teens and therefore, regretfully, found him to be a bit embarrassing, his over-the-top Cockney-cum-Gujarati yammering would win over my friends, though they had no idea what he’d just said. I have a penchant for mimicking accents, but I’ve never been able to duplicate his, even by request.

    My mother, on the other hand, was demanding, cruel, and harsh. Kindness did not flow from her as a young woman; she was impossible to please, even with a quiet, straight-A student for a child. I grew up in one of those homes you hear about: parents screaming all day, pots flying, someone driving away… By twelve, I realized that her selfish and crude behavior stemmed from a deep depression, which I resented because she’d allowed it to infect me. As my relationship with my mother grew more strained, my father remained my rock, an anchor in the unknown. With his help, I got through my teens.

    When I hit my twenties, I attacked my depression head on, and I conquered it, proving to her that it was a matter of will. This calmed my mother down some. I moved out, found my way, had one kid and basically adopted another. My mom is actually a pretty decent grandma most of the time; I have to scold her for some bigoted nonsense only about twice a month now. Sometimes I have to remind Angus, my little one, “It’s okay. Ba’s a little crazy, but she just loves you so much.”

    My Dad, on the other hand, has lost his zeal almost entirely. His walking pace – once impossible to keep up with – is now slow and weighted. His green eyes only sparkle when he sees Angus. He doesn’t speak if he can avoid it. He’s given up; my rock has crumbled with depression. It finally got to him, and it’s hard to watch. About a year ago, I had to hold him sobbing into my chest for reasons he wouldn’t say, then he muttered something and wandered into his room to pray. We were alone, and then we weren’t, and we both pretended it never happened. I’m not even ready to discuss something he said to me last week… The good thing is that it’s reinforcing something I already know: that I will never, ever allow this to happen to me or my kids. Not again.

    It’s not the same as what’s happening to your Dad; depression can be tamed, controlled, beaten. But listening to your Dad’s messages reminded me of the man I once had bouncing me on his knee and making flute sounds with his bare hands. Your father’s voice is a very private thing you’re sharing with us; it’s brave and generous of you, Bobbin. I wish had more encouragement, but for now, I can at least offer solidarity and gratitude. From the fathoms, I thank you.

  2. Timber permalink
    February 10, 2013 9:37 pm

    I have to admit: I do miss Daddy’s countdowns. Sometimes his personality still shines through, though. A couple of weeks ago, something went awry…I don’t remember quite what it was, but Mother was VERY frustrated. Daddy, with his characteristic disregard for Mother’s aggravation, simply said, “You know, none of this would have happened if we had a Maine Coon cat.”

Trackbacks

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