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He’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!

May 30, 2013

My father never liked to talk on the telephone. However, he used to stay on the line with me to discuss the urgency of my earning an MBA, the importance of my starting a Roth IRA, or the irreparable economy. Now Daddy is either disinterested in or incapable of elaborating on the topics that once facilitated father-daughter conversation. These days our 2-minute-tops phone chats revolve around one thing: my cat MacGyver.

“How’s MacGyver doin’?” he always asks.

“He’s doing well. His automatic food dispenser went off, so he’s happy to be eating dinner.”

“That’s my grandcat. He’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

I laugh as if Daddy never had made this joke before. Half of the time, he asks the same question 10 seconds later.

“How was your day?” I attempt to switch the subject.

“Good. Slept a lot. So how’s MacGyver doin’?”

“He’s doing great. He’s eating dinner.”

“Let me tell you, that’s a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

“I know, Daddy. He’s grand all around.”

Daddy and MacGyver when he was four weeks old.

Daddy and MacGyver when he was four weeks old.

A little history: MacGyver’s weight posed a problem until I started feeding him prescription diet food about a year ago. His formerly grand physique continues to provide family joke fodder. Despite MacGyver’s new lithe silky build, perhaps Daddy still remembers his grandcat as borderline rotund and himself as lanky despite his rapid ingestion of chocolate and hot dogs, and subsequent weight gain.

Ryan and I recently considered the idea of buying a house, and I felt sad I couldn’t talk to my father about it.

“You should try,” Ryan encouraged me.

Daddy immediately attempted to get off the phone, but I semi-forced the subject.

“Any advice?” I winced and asked.

“Well… just get somethin’ ya like. Buyin’ a home is the best investment you will ever make.”

Three years ago Daddy would have approved of the idea but also broken down the hidden costs of home ownership, told me to kiss my love of clothing goodbye, and mentioned that my generation never will enjoy the quality of life our parents achieved.

Still, he said something.

“Thanks, Daddy.”

“Yup. How’s MacGyver doin’?”

“He’s awesome. He wants to make sure we buy a house with adequate bird- and squirrel-watching windows.”

“That MacGyver is a grand cat – literally AND figuratively!”

I laughed and released Daddy from the phone so he could go back to sleep.

It’s a good thing you sent Bobbin to the bathroom with me because they moved it.

May 13, 2013

Over the past few months I’ve watched movies depicting male protagonists with fathers suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. While the actors portraying said fathers fulfill only minor roles according to the credits, they add major depth to the plots for me.

In 50/50 Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a twenty-something who develops a malignant spinal tumor, and surmises via Internet research he has a 50% chance to survive. Although the majority of the film revolves around Levitt’s coping with his diagnosis and the toll it takes on his relationships with family, friends, and his girlfriend, a few scenes illustrate the painful distance between Levitt and his father – a distance widened, I believe, by Alzheimer’s disease. At one point Levitt’s father introduces himself to his own son as if they never had met. Later the father responds dispassionately when Levitt says “I love you” before undergoing traumatic spinal surgery. My father recognizes me and still frequently asks about my cat. However, his apathy gradually has increased over the past year. Daddy’s always thoughtful furrowed brow has become a crinkled confused gaze – much like the vacant expression that remains on Levitt’s father. I guess I would call that harrowing look Alzheimer’s Stare.

My husband Ryan lay comatose in front of Friends with Benefits one Sunday evening, and I caught snippets of the story while flitting around the house. However, a strong subplot grabbed my attention. Justin Timberlake’s father has Alzheimer’s disease and requires supervision. Timberlake asks his buddy to check on his father periodically while he’s out one evening, but explains to his father that his friend needs to borrow the kitchen instead.

“I know you’re sending him over to check on me,” his father responds [in a nutshell], still quite cognizant of his condition.

daddy-tasteI often wonder if Daddy understands just how much his personality has dissipated, or if the majority of his social withdrawal can be attributed to memory loss, not identity atrophy. After all, conversations often revolve around recent personal events, the news, and other topics involving the retention of new information.

This weekend my family dined at a hole-in-the-wall oyster bar to celebrate Timber’s graduation from Physician Assistant school. When Daddy announced he was going to use the restroom, I flung myself over our picnic table to follow him, in case he became disoriented or lost.

When we returned to the table he said, “It’s a good thing you sent Bobbin to the bathroom with me because they moved it.” (I had accompanied him there a half hour prior as well.)

How demoralizing it must be to recognize you have to be babysat; how inspiring my father is for carrying on with a sense of humor.

The simplicity of our beer orders, even, became chaotic. Ryan requested a Yuengling; me, a Blue Moon; Daddy, a Miller Lite. However, when the waitress dropped off our brews, Daddy seemed confident he had asked for the Yuengling. To the waitress, we probably looked catty, ruthless, crazy.

“Well you know I’ve got this memory problem,” Daddy finally conceded.

At dinner the next night I watched Daddy grind his teeth – a habit he has formed since developing Alzheimer’s. I often grind my teeth while engaging in an intense daydream or thought; maybe that means Daddy’s brain is wheeling with activity after all.

I appreciate Hollywood’s recent inclusion of minor characters with Alzheimer’s disease. If a movie character were based on my father, he should be the focus, the hero.

Do you want to get fat? Because you already are.

May 2, 2013

My big sister Timber is blunt. I don’t know where she gets it. The rest of our nuclear family thrives on passivity while Timber enjoys engaging in verbal vitriol. She has no problem telling Daddy he’s gotten fat. The other day Timber asked Daddy if he would like to join her for a walk.

“Nope!” he answered.

“You need to exercise. You’ve gotten fat.”

Daddy lifted his iPad over his head, slammed it on the floor and screamed, “THAT’S BULLSHIT!”

I wonder if Daddy only remembers the 50-pound-lighter version of himself. Perhaps Daddy’s short-term memory loss explains his daily shock to discover his pants no longer fit. Timber’s relentless reminders even can’t permeate the tangles in his brain.

“Do you want to get fat? Because you already are,” she noted the other day when Daddy refused to accompany Mother to the gym.

Timber lived with Ryan and me for the entire month of April while completing a psychiatry clinical rotation as part of her Master of Physician Assistant degree. She traveled to three different hospitals over the course of four weeks and observed both support groups and one-on-one therapy sessions for people recovering from addictions or psychiatric episodes.

Every evening she brought home new information that could be applied to my own set of mental problems.

“Today the group took a quiz to determine whether they exhibit passive or aggressive behavior,” Timber began, handing me a blank worksheet. “I would like to think that I am assertive.”

“I know. You’re flawless,” I squinted.

“Take the quiz. I want to know how you score.”

“Whatever, you know you’re aggressive.”

The next night Timber staged an intervention of sorts with Ryan and me.

“Y’all take a cab when you’ve been drinking, right?” she asked with her arms crossed, blocking the TV.

“Yeah. Most of the time,” Ryan answered.

“People often are more intoxicated than they realize, and drive when they shouldn’t be operating a vehicle,” she continued.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” I moaned, swatting her away from the latest episode of Wives with Knives on the Investigation Discovery channel.

The following Saturday I woke up with scabs on my knee and hand, unaware of their origin.

“That’s a sign of drunkenness,” Timber blurted from the corner while sipping tea.

“Whatever, I remember now. I fell on a fountain. So there!”

“I really want you to go to WHC* for your eating disorder,” Timber notified me another night, forcing me to accept one of the counselor’s cards.

“I don’t have an eating disorder anymore. I eat!” I huffed.

“You have an unhealthy image of your body.”

“Thank you so much for your daily critique” became my mechanical response to Timber’s nightly intrusions.

Around week two I started making fun of Timber’s lectures. “A schizophrenic patient at the clinic really reminded me of you todayI met a meth addict with a personality very similar to yours this morning…” I mocked her.

“Bobbin,” Timber sighed. “You act as though this experience didn’t cause me to engage in any self-reflection at all.

“Ha! So you aren’t perfect!! ! ! !” I stomped.

*Facility acronym has been changed.

***

Last week I ate lunch with a friend whose father recently passed away. She vividly described her father during his last days (uncomfortable and solely concerned with water and food) and noted she doesn’t want to remember him that way. It must be hard not to cling to those final images of our loved ones.

If Daddy wakes up every morning believing he’s 50 pounds lighter and a few years younger, I wonder if that mode of thinking also applies to Timber and me — those years before we started building our own families and lives. I can’t blame him for running on a treadmill time machine: physically present but mentally stuck in the past. For Daddy those were happier days.

That one’s headed for Memphis.

April 12, 2013

My father’s family physician demanded that he stop driving more than a year ago. Subsequent visits to the neurologist and psychologist ended with them asking my mother, “You’ve taken the keys away, right?” On a medical chart under the “Driving” section, one doctor wrote “Never” in red and underlined it. Daddy without a doubt no longer can safely operate a vehicle.

In an instant Mother’s role switched from carefree passenger to constant chauffeur, from wife to exhausted caregiver. While Daddy remains the captain of his soul, Mother steers his day-to-day life. Daddy’s overall loss of independence is emasculating, but, to me, driving in particular underscores a father’s manhood. This past Christmas my father-in-law drove my husband, mother-in-law, and me around his neighborhood to scope out the entrants for the annual community holiday light competition. He navigated the side streets and cul-de-sacs while we suctioned ourselves to the windows, noting the sophistication of classic manger scenes; smiling at old-fashioned bubble lights; and laughing at a tacky ice skating Snoopy that actually moved. My stomach packed into a snowball when I thought about Daddy, unable to take us on Christmas light car tours; on long, scenic rides through the North Georgia mountains; or somewhere as simple as the store.

The other day Mother left Daddy at home while she ran a few errands. My uncle, however, had come over to complete some yard work Daddy can’t do anymore. When Mother returned, her brother approached her with a confused expression, apprehensive about whether to bring up what weighed on his mind.

“What?!” she prodded.

“Uh. Is he s’posed to be drivin’?”

While Mother was away, Daddy backed the truck out of the garage and down the driveway, and left.

“He wudn’t gone all that long,” my uncle said.

“And how did he get the keys?!” I hysterically interrogated Mother when she later relayed the story to me.

“I left them in the ignition. They are hidden now,” she emphasized before I could freak out.

Perhaps Daddy escaped to the local Citgo station to purchase a candy bar, or coasted across nearby Cornelison Road to view the chicken houses and open fields and corn rows. Another lost freedom is taking a country drive alone.

The driving incident reminded me of a poem I wrote for Daddy in college, when per usual I mourned his future death.

The Meteor Shower

At four a.m. Daddy shines his flashlight in my face,
pulls me out of bed and says “C’mon.”

I follow his lean silhouette down the hall,
the sound of the pine needles crackling under his feet.

He stops at the top of the hill and opens his arms
to magnificent meteors drizzling down the sky.

“That one’s headed for Memphis,” he says, as I realize that,
like stars, my daddy’s not forever.

That star must have melted over Memphis
when my single tear hit the ground.

Have you picked out some panties for your Easter basket yet?

April 2, 2013

My excitement over Easter might confuse my hardcore religious friends since I no longer attend church or follow the strict dogma by which I was raised. However, the story of Jesus’ resurrection in tandem with spring inspires me to celebrate rejuvenation, rebirth, and reconnection with my loved ones.

me helping Daddy with his Easter basket

me helping Daddy with his Easter basket

And I won’t lie: the commercialization of Easter appeals to me, too. Every year my mother presents Timber and me with a basket filled with seasonal candy and other items we perhaps expressed a need for over the winter, such as facial moisturizers, muffin pans, or toenail polish. The only item that Mother consistently nestles amongst Cadbury Creme Eggs and fake pastel grass is a selection of “five for 25” panties from Victoria’s Secret. Before I discovered boy shorts, I went through a phase of sporting thongs, as I assumed they were my only option for maintaining an invisible panty line. Dressed in my Sunday best, I hung lacey, stringy, and faux rosebud-spotted thongs on my arm and swung it around as a gesture of gratitude, surrounded by my clapping Mother; equally stoked sister; and silent, tolerant father.

This year Mother requested that I select some panties for my Easter basket, but I didn’t have time to scour the Victoria’s Secret site for an assortment of boy shorts. One recent night while I was rushing to get ready to go out with Ryan, Mother called. Stressed, I put the call on speaker:

“Bobbin? Bobbin?! HELLO?” Mother yelled.

“Yes, Mother.”

“I just wanted to check. Have you picked out some panties for your Easter basket yet?”

Ryan paused his iPhone He-Man game to shake his head in disbelief.

“You have an interesting relationship with your family,” he later commented.

Timber and her Easter panties

Timber and her Easter panties

On Sunday Mother presented Daddy, Timber, Ryan, and me with generous Easter goody bags. I ogled Timber while she surveyed her bag’s contents until she reached the panties on the bottom layer. She held up one unique pattern, paused, and moved onto the next pattern until done displaying her new underwear. (Ryan received not underwear but wine.)

After the basket fest, I made a special egg dish for Daddy and Ryan, and summoned both of them to join me in the breakfast room. Daddy stopped in the kitchen, hovered over a bowl of deviled egg stuffing, and spooned it onto his plate, confusing the yolk/mustard/vinegar mixture for his breakfast.

“Mmm-MMM!” he exclaimed.

“Robert! NO!” Mother screamed.

Once I figured out the source of commotion, I yelled, “Come in here, Daddy! I already set up your food on the table!”

“That does look like a bowl of scrambled eggs,” Ryan defended Daddy.

I admit that Easter this year didn’t feel rejuvenating at least on the surface. When we walked the dogs at the local recreation center, Daddy’s gait seemed noticeably slower and more like a shuffle; we didn’t talk about much until I hit the jackpot asking him about R&R from the Vietnam War in Australia; and the deviled egg breakfast mix-up was both funny and disturbing.

However, I insist on rising from the sorrow of Alzheimer’s and connecting with my family on a deeper level. Next year and every following year, I aim to give my mother an Easter basket.

Sometimes it takes two days to get over a real good one.

March 27, 2013

On Saturday morning I woke up naked spooning Timber with Ryan asleep on the other side of me and my cat MacGyver at the foot of the bed. Once again a hangover would prevent me from fully enjoying an afternoon outing with my family. (See “We’ll getchye a barf bag.”.) Nevertheless I gagged on a cup of coffee and drove Timber and me to the Roswell Square to meet my parents for lunch. I heard Daddy mention that he wanted a Terrapin ale with his meal, but he forgot to request it when the woman at the counter took his order.

“Didn’t you want to get the beer, too?” I asked.

“Yes, I’ll have the beer,” he said to the cashier.

“What kind of beer?” she inquired.

“Whatever you wanna put on it.”

“No, Robert! She asked what kind of BEER you want, not what you want on your SANDWICH!” Mother poked him with her signature frustration. “You said you wanted the TERRAPIN!”

“Oh. Yeah. The Terrapin,” he muttered.

Just a few weeks ago at the Horizon Theatre, a similar social mishap involving beer occurred.

My family huddled around the concession booth and salivated at the sight of the enormous chocolate chip cookies.

“I like the name of ‘at beer,” Daddy pointed to an Ass Kisser lined up with the other alcoholic options.

“Would you like one?” asked the play volunteer, holding a cold bottle in one hand and an opener in the other.

“Yeah, but don’t open it. I want to take it home.”

“Okay,” she went along with it.

“Can I just have this warm one?” he gestured toward the display.

I grabbed the bottle and shoved it in my purse so Daddy wouldn’t lose it.

“Who’d I give that to?” Daddy asked seconds later while Mother paid for our snacks.

“Me,” I answered.

We probably looked kind of crazy.

Robert Grady Wages, Jr.

Robert Grady Wages, Jr.

As if inebriated, Daddy has released many parental inhibitions; he no longer disciplines me with Army Ranger ferocity and discusses most subject matter he once deemed taboo.

“Have you ever had a really bad hangover?” I asked him while we sat on a bench, waiting for Mother and Timber to finish perusing a store.

“Yep. Several. More than several. Sometimes it takes two days to get over a real good one.”

When Mother and Timber bounded out of the store with a bird bath, Daddy nodded toward the bench across from us.

“Why don’t you girls go sit on that bench?” he asked.

“What?” Mother squinted.

“Why don’t you girls go sit on that bench?”

They lowered their beehonki onto the iron.

“My God,” Daddy whispered. “They’re really gonna do it.”

I howled and spanked my thighs as Daddy chuckled, too. I’ve shared more laughs with my father since his Alzheimer’s diagnosis than in the 28 preceding years. We’ve met somewhere on a bridge between discipline and friendship.

Daddy’s Silver Linings Playbook Moment

March 14, 2013

My family loved Silver Linings Playbook, especially the scene in which Pat (Bradley Cooper) awakes his parents in the middle of the night while looking for his wedding video. The search cannot wait until morning, and everyone must share Pat’s misery until the video is located. In a similar scene, Pat storms into his parents’ bedroom at 4 a.m. to lament the sad ending to Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (see video below).


“Did I tell you about your daddy’s Silver Linings Playbook moment?” Mother asked me on the phone.

“Uh. No, what happened?” I asked, envisioning Daddy participating in a dance competition, beating a man to death in a bathtub, or jeopardizing his retirement savings in a football bet gone wrong.

A notice from Daddy’s insurance provider arrived in the mail citing the rejection of a recent $4,000 medical claim as well as a possibility for reconsideration. Daddy became enraged and riled up, particularly since the doctor who performed his sleep apnea test assured my parents that insurance would cover the costs. Despite the letter’s Saturday arrival, Daddy threatened to call the insurance company; however, Mother managed to convince him that the office would be closed.

Around midnight, Mother stirred to the sound of Daddy hollering “Speak to representative! SPEAK TO REPRESENTATIVE!” on the insurance company’s automated telephone line.

“Go back to bed, Robert!” Mother yelled. “There’s nothing you can do right now!” (Because of Daddy’s relentless snoring—hence the sleep apnea test—Mother and her West Highland terrier now slumber in my old bedroom.)

“All right, fine!” Daddy conceded.

About an hour later Mother heard the light flick on in the adjacent computer room.

“What are you doing?!” Mother screamed.

“Lookin’ up some stuff about this bill on the Internet!” Daddy explained.

“But there’s nothing you can do! Go back to bed!”

“All right, all right…”

The cycle continued two times.

While Daddy’s primary and secondary insurance carriers haven’t reached a final decision about the medical bill, the results of his sleep apnea test are in: while a “normal” snoozer stops breathing five times per hour, Daddy stops breathing 163 times per hour. Needless to say, he suffers from severe sleep apnea.

This week Daddy wore his mask hooked up to an oxygen machine for the first time throughout the night. Soon I hope he and Mother will sleep in the same bed again—with the West Highland terrier between them of course.

Hot Dogs and Waffles

March 4, 2013
We prepare to take our first bite.

We prepare to take our first bite.

On Saturday my family came to Atlanta to celebrate my father’s 66th Birthday. Naturally, I set up a hot dog buffet in the kitchen. While Daddy would have been fine squeezing mustard and ketchup from their native plastic bottles, doling out chili from a can, and scraping minced onion off the chopping board, I insisted on placing said toppings in an antique condiment caddy to fancy things up.

In the past Daddy announced his excitement over opening gifts halfway through the family meal, but now he is more easygoing and even apathetic. On Saturday, once we clapped and scampered into the living room where Daddy’s gifts had been arranged, his spirits lifted like his old self. Most of Daddy’s presents comprised gift cards to his favorite places: the movie theater; Out of the Blue, a foodie shop in downtown Blue Ridge, Georgia; and the Cock-Eyed Spaniel*, a hole-in-the-wall run by, according to Daddy, “a good-lookin’ woman.” The person who purchased the gift certificate also brought Daddy a love note of sorts from the owner.

Daddy's note from the owner of The Cock-Eyed Spaniel

Daddy’s note from the owner of The Cock-Eyed Spaniel

We rushed to Little Five Points to catch the Horizon Theatre’s production of the Waffle Palace, a comedy based on real-life events in Waffle House restaurants across Atlanta. While the play focused most on the relationships established between the Waffle Palace staff, I appreciated the cast’s portrayal of a 4 a.m. drunken punk rocker scare, a brooding drag queen, and a hillbilly couple who claims to have discovered the corpse of Big Foot.

Those vignettes reminded me of my own bizarre experience at a now-closed Waffle House in Calhoun, Georgia. I stumbled in at 3 a.m. with my then-boyfriend and attempted to order an omelet. However, every time I began to articulate my order, the waitress pressed the button on a little fart machine, holding it near my butt so as to paint me as the gaseous culprit. She earned the comedic respect of her two-toothed regulars but not my return business.

Daddy refused to set foot in that putrid Waffle House, insisting on dining at the Adairsville location. One year he took Mother there for Valentine’s Day dinner.

“Do you want to know where your daddy took me to eat for my Valentine’s Day dinner?” Mother asked me when they arrived home.

“Appalachian Grill?”

“No.”

“The Varsity?” I guessed, only half-joking.

Daddy stands with a couple cast members from The Waffle Palace.

Daddy stands with a couple cast members from The Waffle Palace.

“No. Your daddy took me to the WAFFLE HOUSE. How’s that for romantic?”

“An’ yer mother ate WELL at the Waffle House,” Daddy noted.

“It WAS pretty good…” Mother admitted.

Mother left spaghetti sauce simmering in the Crock Pot for dinner. Otherwise, we would have hit up the nearest Waffle House after the show.

“Gee, the Waffle House DOES sound good right now,” Mother sighed. “Oh well.”

I forced my parents and sister to leave without helping me clean up, particularly since Daddy had become anxious about going home. When I finally finished and started to throw myself onto our brand-new sofa, I noticed food smeared on one of the cushions.

“What’s THIS?!” I barked at Ryan.

“I don’t know!”

“Yes you do. Did you spill something on this couch?”

“No!”

I bent down to smell the substance, realizing Ryan never sprawls on that side of the sofa, but that Daddy sat there while opening presents.

“Oh wait, it’s okay, sorry. Daddy was sitting there.”

I returned to the scene of the spill with a wet rag but gazed at the smudge for several seconds before wiping it away.

*Name has been changed to avoid awkwardness.

I don’t like the way my body looks right now!

February 27, 2013

Every day my father seems genuinely shocked that he can’t fit into size 32 pants anymore. His waist started aggrandizing about a year ago, and he typically walks around with his zipper zipped but his button unbuttoned. I find his weight gain understandable — he can’t remember if he has snacked, let alone if said snacks were healthy. My parents walk the dogs every day and go to the gym three times a week; Mother attends a strength training class and leaves Daddy in the weight area with his friend Jack Bibb, who seems happy to have an exercise partner. On the days that Jack is absent, though, Mother still completes the class and expects Daddy to work out alone. I envision him sitting on a bench in the waiting area and staring out the window on those days.

“I don’t like the way my body looks right now!” Daddy proclaimed one morning after exiting the shower.

Mother attributes Daddy’s widening girth to his now sedentary lifestyle. Daddy once shoveled hot dogs, chocolate, and pimento cheese sandwiches without consequence; prior to his retirement, he spent hours frantically pacing around the carpet mill he managed, easily burning the calories he consumed. But now, Daddy’s daily routine comprises the napping frequency of a cat, snacking, and iPad browsing. Most gym rats couldn’t compensate for such an extreme lack of physical activity. Mother once caught Daddy standing over the trash can eating stale cornbread she had chucked a couple days prior.

Mother is considering putting a lock on the refrigerator to control Daddy’s eating. For some reason discussing refrigerator lock options reminded me of my own struggles with body image, particularly in my teens and early twenties.

One of my most annoying anorexic phases included a 5-year insistence on practicing vegetarianism and for a short spurt, veganism. I reasoned that because beef broth added luxurious richness to a pot of rice, it would make me fat; feta sprinkled on spinach salad became gluttonous; milk with my cereal, totally needless. At one point I carried a tortilla jammed with lettuce to Chili’s, where Timber and I met a former high school teacher for lunch. I refused to order from the menu, as every item probably contained unnecessary fatty ingredients.

“And what will you have?” the waitress inquired.

“Nothing, thank you. I brought my own lettuce.”

My most obnoxious proclamation of veganism occurred at Cracker Barrel in front of my family. I grilled the waitress on whether the collard greens contained bits of ham hock, if the black eyed peas had been simmered in pork bullion, and why the fried apples had to be cooked on the same surface as sausage links.

“Just get the vegetable plate,” Mother begged me. “She’s going through a phase,” she snickered toward the waitress.

“It’s not a phase, Mother. It’s a lifestyle. What about the cucumber salad?” I sighed. “Is it marinated only in oil?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Mother raised her voice.

“Yes it does! It’s my choice!”

“Get. The vegetable plate!!!”

“Shut UP!”

I immediately regretted my words, cowering beneath Daddy’s disciplinary glare.

“Huh!” Mother gasped, splaying her palm across her chest.

“Don’t you EVER talk to yer mother that way again,” Daddy leaned over me. “She’ll take the vegetable plate,” he directed the waitress.

I choked down my collard greens in fearful silence.

For more than 10 years thoughts of how I would adequately punish myself for eating a donut, ignore my howling stomach, or play a soccer game without passing out haunted my mind. I’m happy that more varied topics have permeated my subconscious.

Daddy, however, remains upbeat and content despite his daily announcements that he needs to lose 15 pounds.

“More like 30 by now,” Timber typically corrects him.

A colleague’s mother died of Alzheimer’s disease several years ago. However, she passed away quickly after her diagnosis. Intent on not experiencing the demoralization of the disease, she starved herself to death.

“Well. You don’t have to worry about your dad not eating,” Ryan said when I told him about it.

No matter how much weight Daddy gains or how dissatisfied he becomes with his body, I feel confident he never will resort to anorexia, laxative abuse, or veganism. Daddy’s Birthday is this weekend, and I plan to set up a hot dog buffet in my kitchen. I can think of no more appropriate food to help celebrate.

I like that Jenny McCarthy.

February 20, 2013

Yesterday a wave of ennui washed over me, so I skulked through the tagged photos of a childhood dance classmate I’m not even friends with on Facebook. With every click of the Next arrow, a new image portrayed the perfection of H’s life – a flawlessness her Facebook profile leads common observers to believe at least. A few years ago I would have envied H’s old money, slim figure post childbirth, or the success of her business. But what struck a green nerve yesterday was a photo of her dancing with her father at a small town version of Dancing with the Stars – a fundraiser for the local historic theater. Fingers interlaced for balance, they can-canned hand in hand. I never have danced with my father or embraced him for long. The last time I left my parents’ house bawling, refusing to release Daddy from the grip of my hug, he uncomfortably pushed me away. “All right!” he hollered. Even if Alzheimer’s hadn’t stricken Daddy, we wouldn’t have can-canned at a local production, or even slow danced at my wedding. But I still felt jealous of H’s father’s health as well as the future that lies ahead for their bond.

I never would have described Daddy’s and my relationship as lighthearted. I always revered him with fear and respect. However, now that Alzheimer’s has tangled his brain, the layer of discipline that once seemed hard as stone has worn away. Perhaps harsh discipline wasn’t as essential to his nature as I thought, particularly since his Airborne Ranger rigidity was one of his first personality traits to dissipate.

When Timber and I were children, our parents forbade us from watching certain programming intended for youth, such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Fern Gully. However, they deemed MacGyver, Murphy Brown, and Evening Shade as appropriate. When I mentioned my parents’ arbitrary decisions regarding our access to media to my best friend Leslie, she brilliantly responded, “Bobbin, it sounds like they made up those rules so they could watch what they wanted on TV.”

“Whoa,” I squinted. “That’s ingenious.”

Once I applied Leslie’s revelation to my childhood TV consumption, my parents’ boob tube bylaws made a lot more sense. However, once Timber and I reached middle school, our gravitation toward MTV made it more difficult for them to enforce said rules. Mother found Singled Out disgusting and asked us to turn it off when host Jenny McCarthy questioned the contestants regarding their favorite sex positions.

“You heard yer mother,” Daddy flimsily demanded. “Turn that trash AWF!”

He grabbed the remote and changed the channel to Fox News, forcing us to sulk to our bedrooms. Five minutes later, though, we heard the Singled Out Picker distribute a Golden Ticket, so we tiptoed back into the living room.

“Daddy!” we crossed our arms.

“I like that Jenny McCarthy,” he grunted.

Before Mother realized MTV aired Beavis and Butthead, she went through a phase of mimicking Butthead’s guttural cackle. (Neal Boortz probably played a clip of it on the radio, prompting Mother to approve whatever he approved.)

“Her. Her. Her-her-HER,” she attempted.

“What was that?” Timber asked agape.

“Butthead.”

“What? Butthead?! Mother, you KNOW Beavis and Butthead is on MTV.”

“What?! GROSS. You girls aren’t allowed to watch that awful show.”

Any material portraying attractive or scantily dressed women, really, compromised Daddy’s enforcement of the rules. When I was super young, the family gathered around the television to watch Urban Cowboy. One scene featured a raunchy mechanical bull ride and bare breasts — leaving Daddy tongue-tied and at odds with his role as a father and the forces of nature.

“Ugh!” he hacked while the aforementioned hussy suggestively grasped the saddle. “This is inappropriate for little girls.”

Daddy switched the channel to Fox News for about 30 seconds before giving in, allowing us to finish the movie huddled on the couch, subsequent bawdy bull rides, boobs, and all.

My father used to be a lot of things to me: a mentor, a guardian, and — clearly — a disciplinarian. Without effort or sympathy, Alzheimer’s cruelly blew those layers away as if they were salt or dust or snow. As layer after layer disappears, I get closer to Daddy’s core: his desire to eat, sleep, laugh, and be loved. It’s like we’re teenage friends jumping on a bed and making fun of our mother, with nothing to worry about except what’s for dinner and what we should watch on TV. He doesn’t enforce any rules, though. We watch whatever we want.