It’s at least a dozen years, though probably more like fifteen, since my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. For those who don’t know, Parkinson’s is a progressive disease, which means it’s only going to get worse. The positive-spin medical community has all sorts of chirpy things on their web sites like, “Many people never reach the final stages of Parkinson’s, as medication can regulate it to the point that these symptoms don’t develop.”
Sigh. If only.
See, my father’s Parkinson’s has progressed pretty relentlessly. He’s tried all the drugs, he’s had the treatments. Some drugs make him hallucinate more than he already does thanks to the disease, some don’t seem to affect his symptoms at all. And he’s got chronic back pain from scar tissue pressing on his spinal column (unrelated to the Parkinson’s), so they need to monitor his pain meds and his Parkinson’s meds to make sure he doesn’t end up swimming in a toxic chemical soup and suffer through over-medication. It’s happened before, it’s not pretty. My mother’s been amazing through this whole thing, I have no idea how she’s managed to hold it together. I’d have snapped like an old guitar string a long time ago but she? Keeps going.
There are so many things about this that are difficult. Anger is pointless, because who can I get angry at? I may as well rail at the sun for shining when I want rain. My mother’s plans for her retirement were completely undone, and she just wanted to drive around the country with my dad and see what could be seen, and then hang out with her grandkids. And my father, who was voted “Best Overall Athlete” in high school, who was offered a basketball scholarship to Virginia Tech (which he didn’t take, and that’s still a mystery to me), who climbed buildings for twenty years and welded them together…his body is now his own worst enemy. For those who don’t know my dad, this was him at one point:
Ironworker, athlete, mannish manly man. And now he struggles to sit upright. Fate is a quirky mistress indeed. I’m not saying our relationship has always been a cakewalk. We certainly had our differences, and I take after him in that I am stubborn and can rush to judgment. It’s something I work on all the time. Imagine two people like that in the same house. High school was rough; it was such a relief to get past it in one piece.
This isn’t a poorly-disguised plea for sympathy; this is part of my life, and it’s part of my dad’s and my family’s lives, and we’re all dealing with it as best we can. But there are things I’ve learned during my father’s ordeal which ought to hold true for everyone. I just want to say: take your opportunities. Dance while you’re able. Go to school. Cherish your health. Be thankful every day that you can dress and feed yourself. Eat your vegetables. Indulge in good chocolate, but find a good cheap wine. Let go of old resentments. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow you might not be able to sit straight in your chair. Hug your loved ones as much as you can.
Happy father’s day to all the dads, and the single moms who act like dads, and two-dad households, and the friends of dads, and people with dads, and urban family members who help out as dads, and to anyone who fills the niche of “dad” for someone else. I’m sure it’s not easy, but the people you do this for? Thank you, from the bottom of our difficult, argumentative, quirky, stubborn little hearts.
Here’s to you, Pop.