A gentle giant of a man. Those are the first words that come to mind in describing my dad. Granted, there were many layers to him – many hidden layers I regret not uncovering till years after both my parent’s death. In going through that tedious process of sorting their belongings, I discovered a letter he had written to her, tucked away in a box, hidden among the forgotten boxes in my closet. I wouldn’t really classify it as a “love letter” – but the love was between the lines. His words mostly gave an account of his own mother’s declining health and how he cared for her at her bedside till her passing. It ended with his longing to see my mom and my older brother. For a man in the 1940’s ` that was a mushy as it got. You see – Dad’s generation – the men of WWII – was raised to keep emotions guarded and hidden. Demonstrations of “love” became an “inbetween the lines” action – bringing home a paycheck, working the land, keeping the car fixed, mowing the yard, fixing up the house , fighting for your country- things that require physical labor – not words. That being the case – my dad must have loved us dearly. Now my being the only daughter – I did get hugs from my daddy. However, Alzheimer’s changed that strong facade and broke down that societal barrier. I will never forget the night mom called me in a panic “Guess what your father just did?!” Fearing the worst, I asked “What Mom – are you okay?” She replied “He hugged me and told me he loved me! He’s not done that in .. in…well I don’t remember when! What do I do?” “Hug the man back mom and tell him you love him too!” I responded.
I called my dad a gentle giant and to a degree he was – a giant to me. Standing 6’3’ his stature commanded respect. With that being the case – only a fool would dare challenge his authority or harm his family. After the neighborhood bully tried to beat me up when I was 5 years old, dad decided I needed to learn how to fight. He could have gone next door and handle it dad-to-dad, but he wanted me to learn how to defend myself. I remember crying as he tried to convince me it was okay to hit his open palms with my tiny fist. I cried not out of fear of the task, but fear I’d hurt my dad. Not long after my lessons, I was called out once again by the bully. I can still hear Daddy yelling “Go ahead Sugar –hit him!” Shutting my eyes and swinging, I heard a distinctive pop. Yelling, crying and bleeding followed. I had made contact with my opponent’s nose! Ironically – we became friends after that. Yet – I’ll always remember hearing Daddy cheering me in the background. That was certainly a different day and time.
I guess you could say my dad was my champion. You see – my parents became pregnant with me when they thought they were through having children. In fact, the doctors had informed them that since mom was 45 years old and had been menopausal for a few years and Dad was 50 – conception was not possible. Surprise!! Yet – the biggest surprise came from fact that since the doctors felt strongly that she could not be pregnant, something else terribly wrong became the only answer. All toll – my parents sought advice from 6 different doctors – all of which wanted to perform surgery to “fix her problem.(tumor, female issue, ulcer and dead baby are the top diagnoses offerred.). Yet – at the persistance of my dad who still believed mom was pregnant, with a living baby , he refused to believe their prognosis. He refused to let them touch her. Even when the 5th doctor insisted that I was dead – Dad didn’t believe him. On to doctor #6 who gave an equally grave prognosis of my not being normal or dying within first year of life. Dad said “we’ll take our chances”. Well – I celebrated my 49th birthday this past Easter Sunday and I may have a few bone issues – other than that — I’m pretty normal. I think.
My dad was certainly not perfect and he temporarily strayed from the faith. After my older brother was killed in Vietnam, my dad dealt with his pain through escape. Most of the time, it was through working long hours or drinking more than he needed to. I decided to fight for him like he taught me to fight. The bully this time was of a different –realm – but I believed early (from guidance of a wonderful godly grandmother) that there is power in prayer. So I began praying even more earnestly for both my parents. I really didn’t know for sure if he had a real relationship with Jesus or not. We went to church faithfully – until my brother’s death.Then it all stopped. That’s another story- but I will say that no matter how long it takes – never give up praying for your loved ones. Alzheimer’s also revealed something else miraculous to me. Yes – it stole his memories of who I was. It robbed him of the ability to comprehend his sports on tv and how to read his newspaper. But –he could read his Bible and comprehend it and often quoted it to us. He had just begun reading his Bible again while I was in highschool. I had a Bible class and always shared what I leanred that day around the dinner table. It prompted Dad to go back and “re-read” the passages in a new way. As Alzheimer’s slowly worked its evil – some of dad’s favorite verses became more precious to him – and me. Especially – Children obey your parents, for this is honorable unto the Lord. In the front of his Bible was the verse in Isaish about the Isaiah 40:8
The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God stands forever. Dad was living proof of that in my opinion. My questions or fears of his faith withered away instead. More confirmation came in his last couple of years – he would often tell anyone who listened “I’m going to be with Jesus soon – are you?” In my mind – Alzheimer’s really didn’t win. What was meant for evil turned out for good.
There are days I miss him terribly. I terribly miss the days that could have been as well. Whatever his shortcomings, I will forever be grateful lessons I learned through prayer, faith, unspoken love and –defeating bullies.