Saturday, June 14, 2014
I don’t remember how we celebrated Father’s Day when my father was young. (Of course, you never think of your father as young. But when I look at pictures from those days, I can’t believe how young he was.) I don’t remember what gifts my brother, my sister, and I gave him. Probably ties, picked out and wrapped by our mother. In those "Mad Men" days, a tie was pretty much the standard gift for a father, whether it was Father’s Day, Christmas, or his birthday.
I do remember the last Father’s Day I spent with my father.
It was four years ago. Both of my parents were having serious health issues. My father was experiencing chronic hematuria (blood in the urine)—a symptom of the bladder cancer that within two years would kill him, although we did not know it at the time. My mother was in a nursing home, recovering from yet another bout with pneumonia—the disease that would eventually cause her death. On top of all that, my aunt in Indiana was about to undergo surgery for an abdominal aneurysm. As they say, it never rains but it pours.
On impulse, Loretta and I decided to take the summer off and drive across country with the cats, stopping first in Indiana to stay with my aunt until after her surgery, then in Virginia to spend several weeks with my parents and take the initial steps to get them into some kind of assisted living. Finally, we would stop in Buffalo to spend July 4th weekend with Loretta’s family before heading back to California. It was an incredible, bittersweet journey, and someday I may tell you all about it. For now, I am only going to tell you about Father’s Day, which was one of the sweet parts.
As they got older, my parents' world got smaller. They rarely left the house, and when they did, it was usually for a visit to the doctor's office, the hospital, or the nursing home. But occasionally, when Mom and Dad were well enough, my sister Susan and brother-in-law Kevin took them for a weekend getaway to their cabin in the mountains bordering Shenandoah National Park.
My parents lived for those trips to the cabin.
When it was built, Kevin made sure they would be comfortable there. They had their own room with a beautiful vista of the woods and a clearing Kevin created where deer came to graze at dawn and dusk. The bathroom was handicap accessible, and Kevin even installed a chair lift so my mother could get up the steps to the front porch.
That Father's Day weekend was a pretty good one for Dad, so we took him to the cabin.
As always, we enjoyed the beautiful scenery, the wildlife, and the tranquility of the Shenandoah Valley. We watched old episodes of Dad’s favorite television program, Perry Mason. There were delicious meals prepared by our hosts, and a Father’s Day cake that came with a plastic "Sheriff Dad" badge, which my father proudly wore. He loved his gift: a Kindle electronic reader (his days of wearing a tie were over). The only thing that would have made the weekend better is if my mother could have been there, too. Fortunately, she was released from the nursing home in time for us all to make one last trip to the cabin before Loretta and I packed up the cats and headed to Buffalo.
When I think of my parents, I don’t like to think of them in the assisted living facility where they ended up, or even in the house they lived in for so many years before that. I prefer to think of them at Susan and Kevin’s cabin, where they spent some of the happiest hours of their later years.
And when I think of Father's Day, I like to think of the last one I spent with "Sheriff Dad."