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Category Archives: Caring for Aging Parents

~ There’s no room for hurt feelings ~

Dad informs me daily that we are trillionaires. Punctuated with a raised fist in the air, he declares, “We are the richest family in the world!”

In addition to owning Bank of Montreal, Scotiabank, Toyota and the blockbuster (and fictional) conglomerate Soup, Soup, Soup, among many other things, dad was also recently running for Secretary General of the United Nations. It was this looming Secretary gig that caused some friction after his last neurology appointment.

Dad had a great check-up. Medication – good; talking to imaginary friends – sometimes, but with no agitation; sleep – generally better; cognitive clarity and memory – improved from last appointment. As things were wrapping up, he asked his neurologist to diagnose his condition. She chatted with him about amyloid angiopathy and expressed how pleased she is with how well he’s doing. After she left the room, I was getting our things together and dad reminded me not to forget the “letter.”

“The letter?” I asked.

“Yes, the letter from the doctor,” he said.

“Oh daddy, she doesn’t give you a letter. She makes notes and keeps them in her file.”

“Honey, I need a letter from her saying that my condition is cleared, when I run for UN Secretary.”

This was the first time I’d heard of this impending job, but I’ve been through these “creative stories” enough to know how to navigate them. Usually. It’s a delicate balance between going with it and shutting it down, and timing is crucial. After some back and forth and back and forth with me madly trying to think of a “creative” solution that would satisfy him, his repetition and agitation escalated until he finally looked me dead in the eye and said, “Honey. I’m disappointed in you. I thought you were a smart girl.”

Aaaaand MARTINI!

This is the new normal we’ve been living with since dad’s stroke in 2012. That he’s surpassed statistics and doctors’ predictions that he’d be dead by now is no surprise to us, his family, since, as I’ve said before, he’s kind of a rock star. He lives at home with his wife and requires 24-hr care, so I have to give her props. Whoa. Trust me, my sister and I have a “complicated” relationship with dad’s wife, so that ain’t easy to say Sally. But it’s the truth as I see it, so there it is.

With a constant looming potential to lose my shit every day, I realized awhile back that I needed strategies to deal with dad, with his wife, with normal. To be clear, dad is usually in good spirits, funny, loving, cognitively balanced, right on the money. But there are some days, some moments when I really have to bite my tongue, temper a challenging situation, not take things personally. Because God willing, dad will forget an unpleasant episode tomorrow. Hopefully. But every so often, he’ll fixate on something and ruminate for days. That’s what martinis are for.

When it comes to bringing dad a bit of comfort and joy, I’ve decided to just go with it. Because really, why should I care if he wants to wear his beloved shearling lined leather mittens in the summer. Or belt out, with no warning at all, the Korean national anthem or any other song on Wheel-trans. My dad’s now eccentric. Deal.

I know why dad thinks we’re the richest family in the world. It’s because, as part of the first wave of Korean immigrants to Canada in the 1960s, he worked his ass off to be successful for himself and his family. It’s not an original story, but again, there it is. For him, success meant financial comfort. And at certain times in his life he had that. And then he didn’t.

We never talk about the incredible debt he was in when he had his stroke. When he brags about all his companies and homes and new business deals we congratulate him, while trying not to encourage the stories. It’s important to him that he’s providing for and taking care of his family. I don’t want to take that away from him. When he says things like, “Honey, just take money out of our account. Buy whatever you need,” those moments break my heart. It reminds me of when I was a teenager, and dad and I were on our own, my sister away at university. He’d call from work, saying, “I’ll be a bit late, order some food, there’s money on my dresser.”

Ever the doting dad. And now, Secretary General to boot.

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~ And you are? ~

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When I tell people I’m a dancer, the general reaction is something like, “Wow! Really? That’s cool!” Followed by something along the lines of, “Must be nice doing what you love for a living!” Followed by something like, “I love Dancing with the Stars/So You Think You Can Dance!” Then there are those who immediately picture a G-string and a pole, like border crossing agents, M (when we first met), and other guys, in general.

It is cool being a dancer. I mean, how many dancers does the average person know? And how many of those dancers are contemporary dancers? To put things in perspective, if I draw a Dancer Pyramid based on income, it typically goes ballet dancers at the top, then commercial dancers (commercials, music videos), then contemporary dancers, then dirt. Broad generalizations, but you get the picture.

I’m always surprised when someone shows no reaction to, or interest in, the fact that I’m a dancer, which, in my opinion, reveals more about them than me. Humph, I think to myself, one of those! Or I’ll get the hairy-eyeball, and quickly add, “Oh, I don’t perform anymore,” to somehow justify my non-dancer physique. Sometimes I’ll also get a whiff of sarcastic resentment like, “Must be nice doing what you love for a living.” To which I want to reply, “You don’t have to judge me. I’m a dancer. I can judge myself!”

About this judgement thing…

I really envy people who manage to do things – without embarrassment, excuses or apologies – because they want to or need to, or simply because they’re curious. Whether it’s transitioning to another career, going back to school, travelling, adding a part-time job, taking time off, getting help, trying something new or making the most of what they have.

A year ago, I started filling my downtime with catering gigs. I can talk about my curiosities in event planning, the food and beverage industry, running my own business, etc., but mostly it was a convenient way to bump up my income, while accommodating my dance schedule and taking care of my dad.

I consider myself lucky to have begun my dance career in the late 80s, when contemporary dance was thriving in Canada. I’ve travelled across the country, toured the States and Scotland, danced in grand and not-so-grand theatres, and had profound experiences performing with, and for, some of the country’s most prolific dance makers and artists. Some people think I was a damn fine dancer! I’m also lucky, because I was able to sustain a performing career without relying on other jobs. Most contemporary dancers can no longer do that, nor can those of us working freelance in non-performing dance activities – like teaching, choreographing or rehearsal directing – especially if we also want/need dedicated time with family and life, in general.

It’s been an interesting journey into the food/event service industry where, for the most part, my experiences with clients, chefs, co-workers and guests have been pleasant. There have been some incidents but certainly nothing crazier than what I’ve experienced in the dance world. Egos, entitlement and unpleasantness exist in all industries, and I definitely learn a lot about people in this one. I did have a couple of encounters recently that inspired me to write this post.

I was at a catering gig, standing in the lobby awaiting guests. Suddenly, a guy and gal I went to grade school and junior-high with walked through the door. They weren’t together, they just randomly walked in at the same time! What are the odds? I’d always wondered what it would feel like if I had to serve people I knew, and I was about to find out. I approached the gal, who immediately lit up and called out my name as we gave each other a hug. She asked me how I was doing, if I was still dancing and writing. I asked her what she was doing these days etc. – all good, nothing weird at all. The guy had disappeared and when I saw him again, I was standing in front of him with a tray of appetizers. He went in for a double air kiss and after an initial, “Oh my God! How are you?” and some blah, blah, blah, we were done.

Afterwards, I was a little jarred from the encounters, wondering what my former schoolmates were thinking of me, serving them food at a reception all these decades later. But then I realized I was the one who was judging me. But why? After a lifetime of trying to explain what I do for a living, I know full well how impossible it is to encapsulate it all in the span of a double air kiss and a few niceties. And if someone thinks they know me, based only on an apron and a platter of sliders, again, doesn’t that say more about them than me? Why should I sweat it? I’m still me doing all of the things I do – some I love, some I want and some I need to do.

So, it really wasn’t the worse thing that could happen. A worse thing would be the experience of the 80-something year-old gentleman I met at a Bar Mitzvah on the weekend, who was imprisoned in an Auschwitz death camp at age 11. He somehow survived that horror and, following the liberation, moved to Israel and then to Toronto, where he’s lived for more than 45 years raising children and grand-children, and eventually writing a book about his story.

As we stood in the middle of the boisterous and extravagantly decorated hall, he easily welled up and told me his name and the title of his book, before being whisked away by the mother of the Bar Mitzvah boy. He made such an impact on me that I googled him when I got home, and ever since then I’ve been thinking about the people we meet, and how we meet, and our stories, our victories and failures, our encounters, the stuff we endure, the stuff we can’t even imagine and on and on.

I suppose I could have met this man under different circumstances, but as it was there we were, at a coming of age celebration, a Holocaust survivor and a dancer/writer/server, chatting by the salads and cold cuts, on an otherwise uneventful Saturday afternoon.

~ IF ~

Mr. Michael Matsuda is a business associate of dad’s, and someone he speaks to often. As a matter of fact, dad is speaking to him right now. Mr. Matsuda just said something funny, which makes dad laugh out loud. Dad manages to say something like, “That’s right! That’s right!” through his guffaws, in response to the thing that Mr. Matsuda just said to make him laugh. Dad isn’t on the phone and Mr. Matsuda isn’t here in the room. If Mr. Matsuda did exist at some point in dad’s past, he’s certainly not here in this moment.

About a week into the new year, dad began talking to imaginary friends (IFs), much the way kids do. But when your 78 year-old dad, whose had cognitive challenges since his stroke almost four years ago, suddenly starts entertaining invisible friends and colleagues, you feel more alarmed than amused.

It started with some confusion about his wife’s son who passed away many years ago. Dad insisted that his step-son was on his way home. We delicately reminded him that our step-brother had long passed and was in a cemetery, to which dad responded, “I know honey,” and then, “but he’s coming home.”

For the most part, dad’s interactions with his IFs are lively and good-natured. A couple of times he’s had arguments with someone and has even seen a woman sitting on the windowsill. Obviously concerned, I researched and stumbled upon a number of theories, including this old chestnut: talking to spirits on the other side as one prepares to die.

During these past, at times, trying years of dad’s recovery, I’ve become the kind of person who can cry on a dime, be brutally protective of my dad and remarkably pragmatic in moments of great distress. So, when dad answered my inquiries about his new friends and colleagues with a knowing, “You’ll find out soon sweetheart,” I didn’t read too much into it. But when he invited me to a big party that all these people would be attending, where the reasons for these covert conversations would be revealed, on MARCH 2ND (the fourth anniversary of his stroke), I lost my shit a little.

I pulled myself together, gathered my shit and began paying closer attention to whom dad is talking to and how he’s feeling when he’s talking to them – engaged; energetic; happy. Is he creating IFs because he’s lonely? Bored? Does he have an underlying infection that’s fucking with his mind? Then again, aside from these IFs, he’s been otherwise cognitively clear and medically stable. Or, when he’s talking to his deceased mother and brother, is he ACTUALLY TALKING WITH THEM?

There’s definitely some cross-wiring going on. For instance, many of his IFs have the same first name, Michael. Their last names – Matsumoto, Stravinsky, Gilmour – change daily and can totally be tracked to something on the news or a piece of music he was listening to, etc. But I can’t deny that, but for a few agitated incidents, he’s been quite happy. And putting my own feelings of loss aside, I think about how cool and right it is that dad is taking charge of his own death, especially considering he’s had no control over anything else in his post-stroke life. And how awesome it is that all the people he loves and misses on the “other side” are helping him plan a big-ass welcome party to boot!

Getting back to this joy stuff that I’m such a fan of these days, I’m ready to embrace any theory that promotes more joy and less fear. Fear is fucking bullshit, and yet it still manages to weasle its way in there, in the most inconvenient moments.

Time will tell whether the reason for dad’s IFs is a urinary tract infection, increasing dementia, early stage of Alzheimer’s or an eager anticipation of a long-awaited reunion, but anything that brings him comfort, peace, a few laughs and a bit of joy is fine by me.

 

~ crickets… crickets… ~

I spent 20 minutes on the phone yesterday talking with dad about sex. To be clear, it wasn’t a generic chat about characters in a movie or flirting or attraction, it was, quite frankly, DAD very specifically telling ME how infatuated he’d become with a woman he’d just met, and how much he wanted to “fuck her.”

Yup. Just typing these words makes my head want to explode, so you can imagine the discomfort I experienced yesterday—the twisting and contorting of all my insides—as dad breezily chatted away about being “a man who needs a little hanky panky.”

Dad’s filter has definitely been affected from his stroke. Not surprising, since such a large mass of his brain was damaged. Even so, he’s usually his polite, well-mannered self. But every now and then, out of the blue, he’ll pull out this gem, when a guy wearing too much cologne walks onto the elevator: “YOUR GIRLFRIEND MUST REALLY LIKE THAT COLOGNE!”

Then there’s church. We’ve never been a church-going family, but dad’s spiritual/religious beliefs have surfaced in the last couple of years, so now we go. Just me, my sister and dad. It’s actually rather pleasant. Everyone is super friendly and not too “churchy,” but the 1 ½ hours would definitely go by quicker if I understood what they were saying. Unlike most kids of Korean parents, we weren’t expected to learn Korean growing up. Of course, I regretted it as soon as I cared about such things, but as a kid I couldn’t care less. So now I sit there in church, discreetly stretching my IT bands and glutes, planning my classes, making grocery lists and, every so often, praying.

It’s always in those particularly quiet church moments when dad decides to say something to me. Be it his unpredictable filter and/or his diminished hearing, but his volume is usually a couple of notches too high, despite the fact that I’m sitting right beside him. This nugget cut through a lull in the pastor’s dramatic sermon the other day: “HONEY, MY GROIN AREA IS ITCHY!”

In many ways, I’ve been in training for the “sex” conversation with dad ever since the stroke. Honestly, with everything I’ve done for and experienced with him, a frank chat about sex on a Monday morning shouldn’t rattle me.

The initial impact subsided quite quickly. Then, I gathered my organs, put my head back together and went on with my day.

~ The Stuff That Really Matters ~

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine

You make me happy, when skies are grey

You’ll never know dear, how much I love you

Please don’t take my sunshine away

~

I used to play Charlie’s Angels when I was a kid—the Farrah, not the Drew version. Always as either Jill or Kelly (never Sabrina), I could spend hours on assignments spying on bad guys, picking locks with bobby pins and eavesdropping on conversations, all while dad finished his last few holes of golf. We usually picked up Swiss Chalet afterwards and washed it down with a Coke, when there was only the one kind.

I was most definitely “daddy’s girl.” Even before my brain could remember remembering, there I am in photos, sitting on dad’s lap or glued to his side, beaming for the camera. Whether it was golfing, dancing, watching Carol Burnett or Hockey Night in Canada, dad and I were almost always within arm’s reach, he carrying me up to bed, when I couldn’t stay awake any longer.

My older sister always seemed like the older sister—responsible, practical and far less theatrical. She’s never seemed as needy as me, even as kids. She was all good grades and honour role to my play acting and make-believe. No wonder I was drawn to performance and the arts, and she marketing and business. In recent years she’s relished the fact that, upon first meeting, some people don’t know which one of us is older. I acknowledge that the last few years may have aged my face more than hers. I chalk it up to thinner, more sun-sensitive skin, which I used to attribute to mom. Now, I realize how much I look like dad.

My relationship with mom was different. Though I do have fond memories of the two of us in the kitchen during my grade school lunch breaks, eating egg salad sandwiches or Campbell’s soup, her presence in my life was thin at best. With her visits back to her homeland, Korea, becoming more frequent and longer in length, I gravitated even more to dad. I didn’t know why mom spent so much time away from us (when you’re a kid, do the reasons why marriages breakdown even matter?), but by the time she left for good when I was 14, I had almost entirely distanced myself from her.

~

Dad’s getting agitated. He’s pulling J’s hand away from his neck. The severe hemorrhagic stroke (March 2nd, 2012), caused complete paralysis on dad’s left side and damaged his brain, but not his feisty spirit. These days it’s hard to get through a physiotherapy session without him complaining about tingling and itchiness (common sensations following a stroke), and physically trying to stop J (his physiotherapist) from doing his job. At 77, this spirit, this fighter instinct is the reason why dad’s here, when many of his doctors doubted a meaningful recovery, his ever being able to awaken or talk or get out of bed or eat or drink or laugh or stand or walk his daughter down the aisle and dance at her wedding.

~

It’s fair to say my teen years were a bit rebellious. By junior high school, I had already been caught drinking, smoking cigarettes, smoking pot and shoplifting. Feeling entitled to experiment (after all, my mother abandoned me!), I became the cliché, angsty teenager, complete with skin-tight jeans, lumber jacket, black eyeliner and attitude up the whazoo. Dad would have been in his early forties then, single, raising two girls on his own. In the late ‘70s/early ‘80s, I had some friends being raised by single moms, but my sister and I were the only ones I knew whose dad stayed to pick up the pieces.

I’d like to think part of my youthful delinquency was directly related to the same curiosity that compelled the 5-year-old me to put a paper airplane in the flame of a candle and drop it on the carpet, or spray Easy Off on our coffee table, or leave our apartment alone and walk across the street to the mall. For some reason I wasn’t afraid to try things, or veer towards an unknown path.

Following my drunken and dopey junior-high haze, while most of my friends went to one of two local-area high schools, I auditioned for and was accepted into the dance program at an arts high school—a bus ride, a subway stop and a 20-minute walk away. With my sister away at university, it was just me and dad for a few years, and though he was mostly supportive of my artistic leanings, he still thought university was in my near future. But when I graduated in grade 12, after being accepted into a full-time dance school, instead of continuing to grade 13, he realized I was in this dance thing for the long haul. In my 20-year performance career, I don’t think dad’s ever missed a home-town performance of mine. And as I transitioned from performing to writing, directing and teaching, though he’s worried about my financial security, he’s always been proud and supportive of his little girl.

~

Dad’s on his feet. The Standing Frame is an intimidating contraption. A big padded thing with a foot plate and bars, it helps dad stand by aligning and securing his feet, knees, hips and waist in place. J sits in front coaxing dad’s knees to straighten, while I stand behind on the plinth (physiotherapy table), holding up dad’s upper body. I’m sweating. It’s a lot of work for all of us. Since dad’s stroke 2 years ago, he’s worked with several top-notch neurological physiotherapists. After more than eight months in hospital and rehabilitation, we were lucky to bring him home where he lives with his wife. With help from daily Personal Support Workers (PSWs) and the three ladies in his life, dad is very well cared for.

The long-term physical goals are straightforward—get dad strong enough to transfer easily in and out of the wheelchair, bed and a car; support himself on the toilet; stand and walk. In the meantime, we rely on our PSWs, disposable briefs, Wheel-Trans and each other.

The short-term goal is only four months away. On June 21st, 2014, dad and I will dance at my wedding.

~

It took me 42 years, but I finally met my forever person in 2009. M proposed a few months after dad’s stroke, on his late parents’ wedding anniversary. It was his idea to get married this year, while dad’s doing well, knowing how important it is for dad to be a part of our day and, hopefully, remember it somewhere in his finicky brain.

Why did it take me so long to find M? Truth is, somewhere along the way, that fearless and bold kid in me grew up and became complacent. I got used to coasting with the same life, falling for same type of guy, convinced I was content with just okay, and afraid to take a chance with something else, someone else.

Then M came along and he was different, and I was different because I bypassed my usual lame judgments and patterns, and saw beyond his t-shirts with logos, and penchant for pizza and wings once a week. I saw a good man. One of the two best men I know.

Though M and I wanted children of our own, time was not on our side. At ages 42 and 48 when we met, kids just weren’t in the cards for us. I often wonder what our kid would have looked like, been like, and I desperately hope to know him or her someday, in another life. Until then, M reminds me that I have a 53-year old kid in him. Not quite the same, but I’ll take it.

It’s curious the way my life has unfolded. Why did I gravitate towards dance? Why didn’t I have kids? Why did I meet M when I did, a man who had already been through the illnesses and deaths of both parents?

Everything I’ve done, all the experiences and skills I’ve acquired, even not having kids, have somehow prepared me for the new normal that began in the early morning hours of March 2nd, 2012. They’ve given me a physical strength and body awareness to help with dad’s physiotherapy, a flexible schedule to accommodate his appointments and rehabilitative programs, and research medications and therapies, and a husband who understands and supports me through all of it. I also have more time to just be with dad—a coffee and a treat at Tim Horton’s, a chat on a sunny afternoon—to get to know more about this man who’s been through a certain kind of hell, yet remains an exceptionally gracious and gentle man.

~

You can hear a pin drop. Except for a few sniffles and spontaneous “ahs,” it’s just me and dad alone on the quiet dance floor. Despite our best efforts, we didn’t reach our goal of getting dad to stand on his own for the wedding. Annoying but common blips, like urinary tract infections, may stall his rehabilitation at times, but he also has significant jumps in both cognitive clarity and physical strength, jumps that seem more significant to those of us closest to him, especially when any progress can sometimes feel painfully slow.

The 45 wedding guests are standing close to us. Our musician strums the guitar and begins singing You are my Sunshine. I chose this song because Dad and I sing it in music therapy together, plus M’s sister and mom used to sing it to his nephew when he was a baby, so it means something to both families. It’s a good song. More sniffles fill the room. I take dad’s hand and dance around him, while he stays seated in his wheelchair. He says something that only I can hear, and I lean in close.

“Okay, come on,” he says.

“What do you mean? I ask

“Okay, help me up, I want to get up,” he insists.

“Oh daddy, that’s okay. Why don’t you just kick your legs around, show us how strong they are.”

He vigorously kicks his stronger right leg then his affected left leg, which he can now move a little, along with his left arm and hand. It’s been just over two years since his stroke. From feeding tubes, tracheostomy and coma, to toasting his baby daughter and her husband on their wedding night, dad’s been a total rock star. Looking like a million bucks in his black suit and custom-dyed blue tie, I can’t help but think about all the naysayers along the way who doubted his recovery, those who only saw his limitations and chose to maintain a barely functional baseline, those who thought a heavily-medicated life was the same as living, vs. those who saw dad’s potential, understood the incredible neuroplasticity of the brain, and worked (and continue to work), their asses off to get him out of his wheelchair.

How could we possibly settle for anything less than that?

~

My patience and compassion are challenged almost daily, and the stuff that really matters is so much clearer. Dad’s quality of life drives every decision we make as a family about his treatment and rehabilitation. Was this a good day for him, for us? That’s all that really matters.

On my wedding day, dad and my sister accompanied me down the aisle, he in his wheelchair, she pushing from behind. As we rounded the corner, I saw all the loving faces of my friends and family looking my way, faces that mean something to me, faces of people who somehow manage to cushion the impact, keep me upright and remind me that laughing feels so fucking good! I instantly welled up, squeezed dad’s hand a little tighter, took a deep breath and kept moving forward towards M.

It was a good day.

 

~ Full-time Daughter ~

I’ve been waiting for an e-mail. For nine weeks.

I entered a writing contest in a popular women’s magazine, and the description for the contest was this: We want to read your well-crafted, deeply personal stories about love, loss, friendship, marriage, dating or family. These true-life essays should be creative, compelling and soul-baringly honest. Submissions should be between 1500-2000 words and previously unpublished (in print or online).

So here I am, 47, freshly married, dad recovering from a stroke, lots of stuff to write about. I wrote a well-crafted, deeply personal, creative, compelling and soul-baringly honest true-life essay, sent it in, and received an e-mail saying that judging would take place at the beginning of September, but only winners would be notified. Hmm… not crazy about that. Considering my time and soul-baringly honest effort, and the fact that most submissions will likely be from the magazine’s own subscribers, I think even a form letter of thanks but no thanks is warranted. Having worked in magazine publishing before, I know the lead-time can be upwards of several months, but with contests, I have no idea how long it might take to choose two winning stories, contact the writers and publish. So suddenly, an “Oh this sounds like fun,” story-writing thing, turns into an anxious waiting-for-an-e-mail-I’m-starting-to-feel-increasingly-bitter-about-this-bullshit-contest situation.

I sent the magazine a reply e-mail about a month ago, asking when they might choose a winner. Nothing. I sent another e-mail directly from their website asking when they might choose a winner. Nothing. Boy, they really don’t want to engage with losers/non-winners.

Here it is: I want to win this fucking contest! I want the editors to read my story, be entertained, moved, shed a tear and most of all, I want the editors to think my story is worthy enough to publish in their magazine. I want this to happen like you have no idea. I need this to happen. Because despite feeling over-the-top happy in my personal life, I’ve been feeling otherwise stuck in my career lately. Partly because I’m, yet again, re-evaluating contemporary dance and my place in it, and partly because the amount of time I spend with dad, is time away from my career.

My main gig since dad’s stroke is managing his life: physiotherapy twice a week; doctor’s appointments, consultations, check-ups; following up on doctor’s appointments, consultations and check-ups; phone conversations; music therapy bi-weekly; booking Wheeltrans, waiting on hold for Wheeltrans, waiting for the late Wheeltrans bus; it all takes a lot of time. Dad’s wife, my sister and I each have our roles, and this one is mine. Though most of these things would usually be overseen by a spouse, dad’s wife simply can’t handle this kind of stuff. I can. When I talk with some of my girlfriends, they speak of similar challenges trying to balance kids, partner and career. Instead of being a full-time mom, I’ve become a full-time daughter.

My life is very full. I love my husband, I have good friends, and nothing’s better than when dad’s doing well. But much of my identity has been shaped by what I do, and when that takes a hit, I sort of lose track of who I am anymore. I’ve built a career around being a support system for other people, their artistic vision, their neuroses. My writing is just mine and this blog is mine, and an e-mail from a magazine choosing me, my story, my words, would be so sweet and validating right now.

Stay tuned for the story that didn’t win…

~ My Gentle Men ~

I take dad to physiotherapy on Thursdays, and we’ve developed a routine of going to Tim Horton’s for coffee and a treat beforehand. Prior to dad’s stroke, I don’t think he and I ever sat in a coffee shop together. I don’t think we ever whiled away a half an hour, sitting by a sunlit window, eating donuts and shooting the breeze. The first time we went, I remember thinking how normal it felt, how freaking fantastic it felt to be amongst everyday people, doing such an everyday thing.

The stroke, now almost a year ago, changed everything. It gipped dad of his independence, and his freedom to do anything and go anywhere he wants. It also changed his relationship with us. I always thought we were a close family – regular phone calls, birthday and holiday meals, getting together once a month or so – but we never spent this much time together. Never had I envisioned a day where I would have to take care of dad to the degree that I do. Awkwardness and squeamishness be gone, there’s nothing I haven’t done when it comes to taking care of dad. It can’t be easy for him to watch his baby girl care for him, the way he once did for me, but dad has coped with remarkable grace and dignity. Even on a rare bad day, when the impact of the year gets him down, he keeps going. At times, there are tears, but mostly there is humour and gratitude. Talk about seeing one’s true character in the face of adversity. I’ve come to know my father as an extraordinarily gentle man. 

 ~

 M opens the car door for me. That may sound random, but it’s a simple gesture that he’s done ever since we met, and I adore it. He once told me he wasn’t interested in being with someone who wants to change him. He is who he is, and M is nothing if not undeniably, unapologetically himself. And that goes for me too. We are more ourselves with each other than we’ve ever been with anyone else. That’s why we fit. We both stopped trying to be what someone else wished we could be.

That being said, there are certain instances where a gal has every right to override a guy’s wishes. Like when I trim M’s unruly eyebrow hairs, which somehow grow like weeds overnight, I tell him,

“I’m not trying to change you. I’m just trying to make you better.”

There’s no shortage of material when it comes to writing about M’s “tendencies.” His friends, who rib him incessantly, can absolutely appreciate my stories about his questionable lettuce purchases, his talent for dancing without moving his feet and his ability to create crumbs out of thin air, but there’s more to him than just the colorful, funny, loud, right-leaning, sports-fan guy, who like his wings hot, with hot sauce on the side.

When we first met, M was working in Burbank California, commuting home every one or two weekends. A couple of months in, I went to visit him for a few days. We were planning a loose itinerary of stuff we wanted to do and see, and I suggested having a “Pretty Woman” date. Now, I’m a jeans and sneakers kind of gal. I don’t wear a lot of jewelry, and I haven’t been planning my wedding since I was a little girl. But I’m still a girl, and absolutely a romantic at heart. I’ve never missed an episode of The Bachelor or The Bachelorette (not sure if that makes me a romantic or just nuts), and any romantic gesture, large or small, is greatly appreciated.

So I let M plan the whole evening. As we got ready in the hotel room, we tried not look at each other until the big reveal. We looked pretty hot – he in a suit and tie, me in a black skirt, shoulder-baring top and heels. He chose a restaurant, on top of a hill, the sun setting over a breathtaking view of the Los Angeles area. Stunning. We sat outside on the patio and had a lovely meal. It was only afterwards, while we were sharing after-dinner drinks and a cigar that I noticed he had on cufflinks. Cufflinks! Who wears cufflinks anymore? There was something exquisitely romantic about this beautiful attention to detail; something sort of old-fashioned; something that aligns so perfectly with the guy who opens my car door; the guy who says, “I love you,” easily; the guy who proposed at our favourite restaurant, on his late parents’ wedding anniversary. 

This Valentine’s Day, I’m making up for all the February 14th’s that came and went without fanfare, without a good man, without any man. This year, I’m the luckiest girl. I have two dates with the best men I know – the one who raised me and the one who gets me.

 

 

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