Breaking Up with Good Intentions

47: is the number of steps from my car to the front door of my father’s senior home.

He has stage five Alzheimer’s. There are 7 stages with varying degrees. They were once explained to me but I didn’t pay attention. I choose the path of blissful ignorance when necessary.

This particular senior home is organized by levels of sanity (essentially). There are four floors. The top is reserved for the highest degree of Dementia patients and floors 1, 2 and 3 are directly correlated with increasing stages of Alzheimer’s patients. My father’s room is in the corner of the 2nd floor. Just beside the linen closet. As you approach his door the aroma of fresh linens becomes increasingly pungent. If there was a world where the scent of fresh linens gave you an overwhelming urge to punch a fluffy towel in the face… This would be it. I hate those linens. I hate that lemony fresh corridor with all my might. My father deserves so much more than this.

“Daddy.” I hug him as he opens his door. It is 7pm and I’m just in time for our daddy daughter date. We are watching the Chicago Blackhawks hockey game. We’ve never lived in Chicago. We’ve never had family in Chicago. We have literally no ties whatsoever to the city. But the Chicago Blackhawks have been my father’s favorite team for as long as I can remember.

He leans back in his chair and turns up the volume. He’s semi deaf in his left ear so I take a sit to his right. “They’re going to win tonight Dad. I can feel it.” He nods and takes a sip of his gingerale. “We’ll see”, he nods with a casual smile. My father is not a pessimist. Not quite a realist. He is a dreamer who treads carefully, always minimizing the disappointment for others. A quality I have come to admire. As I have grown older I’ve realized this attribute requires an extraordinary amount of patience.

Patience. When I was in college my father would come pick me up for breakfast every other Sunday morning. “Meet me at 10” I would tell him. He was always early, but he wouldn’t call or text me. I would peak out my window to check if he was there. There he was, sitting in his car, reading a newspaper. My father is true patience. You see, most people would be reading a newspaper to pass the time as they wait on someone. My father wasn’t waiting on anyone. He was just enjoying a newspaper. The true value of patience is actually in how it affects others. My father has never asked for nor expected applause. Ironically, he is the hero in my heart.

A nurse comes in to check on us. She places her hand on my father’s shoulder and looks him directly in his eyes “You’ll let me know if you want to do bingo tomorrow?”, she knows he’s partially deaf and doesn’t waste her time having to repeat her questions. She’s good. My father never remembers my mother’s name but he can recite the 1997 roster of the Blackhawks in under a minute. Most of the nurses are female and will give him a hard time about this. Shouting across the tea room “YOU’RE A SHITTY HUSBAND!”, he loves it and finishes off naming the lineup. Nurses can’t tip toe around patients. They deal with a whole roster of crazy old people. The good nurses keep the day going and keep the moods light.

Good intentions, can only get you so far with caring for someone. In fact, they can be in direct conflict with loving someone properly. I have good intentions, but that isn’t effective in relationships. My father has taught me patience. And now, in the midst of his confused and forgetful brain, he is teaching me the virtue of a balanced love.

As I let my foot step down to the pavement outside I begin to count my steps back. My exit strides are longer and slower down the curved path. 34: the number of steps from my father’s home to my car. I nod to myself as I open my door.

I love you Daddy.

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