In honor of Father’s Day today and in reference to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day this past Friday, I am publicly posting a letter to my dad to thank him for the values, the memories, and the lessons that he has given me. Unfortunately, I can’t send these thoughts to him directly. Although he is still alive and competent, we have been estranged since my mother’s caregiver moved into my parents’ home four years ago. Under her influence, he has become a changed man. My objectives for posting: 1) to keep my dad’s true spirit alive and 2) to demonstrate that all it takes is one person to greatly disrupt the family dynamic.
Up until about 4 years ago, you showed me what it means to love unconditionally throughout my entire life. You instilled values, promoted a strong work ethic, demonstrated how respecting others can get a person far, and you consistently exemplified patience through stressful situations. You loved me as much as any father could of his daughter, and weren’t afraid to
show it. You were protective of my well being (perhaps a little too much). You taught me how to ride a bike and excel at bowling and softball. You taught me how to garden and change the oil in the car. You turned many of my stuffed animals into talking puppets, some of whom you used to wipe away my tears. You bought me a much-begged for Barbie Dream Store and helped me to decorate it. Years later you not only showed me how to assemble furniture from IKEA for my own room, you worked side by side with me on the construction. Any bugs found inside our home were ultimately saved and released outside by you, all because you knew how much it meant to me. You diligently waited outside store fitting rooms to provide constructive feedback on new outfits I wanted to buy. You took care of my needs: ensuring I had money, helping with my homework, and always taking my calls. You patiently taught me how to drive and years later, you were so concerned for my safety that you insisted on purchasing a car for me simply because it had the On-Star system (I have no regrets talking you out of that). You made up the best impromptu bedtime stories and childhood games.
As mom’s health declined, you and I talked about virtually everything, almost everyday, as we made family decisions together. We were more than father/daughter, we were friends — good ones at that. Observing your resolve to keep our family unit together, at any cost, made me easily admire you. I was so incredibly lucky to have you as a dad growing up.
You set the foundation for my preferred career path too. You began bringing me into the high school where you worked, at an early age. Starting at 5 years old, I still have vivid recollections of you teaching me to type on a typewriter in your office, going to pep rallies and football games, school carnivals, and school plays. A few of my childhood birthday parties were even held there — with the exterior high school sign dutifully changed to commemorate the occasion. When I transferred junior high schools, transportation was not provided from our home to the new school. So I would leave the house with you at 5:30 each morning to catch the school bus nearby. But, first, I’d assist you with your pre-dawn assistant principal responsibilities, which included re-filling a snack vending machine, inputting invoice numbers into PFS, and walking the entire school to put mail in teacher mailboxes. We’d race each
other on the staircases and joke around as we went from teacher lounge to teacher lounge. When the time came to attend high school, there was no question in my mind which one to go to — yours. You set the stage for me to be comfortable in a high school where you worked, without instigating titles of “teachers pet” or “favor pulling.” I loved those years. And I pride myself on the connections that were built and continue to this day. Even though I contemplated fashion designing, law, and chiropractic as career fields, I realized in college that I loved the education world most, thanks to your examples.
Of course we had our moments. But I can count on one hand how many times you flat out yelled at me. They were intense times. But many years later, I understood why you reacted why you did. Crazy mad or not, you could never be upset at me for more than a few hours. You’d insist we talk things out, no matter who was right or who started the disagreement.
To say you were a role model in my life is an understatement. A lot of who I am today is because of you. And for which I am grateful. Perhaps it is because all that you done for me is the sole reason why I haven’t given up on you. Today, you look like my dad on the outside. But I don’t recognize any of your personality — you have become the man who kept my mother’s hospice care and death a secret, prohibited my mom’s sister and me from talking to my mom during her last years, you have spoken to me for a total of 15 minutes in the last 4 years, you scream at me if I get within 10 feet of you, you gave false information to professionals about me, you returned most of my childhood items to me through a 3rd party, and you don’t talk to your family/friends/ colleagues anymore. Anyone that has known you, knows this isn’t you. Yet you have been declared fully competent by a doctor, with zero signs of dementia. The only theory I resort to is that you have been brainwashed by my mother’s caregiver who you have since married. I do fully believe if the shoe was on the other foot — if I was the one who dramatically changed — you would not have given up on me. And so I advocate. For you, Mom’s legacy, and for the others out there. I only hope that one day I will see you again and reconnect at the level we were originally at, before this parallel, surreal life took over.
Thanks for the many life lessons, Dad, I still love you.
Dr. Toby Davidow has been advocating for elder abuse awareness since 2017, at which time neither she nor any of her family were notified about Toby’s mother hospice care or passing. You can read more about Toby’s parents isolation in this Stateline/Huffington Post article. Toby authored an opinion piece on Marvel Comics’ creator Stan Lee’s alleged elder abuse. Toby partners with Kasem Cares to pass state-wide visitation bills to ensure that no senior spends one week without their loved ones.