Travels with Dad
—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-
Little by little, Mom assumed the household responsibilities that were once managed by my father. She scheduled oil changes, managed the trash, kept the garden going, shoveled snow, and mowed the lawn. She lugged wood around for the wood stove, moved seasonal furniture, and kept gas readily available in containers for the lawn mower and snow blower.
One day, Mom and Dad went out to pick up a pizza after buying gas for the lawn mower. When they came home, she decided that they should eat first, and she would deal with the gas container later. They ate their pizza, and then both sat down to rest. Mom had a migraine and wanted to nip it in the bud before it got out of hand. She drifted off to sleep, waking up about an hour later.
While Al was puttering around, Mom went out to the van to get the gas to store it in the garage. To her surprise, the container was outside of the van on the driveway, and it was EMPTY! She smelled gas, and could not figure out where it was coming from. She got into the van hoping to find clues to solve this mystery. She stepped into the driver’s side and felt sloshing under her feet. It hit her like a ton of bricks! She immediately realized that Dad poured the entire 2.5 gallons of gas into the van. While she had been resting, he went out front, discovered a hole-like area in the back of the van that houses the hardware to the cover for the spare tire, and must have thought that’s where the gas goes. He emptied the container in that “hole” which wasn’t a hole, and the gas covered the entire floor of the van.
Upon this realization, she started sobbing. She hadn’t felt well earlier because of the migraine. Now she had a colossal mess on her hands, and no one there to turn to for help and emotional support. She didn’t even know where to begin to address this mess. She paced for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. It finally came to her to call a neighbor. The neighbor and her husband immediately came over to help. They brought rags and a lot of support. They were an enormous comfort to my mother. They were well aware of Al’s condition, and were so caring and understanding of my mother’s fragile emotional condition at that moment.
When the initial emergency was over and the neighbors went home, Mom called me to tell me what had happened. As I listened, I heard a very strained voice. She had an amazing way of reacting to the unpredictable things that my father did, but this incident was not only a major inconvenience, it was also a potentially extremely dangerous situation. An explosion could have occurred so easily, and there’s no telling what the outcome would have been.
The stress that this incident caused my mother was the turning point for me. Up until this time, my level of providing support to her was in the form of listening to all of the stories, letting her talk any time she wanted. She had only been home with him full-time for a year, and although she always took things in stride, I could see that all of the Dad’s escapades were wearing on her. I decided at that moment that I was going to try to be more supportive. I told her that I was coming over Saturday to take Dad out for a ride. She naturally said that it wasn’t necessary, being conscious of my time and busy life. But it was time to give her some relief, and I insisted. My intentions were purely to relieve her. I was very apprehensive about taking him because of our rocky history, but I thought I’d give it a try. I believed that I owed it to my mother for all of the sacrifices she had quietly done for me and for our family throughout the years .
On Saturday when I arrived to take him out, Travels with Dad began…