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.—-
“What Women Want” was one of the popular movies out when I decided to take Dad to the theater one Saturday afternoon. I thought since he had enjoyed going to the movies on his own during his early retirement years, seeing a movie as one of our outings would be a nice way to spend a few hours.
I picked “What Women Want” because it was something I wanted to see, and I also thought Dad would enjoy it. It looked like it would be funny and cheerful, and I knew he wouldn’t mind seeing Helen Hunt on the big screen! We settled into our comfy seats with our popcorn and drinks, and waited for the movie to begin. It was a matinée, so there weren’t many people in the theater.
As the movie began, I glanced over at Dad and caught him smiling. I can’t imagine that he was actually grasping the plot, but when things seemed like they were supposed to be funny or lighthearted, he responded appropriately. And then it began…the song “Mack the Knife” started playing. Almost immediately, Al stood up and began to dance. He and my mother loved to dance, and had even won a dance contest that they spontaneously entered one night when they were out on the town. Although I was horribly amused by the uninhibited innocence of his reaction to an oldie but goodie, I feared that others would not have been so charmed by his dancing rendition.
I loudly whispered “Al!”, and grabbed his belt to give him a physical cue to sit. He did.
This spontaneous and open behavior sparked another thought about who my father was. I was distracted for a time during the movie thinking how cute he was to openly respond to his desire to dance, despite the fact that we were in public, and that it was most likely distracting to others. He apparently didn’t, or wasn’t able to consider these things. I entertained the idea that this was one of the blessings imbedded in this dreaded disease that was unexpected and heartwarming.
We continued to watch the movie, laughing together, and enjoying the ongoing entertainment. Then, all of a sudden, “I Got You Under My Skin” began to play. Instantly, AL was on his feet again, performing the fox trot. I let him dance for about 30 seconds because I was so captivated by his deep enjoyment. I considered not interrupting him, but I also didn’t want this special moment to be ruined by someone complaining, so I finally gently tugged on him again to cue him to sit down. He easily complied, and we watched the rest of the movie from our seats.
As I drove him home, I said to him “You really like Big Band music and those old songs, don’t you?” He said “Yes!” I thought to myself, “I have to get a cassette tape of music he likes and play it while we’re motoring around.” Anything to entertain him, I thought. I also realized that it really didn’t take much to entertain him. And, if he was entertained, then so was I.
I brought him home and couldn’t wait to tell my mother of our amusing afternoon. I let her know that his dancing talents have expanded, and that he doesn’t necessarily need a partner anymore. We both laughed.
This outing left me really looking forward to the next weekend. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized that he was this mild-mannered, ready for an adventure, lighthearted man now. I thought that the experiences of all of the past difficulties between us had prepared me to think of this “new” father as someone really special.
I began to recognize and appreciate that spending time together was pure enjoyment…for both of us.