Dear Dad, Take 2

Dear Dad,

I don’t have a letter I need to write you this week. No weaseling, no considering “maybe a postcard, because I’m so busy.” I just don’t have to get that done. Yet here one is.

We haven’t been able to talk over the phone in years. With your dementia and your hearing problems it was an exercise in frustration. That’s why I started sending you a letter (or a postcard) every week instead.

Why is it, then, that I felt a pang of loss walking home that I would never call you up and ask your advice again? Or hear you tell me about the weather and whatever was going on in your life, then have you ask me if I was okay (“Fine Dad”) and then you’d hang up?

I really haven’t been mourning, at least not beyond having a hard time maintaining my focus. Yet right now, there it is, in the middle of my chest, and I don’t know what to do with it.

Aside to write about it. Right here.

Mom died when I was so much younger. Was I 28 years old then? It seems a lifetime ago. There was so much unresolved in my relationship with her. I struggled with her death for months and months, letting go of my unspoken dream of talking her around somehow, having her become a parent instead of an alcoholic. Almost every interaction she and I had over the course of years was fraught with angst, anger and anxiety. In the years before her death there weren’t many of those as I sought to protect myself. I wanted to make her better, and when she died, I had to let go of that dream. It was so, so hard.

With you, I resolved all that. Let it go, on the most part, realized that it was my choice of who I wanted to be with you in our relationship. And I was that, imperfectly, but altogether doing a pretty good job of it.

I think you got off easy compared to Mom. Your crimes were crimes of omission, unlike her active malice an dysfunction. It was easier for you to evade blame with that shrug of your shoulders and the “I didn’t know.” And apologies without action, far after the fact. It was your job to know. It was your responsibility to know. Although I forgive you; although I forgave you years ago, that burden rests on you nevertheless. It makes me sad, thinking about it.

I’m at peace with that. There is, there was no way for me to fix it. Maybe that’s what makes this easier than with Mom. Or maybe grief is waiting around the corner to come after me. I don’t know. I think there will be many corners for me to turn in these next months, and I will see as it happens.

I’m thinking about you, Dad.

I love you, Dad.

I miss you, Dad.

Dear Dad

Dear Dad,

I should have written you earlier this week, and I’ve been reminding myself and carrying a card around for a few days looking for time. Turns out it really wouldn’t have mattered if I got that letter out first thing Monday or not; you died this morning or last night — I’m not quite sure which. I hope it was quietly in your sleep without fear or pain or stress.

That letter that I didn’t write would have been in transit during the holiday season. I can’t quite imagine that it would have gotten to you yesterday, and I am sure it would have made my sister sad to see it arrive tomorrow. Maybe it is all just as well.

I feel numb today. Stunned. Even though I expected this; there’s a time when you know it is coming because someone keeps getting ill, and that’s been you these past few months. I am glad you hung on so that I could visit you one last time before the holidays. I sent you a holiday card right before Christmas — surely that arrived within the past few days.

This has been the strangest New Year’s Day. Walking in a dream. Between the reality that was yesterday, and the one I face tomorrow.

Losing a parent is hard. With the second one, you know you are looking mortality right in the face, and it smirks at you and says, “You’re next.” I can’t even muster a reaction to that today.

Goodbye, Dad. You will always be my Dad. And I will always love you because you’re my Dad. Now that you are gone, I can look back at what was the last good day, maybe a year and a half ago or longer, in the spring, when you were awake and lively and talkative, and I took you out into the garden. I remember the next day you were conked out and I couldn’t wake you to eat lunch or even say goodbye to me. I realized that moment was precious when it happened. I hoped there would be another. We are out of moments.

And I am sad.

I love you Dad.

Father’s Day

Dear Dad,

I wish I could call you today to wish you a happy Father’s Day and to have a talk about all the things going on in my life. I learned to take your advice on some matters with a grain of salt, but with others you had good insights for me. Moving, selling my house, making plans for the future — there are times I feel so overwhelmed with it all, and I wish I could talk it over with my Dad.

But we can’t talk on the phone easily anymore, and I had to make due with letters. I sent you two last week. I forgot it was going to be Father’s Day at the beginning of the week, and so I just sent you a note from Washington. I knew I missed the week before, so I hope it helped make up for that. Wednesday, after I returned to Texas, Father’s Day was on my mind, and I sent you another card specifically for it. I posted it that day, but I don’t think it will arrive until next week. I hope that will be okay. I will send you another note today; your regular weekly letter since phone calls, like I said, don’t work well anymore.

I would imagine that the sister who is taking care of you will visit today. Maybe she will even take you out somewhere. I wonder if my other siblings will mark the day in any way. There are two who could easily visit. There are two more who could at least send a card. But that’s not my business nor my problem. I don’t control anyone else’s relationship to you, only my own. I know I could do better; I just hope I do good enough.

Good enough to let you know you are loved. Good enough to let you know I’m in your corner and would do what I can for you. Good enough to let you know that whatever has happened with my siblings, that I’m not blaming you for that.

There’s been a lot of water under the bridge, Dad. Sometimes I wish you had been a different, stronger person, with more integrity. But I got what I got, and you are the only Dad I will ever have. One thing I know is that while you often didn’t understand me, you loved me beyond reason, you were proud of me. Sometimes you wanted to protect me, even if you didn’t know how. Sometimes you did know how.

I will always remember how, after that bad car accident, you bought a car for me and drove it out to me from California. It wasn’t the type of car I would have picked out. Then again, we aren’t the type of family where parents buy cars for their kids. I knew that you were doing your best to take care of me. I washed that car, and I took care of that car, and I appreciated that car knowing how it represented your love for me.

We’ve had some rough patches along the way. I wish I could go back and find a better way through some of them; you don’t realize how precious time is until it is gone. I know, I know, you aren’t dead yet. And I will love you in my actions through to the end.

One thing I’ve come to understand is that even when the parent-child bond is damaged or broken, whatever things that happen to sunder the two, just what a powerful force it is that pulls our hearts toward each other. Wanting your parent’s love and approval is one of the most powerful forces on earth.

I love you Dad. I wish I could make you better. I wish I could make you as sharp as a tack. I wish I could redo some things from the past. I know I will do my best to write you every week though I expect I’ll miss a few. And I will visit at least twice a year, through to the end. I will do my best to be there when that end comes.


Dr. Jinx

What is love?

What is love? I don’t call Dad anymore. The conversation confuses him and frustrates me. It doesn’t go anywhere. I was avoiding and delaying making calls, and thus not getting it done. Instead, I started writing to him. I try to write once a week. I don’t always succeed, but at least I often succeed.

What is love? I think about this every time I visit the nursing home.

I don’t want to go.

It is sad inside, and I am depressed when I leave.

Sometimes I’m glad when Dad is too sleepy/out of it to visit. Then I can leave more quickly.

I feel guilty for that.

But twice a year, I make a trip up to Chicago. I see him pretty much every day for the three or so days I am up there. I get to visit my friends too. I go, and I sit with him, wondering if he’ll remember I was there. I touch his arm or his shoulder. I hug him, and I tell him I love him. I worry about how he is doing.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sleepy Dad and me selfie.

Sometimes, when he asks obnoxious questions about my underthings, I remember all the ways he failed me as a parent, and many things that I don’t or didn’t like about him. But that’s water under the bridge now; that parent is gone, most of what he is is gone.

I cannot fix any of that. The only thing I can do is show up. Twice a year. For a few days. Even though part of me really doesn’t want to. Yes, I show up for him. But I also show up for me. Because showing up tells me who I am. That, in the end, I realize this is the only father I will ever have, and that he loved me, however imperfectly. I loved him too. However imperfectly.

It is my turn now to take responsibility for loving him now by showing up and by writing letters since those are the things I can do.

Semi-annual visit

Twice a year I fly up to see my Dad. He’s in a nursing home not too far from where I grew up.

I’m lucky, I have friends in the area, so I can visit Dad and combine that with visiting people that I want to see. Part responsibility, part fun.

No matter what, visiting the nursing home is always hard. I haven’t been to a cheerful one yet. People in various degrees of disability and distress, unable to take care of themselves. Some, I am sure, are making the best of the life they have. Maybe some are very content and happy there, but I don’t see it.

Dad has been sleepy and fairly unresponsive this trip with one notable exception. Yesterday he greeted me with the question, “Are you wearing a bra?” “Yes, Dad,” pulling out the strap, “see?” “I can see your nipples,” was his reply. Today I made sure to wear a patterned shirt. Meanwhile my sense of comfort in my own clothing is diminished.

I have to admit, Dad did this before the dementia set in — or maybe the dementia was setting in long long ago. This is not the first time for the bra accusation. One of the worst was when the two of us were sitting in a crowded restaurant, and he burst out with a loud, “My, you have a lot of hair on your face.” Thanks, Dad.

Little lost letter

I send a holiday letter to my Aunt Em (one of Dad’s oldest friends), even though I don’t hear back. She must the same age he is, 86 or so? Her husband died about 15 years ago; on a day Dad was visiting me. I may never forgive that boyfriend for not waking me up from the nap I was taking when that call came in. That was Dad’s best friend, and he sat there, stunned and alone in his grief while I slept. That boyfriend was clueless.

A year ago, I got a “this person has moved to this address” and my letter was returned, but I saved the address. I sent another one this year, somewhere up in Wisconsin. I don’t expect to hear back, but if she’s still alive — and her mother lived to 100-something — I want her to know that I think of her still, and fondly.

I got a letter from one of her sons tonight. My letter was received and enjoyed. She’s got dementia, like Dad does, and is living in a facility in Chicagoland, so maybe I will go visit her the next time I go see my Dad, if her son gives me the address.

Sometimes love is in the little things that you aren’t convinced really matter at the time you do them. The little things that would be so easy to skip. Just another holiday letter; I’m not even sure I have the right address. You just do them anyway and hope. Sometimes those letters make it, not to where you sent them, but to where they needed to go. They gave someone a smile, maybe only a brief one, but that’s all you could really expect to do.


I screwed up today. Dad had an appointment for a blood draw at 1 pm, and I didn’t show to visit him until 12:30. My sister was there to take him to his appointment, and I barely got to say hello before I had to say goodbye.

Relations are tense with my sister; we don’t communicate. She had it marked on the calendar in his room, but Dad and I haven’t visited in his room yet this trip. I didn’t see it. I have a cold. I slept in today and headed here later than I might have.

It’s not her fault. It’s not my fault. It certainly isn’t Dad’s fault, but there it is.

Now I have the option to cool my heels for another hour and a half or so and return to see him, hoping he is alert and awake then, or to declare I did what I could today. Neither one feels great. As I so often tell my students struggling with life decisions, “There is no right answer. There is no wrong answer. You have to do your best and decide.”

Today is my last day here. I can’t come back tomorrow; my flight leaves at 8 am. We did have a good visit yesterday. I was there for 2 hours. Part of the time we were watching a holiday performance at the nursing home. Yesterday he told me that he would drive down to Texas to visit me next Christmas. He likes the warmer weather. I suggested we should take a side trip to the Grand Canyon. Of course, I’d have to do more of the driving for that. He wanted to know where we were going to dinner, and I named one of his favorite restaurants in the area. He gave me a hard time about my abused fingernails. It was bittersweet.

So much of visiting a nursing home is bittersweet. It is the right thing to do, so hard to do, and the only thing you can do. I make it out here twice a year. Maybe I could make it three. Given how far away I live, I could probably justify one. Do what you can do. Try not to let the rest get to you.

It is getting to me a little today.


It’s weird to be back in my hometown. This is home; it feels like home, but it was more than half my life ago that it was home. And it’s changed, not that I remember clearly what it was like before! The streets feel right and the houses look right (so pretty, so pretty), and there are sidewalks everywhere. I’d hardly need my car if I was close to work. At least not at this time of the year.

I miss it, and it isn’t mine any more. Hasn’t been for a long time. Deja-new? Something like that.

I visited Dad in the nursing home four days straight; today I took off to be a tourist. I went to downtown Chicago for an architecture tour and a visit to the Art Institute. Dad would have enjoyed the architecture tour. If only the logistics of dealing with someone who is infirm and so very low on energy weren’t so overwhelming.

This was Dad's favorite place to eat downtown.  I wished that he could join me on the Architecture tour today.

This was Dad’s favorite place to eat downtown. I wished that he could join me on the Architecture tour today.

A bat hanging out on the Rookery buidling.

A bat hanging out on the Rookery buidling.

Street name detail on the Rookery building.

Street name detail on the Rookery building.

The Green line train rolls into the station.

The Green line train rolls into the station.