My first encounter with a less-than-able dad came 25 or so years ago, when he had a normal prostate operation. I was in college then, and came home for a few days to help him recover.
I remember sitting by his hospital bed after the surgery. “NO SEX FOR A MONTH!” the doctor bellowed – I’m guessing maybe urologists aren’t chosen for their social skills? I cringed in horror, not just at the violation of his privacy – the state of my dad’s nethers was audible from down the hall, I’m sure – but because I was very young and had not yet encountered the idea that my dad was physically vulnerable.
Time and disability have caught up with both of us. I have a hereditary condition (lipedema) that becomes disabling at perimenopause. Dad has had a couple of heart attacks. Now, at 48 and 84, we travel with our walkers (or we would if Dad would use his).
There are lots of things I’ve learned from my dad. Things like
* There is nothing that can't be improved by putting sugar and/or maple syrup on it. This includes lettuce, tomato slices and snow.
* The Red Sox are the only team worth rooting for. The Yankees were put on this earth by Satan himself.
* Vermont is God's country. The farther away from it you go, the less civilization you encounter.
Today, though, I’m thinking about what we’ve learned about disability together.
Live in the now. I’m sure Dad would like to be as active as he used to be, able to drive, able to see and hear more, able to move more. But he doesn’t waste time lamenting what used to be. He’s much more focused on getting plants into the garden he has built at his retirement community, keeping an eye on the Bruins’ run for the Stanley Cup, and making plans for his annual strawberry jam-making vacation.
Do what you can. Dad still does his own grocery shopping, though it’s an increasingly slow and troublesome process for him. He manages his own money, though I help him now with the computer parts. He does these and many other things even though help is available, because he wants to. As his health has suffered over the last few years, I’ve learned that when he’s being stubborn and independent, he’s probably OK; when he starts doing what I tell him, that’s the time to worry.
Give back. Even as he has become older and less able, he continues to care about his community, to vote, to give to charity, to look after his daughter. In particular, he has enjoyed connecting with people from his past at school reunions and on visits to his hometown. Though his politics aren’t mine, I know it’s possible to be a Republican and be a good person, because my dad is one.
Change is going to happen. How you deal with it is your responsibility. Dad is not what you’d call flexible. I mean, the man has eaten Rice Krispies for breakfast for more than 50 years. But when circumstances made it necessary to move him out of the town where he’d lived for 35 years, so that I could be closer to him, he made up his mind to like it, and he has.
Disability is better than the alternative. It’s a cliché by now – disability creeps up on all of us eventually, and if you’re healthy and strong and active, enjoy it, because it is in fact temporary. Yet I am very grateful to have my dad around, just as he is.