It’s been a long time since I wrote about my Travels with The Professor.
Part of the reason for that is I have been grappling with the loss of my father: not physically — because he’s still very much alive — but mentally. On that score, dementia is a cruel disease.
For many months I’ve watched my father disappear. He has been increasingly vague, sleepy, repetitive, and occasionally disoriented. Then again, he has also been calm, appreciative, optimistic and unfailingly polite.
How wonderful, one might say. What a blessing that he is not aggressive or abusive, as can happen in such cases.
The Professor I grew up with — the person I know as Dad — was quite the opposite of all the things I have just described.
Except unfailingly polite. He’s always been that.
My Dad was one of the most intellectually engaged, rigorous thinkers I have ever had the privilege to know. If you asked his opinion about something — anything — he had a ready answer (or six), delivered with erudite precision. If we debated a course of action, he could see every last thing that could possibly go wrong. He was an early riser who had a hawk-like intensity and focus in everything he did — and he never, ever stopped doing, striding swiftly and purposefully from one task to the next.
Relaxation was not part of his vocabulary.
Dad was not always an easy man. He was strict, strong willed and someone I clashed with often. He was no stranger to anger, though incredibly self-controlled. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who sensed rage simmering below his eagle-eyed exterior from time to time. He did not suffer fools gladly and certainly didn’t use seven words when a single carefully selected one would do.
He was competitive, but would probably not have admitted to it. Family gatherings, however, would often turn into contests to see who could drop the most deadpan, tinder dry one liner into a conversation, and watch it ricochet around the room.
And then Alzheimer’s Disease stole my Dad away from me. Dementia has robbed me of the man who I would turn to for rapid fire reassurance and quick witted responses. It’s still difficult for me to comprehend that person — my Dad — is gone.
It’s really, really hard.
But then, last Wednesday, my father — as he is now — came over for the afternoon and, for reasons that will probably be forever unknown to me, we managed to have quite a lengthy conversation, one that ranged over many topics and contained surprisingly few repetitions on his part.
It wasn’t quite the same as it used to be, and given the degenerative nature of his disease, I know it never will be.
And then it happened.
Towards the end of the discussion with my father, I offered an opinion and — lightning quick and just as bright — there was Dad, telling me exactly and precisely what he thought. His face, his posture, his demeanour were all suddenly, fiercely, sublimely, transformed.
It didn’t last long, but he was there.
Hello, I’ve waited here for you…Everlong...
It’s heartbreaking to know that he is in there, somewhere beneath all that busted wiring and brain fog.
But it was so beautiful, so unexpected, and ever so precious, to see him again — and it is something I will cherish, knowing full well that it might end up being the last time I see him.
I will always, always love my father.
But I really, really miss my Dad.
It’s as simple and as difficult as that.