August 18, 2013

The man he was before

I'd like you to meet my dad. Not the man I wrote about last week, or have been for the past several months. That isn't him; that is a disease.

I want to take the opportunity to tell you about the man he was before dementia ravaged his brain.

My dad was a salesman, by trade and by nature. He was friendly, affable. Didn't know a stranger. Had a wonderful smile and a wicked sense of humor.

He loved to tell jokes. They weren't very good, and his repertoire was not vast, but he told them with such enthusiasm you could not help but laugh. Even if you'd heard them 100 times.

He was the life of the party. People sought out and greatly enjoyed his company. But while he was very fun, he also had a serious side. He understood when each was appropriate.

When my dad made friends, he kept them. My husband, after getting to know many of our family friends, marveled at how long my dad had maintained cherished, strong relationships with others. And how those people stayed involved in his life.

He grew up in southern California. Attended college and began his career on the East coast. Spent nearly 30 years in the Midwest before moving to Florida after retirement.

He was a leader. For the one company he worked for during his entire 35 year career. At the churches he attended. In the communities in which he lived.

My dad always encouraged me to dream big. And to be prepared to work hard to turn those dreams into realities. He taught me to not sit back and wait for things to happen, but to get out there and make them happen.

My dad was honest and trustworthy. Hard working. A man of principle. And of faith. Dedicated to his family.

We were very much alike, my dad and me. We understood each other. And could happily spend hours together without saying a word. We didn't need them.

My dad was human. He made mistakes. But he always owned up to them, apologized for them and most of all, learned from them. That is one of the best lessons he taught me about life.

He loved baseball. And golf. Was a voracious reader. A music aficionado. After listening to a few bars of any song from his era or earlier, he could tell you the title, artist and usually the specific musicians playing that particular version. His favorite genre was jazz.

He was an amazing dancer.

Dad had a distinct sense of style. When I was growing up, he was known among my friends for his pants. Including a wild pair from designer Lilly Pulitzer that had raccoons on them. In pastel colors.

At my wedding, people laughed and asked my dad what it felt like to win the Masters...

Speaking of marriage, my dad and mom recently had their 52nd wedding anniversary. They met in high school. Enjoyed some wonderful times together, and endured difficult ones. Through it all, they knew how to laugh. They taught me many important lessons about marriage.

Dad loved my husband like a son and was an amazing grandfather to my daughter, who dubbed him "BaBop."

He was my hero. My role model. My greatest cheerleader. My friend.

It may seem strange that I am writing about him in the past tense. He is, after all, still alive. But the man I'm writing about is no longer with us. That is what dementia does; it steals the essence of the person.

You lose your loved one before you lose them.

And I miss my dad so much. I will love him until the day he dies and beyond. But as he slips farther and farther away from us, I find myself clinging helplessly to the man he was before...

If you know my dad, I'd love for you to share a favorite memory in the comments. If you don't know him, I welcome you to share a favorite memory of your own father.

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