dad, john cameron chappell, may 2003each year, father’s day is a bit differently nuanced for me, especially in these recent years of living with mom and her shifting memories of him, their relationship, our family.  the man she remembers, or perhaps more accurately re-members, bears a kernel of resemblance to the man i recall growing up with, but the stories she tells have evolved, or devolved, dramatically in recent years. in some ways, her alzheimer’s dementia has done more to remove him from my life than it has removed her.

now, i totally get that memories are not reality. they are interpretations and so change over time.  i notice this quite regularly for mine. as i come to understand or reframe an event in my past, my memory of it changes. or maybe it is the emotional charge of the memory that changes, causing shifts in details. and memories differ from person to person, even when those people are all in the same room at the same time. have you had one of those conversations with a sibling? like, were we even raised in the same home??

all those memes that proclaim ‘people change, memories do not’ are simply nonsense.  memories might be precious, they might be horrific, they might be mundane, but they are also watery, opalescent, runny.

in general, dad was a modest and humble sort of person.  he was outspoken and direct and was never known to beat around the bush on anything.  he had a good sense of fun and a pointed sense of humour and this was never in short supply.  he never, in my memory, did anything for show, nor did he appreciate flash and show in others, and he did not suffer fools.  he also had a generous spirit and a gentle heart, though there were clearly times when he would allow his beliefs in what he ought to do over ride what his heart felt.  he was sexist, and behaved as would a gentleman of his era – both chivalrous and quick to point out the merits of sexist roles.  he loved all of us, even when that was difficult or painful.  he loved his wife.  he offered gruff, sometimes harsh, corrections and was given to despair when we fell into waywardness. he had a strong sense of family loyalty and obligation.

while mom loved him, in the ways she knew how, she did not see strength of character in his modesty and within days — moments? — of his death, she began a radical new storyline for her (our) life. these creations of her longing were so easy for me to live with when they were not a regular part of my life.  this changed when she came to live with us almost 3 years ago, and her new updated version of life was ever present.  early on, she would try to co-opt me into her re-creations and i, not fully understanding that i was responding to her-with-dementia and not just her, fully resisted. i no longer recognized him in her memories, though i saw so much of what she wanted to be in this construction of a whole new history.  it gave her a whole new present.

yet, it is really very little of her-with-dementia that is the composer of this brave new past.  my confusion was simply with my role. really, the rewrite is just her, as she has always been, but uncensored by the realities of others. as my partner pointed out much earlier in this way of being/living with her, the dementia has simply distilled her into a much more concentrated version of herself.

it has been part of a difficult and ongoing journey for me to leave these interpretations – often pure fabrication – be, to not be bothered by the dad in my heart no longer being the dad of our shared history.

see? here i am, talking about it. still. and i know i am not yet finished.

so, today, on this father’s day, i take a moment to be grateful he did not live to see her into her life with dementia; he would not have coped well with it.  and i am thankful for the bits of him-in-me that i like which balance out some of the bits of her-in-me i do not.  i allow myself to soften into my own memories and accept that some of the choices i made were right and reasonable responses of a girl, a child, living in a chaotic life circumstance where little was as it seemed and so much was the opposite of the official narrative. i can begin to release some of this now.  i am sure dad would be okay with me finding my way.