Tuesday, November 12, 2013—11/12/13—my father would have celebrated his 87th birthday. This is the first birthday I have celebrated without him here.
I could have chosen to be sad that day. I could have chosen to go sit at his graveside to reflect on my loss. Could have. But BOY would I have heard about it from Dad. No, really. My Dad would have found a way to reach right out of the great beyond to shake his finger directly at my nose for sure.
Dad was not a “sit around and mourn for me” kind of guy. He was loud, opinionated, funny, kind, wildly generous, and did I mention funny? So it was important to me that I honor his special day in a Dad-appropriate manner.
Dad lived at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor (OMM), a retirement community in Tulsa. He and Mom moved to one of the small independent homes on campus in 2004, and then, as Mom’s care needs increased, he moved to follow her—first to an independent apartment in the main building and finally to a comfortable apartment in the assisted living wing. A lot happened during that journey of less than a decade, but we’ll leave most of that to another day, another story.
Mom passed away in 2009 when she was 85. She and Dad had been married for 61 years, so it was a huge life change for Dad. I know he missed her, I know he felt lost without her. Add to that the fact that Dad’s own health challenges had forced changes that truly limited his ability to do a lot of the things he truly loved. Failing eyesight, limited mobility—yes the aging process can be a mean little bitch.
So what’s a man to do? Well, had out candy, of course. Yes, candy. Lots of it. This was not a new theme for my dad. In fact, I can’t recall a day in my life when Dad’s candy stash wasn’t filled to the brim. Oh, and did I mention he was a dentist? Yes…dental health was the man’s life, but he handed out candy non-stop. He was a living, breathing oxymoron. Or was he just creating his own job security? That little mystery has gone to the grave with him and the truth shall never be known.
So, take one outgoing man, with a sharp mind, and…well, truth be told…a pulse, and place him in an assisted living home where the ratio of men to women was approximately one to 40, and you have a very popular man. Now hand that man a bag of Hershey’s Nuggets miniature candy bars and you have basically created a modern-day, senior citizen Romeo. Yeah, Dad was one popular dude. Popular to the point that his name officially became “Candy Man.” Everyone—residents and staff alike—knew who the fabled Candy Man was.
You have to love it. I may even appreciate his genius a little more now than I did then. You see, I was his candy mule. I was the supplier. I got to make the trek to Sam’s Club every couple of weeks to clear their shelves of bags and bags of Dad’s candy of choice and then lug it back to the Methodist Manor so that everyone in his path, every single day, could have some. That stuff was heavy, but shame on me for the times when I mentally complained about having to get it (never to Dad, though. Never to Dad.).
Though there was a two Nugget limit per person to keep things in check, Dad’s generous habit still easily cost him two to three hundred dollars a month. But, it was his joy, and who was I to put a damper on that?
The kicker is that Dad had developed diabetes late in life and could not enjoy his own sweet little offerings. Not even one Nugget passed that man’s lips. He was very dedicated to managing his condition and faithful to his dietary restrictions.
Dad entered the hospital the day after his birthday last year and passed away 19 days later. I have to believe that many a sweet tooth shed a tear that day and the population of the Holliman Assisted Living wing at OMM probably lost an average of five pounds in the ensuing weeks. Oh, the word bittersweet has never been more appropriate.
So on 11/12/13, I revisited my path to the candy isle at Sam’s Club. I bought bags of Hershey’s Nuggets. I drove to Dad’s old stomping grounds. I found his favorite aide, Dunnel—a wonderfully cheerful man with an almost too-good-to-be-true African accent—and I gave him enough Nuggets to ensure that all residents and employees could have two. No more, no less. And I smiled. Dunnel smiled. And you know, I know darn well that Dad smiled too.
Happy birthday, Candy Man. I love you.