The Magic of Dad

ImageBeing a dad means a lot of things and, looking back at my Dad’s parenting career, I’d have to say that one of those things…a HUGE thing…was learning to compromise. Especially when you are the only man in a houseful of girls.

My dad was a manly, power-tool loving, football cheering, John Wayne doppelganger kind of guy. He was a funny, strong, outspoken, smart, you-don’t-have-to-ask-his-opinion man. A man’s man through and through.

He and my dear mom first had sweet baby Cindy–Daddy’s girl. Then, I’m sure everyone thought baby number two would be a boy. But no, they had cute little Terry. Daddy’s second girl. Now technically, “Terry” with a “y” is considered the boy spelling, so maybe dad was going for something there…but no, he was thrilled with his two pretty girls.

A few years later, in a didn’t-plan-it-didn’t-prevent-it accident…wait, they called it a “pleasant surprise” to spare me years of therapy…Mom and Dad were blessed with another pregnancy. Everyone was absolutely sure this one would be a boy. Even the doctor said it would be a boy, though there were no ultrasounds at the time. I’m guessing Doc must have done the spoon tied to a string dangling over Mom’s belly test or some other completely unreliable voodoo procedure.

I say unreliable because I am, of course, Daddy’s girl number three. Dad did not regret his three girls one tiny bit. Of course he did bolt out to get a vasectomy immediately after I was born, but without regret. Too much information? Sorry.

So I’m pretty sure my Dad’s life was in no small part about compromise. A big manly-man doesn’t live in a house with a wife and three girls without a little give and take. And there was a lot of give on his part. A lot. He was that kind of dad.

On this father’s day, I’m reminded of one huge check in Dad’s give column. The take-the-entire-family-to-Disney-World give, and at this point, “family” included spouses and four grandkids. If you knew my dad, this gesture deserved more than the obvious “wow, that’s a lot of people to treat in Disney” reaction.

Let me give you a little background. Dad was not exactly a family vacay kind of guy. Not that he didn’t enjoy spending time with everyone, he loved family time more than anything. It’s just that he loved family time at home. Preferably HIS home.

So, on Christmas Day, in 1990-someodd (I am not particularly good with dates), my father made the grand announcement, to a gathering of his children and his grandchildren that in June, just after the last day of school, he was treating everyone to a Disney World vacation extravaganza.

Everyone said YAY! I sat stunned and said, “Really?”

Then I said yay too…because I didn’t want to appear ungrateful. But REALLY? The man who didn’t care for travel. The man who didn’t particularly care to fly. The man who most loved being home, tending his amazing veggie garden, was going to go to Disney? In the heat of the summer? At the peak of tourist season?

Well there’s that compromise part. Big time. Dad probably NEVER really wanted to go to Disney World, but he knew it would be the trip of a lifetime for all of the kids (adult and actual).

My mother had worked with a travel agent and the whole trip was in the bag. Piece of cake. Take eleven people to Disney. Sure. Easy. Yikes.

At this particular phase in my life, I was working in Corporate America for CITGO Petroleum. We had annual conventions for all of our branded marketers. I helped plan them. The one place on earth where it was easy to find lots of space and entertainment for a couple thousand of your closest friends, was/is (drumroll) ORLANDO! So let’s just say I had been traveling to and from Orlando several times a year for several years. Let’s just say I knew the route. Really well. Really bleeping well.

I was, however, completely on board with Dad’s vision of the whole family strolling hand-in-hand through the Magic Kingdom. It was going to happen and it was going to be awesome. Dammit. Awesome.

So fast forward to June. We all checked in at the airport on time. That went well. We all got on the airplane. The same plane. That went well. We all made our connecting flight in Dallas. That went well. We all made it to Orlando. That went well.

If it seems to you that this is all going too smoothly, you’re a clever one. We all went to claim our luggage. That didn’t go so well.

Whose luggage do you suppose did not make it to Orlando? You guessed it. Mr. Compromise. Dear old Dad.

Since I had the most/most recent travel experience at that time, my family parked in a lovely airport seating area while I headed off to file a lost luggage report on Dad’s behalf. The suitcase was described…tracking was underway…I was given an 800 number to call to check on the progress of Dad’s delinquent suitcase. The suitcase with EVERY essential in it. The suitcase that was likely off on its own vacay in Tahiti or some such destination.

Soooo…Dad was a bit OCD when it came to organization and preparedness. We were the family that would never run out of foil, toilet paper, or toothpaste. There were cabinets in Dad’s garage filled with the stuff. And it was all exactly in place. Labeled.

With this background information, you can well imagine how Dad’s stress level might have started to ratchet up a tad. However, after a few moments cursing the airline under his breath, he took a deep breath, plastered a smile on his face, uttered the obligatory “it’s no big deal,” and we all headed out to board the bus. In Dad’s world I suspect that mass transit was just another rung on his personal ladder to hell, but he took it all in stride. Without his suitcase.

We made it to the hotel. It was late afternoon at this point, so I suggested that we stop by the gift shop to purchase a few essentials for Dad in case his suitcase did not appear that night. I was met by Dad’s wide-eyed “what do you mean it might not be here tonight” expression, which he quickly traded for his “no big deal” forced smile. He then purchased a few toiletries, an incredibly expensive pair of boxer shorts, and a Mickey Mouse golf shirt.

I am pleased to report that Dad’s luggage did arrive later that evening. Much later. After midnight later.  And they knocked on the door. Waking my parents. After midnight, after a full day of Gallimore Family Vacation travel. I’m pretty sure Dad greeted the bellman in his new Goofy-themed boxer shorts without a smile plastered on his face. “No. Big. Deal.” (It was becoming somewhat of a mantra at this point.)

ImageOk. Let the vacation begin! While it may seem that things got off to a little rocky start, and despite the fact that I was initially a little jaded after so very many business trips to Orlando, the Gallimore Family Disney Extravaganza was actually a magical time.

Though Dad’s vision of the whole family strolling off to find Mickey together wasn’t totally realistic considering the 40 million other families that had the same vision; we did improvise with a well-orchestrated divide and conquer strategy. My sisters and I devised a quick plan to alternate hanging out with Mom and Dad while the other two-thirds of the family would bolt off to hit the two-hour-wait lines that would eventually lead to rides that Dad would NEVER step foot on.

The third of the family on “Mom and Dad duty” would stroll casually, enjoying sights, parades, and characters. The on-duty third would make well-planned visits to various big attractions just in time for Dad to see the grandkids screaming in delight.

At midday, we’d all meet up for an air-conditioned lunch and then Mom and Dad would often head back to just enjoy a little quiet time at the hotel pool while their little darlings turned into sweaty, wonder-filled bundles of Disney adrenaline/exhaustion. Then we’d all meet back up for dinner followed by oooo-ahhhhh fireworks.

ImageAnd you know, Dad’s Christmas dream really did come true. The Gallmore Family one-of-a-kind, never-to-be-repeated Disney Extravaganza (a guy can only give so much!) was awesome.

Dad compromised, he took the entire family on a trip that probably had little to no appeal for him, and he was our hero. Though it was certainly not his ideal vacation (his ideal vacation would have been a week at home to catch up on his DIY projects), his joy was in seeing his family have fun. Nothing made him happier.

And Tigger. I think Tigger made it a pretty good vacation too. He and Dad definitely bonded over the course of the week.

Thanks Dad. For making so many big and little dreams come true throughout or lives, I thank you. Happy Father’s Day. I love you. I miss you.

 

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Golden Love. My Dad and his Girlfriend.

“Bob is seeing a young woman now,” Dad commented, trying to sound casual.

He didn’t fool me. I knew he was trying to weave his way into a specific conversation he needed to have with me, so I played along.

Bob was a longtime family friend. His wife, Dorothy, had passed away a few years ago, a couple of years before my mother had died. Now, Bob was dating again. He had met a “young woman” of 60-something—I guess to my 85-year-old father, she was just a girl.

“Really?” I prompted, deciding to let him fill in the details I already knew. “How wonderful—I’m sure it’s nice for him to have companionship again after losing Dorothy.”

“I’m not sure his family is excited about it, Bob said they haven’t really accepted the idea of him dating again,” said Dad, turning his head just slightly to glance at me, almost like a nervous schoolboy. “They haven’t been very receptive, I guess.”

“Well, maybe they just need a little time,” I said. “I’m sure it’s an adjustment to think of Bob with anyone but Dorothy.” Just as it would be an adjustment to think of my dad loving anyone but my mother.

“Well, you know, it gets very lonely…I’m sure Bob has been very lonely,” Dad said, stumbling a bit between his reality and Bob’s reality. It was touching to see my dad’s struggle to find his I-need-to-tell-you-something words. Having spent a lifetime working to find just the right words to break news to him, I found this role reversal to be a bit awkward for both of us.

My parents had been married for just over 61 years when my mother died. Dad had survived several confusing years as he watched Mom’s steady decline in the grip of dementia. Now he had been alone for about 18 months. As alone, that is, as a man in an assisted living apartment complex can possibly be. Men are greatly outnumbered by women in retirement communities and whether he realized it or not, dear old Dad was a hot property at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor. My sister and I, noticing the ladies of OMM noticing our father, had always known that this moment, the need for this conversation, would just be a matter of time.

Over the past couple of weeks it had come to my attention that one of Dad’s neighbors seemed to be by his side more often than not. She was a lovely, trim woman who was always beautifully dressed, hair always just so, lipstick in place. She had a twinkle in her soft blue eyes and a gentle southern accent that carried an audible smile when she spoke. It was more than obvious that Ina and Dad had grown quite fond of each other.

Was it initially hard to walk down the hall to find my Dad holding another woman’s hand for a little longer than a friendly moment? Admittedly, yes—it was difficult to pacify the loyalty to my mother that welled up in my heart. But those feelings were quickly, gently soothed as I would stop to watch the young-at-heart couple, just before they noticed me heading their way. The look on my Dad’s face, the tone of his voice, the smile that spread not out of a sense of politeness, but from a place inside his heart, filled me with a new kind of peace. My Dad had been devoted to my mother for six decades. How could I expect him to just abandon that capacity for love now that she was gone?

So I sat with Dad and we talked about Bob, though we both knew we weren’t really talking about Bob at all. “You know Dad, I’m happy for Bob,” I said. “It’s a lucky man who is blessed to find special love twice in his life. I’m sure his family will see that too. They’ll welcome his happiness.”

Dad looked out the window, obviously not able to meet my eyes in that moment. “I’m glad to hear you say that,” he said softly, “It’s no fun to be lonely. It’s so hard.”

“I know, Dad. Everyone deserves to share their days with someone special.”

“Everyone,” I emphasized.

We sat a moment longer in comfortable silence, everything said that needed to be said. Then I saw Ina approaching, and I saw my dad’s face light up.

“Hello, Ms. Ina,” I said to my dad’s 93-year-old girlfriend as I got up from my chair. “Here, take my spot next to Dad.” Ina smiled pleasantly, as she always did, and accepted my place…now also her place…next to my father.  As I turned to leave, I kissed my Dad on the cheek and whispered in his ear, “Make sure you kids don’t stay out too late.”

With a chuckle in acceptance of my blessing, two hands clasped openly and golden hued love, secret no more, blossomed.

My father and Ina were an item at the Oklahoma Methodist Manor for the last year of his life. They ate all of their meals together, they spent afternoons holding hands as they sat in their favorite sunny spot by a large window near Dad’s apartment. Every evening, they would watch a little television and then Ina would turn down my father’s bed before retiring to her own apartment for the night. If I happened to be there as she was leaving, she would turn to me to say—and you really have to hear these words spoken in the sweetest southern accent possible—“I hope you don’t mind, but I’m going to give your father some sugar right now.” And she would lean down to softly kiss Dad on the lips.

No, Ms. Ina, I didn’t mind one bit. Not one tiny bit.Dad and Ina

It’s December 2 and I Feel Nothing.

ImageToday is December 2. I should feel something. I’m not sure what. But something.

December 2 is just another day to most people, but not to me. It’s a day I will always remember for three good reasons—and one tough one.

The good reasons.

On December 2, 1995, a litter of 12 beautiful Dalmatian puppies was whelped at a good friend’s house. I had the absolute pleasure of being there to help each precious puppy squeal its way into existence. The puppies started coming at 12 midnight and were all here by 6:00 the next morning. The firstborn was a big, strong boy that was immediately nicknamed Bear because he looked just like a little white polar bear. Eight weeks later, Bear would become my special puppy, renamed Teddy.

Myra familyOn December 2, 1997, exactly two years later, a litter of 12 beautiful Dalmatian puppies was whelped, this time in my home. I helped my sweet girl Myra welcome her family starting with the first puppy at 6:00 a.m., and ending with the last puppy born at 12 noon.  The second puppy born would be my sweet Vanny, and the fourth puppy, my boy Carter.

Two litters of 12 puppies, born two years apart on 12/2. One litter born between 12 and six, the other born between six and 12. They almost had to be special puppies…and they were.

In addition to becoming my beloved companions, both Teddy and Carter were champion show dogs. Evander was an exceptional agility dog and also performed as a fire safety education dog teaching children how to stop, drop and roll, how to crawl under smoke, and how to jump out of a window to go to a safe meeting place.

These dogs were with me through many good times and, at various points through the years, each licked salty tears from my cheeks. They were family to me.

I just lost Van on April 12th of this year. Of course he left on the magical 12th day. All three boys lived happy lives well into their teens. In all three cases, it was simply their time to go.  Their respective deaths were peaceful with Jim and I by their sides. I helped bring these boys into this world; I was there to help ease them back out.

So today I should feel gratitude. As in years past, I should feel joy in the happy memories of Teddy, Carter and Vanny. But I don’t.

Ted Dad NanDecember 2 is also the day my father died. It was last year. He had been declining for weeks. There were no miracles left for his tired heart. It was his time. My sister and I were by his side when he left.  In the embrace of our love, he passed peacefully.

I’m not one to dwell on the anniversaries of death. I don’t immerse myself in grief. It’s just not how I choose to cope. It’s not how I want to remember my loved ones.

But I will always remember 12/2. It has been a fixture on my calendar for 18 years. And now it is the first anniversary of Dad’s death.

And I should feel something.

All day long I waited for it. The meltdown. The melancholy. The hollow sense of loss.

Or maybe the annual feelings of celebration would surface. The faint smell of puppy breath.  The warm memory of promise in each precious first breath.

But no. Just nothing.

I couldn’t believe it. What was wrong with me? Am I that hard? That callous?

No.

The truth finally spoke to me.

If I opened that door in my mind, even just a tiny crack, I would be surrounded by fog of loss, of longing. I would have to surrender myself to feelings that just did not have an appointment on today’s busy calendar, or within the walls of my bracing heart.

It’s not that I don’t feel anything today. It’s that I just can’t. I won’t. I won’t allow it.

Maybe later, when my day is done, when I’m not required to be a functioning adult for another eight hours or so, maybe then I’ll open that door and I’ll welcome Dad and three handsome spotted dogs in for a visit.

Maybe then I’ll let myself cry. Maybe? Oh, who am I fooling…I’ll cry a little.

Then I’ll hear my dad’s voice saying something like, “Oh hell, Nan, we’re fine. Suck it up.” Dad could never stand to see one of his girls in tears. I’ll picture the dogs wagging their tails and dancing in circles to cheer me.

I’ll listen to Dad, and I’ll smile at my boys. I’ll let my tears dry as I quietly shut that door again, lingering on the threshold for just a moment to say another goodbye.

See you next year, boys.

Paying Homage to the Candy Man

Candy man (3)

The candy of choice. Never question the Candy Man’s judgement on this topic.

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.

In The Next Moment…

Dad and Miles

Dad enjoying a visit from his great-grandson, Miles. Photo by Erin Tindell

In one moment my sister Terry and I were talking about how to best help our dad recover from a bout with pneumonia. In what seemed like just a moment later we were talking with a hospice nurse about how to best ease his transition from this life. In the next moment we were telling him how much we love him. In the next moment, he was gone.

It’s funny how life can radically change in just a moment. My dad had just turned 86 years old. He had been having some ongoing health issues, but nothing on our radar suggested that we were about to lose him. Oh sure, he took an amazing amount of pills on a daily basis. And yes, he had many issues that we just helped him deal with as best as anyone can. But he was still “sharp as a tack,” as everyone says, and ornery as ever.

Dad was not, in his senior years, what you would describe as low maintenance. He suffered from macular degeneration and was legally blind. He also had suffered a broken hip and the combination of his fear of another fall with “numb, damn feet,” from neuropathy, as he would tell you, relegated him to life in a wheelchair.

I won’t lie. My dad could be demanding. He would call me and my sister a lot, asking us to come by to take care of the tiniest issues. Little tasks that we were quite sure he was paying a good sum to the caregivers at his assisted living home to handle for him. But he didn’t want to call on them; he wanted us to come take care of things. He wanted us.

“My hearing aid battery needs to be changed.”
“Something is wrong with the remote for the television.”
“I need some more candy to hand out to my neighbors”
“I need you to bring me some new socks.”

The list of needs went on and on. It was really no big deal to help Dad with any of these issues, but with our dad, when he put in the request, he wanted resolution now. Not after work. Not on the weekend. Now. In THIS moment.

I tried to be understanding because it would drive me batty to depend on other people to perform these simple little tasks. And you know, when the blaring sound of the television is your afternoon’s entertainment, well, you want the dang remote to work now, not in a couple of hours. Plus, this was the man who gave us life. This was the man who worked long and hard to ensure that it was a very good life. This was the man who had been accustomed to having our mother by his side for 61 years. Maybe he had a right to be a tad on the impatient side.

So Terry and I catered to Dad in as timely a fashion as life allowed. There were daily phone calls. Nearly daily visits. Long visits on Saturday mornings for Terry; Sunday afternoons with Dad for me. There were trips to the doctor. There were trips to the pharmacy. There were visits from grandkids and great-grandkids. There were times when I would bring a dog or two to entertain Dad and the other residents. There were quiet times just sitting with Dad at a large picture window describing the view he could no longer see.

And in what seemed to be the next moment, there was nothing. He was gone. My schedule became oddly, hollowly open. For all of the times I may have complained about having to rush over to change a hearing aid battery or find a specific pair of socks, I was sorry. In this moment still, I am truly sorry.

In the next moment, Terry and I were making plans, calling family and friends, deciding how to celebrate a man who, in Terry’s words, filled a room with his personality. In one moment my sister and I were planning our speech for his funeral. We could do it if we stuck together. Together we were strong. Yet, in the next moment I was standing solo at the front of a church filled with dear friends and family.

My dear sister—the intelligent, strong, calm, logical, witty, organized Terry—was sick. It was nothing too serious, but she was quite sick none-the-less and unable to attend our dad’s funeral. My heart broke for her, though she was very practical and wisely resigned herself to getting better without lamenting a situation that could not be changed.

So in one moment I was looking to my sister as the matriarch of our family, and in the next moment, for just a moment, it was me. I was standing at the podium solo, visualizing my sister telling me that I was very much strong enough to deliver this tribute for both of us. Terry would have been standing to my right, but in that moment, she was only there in spirit. That beautiful spirit did carry me through and I believe I said all of the things I wanted to say, and the things she would have wanted to say, too.

In the next moment we filed out to form a receiving line. I’ve done this a few times, for grandparents, my oldest sister, my mother. Our family would line up with the heads of the family to the right, then filtering down in some sort of familial seniority to the left. I was generally somewhere in the middle. My parents and sisters had always been to my right, nieces, nephews and extended family to my left.

In this moment, however, I looked up to find that there was no one standing to my right. To my left, my dear partner, Jim, my wonderful brother-in-law, John, and the rest of our beautiful family stood at the ready to greet guests. But to my right? No one. I was at the front of the line. In this moment, I was the “head” of our family.

I was stunned. I’m the baby of my immediate family and even at 51 years of age, I was completely unprepared for the fact that I would be the head of this receiving line. It’s funny how things like that can hit you. Of course Terry should have been there, to my right, holding my hand. But in this moment, there was only me.

Deep breath. Push back the tears. Smile and be grateful for all of the wonderful people who came to celebrate my amazing, generous, larger-than-life father. In that moment, thinking of him, I banished the panicked inner child and found strength.

Now, in this moment, I’m sitting at my computer on a Sunday morning. I’m enjoying some quiet time before I decide what to do with my day. Nine months later, it’s still odd for me to not automatically plan an afternoon visit with my dad, but that was then and in this moment, I have nothing planned.

That can all change, though. In just the next moment everything can change. I’m grateful for this moment. I will also find gratitude in the next moment to come.