Sunday, June 8, 2008

About Dad...

My thoughts have been turned a lot toward my dad lately... I am not sure if it is because of an upcoming Father's day, or just that I always feel a sense of concern for him... but at any rate, I thought it a worthy occasion to blog about Dad.
When I was young, my dad was my hero. The gospel and his family were his greatest priorities which was made evident by the kind of life he lived. He and my mom moved their young, little family out to Folsom (two hours away from the Bay Area where Dad worked) just so that we could grow up in nice home with a backyard! Everyday, Dad would make the grueling commute to and from work in a little Nissan pick-up with no air conditioning and vinyl seats, which is no small deal for those of you who know how brutal California summers can be. He did this without complaint-- in fact, I remember on several occasions Dad coming home and playing with us immediately after the long drive home, giving my mom the rest of the night "off." Although I appreciated the time Dad took to play with us then, I feel like now that I am growing into adult life and taking on more responsibilities, I am able to fully appreciate the love and sacrifice that went into mustering enough energy after a long day to play with some feisty kids.
Dad's love for the gospel was also made evident in so many ways. As an adult convert to the church, he would often express how much he would have loved to serve a mission, and never cowered at the chance to share the gospel with friends. He was a strong spiritual leader, serving on councils and bishoprics. He would often take us aside for a one-on-one "lump-in-the-throat-talk," as we called them. He would inquire about how things were going in our lives with school, friends, and whatever else is important to a young child. He would take that time to tell us individually how much he and mom loved us, and how much our Heavenly Father loved us. This time was special. And again, now that I am older, I realize that the lump in my throat was the Spirit that would enter the room as we had that time together.
As time went on, even in my teen years I was able to maintain a good relationship with my dad. But it wasn't until my late teens-early twenties that my family and I realized that the dad we respected and loved so dearly was changing.
Dad's work ethic and true zest for life decreased at an unimaginable rate. All he ever wanted to do was go walk around malls, go the movies, or eat out. He began alienating himself from the rest of us through poor and downright childish and selfish behavior. We were all extremely hurt and confused. Where had the righteous leader of our family gone?
While serving my mission, I continued to receive only bad news about Dad and his behavior. We just couldn't understand how such a loving and family-centered person could make such a drastic life change, and in such a short span of time. We were convinced that it had to have been something chemical because it just couldn't be explained otherwise.
A few months after I returned home, we finally got a diagnosis! This was to our great relief, as up until this point we were fighting feelings of bitterness and resentment at his behavior. Dad was diagnosed with Fronto-temporal Dementia or FTD. This disease attacks the brain, much like Alzheimer's, however it is unlike Alzheimer's in that it does not affect memory. Essentially what is happening to Dad's brain is that it is shrinking, and as you might have guessed by the name of the disease, it attacks primarily the frontal lobes of the brain. Unfortunately, it is the frontal lobes that affect your personality, reason, judgement, inhibitions, etc. This explains why Dad's behavior was so strange, and so unlike him. It was unlike him because it wasn't him.
Like I said, we were relieved to have a diagnosis, but at the same time, we were just so sad to have lost our beloved father. His disease has progressed quite a bit since then. It is hard to witness, but it makes me so incredibly grateful for my knowledge of the gospel. One day I will see the "real him" again.
I always thought that when I grew up my parents would be able to teach me so many things about real-life-- and he has, just not like I expected. Through this whole experience he has taught us patience, tolerance, to find happiness in the simplest of things, and how to keep perspective. I will be the first to admit, these lessons have not been easily learned. In fact, it is still really hard to be patient with him when he calls me 5 times a day to tell me the same joke. But I know there is a bigger plan, and that I just need to be doing my best. I love him. That's what I want to say about Dad...