Our dad, Shaffer Fulton, (mine and Jeff’s) died today after a long battle with dementia (among other things). It’s been months since I’ve been able to have a real conversation with him. Here is a story I wrote about that final conversation that I never published because it was far too personal. However, this is my last chance to do it, so here it is.
(February 8, 2011)
Fellow Parents, How Do You Want Your Kids To Remember You?
I visited my dad last Sunday. He’s 85 years old, and he has onset dementia, so he can’t express himself clearly, nor can he come-up with many nouns, so he can’t describe anything that he wants or needs without a ton of trouble. It is very difficult to have a conversation with him, but every Sunday I still go into his room, pry his eyes away from the TV, and try anyway.
That day I decided to point to the photos around the room and ask him if he knew who was in them. The first photo was from about 1983. It’s of my dad, sitting on a soccer ball, describing something to my sister, as my brother and I play in a game in the background. I asked him who the guy talking was, and he could not tell me.
“It’s you dad”, I told him.
“Yeah, yeah, him,” he replied.
“Do you know who those guys are in the background?” I asked him
“Oh yeah, they were over here and now they are over there,” he replied.
I interpreted this to mean that he knew it was my brother and I and that we had moved out and made our own way in the world.
This was the most I had gotten out of him in months. Encouraged by this conversation , next I pointed to a photo of his mom taken in the 1950’s.
“Who’s that?” I asked
“Oh, yeah, you know that one was in the other place, and I was not in that one”, he told me.
I interpreted this to mean that he knew it was his mom, and he still remembered that she had sent him to co-op boarding school for his entire childhood when he was 7 years old in 1933.
Finally, I pointed to a photo of his father, that was right next to his mother. The photo was from the 1930’s, and his father looked very serious.
Without missing a beat my dad, stood-up from his bed, and an scowl crossed his face. This was quite incredible, as my dad did not get up very often.
“He was the one who went blam…”
He made a fist and swung it slightly at his bed.
“…and the boy was just this high…”
He made a motion with his hand, lowering it to his waist, showing that the recipient of the “blam!” was just a small boy.
“…and I did not like him at all. ” my dad continued.
“Really?” I asked?
“And I never wanted to be like him, ever,” he finished.
“You weren’t dad, you really weren’t” I assured him.
Then he sat down on his bed again, picked-up the TV listings, and looked at them. Our conversation was over.
So even after all these years, now viewing the world through a cloud of Alzheimers and Dementia, my dad never forgot or forgave his father for beating the crap out of him when he was 7 years old, and then forcing his mom to send him and his brother away to co-op boarding school for almost a decade.
My dad cannot remember which hand is which, or even his own name, but 78 years later, he still remembers how scared he was of his father, and how it terrible made him feel.
I think my dad was also very fearful that his own kids would have similar feelings about him, just like he had about his father. Well, daddy, there was no need to worry. The top of my memory is filled with all the great things we shared together. Yes, we never had it easy, but you taught us well: about working hard, about saving money, about playing soccer, and about what is important in life.
Thanks for everything dad.