I got a text from my dad one day that had a picture of two cans of Manwich and he wanted to know how to make Sloppy Joes. I told him that he had to cook some ground beef and I asked him if he got any at the store. He told me that he didn’t because he thought it came in the can.
I didn’t even know how to respond. It both warmed and broke my heart at the same time.
My mom and dad always had a very old school, traditional marriage. My dad worked a full-time and a part-time job, while my mom was a housewife and stay-at-home mom. She took care of everything inside the house to include cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc. She also took care of my sister and me. My dad took care of everything outside the house. He fixed things that were broken, cut the grass, and took out the trash.
That all came to a grinding halt when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s over nine years ago. She eventually forgot how to do all of the things she normally did around the house. She wasn’t allowed to drive anymore, so she could no longer run errands or go grocery shopping. She couldn’t be trusted to pay the bills or balance the checkbook. She forgot how to use the oven and the washing machine. She even forgot that she was supposed to cook dinner and do the laundry to begin with.
My dad was still working full-time in the beginning and then, he would come home to manage the household, as well. He never had to handle any of the household chores and he honestly had no idea what he was doing. He never cooked, cleaned, or did the laundry. I don’t think he even knew where the grocery store was. Many things simply went undone because my dad didn’t know any better.
But then, I began to notice a shift in their relationship. I began getting text messages from my dad asking me how to use the washing machine and whether or not they had a dishwasher. He started asking me how to cook things and whether or not to separate the whites from the rest of the laundry. I know he was overwhelmed, but he somehow managed it all.
He eventually retired early to care for my mom full-time. His life took a drastic turn. My dad was old school. He was used to his wife taking care of him. Now, he was taking care of her, as well as being there for my sister and me and eventually, his two granddaughters. An old school, stubborn Irishman, surrounded by women who needed him now more than ever.
And boy, did he deliver.
Not only does my dad do the laundry, grocery shopping, and pay all the bills, but he also manages my mom’s care.
Not only does he bathe her, dress her, and help her use the bathroom, but he also orders her new bras, clothes, and protective underwear.
The man who couldn’t even tell the difference between red and pink went to the store to buy nail polish so the in-home health aides could paint my mom’s nails.
The man who never picked out a birthday, anniversary, or Christmas card now spends entirely too much time in the store selecting the perfect one to send each of us.
My dad—the strong silent type—looked up the right colors for a 50th anniversary and bought flowers, balloons, and decorations to match. He even dressed my mom in those colors on the day of their 50th anniversary and had her long-time hairdresser come to the house to do her hair.
My dad—the man’s man—bought and set up a pink tablecloth with pink plates, pink party hats, and pink noise makers in their kitchen, so that my mom could be there to celebrate their granddaughter’s first birthday. He also bought Minnie Mouse balloons and an obnoxious, ginormous, inflated unicorn.
Picturing my dad in that store, picking out all of that stuff…
He stepped up.
Like any man would do for his family—my dad stepped up.
And there will never be enough words or ways to thank him.
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