Today is March 2nd, and as any preschooler could tell you, it is Dr. Seuss’s birthday. If he were alive today, he would be 106 years old. In addition to twisting the tongues of many parents, Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel taught us valuable lessons about life.
- “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
- “An elephant’s faithful 100 percent.”
- “All the turtles are free; as turtles, and maybe all people, should be.
On the occasion of his birthday, I would like to tell you about another aspect of Dr. Seuss and about my Dad. As you probably have guessed, my father is not a preschooler. He celebrated his 88th birthday this January. Dad is one of my most faithful readers here; so I’ll begin by saying, “Hi, Dad! Today is your day!”
My Mom and Dad live on the west coast of Florida in a three-tiered retirement community. Last July we all gathered to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary. I remember thinking, ‘wow, they’ve been married longer than I’ve been alive,’ and then I caught myself and realized that, of course, that was true. As I type this, I think of the sixty-five years my folks have been together. They met during World War II, by chance or by fate — you choose — when training for his duties in the Navy took Dad to Chicago, where my mother had moved after graduating from high school in her small town in Illinois. They fell in love in an instant, so the story goes; and by the time Dad was ready to ship out, they were engaged. This left him with the awkward task of sharing this news with his hometown girlfriend. I’m not sure their children will ever know the whole story about their beginning; but we have been treated to many versions, including Dad’s story about how our reserved, well-mannered mother pursued him so relentlessly that he had no choice but to marry her. However it really happened, the results have been a life-long love story that produced four strong-minded offspring, a small business they ran as partners, and countless memories for all who know and love them.
“How did it get so late so soon? Its night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
— Dr. Seuss
I don’t imagine that the two young lovers who met in wartime ever could have pictured how their life has evolved. Our family is blessed with longevity, and I often marvel at the fact that both of my parents are still with us. Only in the last year have I heard my father talk about slowing down. Only now do I hear the sound of “how did it get so late so soon” in his words. What is truly wonderful is the way that the commitment they made so many years ago still lives on in their very different reality.
“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.”
— Dr. Seuss
Several years ago, Mom took a fall down some steps during choir rehearsal and had quite a bump to her head. She was stitched up and sent on her way to heal, but nobody realized that a slow process had been set in motion that would later find her lost in dementia. In the beginning, the doctors thought Mom had Alzheimer’s, and she spent a year in a unit designed to offer the level of care needed by people who suffer from that disorder. It was a scary time for all of us, and Mom seemed to fit in with the others on the unit. For Dad, it was a horrible and devastating time. He wanted nothing in the world except to have Mom back at home with him; and after a year of adjusting to her new reality and figuring out strategies for coping with Mom’s changes — with their changes — Dad succeeded in bringing Mom back to their apartment. No longer was their life based on the traditional roles that had defined them for more than sixty years. Dad learned to do laundry. He became the grocery shopper and the meal maker. He debunked the Alzheimer’s diagnosis by patiently helping Mom to relearn the memories of their past that she had lost during the onset of her dementia. I have to say that Dad amazed us all. We had become accustomed to seeing Mom as the caretaker who managed most of the details of their life; now we have seen Dad emerge as the care giver whose love for his partner has been the fuel that has motivated an old dog to learn a whole repertoire of new tricks. I never hear Dad complain about the challenges and changes. All I hear is how thankful he is to have Mom with him, how beautiful she is, and how well she is doing. His only fear, that has become his goal, is this: Dad prays every day that he will outlive his sweetheart, because he knows that nobody else could care for her the way he does; because nobody else could ever do it with the abundant supply of love that has grown from that spark in Chicago more than 65 years ago. Yes, “sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” And the answer is love.
“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
— Dr. Seuss
I try to imagine how it would feel after only 25 years with my own sweetheart if I woke up one day and discovered that he didn’t know who I was or why I was in his house. I try to imagine how it would feel to have him not remember the names of our children, or even that he had children. These thoughts are beyond my understanding; and for that, I am grateful. I ask myself if I would have the patience, the compassion, and the love to help him find his way back to a life we could share.
When Mom first had her “episode,” as we have come to call it, she didn’t remember much. She felt like a ten-year-old girl; and the idea that she might be married seemed ludicrous. Yet here was this man, saying he was her husband; and everyone around her agreed that it was true. What was Dad’s solution? He wooed his sweetheart all over again. I like to tell people that Dad loved Mom back home, and I do believe that is true. On the occasion of their anniversary in 2007, someone asked Dad how long they had been married. His answer? “Sixty-three years, but we’re celebrating our first anniversary.” Now that is a story I will hand down to the next generation, a story of love and compassion and commitment.
I know there are days when Dad would just love for things to be the way they were ten years ago, but life is very different now. It may not always feel like it; but even now, Mom and Dad continue to build memories together. Although it may not be easy, they “don’t cry because it’s over…(but) smile because it happened.”
So here’s to you, Dad! I don’t remember you reading a lot of Dr. Seuss — I think that was Mom’s job — but I do get the feeling that maybe you and he had some things in common. After all, “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. Al Stead is faithful, 100 percent.”
I love you, Dad! Thanks for loving my Mom.