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"Dad, please sit down..."

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“My dad sitting in his chair, he sits and stares all day.”

Paul Westerberg, “My Dad.”

Those lines, from a favorite artist, have always resounded with me. Throughout this heartfelt song, the Replacements frontman lovingly serenades his dad with personalized stanzas. “He gets a kick from the newspaper when he sees the family name,” always reminded me of the pride my own dad took in seeing my byline during the glory days of my journalistic career and made me smile the way a connection with a favored artist will.

Except my dad isn’t sitting in his chair all day every day anymore and therein lies one symptom of a very serious and seriously heartbreaking problem.

My dad has severe Parkinson’s Disease. A former collegiate basketball star and perpetually active man, he has now essentially lost his balance completely. What he has not lost beneath this monster disease that has virtually silenced his quick wit and dexterity with language is an intense sense of independence and determination. It’s the same often strong-headedness that, for better or worse, he passed on to his three sons.

It’s what compels my dad to often stand up and get out of his chair, which without fail results in a fall.

The falls began when my parents were still living at home, in the house they raised us in. My mother also suffers from Parkinson’s, as well as Bursitis in her hip that is so severe that she also is largely confined to a wheelchair. For my brothers and me that house, the source of so many wonderful memories, slowly became haunted by the episodes that defined my parents’ worsening conditions. Eventually, even the “In-Home” care wasn’t enough and the decision was made, with their input and agreement, that a move to an assisted living community would be best.

At the time I thought their exit from the house was the most heartbreaking moment of my life. These two people who had done everything right had played by the rules, taught their children right and wrong with an equal sense of decency and sense of humor (which God knows is rare), and saved for their retirement judiciously should have been bound for a life of travel and grandchildren based in a downsized retirement home. Instead, they were moving into a facility with a round-the-clock staff to monitor their conditions.

Gone was entertaining at home. Gone was driving and all of the independence that comes with it. They worried that they wouldn’t see their children or grandchildren as often. Little did I know that they’d be seeing more of me than ever.

When my dad falls it’s rarely softly. He’s a tall man, 6-3, and while the 210 lb. he once carried with athletic grace has diminished to 160 or so it’s a long way to fall when your head begins six feet above the ground. The staff at their residence call after each one and often try to lessen the blow by letting me know he, “just fell on his butt and he’s fine.” He’s rarely without some souvenir from his latest fall, all of which he shrugs off each time I ask about the latest.

And, of course, he’s not always "fine."

In the last two months, his falls have resulted in badly dislocating the same finger three times, each of course requiring a visit to the Emergency Room, each followed by at least one follow-up. When you combine these types of incidents with his regularly scheduled doctor’s appointments it means that I see my dad more now than I have in years.

Which is when true heartbreak occurs. Under that ugly disease residing right next to that legendary will and independence is my dad’s sharp sense of humor and love of sports, both as unrelenting as his stubborn streak. Both were essential parts of what made my dad my dad, and talking sports or making him laugh were things my brothers and I loved.

Except now when I make him laugh he coughs and spits and makes me nervous he won’t catch his breath. When we talk sports now I have to crane my neck closely to hear his slurry whisper and I am hesitant to ask him to repeat himself because I know it was a struggle for him to try to communicate his thoughts the first time. We’re too often silent in the car now and sadly we both know why.

So, on Father’s Day, I think of all the recent time I have spent with my dad. All the time that we could have put to better use had it not been for this awful affliction. I think how fortunate I was to have a man with his character in my corner throughout my life and how grateful I am that my wife met him when he was still at the top of his game. I love my dad and I just hope that he knows that underneath that vicious debilitating disease I still see the same man. The man who played the biggest role in me becoming the man that I am today. The man I wouldn’t trade for any other dad on earth.

Never take your father for granted.  Show him your love every chance you get.  I try to, and then I give him a gentle reminder.

"Just please, Dad, stay in your chair."

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