One of my life long best friends, Kim M, told me a couple of years ago, “Mikey, I love all of your writings. But gawd, please warn me ahead of time before you send one of these stories!’ Warning sent my dear friend.
Oh, I almost forgot. Who I wrote it to and the song. It’s to my Dad and the song is Patty Smyth’s ‘The Warrior’. Gawd, she was soooo sexy back in the day.
I have no pictures of this evening as it would have been rude. I left my camera at home so that I made sure I was in the moment. I was soooo nervous.
Phoenix looked at me the entire drive out there saying to me as we listened to music, “Breathe you idiot….!” That’s his soft side.
I post this picture each year as it’s my last happy memory I will ever have with my Dad. If I could have had that last“catch” (re: the movie Field of Dreams) I would have moved Heaven and Earth within what my God would have allowed to have that moment with him.
My dad was horribly afraid of dogs. To this day I never figured it out. He and my mom, Foyann, came up to visit my uncle and, of course, where I go Phoenix goes. We are a package deal for life. Anyhoo, he was sooooo excited to see my Dad and Foyann for the first time. I wanted a dog my entire childhood more than you can possibly fathom hence my love for Phoenix. My dad had always said, “You will never have a dog living under my roof.” End of discussion.
Please let me fast forward and qualify that my Dad was at the middle stage of Parkinson’s to where he was still cognizant when this day happened upon us all.
So, my Dad and Foyann were sitting on my uncle’s couch and I could see the fear in my Dad’s eyes as I brought Phoenix in on leash. I’m very nice and considerate but years of resentment bursted out within me and let him off leash. My Dad KNEW what Phoenix meant to me and that it’s Phoenix #1 and everything else can take their proper place. He leapt onto my parents lap as happy as ever. My Dad was furious and Phoenix licked on his face with so much enthusiasm. I saw the look in his eyes. Foyann was thrilled with delight. She LOVES dogs!!
I’m not trashing on you, Dad. You will forever be the light of my life as a parent. But, here’s what I yearned for my entire childhood. And why I have given Phoenix freely to this precious child for years now. See those smiles, Dad? I know you would be proud of me.
My dad hollered, pushing him off,”No!”
Phoenix hopped over to my mom’s lap and laid his head down on her lap so that she would pet him.
He said to Foyann looking up at her and then at my Dad, “What is his problem?”
Foyann, the Kid Whisperer (4th grade teacher) she will forever be, “You need to move more slowly, Phoenix.”
Phoenix, “Ohhhh….so he doesn’t feel well?”
Phoenix leapt off of the couch and sat at my Dad’s feet.
My Dad scowled at me. I just did the shoulder hunch, don’t know what to tell you pops. Yes, I felt a bit guilty. Then the most bizarre thing happened. Phoenix looked at me and my Dad back and forth 2-3 times.
He whispered quickly to me, “Ooops, you didn’t tell me. Here, I will make this right.”
He stared at my dad. It drove my dad nuts.
Dad glared at me, “Tell him to stop doing that, Mike!” LOL…ya, good luck with that. Phoenix’s tail was wagging.
There was a standoff off for several minutes. No one spoke.
Phoenix at my dad, “I’m your son’s kid and I take care of him. You don’t ever need to be afraid of me.”
My dad made the first move and reached forward and patted Phoenix on the top of the head, “Good dog. Now go.”
Phoenix, “What?! That’s all you got?! Bullshit!”
My kid looked at me, “Sorry for using a bad word.”
I said, “You’re doing fine.”
And the stare off resumed with Phoenix sitting at my dad’s feet his tail calmly wagging, “Until we love on each other I’m not budging. I can hold my pee for 12+ hours. You?”
God bless my uncle and mom for letting this play itself out.
Dad tried making conversation with us but we were all aware of the moment. FINALLY he leaned forward and scratched Phoenix on each side of his neck.
Phoenix said, “Awesome! Baby steps. Oooo….right there….scratch right there.”
My dad said, “Mike, you have a beautiful dog.”
I said, “I know.”
My uncle, knowing of our strained relationship scorned me, ”Mikey, THAT is where you say thank you, Dad.”
I said, “Thank you, Dad.”
We had a bbq that night and Phoenix sat at my DAD’s side. Not begging for food. Just sitting with him. My Dad’s Parkinson’s disease was about to go into it’s advanced stages where he would not remember this moment. Very similar to Alzheimer’s.
None of us knew….except for Phoenix.
A couple of years later in my Dad’s last valiant battle he was rambling about a 1930’s Yankee baseball team. For those of you that have gone through the dementia of a loved one you will appreciate that. It was amazing that my dad always talked to me about his baseball memories. We donated his brain to the Mayo Clinic so they could study it. The results were jaw dropping.
Anyhoo, all of sudden at the end of one of these talks one day. I’ve never told my mom about this as she was out of the room but I wanted something just between him and me. But it will bring her so much joy. THAT is what matters….life is short.
Here’s your Kleenex warning.
My Dad’s my mind was lost out in the ether of life and a disease that had rotted his brain and he said to me, “Mike, I love you. How’s Phoenix doing?”
All my love to you Kim, Duane and the kids….