Thursday, January 10, 2013

A Dance With Dad

My father is by my side. His cane rests just outside his reach, in the lap of an aluminum chair. We are tucked in the corner of the back row, behind a succession of synchronized seniors–a line of ladies dressed in sensible shoes and forgiving waistbands. Each turns, twisting to catch a glimpse. “Look at him go," says a lady in red. "He's really something.”

Although my father is known for having two left feet, his stooped, stiff Parkinson's posture coupled with his unsteady shuffle and hand tremors fuse with the strong Latin beat. He is a dancing machine.

“Zumba!” shouts the instructor as she shimmies her shoulders and steps left. Her enthusiasm is contagious and we do our best to keep up.

Everything about this is new to us—the music, the movement, but mostly the memoires shared between a father and daughter.

Growing up, I didn't spend a lot of time with Dad unless you count riding quietly in the back seat of his car. I don’t remember living with him. My parents divorced when I was two years old. My mother packed all we had into a 1959 Studebaker and moved us four hours away.

Dad was always working, even when I came to visit. On most nights we'd eat supper together at Nielson's Diner or the Chinese restaurant.

"Let me check out back," Dad would say, "see if I spot any cats."

Dad liked to tease me. He'd say they used cat instead of chicken at the Panda Pavilion, so I always ordered beef.

He ate fast and chewed with his mouth open. He never put his napkin on his lap or sat up straight like my mother told me to.

At the diner, Dad let me drink vanilla milk shakes. I'd get a 7-Up at the Chinese place and if I followed him to the pub, he'd order me a Shirley Temple.

"Two cherries, please," I'd say, always the polite child.

Once he ordered me a pine float. Everyone laughed when the bartender handed me a tall glass of water with a cocktail napkin and a spiked toothpick floating on top.

During winter holidays we'd drive six hours to go skiing. I don't remember skiing with him but sometimes we'd ride the chairlift together—a slow, windy climb to the peak.

"You cold there, Pistol Pete?" he'd ask. I had no idea who Pistol Pete was, but it told me he'd rather have had a boy.

"No, sir," I lied with my braids and nose hairs iced over and my fingers and toes frozen numb.

When I reached the bottom of the mountain and couldn't find him, I knew to look in the bar. He’d have the crowd entertained with his quick wit and Irish charm, sharing adventures of marathons run around the world—more than 100 in total.

During one of those winter vacations, he took me to a drive-in movie theater. Love Story was playing and I thought Ali MacGraw was the most beautiful woman who ever lived.

I sat behind the steering wheel of Dad's navy blue model 2002 BMW–sobbing uncontrollably at Ali’s untimely death, while my father lounged on a double bed at the Howard Johnson motor lodge. A pile of quarters kept the magic fingers moving as he watched TV, ate apple pie, and sucked down cans of Miller beer.

When the movie ended and he didn't come for me, I considered driving the car back to the hotel but my feet didn't quite reach the pedals. Instead, I walked alongside the highway, following a path of headlights from oncoming traffic.

But here at the senior center, Dad makes me promise not to leave his side.

“Stretch your hands up high and move your hips, now shake, shake, shake it to the right!” bellows the Zumba instructor.

“You're doing great, Dad,” I assure him.

“I farted, Shannon,” he tells me.

“Did you crap your pants?"

“No, just farted."

“Good for you, way to hold back.” 

This is not my favorite topic, but discussing his bodily functions is part of our now daily conversations.

I never expected him to master a soulful salsa when I signed us up for the class, but I am collecting as many memories as I can. My father’s Parkinson’s disease has slowed him down enough for us to finally get to know each other.

Dad died on January 29, 2012 after years of us deliberately collecting memories.


  1. I'm so glad I left you alone to write. :)

    1. because it was about my Dad - I needed/wanted to sit with it, tweak it, honor it. It's a small part but it was a beautiful part of my youth. I miss my Dad. I'm so glad you knew him. I wish you knew Kerry.

  2. You brought tears to my eyes...and a smile to my heart......So happy I found you.......RG

  3. This made me a little sad for the young girl. It makes me pause and wonder what I would write about life with my own dad. I said goodbye to him in 2000 and still wish I could talk with him and give him a hug. Life is so strange when people we are so connected to, are suddenly not here with us. It's hard to make sense of it, at least for me.

    1. death seems so final and so improbably in a unrealistic way. I no longer have a close connection to my mother and I often worry about how this will play out once she's gone - but she owns half of it so I guess we'll both be visiting this in our next life

  4. Yes we sit now and think of moments we have had with our parents and treasure every moment we can get with them once we realize they don't have much time left. Thank you for sharing about your dad.

    My dad is 82 now and I can see he's tired but still trying to do things. I treasure spending time with him even if it's about gas prices and the weather.

    1. yes, its the simplest moments that leave the strongest memories

  5. Good stories -- showing not telling. I bet you miss him, farts and all.

    1. that is exactly what I was trying to do!!! show not tell :))))) and yes, I miss him so

  6. human, touching, familiar, inspiring, sad, happy


    Aloha from Honolulu,
    Comfort Spiral
    ~ > < } } ( ° >
    > < } } ( ° >

  7. Hey you... what a poignant story... from a parent's standpoint, I try to have these kinds of moments with my kids, but they are too busy, it seems.

    I fear I will miss them more than they will miss me...

    And so it goes...


  8. Love this Shannon. I was thinking of your Dad and mine and wondering if they are comparing stories about us....



    1. :) xoxoxo what a wonderful thought....

  9. One of my favorite things to do is sit and write about my dad. He's been gone for, gosh, fourteen years but it seems like yesterday he was hobbling along side me with tripod cane full of piss and vinegar. You did a wonderful job honoring him. Thank you for sharing him with us.

  10. Beautifully written. I have no memories of my father. I've made them up. It's nice you had a chance to create some too, even if only prior to his death.

  11. What a touching and beautiful post. My father died in 2012 as well, in June, and I cherish the memories I have. I'm sorry for your loss.

  12. I never thought about it, but I guess that memories of our parents being imperfect are better than no memories at all, especially after we've had a chance to reconnect. Nicely done, Shannon.

  13. @Green Monkey Tales

    I am always drawn to ur stories of ur real life and ur memories.

    I hope u are doing well. U popped into my mind yesterday for some reason. Just a Green Monkey thought wondering how u were doing. U have been through so much lately

  14. Well written. It's great that you could gather ye seeds while ye may. I just decided at Christmas, that I can gather no good memories with my Father. I sort of always knew it, but there comes a time when it is obvious. I have incredible memories from chosen family, and will continue to.
    :-) <3

  15. Shannon, I can't believe it's been almost a year...I don't know what to day about this one, so I will just leave it on this note..This hit me inside, somewhere very soft, really hard!

  16. What a vivid and thought provoking story. You have me thinking back to my own memories :)

  17. This is just beautiful. I am glad that you can remember the good times.

  18. I am so glad you had these memories. As you know we have a great friend who with Parkinson's. He has been told there's nothing more they can do for him, and he is now living his bucket list.

    I listen to his stories, relish is videos, and am envious of his adventures. I only hope his kids come around more than they do now in the coming months....

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  20. I just read this for the first time and I am happy to say that there are 27 comments before mine! With tears in my eyes I know your two favorite guys loved this story too!

    Miss Claudia

  21. Such a bittersweet post. I'm glad you got to make memories with him in the end.

  22. What a fabulous tribute to your father Shannon. Had tears in my eyes reading this. My grandmother left us on this 22nd too with loads of precious memories. I can feel your pain. Accept my condolences.


Thank you for encouraging my JOY of writing. By reading and commenting you are feeding my soul, stroking my heart, and in the end...making me a better writer.

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Thank You For Encouraging My Joy of Writing

Shannon E. Kennedy


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