I am a writer. I owe this, among many things, to my father.
Happy Birthday Dad.
6/19/24 to 1/29/2012
Play Date For Dad
The screech of my father’s velcro-fastened sneakers, scuffling across a well-waxed gymnasium floor, catches the attention of everyone in line.
It is Election Day, and the local elementary school is overflowing with civic-minded seniors.
Because Parkinson’s disease transformed his once commanding stride into an unsteady, rigid gate, I insist he use a cane. But he hates his cane more than he hates peas, and so, like a belligerent child, he drags it behind him.
“Address please,” spouts a poll worker.
“Proof of residency,” requests another.
“Name please,” demands a third.
“Hi Roger,” murmurs a fourth.
He doesn’t mind the inefficiency or the formality. It’s a beautiful, crisp fall day, and we are “out and about.”
“That's a sharp hat, Joe,” says Dad to a man sporting a New York Yankees cap.
“Smart purple outfit, Dottie,” he says to a stout woman with waves of freshly set, snow-white hair.
“It’s velour. Want to feel it, Roger?” flirts Dottie.
“Maybe later,” winks Dad.
Dad despises the Yankees and has always considered purple a gauche color, but he knows how to make people smile - most of all, me.
Dottie hands Dad a ballot, hooks her arm in his, and escorts us to a small, makeshift voting booth.
“Fill in the circle next to the candidate of your choice,” instructs Dottie as she hands him a #2 pencil.
“I can’t see. You do it, Shannon,” whispers Dad.
One by one, I pronounce each candidate’s name and party affiliation. When he hears the one he wants he lifts his hand and declares, “that one!”
With voting now complete, we move to the ballot box at the far corner of the gym.
“Put it in there,” points Dottie.
“I know where it goes,” insists Dad.
“Good for you,” says Dottie.
“You take it, Shannon,” whispers Dad.
As we exit, Dottie says, “You know Roger, Bill doesn’t leave the house anymore.”
“Why not?” asks Dad.
“Parkinson’s,” whispers Dottie.
During their glory days, Bill and Dad were fierce rivals on the high school football team and were often featured on the front page of the local paper.
“You should stop and see him,” suggests Dottie.
“Can’t…too busy,” insists Dad.
Dad built his company, a security/investigation/detective agency, from the ground up. His work ethic was as ferocious as his athleticism.
“It’s not the right way, or the wrong way, but Roger Kennedy’s way!” he would bellow.
Two blocks away from our office is the Senior Center - a town funded facility that offers numerous social activities including exercise classes, lectures, and well-balanced meals.
“I don’t have time for that place,” insists Dad. “I have work to do.”
Dad comes to the office every day, sits at his desk, reads the paper, and takes a nap.
I know he enjoys watching the mayhem that plays out during a typical workday, and now with me at the helm, there is an undeniable sense of pride in his tone.
“You accomplished a lot today,” he’ll tell me.
“Don’t let it get you down,” he’ll say when things don’t go my way.
I know how fortunate we both are to have this time together, but he lacks the companionship of people his age.
Later that week, I tell him about my plan.
“I’m taking you to Bill’s house,” I tell him. “It’s a beautiful day, come on let’s go.”
“I can’t today. I’m too busy,” insists Dad. “Besides, it’s too far. I can’t walk there.”
“I’ll drive you,” I tell him.
It takes Dad longer to get into the car than it does to get to Bill’s house.
“There it is,” shouts Dad when he spots Bill's modest home. “It’s across from the cemetery, just past the old hospital.” (Torn down in 1951.)
I park in Bill's driveway, walk to the passenger side of the car and open the door.
“Can’t get out,” says Dad.
“Why not?” I ask.
“Too many leaves,” insists Dad.
I kick a dusting of freshly fallen autumn leaves to the side and, with two hands, urge Dad out of the car.
Bill is waiting on the front porch. Joan, his wife of 52 years, peeks out from inside the front door. Just four steady steps separate these former rivals.
“Take your time, Roger,” says Bill.
“I got it. Don’t you worry,” asserts Dad.
“Hold onto the rail,” instructs Bill.
“Help me, Shannon,” whispers Dad.
Not much has changed since Bill and his wife settled into their home in the mid 1950’s. Pale blue, low pile acrylic carpeting covers the living room floor. Tattered, gold-striped curtains mask cloudy windows. A collection of knick-knacks and family portraits rest on doilies that dot dusty tabletops.
Bill insists Dad sit in his favorite chair - a velvet tufted recliner.
“Go ahead Roger, have a seat,” instructs Bill.
“I don’t need to sit,” says Dad.
“You don’t need to sit, or you don’t want to sit?” asks Bill.
“I don’t need to sit,” counters Dad.
“Ohhh you’d better sit,” urges Bill.
“You need to sit, Dad,” I whisper, as I coax him into the chair.
Getting Dad in a chair can be a challenge, especially if the seat is too low to the ground. It is more like a well-aimed plop than a steady squat.
Once situated, Dad surveys the living room layout, spots a matching love-seat across the room and asks, “Where are YOU going to sit Bill?”
“I prefer to stand,“ says Bill. “Don’t you worry about me, Roger.”
“You don’t need to sit, or you don’t want to sit?” asks Dad.
It’s as though I’m watching a game of chess, each attempting to outmaneuver the other.
Joan waits in the hallway, smiling. “Want a cup of tea?” she asks me.
I can feel Dad’s eyes pleading for me to stay close, but clearly these two need one-on-one time.
I listen as Joan talks about her ailments but mostly she talks about Bill. She tells me about Bill’s debilitating condition. She tells me about his time in the hospital and later in the nursing home.
“Terrible place,” she moans.
Dad also did some time in a nursing home, but I keep this information to myself.
From the other room I can hear Dad brag about all the things we do together. About our trips to the beach, rides to the cemetery and watching sports. My father paints a pretty good picture. Truth is, we don’t get “out and about” as often as we should.
“We go to the UCONN Huskies women’s basketball games,” he tells Bill.
We've been to two games total.
“We go on the Island Beach boat a lot,” he insists, although we missed all of last summer.
“I like a glass of wine when I’m at Shannon's house,” he boasts. “She's a really good cook."
I have never been known for my culinary skills.
“How old are you, Roger?” asks Bill.
“What?” asks Dad.
“I said, how old are you,” repeats Bill.
“I didn't catch that,” says Dad.
“ROGER, I can’t remember how old you are!” shouts Bill.
“I’m 84,” says Dad. He is 85.
Bill waits for my father to ask him how old he is. My father knows that Bill is younger, so he sits in stoic silence.
“I’m going to be 83 in two weeks and they’re throwing me a big party!” says Bill.
“Let’s go, Shannon!” shouts Dad.
And off we go.
The total time at spent at Bills is just short of 30 minutes.
“Boy, he looked old,” says Dad.
“I thought he looked great,” I tell him.
“Did he brag about his daughter?” I ask.
“Of course he did,” says Dad.
And then Dad surprises me.
“Next time, let’s bring Bill to my place,” says Dad.
“Sounds great!” I tell him.
And so, I set another date. Another play date for Dad.
And so, I set another date. Another play date for Dad.
Roger and Bill
Dad, chasing his man down on Havemeyer Field, where, at his request, I spread his ashes.
With Love and Sustainable Memories,