Tuesday’s Tribute: My Dad

My dad, who was always Daddy to me, died twenty-seven years ago. If he were still alive, he’d be turning ninety-seven later this month. There’s so much about him that I could say, but I’ll focus on one aspect of his life that showed what a brave man with tremendous powers of endurance he was.

My dad was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease when he was about forty years old. Very quickly, the words “chronically disabled” became part of the family vocabulary. I personally don’t remember what Michael J. Fox calls “Shaky Dad,” but I remember growing up with Rigid Dad. It was like watching a man turn into a statue.

Throughout his illness, my father held on to his dignity. He persevered physically for as long as he could: taking walks, even when his feet — in the classic Parkinson’s gait — made him stumble; reading the newspaper, even if the only way he could do it comfortably was to stand at the kitchen table looking down at the outspread pages.

The most heroic thing he did was to volunteer for Dr. Irving S. Cooper’s experimental cryogenic surgery to relieve Parkinson’s symptoms. The procedure was crude and the risks were terrifying, but the results gave him about ten more years at home with us before his body became so divorced from his brain that full-time nursing care was needed to keep him alive.

Daddy also took L-Dopa, or Levodopa, when it was an experimental drug. The side effects were horrendous, but the drug did help his symptoms for a while. Despite all the agonies he endured, I only saw my father cry over his condition once, and that was when a fall caused him to break a few ribs. Otherwise, he only cried over sentimental movies.

He loved chocolate-covered cherries, although he always willingly gave his share to me if I wanted them. He loved my mother and he loved his children and grandchildren.

He made the best of a really rotten deal. I repeat: a really rotten deal. I love you, Daddy.


6 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Dakotagirl said,

    A very touching tribute Susan. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

    My daddy died last July at age 85, and I miss him every day. My daddy’s affliction was dementia and it literally destroyed his mind. He was so sure bad people were trying to break into the house and hurt him and my mom. It tortured him that he was unable to stop them. Of course there was no one trying to break in, but he firmly believed it was happening. Congestive heart failure took him quickly, so he is in a much better place now and I am thankful for that.

  2. 2

    sgaissert said,

    Thank you, Cheryl. I had an uncle whose dementia affected him in a similar way. It doesn’t matter if something isn’t really real, does it? If the person thinks it’s real, it might as well be real; it causes the same pain as if it were.

    I agree about our fathers being in a better place. I don’t often dream about my dad, but I had one dream that was so simple: he was there, and I asked him how he was, and he answered, “I’m all right.” I like to think that dream was a message from him.

  3. 3

    piscesgrrl said,

    This is a beautiful tribute. I lost my dad too – 3 years ago last week. It’s still very raw. I’m just glad he didn’t suffer for long. It’s so hard to watch someone we love be in pain. It’s confusing – hard to know what the right thing to do is. It sounds like your dad handled it with courage and grace. Hugs to you.

  4. 4

    Jena said,

    What a moving tribute, and what an example of a truly strong person. Thank you.

  5. 5

    Barbara Palso said,


    You describe our Daddy’s courage so well. For fifty years I’ve been asking myself, “Why did this happen to our Daddy? “. As Mommy said as she’d cry at his grave, “He missed out on so much.” I cry as I write this.

    I want you always to know what an absolute joy you were to him during all his years of sickness. You were born shortly after his symptoms appeared and his world of family and friends and work were quickly replaced by a world within the confines of a four room apartment. Why WERE you born at a time of such uncertainty and fear and confusion and despair? To be there for him. To make that tiny apartment bulge with your brightness and charm and joy. You became his world. You brought the smiles that we knew were behind that mask of rigidity. He taught you to read. What an amazing feat! He was barely able to speak!

    I still have no answer to the first “why”. I know the answer to the second, however. It was to bring him comfort and peace and a reason to struggle to arise from bed every morning. To make it so important that he maintain his courage and dignity.

    Susan, he loved you profoundly. Because of you he “missed out” on a great deal less.

    For that and for so much more, thank you, my little sister.

    • 6

      sgaissert said,

      Thank you, sisterperson dear. I honestly do not have any idea what I would ever do without you. And, by the way, did I ever tell you what a good writer you are?

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