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Father's Day

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

Like every kid in America, I used to ask my parents why there was a Mother's Day and Father's Day but not a Children's Day, and like all the parents in America, they responded with "every day is Children's Day."

This Father's Day, it's different. Every day is Father's Day. Every day my mother and I work to keep him calm and happy as his brain decomposes, while we pretend we're not exhausted or frustrated by the chaos his dementia imposes on us. So this is not a Father's Day post for him. This is for my son's father.

He and I divorced over a decade ago when my son was only nine or ten. At the time I was super stressed out about what this would do to our son, but it was my father who kept me grounded. "Without stress, kids don't grow," he told me. He made me name people - past or present - who I admired, which I did. "Did any of them have easy lives?" he asked. No, none of them did. He believed that allowing my son to navigate this challenge could be good for him, though he cautioned me not to drag my son into his parents' conflicts or use him like a bargaining chip in divorce wars. He also believed that if my son's father and I stayed focused on our joint mission of getting our son successfully into adulthood, all would be well.

My former husband and I took that advice seriously. Children of divorce are often said to be from broken families. And while it is true his parents are divorced, my son's family was never broken. While it initially required some patience and awkwardness, we managed to hold it all together. I still view my former husband's family as my own, and he has done the same. Because we are family: our son's family. Divorce never changes that. My ex's family has been fantastic about supporting me, and my family has done the same for him. They are always happy to see him, and they still consider him family just as much as they did when we were married.

My ex-husband always understood the deep love and adoration I had for my father, who was the heart and soul of our family. My father had a similar approach and outlook as my ex's mother, who still is the heart and soul of that family, untouched by dementia and still living every moment of her life giving to others fearlessly, boldly, and with a whole heart. We always compared these two parents, who had so much in common and whom we both adored. When we were new parents, my father was our chosen childcare provider, and both my ex and I trusted him implicitly.

This Father's Day seems especially meaningful for my son's father. In May of 2020 our son graduated from college. The following August he turned 21, in September he got a loan and bought his first car from my dad, and then in January of this year he started his first professional job. In short, his father and I have completed our work of raising a responsible adult.

This year also seems meaningful for the amount of help my son's father has given me as I made this transition living with my parents and helping provide care to my father with dementia. I spend a lot of time working on the property, sometimes with my father and sometimes without. Working outside and in the woods constantly reminds me that this crushing situation of my father's dementia is a small and temporary moment in time, which has the amazing effect of making it easier to face.

While I work, I've realized how much I learned from my son's father in the decade that we were married, knowledge that has never had as much value for me as it does today. In addition to that, I'm forever texting him photos asking for plant identification, getting input on my plans to tackle invasive species, and consulting him on poison ivy protocol.

These are all his areas of expertise, so for him, this likely isn't a big deal: it's who he is and what he does. But by supporting me, the caregiver, he makes my own father's life better. He gives me other things to think about, the challenges and the opportunity. And this work keeps my dad engaged too, if only to ask my mother what I'm doing a dozen times before sometimes conquering his fear and venturing out to help.

My son's father is helping me make every day Father's Day for my father, and for that, I am grateful. Happy Father's Day.

The center piece of a quilt made and gifted to me from my super talented friend, Daisy Allen Cunningham.

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