After our trip, he spent more than a year living with me in Miami. Each weekend, we’d have an outing: spring training games, the WGC-Cadillac golf tournament at Doral, boat tours of Biscayne Bay. Hoping to ward off the Parkinson’s for as long as possible, he’d go to the gym with me and work out. But no longer able to drive, he was trapped at home while I went to work.
Within months, I saw him slipping away even further than before. The man who used to wear starched white shirts, three-piece suits, skinny or fat ties depending on the decade — couldn’t figure out which were swim trunks and which were golf pants.
Food left for him in the fridge would go uneaten.
He sat in front of the TV all day, watching a baseball game or golf tournament. He’d try to record some of the golf tournaments because he wanted to show me the courses in California he’d played. But no longer able to work the remote control with anything more complex than off/on, he’d get frustrated and angry.
He wasn’t happy, and neither was I.
In July 2011, I took him back to his home in Virginia and hired at-home caregivers. Billy Jr., the pro at a nearby golf course, issued a standing invite to bring him over and drive around the course any time. The club manager promised to always sit Dad at the corner booth that he had shared with my mom for 20 years. He has a new collie, a tri-color named Callie, to share his morning breakfast sandwich. He joined the YMCA and began working out for 30 minutes with a personal trainer. The church paired him with a lady who sits with him during service, and offers up her arm as they walk up for Communion. A neighbor comes by regularly to clean, and more importantly, to talk to him.
I thought I could handle going home to see my father every couple of months. At first I went up every two months, then four months. But it has become something more and more I dread.
He refuses to take his pills and change his underwear. He makes sexual innuendo, or worse, pinches a woman’s buttocks or grabs her breasts. His once pristine language is now laced with four-letter words.
It’s been eight months since I last saw him.
Last summer, it was discovered he’d fallen and broken a few bones. I’d hired an additional caregiver to help out.
A month later, one of the caregivers took Dad’s vehicle home with her and totaled it. Another had run up thousands on his credit card.
When I arrived at his home, the kitchen was bare — not a scrap of food was in the fridge or cabinets. Despite all the good people looking out for him, he’d been taken advantage of.
As I searched for new, more reliable caregivers and checked out nursing homes, it was up to me to help Dad in the shower, put on his disposable underwear, and help him in and out of his back brace.
Before all of this, I never saw my father in anything more informal than an evening robe and slippers. Now, I was cleaning up his excrement from the shower and helping him off the toilet.
One morning, as I was pulling off his Depends, Dad started chuckling.
“This is one hell of a vacation for you,” he said, his pale blue eyes laughing, not crying like they usually do these days.
I began laughing, too.
I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more.
Heidi Carr is the Broward Editor for The Miami Herald.