I am in an assisted living facility in Minnesota with my father. We're sorting old LPs as we pack his things for the move to California. He's in a wheelchair, unlike the last time I saw him when he still used a walker.
I know he won't listen to the vinyl records again. There's a digital player in the new place that he can hear the same music on. But I also know there is comfort in these objects from his life, even if there isn't room for all of them anymore. I try to pare down the collection: "Irish drinking songs? We can let that one go, right?" But he shakes his head and says that my stepmother used to love that album, so it goes on the keeper pile.
I remember a scene from 30 years before. My father walked through his parents' apartment, tagging furniture for removal. My grandparents stood bewildered, their dementia at the point where they could no longer remember to shop for food or pay the bills. My grandfather called out, "Wait, wait, why are they taking the sofa?" while my dad patiently explained, once again, that they were moving to a nursing home.
Now it's my turn. My father's not as far gone as his parents were, but the cloud of dementia has settled in. He can still make a joke about having to fly "Incontinental Airlines", but he can't remember what day it is.
A resident comes by to wish him well. "How lucky you are to have a son like this," she says. But I know better. I'm the one with a chance to do something for the father who did so much for me -- who taught me the art of shoelace tying, shared the joys of Tom Lehrer songs with me, and paid for college. This is my chance to learn another lesson from him, one about being as caring and patient now as he was back then.