There were some good lines in M*A*S*H. One in particular was spoken by my favorite character, Winchester, when he said to Hawkeye something like “You’re lucky: you have a dad. I have a father.” He said his father was a good man, a good father, but that was different from being a dad.
I had a dad. It wasn’t that he was the warm cuddly type; he wasn’t. He was a bit distant and certainly undemonstrative (except when Notre Dame played), but still he was a dad. And I’ve known other dads with daughters; I’ve seen the bond, part genetic and unavoidable, part deliberate and conspiratorial. Despite the occasional head-butting, there remains between them an invisible wink which says “We rule!”
My son was a stay-home dad when his daughter was born, and they enjoyed each other mightily. There was trust and security, yes, but also that mysterious shared scoff at the rest of the world.
She’s nine now, and last week they ran a race together, a race not to be first but to finish. That life lesson. The weather was hideous but there they were, in step, headed to the finish line, her bright pink duct-tape bow bobbing in the icy fog.
I look at the photo and I think of being in step with my dad those last years of his life, when it was Dad, me, and the dementia: the caregiver’s race with the inevitable. Dementia outruns the caregiver every time. But the life lessons apply, and it’s the running to the end that may, after all, be the winning.