The Adventures of Dad, Continued

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably figured out that my father is one tough old bird.  He was my grandmother’s first born son, and was yanked forcibly from his mother’s womb a month prematurely via a forceps delivery after her water broke.  As a result, his left brachial plexus was damaged, leaving his left arm paralyzed.  By good luck and sheer determination, the paralysis was not permanent and he went on to graduate from high school at 16, attend college and dental school, join the Navy, decide he didn’t like being a dentist, go to medical school, and ultimately become a world renowned plastic surgeon. It’s been a tough act to follow, that’s for sure.  There are two things I remember vividly from my childhood—the first is that wherever we went he was always on the lookout for imperfection in the faces of strangers, and never hesitated to let us kids know how he would fix such imperfections.  The second is that he was an artist, in real life and not just in the operating room.  In this age of computer modeling, it is hard to remember that there was a time when my father would see a new patient in an exam room, study her profile, sketch it on the white exam table paper, and proclaim, “This is how you look now.”  He would then draw an idealized portrait next to the first sketch and state triumphantly, “And THIS is how I will make you look!”  If you think there was a single patient who could resist that kind of sales pitch, think again.

If ever I was going to doubt my father’s resilience, it was this year.  When my mother passed away in January after a long struggle with dementia, he promptly went into congestive heart failure from a stenotic aortic valve.  Ten years after his coronary bypass surgery, he had a second open heart surgery to replace the valve.  When we all realized that he could no longer tolerate the altitude of his retirement home in Snowmass, Colorado, he decided to move to San Diego, living with me while we sorted out his health issues.  After the heart surgery, he began to chafe for his independence, but was also not confident of his ability to meet new people, make new friends and start over at the age of 88.  We urged him to at least try, and so, two weeks ago he moved into the lovely retirement community of La Costa Glen in nearby Carlsbad, California.  The first week was a bit rocky—at one point the community lost electricity, and I had forgotten to supply him with simple safety gear—a flashlight, some candles.  He worried that he could not remember the name of every new person he met, until I reminded him that the reason La Costa asks its residents to wear their name tags is that no one ELSE could remember HIS name, either.  Sometimes I can’t even remember my own, these days.

Yesterday however I knew he had turned the corner.  He spoke excitedly about a dinner party he attended on Friday night, and about the bridge games he was playing, and about the Great Ideas sessions that the community holds where residents who are retired from all walks of life can discuss the nation’s problems, and potential solutions.  But the truth was revealed when he whispered conspiratorially over the phone, “And a lady has already asked me to partner up!”  I said, “Partner up?  What does that mean?”  He said, “You know—each person has their own living space, but you do EVERYTHING together, meals, activities, and ….you know!”  I said, “Dad, you’ve only been there two weeks.  You are going to have to beat those ladies off with a stick!  You need to play the field for a little while before you partner up!”   He laughed.  It’s good to know that life begins at eighty eight!

Moving Day

Two of my favorite people moved today. Well, actually one of them is a horse who thinks he is a person, and the other, my father. The horse, Norman, is a twenty five year old Lipizzaner who has been a family member for nearly seventeen years. Bred at Disneyland and born in May of 1988, Norman’s “fancy name” is Siglavy Deborah II, and he was raised and trained in a small but elite band of Lipizzaners stabled in Anaheim, California, their sole purpose in life to pull Cinderella’s carriage. When Norm was five or six, being a very smart horse, he figured out that if he leaned back in his traces, the other horses would do his work, and if he nipped at a guest, he didn’t have to go to work at all. And thus he was sold. He came to San Diego where he was retrained under saddle, which he evidently preferred. At her dressage trainer’s on a fine spring day, my daughter took one look at him with his pure white countenance and flowing mane and tail, and fell in love. What little girl wouldn’t want to be Cinderella? We’re still waiting on that prince.

 

My daughter grew up, and went to college, and then to medical school, and now is starting her internship in Internal Medicine in Boston. When she went away to college, we sold Norman with an iron clad buy back agreement to another young girl just starting her dressage career. When SHE went to college, we bought him back. At the time, having lost the paperwork, I couldn’t remember the price I sold him for. As it turned out, I paid more to buy him back than the girl’s parents paid for him. That joke was on me—but he was worth every penny. For the last several years, this highly trained dressage horse has been out to pasture in my back yard. He may be twenty five, but like my Corvette, he’s got low mileage.

 

A month ago my daughter finally agreed that his talents were being wasted, and we started to look for a person to be Norman’s person—to ride him, love him, groom him and fuss over him the way he deserves. She called her old dressage trainer, Tina Caldwell. Tina came over and rode him and despite his long vacation from saddle and bridle, he performed like the good little horse he has always been. Over the weekend, Tina called and said she had the perfect client who had just moved to town, and wanted to take some dressage lessons and have a nice horse to ride on the trails. She knew just the horse. Norman left today in an eight horse trailer, all alone in the big rig. He whinnied a few times for his buddy Dash, but loaded like a pro. He will never be sold again—he’s out “on lease”, but if he can make another person happy trotting down the trails and doing his rocking horse canter in the arena, he will honor all the years of his training, and after all, it’s not every day a girl, or a woman, gets to feel like Cinderella!

 

Coincidentally, today was the day my father had arranged for his movers to come. He has lived with me for the last six months, since my mother died and since he had an aortic valve replacement at the ripe old age of eighty seven. His condominium in Snowmass, Colorado is under agreement, and he has arranged to live at a lovely senior community very near where I work, called La Costa Glen. I am happy because he will be nearby, and given his recent health set-backs, this is a good thing. In horse years, my Dad is only a little bit older than Norman. Like Norman, Dad is far too young at heart to be put out to pasture yet. He is going to go where he can play a little bridge, a few holes of golf, and just possibly, take up painting again—a boyhood love put aside by the demands of an intense career in plastic surgery. Tonight I looked at the membership roster at La Costa Glen. It included four retired Admirals, and twenty five retired physicians and I pointed this out to my father, who decided immediately that it would be fun to do a weekly doctor’s lunch.

 

Though I will miss having them both at home, there’s life in these old boys yet!