My dad is seventy-six years old. He currently resides in a rehabilitation center, where he’s been regaining strength in his arms and legs to hopefully live on his own again. This week the staff there informed us that living on his own is not a viable option for him, because of his cognitive difficulties. He has dementia. This is only one problem of many.
Dad struggled the past fifteen or so years with the sensation of having bugs in his skin, crawling, itching, and hoping someone could verify their existence. He thought he got the bugs from some kittens he had at the time, which all died soon after he started itching. Dad went to dermatologists, emergency rooms, physicians, and psychiatrists repeatedly over the years hoping for relief. Blood tests and examinations found no markers for parasites of any kind. Dad went to all lengths to kill the bugs he thought lived inside his skin. He put Lysol in his bathwater (don’t do this!), scrubbing at his skin for hours every day. He refused to let family members touch him, for fear he was highly contagious. He tried swimming in the Great Salt Lake, hoping the salts would heal and disinfect. He insisted on a blanket covering car seats he sat on, requesting we wash coverings as soon as we got home. He wiped off chairs in his house before we were allowed to sit. He withdrew from grandchildren, terrified they could catch parasitical bugs. Despite being told by dermatologists that he was safe to be around, or to swim with, Dad held fast to his fear of being highly contagious.
Dad thought anyone who disagreed with his self-diagnosis of bugs were in on a conspiracy against him. He also thought people were stealing from him. He claimed people were coming into his home, replacing his nice things with old versions. He had elaborate theories of why neighbors and others would do this, and stories of what they had done. He opened nearly half a dozen bank accounts, closing one whenever he thought it compromised and opening another. He hoarded possessions. He put multiple locks on his doors. One hospital psychologist told me in passing that Dad was paranoid delusional.
After my parents separated, when I was nine, Dad insisted on psychological examinations for himself and for my mother, hoping to prove he was a more fit parent and should receive full custody. Although my mother suffered from depression, the profile showed that my father had multiple personalities.
I didn’t learn this until I was an adult. I knew as a child that my dad was sometimes Santa, happy, loving and giving. Other times he was Mad Dad, scary and mean–to my mother especially, but also to my sister, brother and me. Dad grew up mainly in foster homes, Grandpa taking him at times until drinking and beating my dad, who was just a boy. It was the kind of home Grandpa grew up in, and Grandpa ran away for good when he was only twelve. Alcoholism went back to my great-great grandfather, with mean drunks, abuse, and divorce. But Dad doesn’t remember bad things he said, the beatings of my mother. He doesn’t understand why she left and destroyed his perfect family.
Now my father is not to live on his own, because it isn’t safe. Neither is it safe to have him in our homes. He still succumbs to temper outbursts. This crossroad is heartbreaking. I feel we have come around full circle. Where once we were dependent upon Dad for our sustenance, he now depends on us to manage his bills, his finances, help him get groceries, and now we decide where he will live.
He won’t want to be anywhere other than home. He wants to keep his house to pass on to my brother. He has no long-term-care insurance. He has some savings, but those could deplete over the years. There is no way that we can satisfy all my father’s desires: to be at home, independent, and in control.
This isn’t just about deciding where my father will live. It is about forgiving Father. It is about understanding his pain, his heartaches and fears throughout his life. It is about recognizing that Santa Dad is my true father, his true heart revealed. Mad Dad is his alter-ego, the suppressed side of fearful anger, the wounded inner child of generations lashing out. It is feeling his anguish, his desires to be a great husband and father, and how life screwed him over as a young child to the point where he couldn’t ever completely sort it out or heal. But he tried. He truly tried.
Santa Dad taught me to tell time, to dive off the edge of the pool, to ride a bicycle. Santa Dad taught me to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. Santa Dad taught me to be a virtuous woman. He likened me to a butterfly, encouraging me not to let others rub off the pretty colors from my wings. Santa Dad lived his life for his children. He wanted to keep them safe, keep them healthy, keep them happy.
Father still loves our mother. Two years ago she dreamed about what he’ll be like in heaven, and that when he is healed she will want to be with him again. I too have hope for him to heal in heaven. When Jesus walked the earth, he cast out devils, made the blind from birth to see, cured leprosy, made the lame walk. I know He will heal my father: “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).
My parents both express desire to be together in heaven. I’ve told each of them my lifelong plan: that when they die, I will have them sealed together by proxy as husband and wife, and then I will be sealed to them, too (see Matthew 18:18). This to me is the ultimate forgiveness. That imperfect people, living imperfect lives, have hope of being cleansed, purified and healed in Christ, to live together as a truly happy family.
I not only plan where my father will spend the rest of his mortal days, but prepare a place in my heart for him in heaven. I have forgiven Father.