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The old Dad was still inside

Jo Solomito Haslam with her father, Andrew Solomito,

Jo Solomito Haslam with her father, Andrew Solomito, in 1996. Photo Credit: Handout

In November 1955, Mom, Dad and I moved into the house that Dad built for us in Bethpage. Though Dad had never built anything before, the house was perfect. For 40 years, he did all the maintenance and upgrades the house needed.

Once he got older and it became more difficult for him to do the work, he hired out the big jobs. Then, when he developed dementia, all the work was done by specialists. At first, the dementia showed itself as little forgetful moments; the inability to put things where they had been put for almost 50 years. Within a couple of years, Alzheimer's showed its nasty head, and it seemed Daddy was trapped in a world he could not understand.

One evening, I was visiting with Mom and Dad, and I had made dinner. Dad was having a particularly difficult day, and dinner was a battle. He did not like what I made, though it was one of his favorites. He said he never had it before; it tasted terrible. I gave up, and he had his Entenmann's chocolate doughnut with chocolate ice cream.

After dinner, Mom reminded me about the kitchen doorknob that turned but would not open the door. I went to Dad's basement workshop and searched in his "spare parts" closet for a doorknob. There must have been a dozen. I chose one and found the correct size Phillips head screwdriver. I removed the old doorknob and asked Dad if he could help me. At first, he said he didn't know what to do, but once I told him I just needed him to hold the screws while I put in the new knob, he was happy to help. One by one, the old screws came out and I placed them in Dad's hand. Then I removed the old knob and put in the newer one.

I assembled everything, and Dad handed me each of the screws to secure the entire mechanism. Then, I closed the door only to have it pop open. I tried again, but never heard the click that lets you know the door has closed, and it popped open again. Totally annoyed, I asked no one in particular, "What's wrong with it now!"

To my surprise, Dad said, "You put the doorknob in backward."

"Why didn't you tell me while I was fixing it?" was my immediate reaction.

Dad responded, "Because you told me just to hold the screws." We laughed and I hugged him. And then I followed his directions and replaced the doorknob properly.

That day, the lesson I learned was that every moment counts; that times with my dad were often frustrating but always precious; and no matter how cruel Alzheimer's is, my dad would always be my dad.

-- Jo Solomito Haslam, Bethpage

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