Had a visit from my Father over the weekend. Nothing terribly unusual about that: he occasionally rings to see if we’re in then pops around. But never without a purpose. We’re not blindingly close. We don’t have the in-each-others-pockets-best-mates-as-well-as-family relationship some other parent/child combos have. He and my mother split up when I was in my early teens, and we didn’t see much of each other for a few years afterwards, and even when the family had been together he was the figure behind my mother, the one who paid for everything and coached the soccer team and drove us on holidays… but I don’t have many memories of him being the one to take the lead, to get down on the floor with us and build Lego or learn the words of the songs we were listening to or anything of that ilk.
It’s not a criticism. Not any more. More an observation of what the 1970s gave my family. It informs my own parenting. I know my Serena Gomez from my Ninjago.
But my Dad has been in and out over the years, and privately, Luscious and I have always expressed the smallest disappointment in how much time he spends with his grandchildren. It’s as if he doesn’t remember them if they’re not right in front of him, we’d say. This Christmas, he left one of their names’ off the Christmas card altogether. Typical.
Yeah. About that.
Turns out he’d been noticing. Was feeling his mind wandering. He’d be halfway through conversations with his mates and forget what he was talking about. “Hang on, I’ve just popped out. Be back in a moment,” became a standard joke. Then became a standard saying. Then, basically, stopped being funny.
So he came round to tell me, while dropping in Easter eggs for the kids the week after the event: he’s seen a doctor.
Turns out, his brain is shrinking. Physically getting smaller. Now, 15 minutes of Google research and I’ve learned that your brain does shrink slightly as you get older. Normal brain shrinkage is the price we pay for an extended lifespan. Dad’s nearly 70, so some is to be expected. Put simply, it doesn’t, in itself, kill you.
What my father has, will. The shrinkage is likely the result of a serious head injury at some stage in his life. Dad says he can think of three he’s suffered. It’s accelerated, and uneven, and it is going to kill him. The prognosis is 8 years. 8 years of vocabulary loss, diminishing mental capacity, increasing forgetfulness and confusion. My father, for all his faults, is a charming, quick-witted, thoroughly engaging conversationalist with a massive fund of general knowledge and a genuine joy of speech. This will torture him– is torturing him already– until he no longer remembers what he once was.
We may not be the closest father-son relationship. But he’s still my Dad. For a short while.