The renewal form for our dad’s membership in MENSA, the organization for truly brainy people, arrived in my mailbox last week. On the wall in his den, framed in dignified and serious black metal, hangs his MENSA certificate, a graphic testament to his IQ and to the value he places on intelligence. Our mother’s 98-year-old cousin candidly states that Dad is the smartest man she has ever known. She is discriminating and has had a long time to know people, so her tribute is notable. Our dad will be 86 in November, and he has dementia. He forgets that our mother died 3 years ago. He gets confused and wonders if he has to go to work, forgetting that he retired three decades ago. Our dad has become “old-old.” Explored by Mary Pipher in Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders, the factors that move a person from “young-old” to “old-old” are loss of a spouse, retirement, and changes in health. Pipher believes that the loss of health is the critical factor. With the onset of dementia and the subsequent loss of his mental acuity, our dad made the shift earlier than expected.
On Father’s Day, we will celebrate our dad. In the years since retirement, ties, belts and dress shirts are no longer appropriate. There are no more bottles of Drambuie or power tools. No more waxing of his car as an act of loving service. He doesn’t have a car any longer. When he stopped smoking pipes, we were all at a loss for ideas. Instead, we will celebrate with a new pair of warm pajamas because he gets cold quicker than he did when he used to fish for Northern pike. We will recall the adventure and integrity of his life. He is an amazing man who flew B-52s and worked in the “Mole Hole,” deep underground at SAC Headquarters in Nebraska. During his workday he was in close proximity to the Red Telephone. His flying missions, complete with an atomic bomb, were the stuff of which movies could be made. Even with that ominous cargo, he managed to bring me dolls from every country he visited. He taught me how to pick dandelions, how to study, how to fix things, and the meaning of being a good neighbor. He improved every home in which we ever lived. He told great bedtime stories about Sam the Monkey. He tolerated our pets from dogs to squirrels to roosters. And he hated the cow that he had to milk every morning as a young boy living outside Atlanta.
This man with the high IQ was a participant in the dawning of the computer age. He proudly walked me across the raised, hollow floor and through the cold, massive rooms at Martin Marietta filled with computers the size of washing machines surrounded by reams of FORTRAN punch cards. He encouraged me to study computer science, and he supported women’s success in the workforce. I learned from him that there were options and opportunities. When I chose dance instead, he drove across Florida to see performances. Years later, he dedicatedly drove his granddaughters to their Saturday ballet class where I was their teacher. From behind the glass window dividing the studio from the waiting area, he watched us all plie and tendu and sometimes he laughed.
He always went the extra mile. He would come to your aide if you were sick or if your car broke down or if something needed repair. He was there to be helpful. He helped my brother as he was dying, and afterwards, something in our dad was never quite the same.
When I call he still says, “Hi Kid.” He makes me feel young and hopeful. Many of the things I love most about my husband, I love most about my dad. They are both very brainy. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy, and your membership card to MENSA is in the mail.