Oh Father, Where Art Thou?
Three years ago my father was diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
We don’t know when the disease started to affect him, but these are the events that lead up to my mother looking into it.
Little things started happening like he kept forgetting to take his medicine and having to come home from work on his break to get it. A short time later his immediate supervisor retired, and a new director was appointed in his department. The director immediately came into the department and made significant changes. That’s when my father started having problems at work. The director accused him of various negligent acts concerning his work performance. He constantly harassed and demeaned him during this period and did not consider his 30+ years of performance. My mother felt like my dad was agitated about the way he was being treated and didn’t understand what was happening because he had always taken pride in his work. This was a man that worked in two hospitals for 30 years in the radiology departments and had worked his way up as a supervisor for MRI, CT, and Nuclear Medicine. She said, “like most new supervisors, they have their own agenda and do not consider their employee’s past performance or character." My mother urged my father to file an EEO complaint because she thought the doctor was trying to fire him. After submitting the claim, he went into arbitration and ended up retiring.
This was just the beginning of the daily challenges of his disease.
After he retired, my mom threw him a retirement party and invited friends from his department. All of his co-workers spoke highly of my father and stated that the department had become a hostile workplace because of the new director. On that day my father was unusually quiet. We asked him if he was alright and he said he was just enjoying the party. Shortly after that, I graduated from college, and my parents threw me a graduation party. That day my father's task was grilling, and he started off by cooking the chicken first. He ended up coming inside and forgetting the chicken was on the grill. I don't remember how but we ended up realizing he burned the chicken. I looked at him, and he seemed confused and embarrassed by what happened. Afterwards, my uncle stepped in and took over the grill. While he was grilling, my uncle started a conversation with my father and noticed that he was repeating himself a lot. He later called my mom to discuss my father's unusual behavior. My uncle, who is a doctor suggested that she take my father to be evaluated. He went to a neurologist and took several tests including a cognitive test. After all of the tests came back the doctor said that he was probably depressed. My mom hoped that was all to it but thought it was much more. She eventually took him to another doctor, and they looked at the same results the 1st doctor did and diagnosed him with frontotemporal dementia (FTD).
Little did we know, the disease would break him apart sooner than imagined.
As a kid, my sister teased me by telling me I was adopted, and I believed her because I never saw as many pictures of myself as I saw of her anywhere in my house. Little did I know, there was a chest full of photos documenting my childhood all the way up to middle school along with several analog cameras. Who took a majority of these photos; my father, he was a photographer and unfortunately, I did not realize it until after he became ill. Part of his job at the hospital was literally to take pictures of the body. This discovery opened my eyes to another dimension of the man I thought I knew. It forced me to take a closer look at who my father is, what he means to me, and how this disease has diminished the best parts of him.
My father is one of the most genuine and loyal people that you will ever meet. He was an extremely active person who never took no for an answer. Singing was his passion, and even with two jobs, my father figured out a way to do what he loved. He was a member of the church choir and a member of a band named Perfect Picture. My father was so well known for his singing that people would often ask him for an impromptu performance. He even met my mother while singing in their college choir. Later they cut an album as lead singers in their band named The World Band.
My father also enjoyed fishing, traveling, and helping his family and friends when needed. He would do everything in his power to support the people he loved. And throughout everything that's happened, seeing his love and support reciprocated from his family and longtime friends is a beautiful sight to see and shows how much people truly care for my father.
Nowadays, my mother is his full-time caretaker. He can't do anything for himself without being prompted by her. My father is on the verge of being completely nonverbal. He often isolates himself, sitting outside on the porch or by my car looking outward as if he's waiting for something to happen. And yet he's himself to the core. My father has never been a person to sit down and do nothing for an extended amount of time. Even in his current state of mind, he's always moving. He goes in and out of the house switching between the front porch, the family room, and his bedroom. Getting him to be still is honestly a very tedious task.
The only stimulant my father gets is when he listens to music or when he rides in a car. Riding gives him a sense of urgency; he is always asking if we're going somewhere. But because of his inability to discern whats right from wrong, or to filter out his inhibitions we try not to take him out too much. When he's amongst people, he always approaches someone that seems familiar to him and asks, "Where I know you from?" It's usually someone who has never met him before, but there have been a lot of cases where he has known the person from his past. Either way, my mother ends up having to explain away his condition to the people he questions.
If you were to see my father today, he would greet you with a smile, a laugh, and a handshake. You would think nothing was wrong but only for a few precious seconds. His disease has turned back the clock on his adulthood. It's like dealing with a child. It is horrible to watch.