Despite a Decade of Disease My “Real” Dad Will Never Be Forgotten
Another Father’s Day under the dark shadow of Alzheimer’s Disease
Here’s to you, Dad!
Every year on or around Father’s Day, I’m compelled to bore as many innocents as I can with tales of my incredible dad. Unfortunately, it’s always in the context of the Alzheimer’s Disease which, around a decade ago, began to systematically transform my brilliant, articulate, hysterical, athletic and big-hearted dad into the shell that houses his soul today in the confines of his wheelchair in his Alzheimer’s facility just north of Toronto.
I promised myself that this year, I was going to save myself the outpouring of tears that stream my cheeks every time I sit down and try to articulate all that Carl Leonard Horowitz was to me and my family, and how, growing up as his son, was – and remains – one of my proudest “accomplishments” today.
Oh well, so much for promises, because here I go again!
Dad will turn 85 on August 28th, another year marking this man’s life – a life – described my many who used to frequent his Mississauga Pharmacy named, appropriately enough, Carl’s Pharmacy, as invaluable.
Although Carl hasn’t uttered a word in years, and hasn’t recognized me or members of my family for far too long, whenever I sit with him, as I did the day before Father’s Day, and look into his compelling blue eyes, life with Dad, and all the good memories, immediately makes my heart smile.
Unfortunately, I’m not that strong. My visits to see Carl these days are, admittedly, short. I find that I can muster just enough time to take his hand, stroke his cheek, kiss him on the head and say a little prayer, before my tear ducts begin to rain.
When I was fortunate enough to stand next to my dad at his pharmacy where I worked with him for a few years, I learned more about humanity, compassion, and humour than at any other time in my life. My dad was once described to me as “a cross between Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy,” by one of his thousands of loyal customers.
I didn’t fully appreciate those sentiments at the time. After all, to me, he was just “dad!”
But, as the ravages of Alzheimer’s and decades catch up to us, I realize just how special he truly was. I describe him to those who never had the good fortune to be in Carl’s company, as a man who would give you the shirt off his back.
I still remember how, despite being swamped by mounting prescriptions and paperwork, Carl would always take the time to help a young son of a customer go through a package or two of free hockey cards in his store’s candy section, until the youngster got the Dave Keon or Gordie Howe card he yearned for so desperately. Seeing the look of sheer joy on those kids’ faces was payment enough for my dad.
I still remember how my dad, when I was five, spent much of his rare day off from work, to find me the huge stuffed animal he knew I wanted so badly.
I remember how my father would make his customers laugh until they cried as they waited for him to fill their prescriptions, using the raised dispensary like a stage, relishing the laughter, but more importantly, the warmth of the experience.
Sadly, I also remember when my father began to change. In retrospect, and with hindsight being 20/20, I remember how one year in Florida, he resisted going with me for a swim in the ocean, something we looked forward to year after year.
I remember his internal thermostat going out of whack when he, sitting in his Beaverton cottage on an August afternoon with temperatures soaring, insisted on wearing a sweater, complaining that he was “freezing.” I remember, during that same meal, when dad, looking at an old black and white photo of him, his parents and his brother, Harry, insisted that he never had a brother.
I remember how he began talking about his memories of shooting down Nazis in the war, when he was a pilot. Sadly, dad never was in the war, and certainly never piloted an aircraft.
I remember when he forgot how to eat a hamburger. We were at a Pickle Barrel restaurant in Toronto when he opened his burger, took the beef patty out of the buns, and held it up to his mouth, and took bites of it, rather than eating it as a sandwich.
We didn’t know what we were dealing with then. It all seemed to come without warning, perhaps due to our denial, and wanting to believe that his regression was anything but true. But now, some ten years later, we mourn the loss of the real Carl L. Horowitz, but we also celebrate the life of a man who, without asking for anything in return, put more smiles on more people’s faces than you could imagine.
That’s his legacy. That’s who he was. And, to me, that’s who he will always be.
Happy Father’s Day, dad! I hope you know that you were, and are, the best father a kid could ever hope for, and I pray that I’m half the father you were, to my two beautiful kids.
One last thing. If you’re reading this, do me a favour. Go give your father a hug this second. You never know when – or if – you’ll have another chance.