A Father’s Example


You may think that I’m talking foolish
You’ve heard that I’m wild and I’m free
You may wonder how I can promise you now
This love that I feel for you always will be

Somehow in Texas country music sounds better than it does anywhere else. It belongs. I was living in Texas when I first heard the Randy Travis song “Forever and Ever, Amen”. Once for fun, I sent it to a local radio station to play to mark my parent’s 30th wedding anniversary. I never really thought about the words of that song again until recently. That particular song may be kind of sentimental, but to me it expresses perfectly something that I have learned about my father over the last few years, and I have trouble finding other words that express the feeling as well.

I’m Going to Love You Forever

I don’t know where they first met and he won’t tell–laughing it off each time we ask. The most he’ll divulge is that she was “just one of the crowd” he used to hang around with. She is beautiful in these early pictures. She had just come back from a few years working as a nanny in Canada. She thought she was coming home for a short time, and then she planned to go somewhere else…maybe abroad again. “But I met your father” she would say, “and that was that”.

Forever and Ever, Amen

They got married in the Town Hall in 1961. There they stand in the formal group, beautiful bride and bridesmaids, nervous looking groom and best man, flanked by two forbidding looking “Grannies” seated in chairs at either end of the group. The beginning of a family.

As Long as Old Men Sit and Talk about the Weather

She stayed home with the children and he worked hard to keep us all. He wasn’t the demonstrative type. The years passed, through good times and bad. It was nearly 10 years before we had a family holiday. Dad provided the support. Mammy held together everything and took care of all the details. They made a good team. There were a few surprises too. One wedding anniversary he sent flowers. My cousin and I were at home with my mother when the flowers arrived. She went to the door and came back into the room incredulous “Who could have sent me flowers?” she wondered out loud. We all laughed at her surprise when she opened the card and found out they were from him. “Quick!” said my cousin, “get your curlers out before he comes home early and sees you like that”.

As Long as Old Women Sit and Talk about Old Men

Of course everything was not perfect. She would make me laugh complaining about the way he never helped with the dishes. Apparently he used to help when they first got married but gave up after his mother saw him doing it and declared that “Never in the history of our family has a man had to work in the kitchen”.

If you Wonder How Long I’ll be Faithful

She wanted to enjoy retirement. Do some travelling. “Go and live somewhere interesting” she would tell us, “so that I can come and visit you when I retire”. She began to show signs of Alzheimer’s disease at age 66. We told ourselves it was probably nothing, just normal forgetfulness. At first it was little things like forgetting a word here and there, things that could be explained away. Then there was the loss of initiative, the organizer became unable to remember where things were, or what to do next. The worst was the loss of communication skills, and the aching pity you felt for her as she struggled to say the most ordinary of sentences. We had to stop talking on the phone. It became too hard.

Dad took care of her at home for a long time. But eventually it became impossible. She was so angry sometimes, and then she would go out and search parties had to be organized. If locked in she would kick at the door trying to get out. She didn’t believe he was her husband anymore. Eventually she had to go into hospital permanently. The aggressive stage passed, and she became quiet. She lost all ability to communicate or take care of herself. Dad visited her every day.

I’ll be Happy to Tell You Again

Once I was sitting on a park bench in Glasgow with my dad. I can’t remember if it was the first time he was away from home alone or not. It was early evening and the children were playing on the swings. We were surrounded by the noise of the city winding down for the day. The sun was beginning to set and the unfamiliar city air smelled of grass, tarmac and petrol. We were sitting together watching the children play. “This is when I miss Mammy the most” he said suddenly, “When I was away from home like this she was always with me”.

I’m Going to Love You Forever and Ever

And so it continued for six years. Whenever any of us visited, we could hardly get out of the taxi and put our bags in the house before he would suggest that we go out to the hospital and visit. Over time she stopped knowing me, there would only be occasional flashes of recognition. I think that he was the only person she recognized by the end. Long after it ceased to matter whether he visited or not, he kept going, holding her hand and talking to her. Sometimes she slept through the entire visit. He would sit and talk to her anyway. Sometimes she would laugh or smile. That would make his day.

She died on Dec 1st. He insisted on walking in the funeral procession, even though he wasn’t really fit for it himself. I watched his back as he disappeared up the road, walking behind the coffin wearing a coat she had bought, taking care of her as long as he could.

Forever and Ever, Amen.

I am completely amazed at the example my father has given me in his care of my mother through the difficulty, loneliness, and abandonment created by mental illness. In a horrible situation, something of great beauty was revealed. He made sure she was cared for in all regards, every day, and he continued with her daily through the hell that her illness became. Supported by friends, he went with her all the way. I cannot find the words to express the power of that example to me, and the challenge it presents to show that level of commitment myself. After all, love is not merely an emotion, it is certainly not a decision, it is a commitment of the self to another that is more than both of these things. It constrains us; it is irresistible, unconditional, unselfish, unequivocal, and unassailable. It suffers long and is kind, always perseveres, and never fails. And when we see it lived out, we are sometimes robbed of our words, and left dependent on the inadequacy of a song that almost expresses what we want to say.

They say time can play tricks on the memory
Make people forget what they knew
It’s easy to see, it’s happening to me

If you wonder how long I’ll be faithful
I’ll be happy to tell you again
I’m going to love you forever and ever
Forever and ever. Amen.

Forever And Ever, Amen lyrics are property and copyright of it’s owners.

Author: Isobel Maciver

I am a science writer and editor at Promega. My current and past roles include microbiologist, grad student, post doc and manager. I enjoy writing about science and communication.

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