I wish you could know my father. If I had ten dollars for every time someone has told me how wonderful he is, my IRA would be overflowing and I’d have to force myself to retire. He is that special.
My dad came to this country during the Holocaust, the son of a once-wealthy businessman and a very forceful wife who lost everything to the Nazis. They came here with no command of the language, and with my aunt, all four lived in a one-room apartment behind the candy store they ran. This is, perhaps, standard fare for immigrant stories, but since it is my family’s history, it touches me especially deep. Because of that history, my father has demonstrated a determination and compassion that I have never seen in anyone else. He turned those childhood obstacles into a personal mission of success.
Dad went into the military, which put him through pharmacy school. After working as a pharmacist for a number of years, he met and married my mother – who was a teacher and a tremendous businesswoman. Together, they built Germer Drug Store in Michigan, which Dad operated until I was 14 years old.
The store was in a very nice neighborhood that, overnight, became a crime-ridden and dangerous area. He insisted on staying there to service the community, despite repeated hold-ups. I always knew something would happen to him in that store, and when he would call I would often ask, “Is everything okay?” He’d always reassure me. But, one day he called and I asked that question and he just said, “Let me talk to your mother, okay?” I handed her the phone and heard her say, “You’ve been shot?”
It wasn’t a serious injury, but it really shook us up. They’d talked for years about moving to Florida and a year or so later, they made the decision to move. But, Michigan’s economy being what it always seems to be, the store sold and our house didn’t. Dad took a job with a mall drug store while we waited for our house to sell, and I finally felt he was safe. He wasn’t. Two men came into that store with sawed off shotguns and there was a whole chaotic mess that culminated in a front page story and more worries about his safety.
We moved to Florida when I was 15 and never looked back. He would have been 49 at the time. I am so glad we moved back then because a) Florida is great place to live and b) My amazing mother got to enjoy Florida for 16 years before suffering the terrible stroke that paralyzed her at age 66.
Mom’s caregiving needs were substantial, and Dad was the most devoted nurse she could have asked for. He was always there, at the ready, to help her with anything she wanted. He lovingly bathed her and held her and kept her healthy so that she could live in her own home, in comfort and peace.
In 2001, she started showing signs of dementia, which was later diagnosed as Alzheimer’s Disease. Dad insisted on continuing to care for her and it literally destroyed his back to the point where he has had two major back surgeries and countless steroid shots. Nearly four years ago, we had to face the reality that the time had come for her to go to a nursing home.
It was a hard, painful decision. Dad didn’t want to do it, but she needed more care than any one person could safely give – particularly since she was so severely paralyzed. Once she checked into Freedom Village, she felt safe. Dad felt lost.
I don’t know how he will react to my saying that because he has always taken such pride in maintaining composure, but he did change the day Mom left our family home. Dad visits her four times every day. Those are his happiest hours, even when she is completely unresponsive. She is his wife, the love of his life, and theirs is the most enduring relationship I have ever seen.
Throughout all of this, Dad has denied himself so much because he didn’t want to be frolicking while my mom was in a nursing home. If I tried to take him out in my kayak or fishing or anywhere fun, he’d always decline because he believed it would be wrong to do that because of Mom. That is a degree of sacrifice he shouldn’t have made. She wouldn’t have wanted it, but it was his choice.
I noticed his sport jacket the other day and it was tattered and way too worn out for him to be wearing. I told him I was going to take him shopping, and he refused. I mean, refused. Wouldn’t hear of it. But, I am as stubborn as he is and, eventually, I got him to go to Macy’s. I got him a couple of jackets, a few pairs of pants, shirts, etc. He’d emerge from the dressing room with an outfit on and I saw a new life in him. He was proud and vibrant and strong again.
The most selfless man I have ever known was finally enjoying something for himself, and it felt great.