When I was a kid, our family would take summer vacations up in the Wisconsin Dells. We would go swimming in the lake and hike the trails. I wasn’t all that excited about the hiking, but my dad enjoyed it and he got some great photos with a camera he later passed down to me. My Dad and I had a pretty close relationship as I was growing up. He was the one you always went to when you wanted something after Mom already said no. He was the one who would give you big bear hugs when you were crying, because he cared so much and didn’t want to see you hurting. He was always encouraging us to follow our dreams. He had the best terrible Dad jokes.
I never knew how much I loved those terrible jokes, how much I needed them, until they just about disappeared. In April of 2009, I received a call from my Mom while I was at school in Chicago, she started off with “Everything is ok, but…” (I love it when conversations start this way), my Dad was in the hospital. They weren’t sure what was wrong. He had gone blind in one eye, was very weak, suffered from pain throughout his body, had difficulty with his balance, and had frequent memory problems. The symptoms continued and became worse. No one could give us any answers. We were terrified, or at least I was. I knew it was bad when I called him up for help with my view camera one day, he said he wasn’t sure how to answer my question but that Chicago was a big city and someone passing by might know how to help. I was home from school that weekend, and he had just seen me before I headed out to shoot. Less than an hour had passed and he had already forgotten that he had seen me. My Dad seemed to be aging at a rapid speed, and he was hurting, and probably pretty scared. I knew I was. I didn’t know what to do, so I created distance.
After months of testing, he was finally diagnosed and the treatment for his MS began. It’s been a long, difficult, exhausting, and emotional journey, but I am fortunate to have the time to make a change in my life and lessen the distance that I’ve created over the years. He started a new treatment for his MS a few months ago and is starting to tell his terrible Dad jokes again. It’s a great thing.