Caring Currents

Alzheimer's and Father's Day

Henny's Father's day card
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What's the right Father's Day card for a dad with Alzheimer's? That's what I found myself pondering this weekend.

I suppose the first question is whether to send one in the first place. Dad's unlikely to realize Father's Day is coming. And he forgets any card or gift soon after it's opened.

So why bother? Because it's Father's Day and he's my father. Because he loves to open mail addressed to him, and then to read it over and over. (He can make the short Wakefield Pick & Axe -- his hometown paper, named for the area's iron ore mines -- last a week of evenings.) Because a card is a handy excuse, not that I need one, to paste a picture of his grandchildren into the inside to help him connect their faces with the names I'll write underneath.

With that decision made, I found myself moving onto still others:

Do I make a Father's Day card or buy one?

As a girl, I specialized in handmade cards, usually featuring bad original poems. (A third-grade classic I unearthed while helping him move concerned his love of bowling: "After Dad's fans get a beer/ They all start to cheer/ 'Yeah Pat! Yeah Pat! He's beating Wilmont like a mean ol' cat!'")

But now, Dad seems to respond more to colorful images on sturdy paper he can re-read over and over. I don't know that the effort behind a handmade card would have any special effect on him. And because he likes to handle them often, maybe laminated cardstock that can stand upright on his dresser is the better way to go.

I head for Target. (My kids still like to make him cards, and he enjoys these, too.)

Do I go for sentiment or humor?

Dad's 87; I know we haven't got too many Father's Days left. Maybe this is the opportunity to let Hallmark help me get a little mushy on Dad. I peruse a few: Dad, wherever I go, whatever I do in life, I always know that you believe in me... and that makes all the difference in the world. Nah. Or, In my thoughts, in my heart, in every part of my life... you are always with me, Dad, and always will be.

I feel like he knows that stuff. Plus, I'm not the gushy type. I'd rather make him laugh than cry, especially considering how often he'll look at it.

But what kind of humor will he get?

It's hard to know how he processes when he reads, because his cognitive impairment is moderate. I don't want humor or pictures that reference pop culture (at least not since about 1985) because he might not remember it. But he still likes a joke, so I hunt for the obvious. Since gross humor has never been appropriate in our relationship, I skip the cards about flatulence (a surprisingly large sub-genre). Nor do I want a punch line that's too subtle.

From experience, I know that surefire winners are cards that cover golf, bowling, and cars "“ my dad's three hobby passions (along with cribbage, a game that pretty much never shows up as a punch line in greeting cards).

In the end, I trust my instincts and buy the very first one, a cartoon, that caught my eye: "Dad, I may not know how to jiggle the chain in the toilet or tinker with the carburetor in my car, but there's one thing you taught me that I'll never forget"¦to ask you to do it for me."

Okay, mild potty reference, but short of being actual potty humor. It's light, not too complicated, and does what a great card ought to do: It captures a truth about our relationship. No, Dad can't fix my carburetor any more, but he knows he once spent hours doing all sorts of auto maintenance and repair for me, and he knows I needed and loved him for that. That's not a memory that will ignite pangs of loss. To the contrary, it reminds him of our bond.

That, of course, is another great reason to send one's Dad a Father's Day card, Alzheimer's or no Alzheimer's: because it's an opportunity for the sender to reminisce and think great dad thoughts. In fact, I might just send the obligatory chocolate-covered cherries, Old Spice soap-on-a-rope, and a construction paper crown, too. Though I'm pretty sure I'll skip the tie.