I hear my dad’s voice at night, low and murmuring. I enter the pitch black darkness of his bedroom and ask him what he’s talking about. He says to me, ‘Come in, I’ll show you what I’m about to do.’ ‘Oh,’ I said, what are you about to do?’ He chuckles softly and says, in a voice that is so childlike it startles me: “Catch a whole bunch of fish.” I remember him telling me years ago how when he was young his dad used to catch fish with his bare hands to feed their family. I can only imagine that in this moment, in the darkness of his room, he was a child again, and was reliving the moment.
My father was the family historian, the scrap-booker, saving every single award, cutting out every mention of me in our local paper, no matter how small. He would laminate each of my accomplishments, eventually filling albums with tiny fragments of my life. He framed thank you letters received for his work by happy clients, photos of himself with important people. In a photo album he made of his time in the Navy Air Force, he wrote on the back of many photos in which we appears, simply, the word ‘me’. Sometimes I wonder if he knew somehow he would lose his memory and that’s why he was so careful to keep every piece, every physical representation of his time on earth. Sometimes I wonder if I, too, will get the disease and maybe that’s why I photograph.Some of us may never know the secrets of our parents, we die knowing them only as the thin paper cut out version that they wanted us to see. It is so hard to accept them for the complex creatures they are. Full of contradictions, failures, triumphs. Even before his dementia diagnosis, I knew my dad had a lot of secrets (ones I may never know the truth about). Now, finally an adult myself, i’m mourning the time I wasted not asking him about his life, when I was too young to be curious or care.