Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sometimes They are Penalty Kicks

My dad’s once stalwart, avionics-engineer-brain is now a swiss-cheesy mess. At 78, the dementia is setting in for good; all that knowledge about flight recorders and airplane wiring diagrams is gone forever. When I visit, he often interrupts my attempt to tell him about his grandchildren to ramble on about the new task they have given him in his carehome: taking the metal tabs off the top of pop and juice cans. To hear him tell it, this is a top-notch role he’s been given. How did they previously get along without him? I try my best to nod and listen, and enquire about these amazing cans.

It’s said that dementia allows a person to retain the essence of their former personality. People who have a kind and sweet disposition when they are young are still sweet, although addled by the disease in other ways. Of course, controlling and difficult people retain that too, and that’s unfortunately what my mom sees when she visits: Dad yells at her to take him home and regularly threatens to divorce her in front of any and all who will listen. (One of the nurses actually followed her outside the other day to ask if she was okay.) The gist: my dad was a very cold and demanding man when I was young, and he is now. He does not give compliments, ever, to anyone. But for some inexplicable reason when he talks to me about soccer, now, he’s different. He’s not sweet, just ...respectful. And very, very misguided. It’s like he is making up the things that he wished had really happened. It often goes something like this:

“I used to come over to Victoria pretty much every weekend to watch you play when you were in University over there....”

“Uh, Dad, I don’t think so, but yeah, you came sometimes.” (He might have come twice in my entire collegiate soccer career. I don’t mind—he lived on the mainland and I was on the Island—but let’s face it, if we’d lived in the same town, I doubt he would have been much more interested.)

“Yeah, I remember I came to the second game you ever played over there (no, he did not) and you had to take a corner kick, and you scored from the corner kick, with your right foot. And your coach was so shocked and happy at what a big kick you had. And then later in the game, you took another corner kick from the other side, with your left foot, and you scored with that one too. You got two goals. Your coach couldn’t believe it. ”

Hmm...he might not be the only one. I don’t believe it either. I’m ashamed to admit this, but I can remember an embarrassing amount of detail about most of the goals I’ve ever scored (usually embellished with loud fan cheering and liberal doses of the chanting of my name) so I’m sure I’d remember scoring twice in one game, from corner kicks, using both feet.

“Uh, yeah, dad? I do not remember that.”

“Yeah, the goalie, he was really pissed off.” (Hmm, why was the goalie a ‘he’ in women’s varsity soccer?) “You just put it right over his head.”

“Wow, cool.”

“And when you took the goal kick, it just went right by him.”

“Wait – what? It was a goal kick? Not a corner kick?”

“Yes, they were goal kicks.”

“I scored twice in one game from goal kicks? Once with my left foot?” (This is impossible.)


We have variations on this theme. Sometimes they are penalty kicks. Sometimes the goalie is a girl. And this muddy, circular conversation is the closest thing to praise I have ever received from my dad, a man whose fallback communication with me, as a kid and a teenager, was to tell me I was lazy and stupid. He still seems to be aware that UVIC was many years ago, and that now I just play for fun, both indoor and outdoor, with both men and women. He also tells me elaborate details about watching the Whitecaps play the Canucks on TV. Of course, we don’t have to talk about soccer—there is always the riveting pop can tops to discuss—but he is often the one to bring it up.

The other day one of the carehome workers happened by, and my dad tried to introduce me to him, saying, “This is my daughter, Cathy. She still plays soccer. With men.” And the person looked at me and smiled, his face relentlessly cheerful, and said the things my father never could say: “Wow, that’s great. Good for you. Your dad must be proud.”

I’ll take it.

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