Happy Birthday to my Father and my Biggest Fan

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Photo of the author and her father by Lisa Rigby Photography

Maybe it's just the goddamn preciousness of it all but whenever I talk to my Dad it makes me want to have a cry. So I do. Today is his birthday and I just got off the phone with him. I think what's so intense about it is how sweet our relationship has become since he's had Alzheimer's. It's almost overwhelming to hear him tell me how much he loves me. It makes my heart hurt because I know I will cherish these memories. He's just so very kind to me now. It makes me want to bawl my eyes out.

It reminds me of when my mother was sick and she and I were dancing at my sister Nancy's wedding. I knew this would be the last time we danced together. I was so aware of every moment: her holding onto my arms, a huge smile on her face, the flashbulb and the photographer taking our photo. When I look at that photo now I adore her smile (and how long and red my hair was) and it's tinged with that bittersweet memory of knowing this would be the last time.

"If you ever want to talk to someone who will really listen because they really care about you so much I'm here," my Dad says. I thank him and hold back tears. "Or just for a quick chat. I'm here for that, too." I tell him I'm here for him as well.

I tell him it makes me heart ache that I don't visit that much. And he says he understands and my heart shouldn't feel bad. He says he'll call more when he thinks of me (but not every time he thinks of me because he thinks of me so often and that would be a "Daddy bore"). He tells me he can't remember what the right words are.

"I'll have to come up with my own words. Jennifer special words," he says.

We talk about music as we always do and he compliments my skills in writing and music. I tell him again about my recent writing retreat to Carmel-by-the-Sea and how much it lit me up. He is so pleased to hear this. I thank him for never telling me trying to be an artist was a stupid idea. I tell him about the nourishing friendships I've cultivated over the last few years and how much I like getting enough rest and taking good care of myself and that turning 40 has actually been fantastic. This makes him happy, too (even though he's forgotten I'm 40 -- which is totally fine, of course).

I'm so glad I can share these things with him. I want to leave him with an impression of me where even if he can't remember the details he knows he doesn't have to worry. I want him to know he helped me so much and that I'm finally able to fly on my own.

"Save your money," he says. I tell him I do and I will.

Lately whenever we talk he tells me I should take up tennis. We discuss our wrist problems and golf and the sports he used to play. He talks about how in tennis you don't have to do too much.

"And you don't have to run or even worry if the ball flies over the..." he pauses.

I think, "Cuckoo's nest."

"Cuckoo's nest," he says. And I tell him that's exactly what I was thinking and we laugh. He corrects himself: "Net."

Just...these moments. I don't even know what to say. Our relationship was so different a few years ago and he was so tough but now he comes at me from this place of pure love. Like the way psychic mediums say your loved ones come through when they're on the other side. Just so purely. Now I get to see the childlike light I always hoped was inside the difficult exterior, so often darkened by trying to control the world with an able brain.

I know he's not always going to remember or even be this nice to me or even know who I am. It just simultaneously destroys me and lights me up every time. Ugly cry.

Do you have a creative champion? Or someone with whom your relationship has changed for the better? Can you tell them or squeeze their hands or give them a call? I promise things feel better on the other side of that ugly cry. What else do we have but these connections and, hopefully, open enough hearts to let them evolve?