Last weekend, my daughter put the finishing touches on her first high school research paper.
I should say “we” put the final touches on the paper, as I was called on to help in a big way. I didn’t have much choice. I have an automatic out when it comes to math and science—my poor performance in those disciplines is one of the reasons I’m a writer. But when it comes to writing assignments, my assistance is usually sought.
The truth is, I’m happy to help. The paper was a major undertaking for my daughter, who did not experience a similar project in middle school. A retired school teacher friend of mine always assigned an 8th grade research paper to his students. I now see the wisdom of his decision. But for Brigid, the research paper process was brand new and a little intimidating. There is the thesis, sources, notecards, an outline and rough draft. Each step led to the final paper, which represents a big percentage of her final English grade.
We spent a large chunk of a recent weekend searching through books trying to nail down a thesis and wrap our brains around the subject matter. She was convinced—or so it seemed—at one point that the paper would be a disaster. Fortunately, it came together nicely in the end.
The time spent helping Brigid reminded me of the process I followed when I wrote similar papers for literature classes at Moraine Valley. I proudly told my daughter that my paper was handed out to students in another class as an example of how to properly write a research paper. I was the man when it came to those papers. I spent hours in the library looking for the sources to support my thesis. Then I wrote the paper in longhand on a legal pad, and my mother was kind enough to type it of a Royal manual typewriter.
That was 30 years ago. My mom was a secretary. She could type at a pretty good clip. She sat at the dining room table after a full day at work and typed my papers. Brigid doesn’t need a typist. She needs me to guide her, offer ideas, edit her drafts. Either way, a parent is happy to help.
I thought about my mom and the old typewriter last week because she died one year ago last week after a long struggle with dementia. The woman who could type, but also loved to read, knew about great authors and had genuine interest in my research papers and subsequent journalism career, hardly knew who I was when she passed. Dementia is a horrible illness and one that doesn’t get nearly the amount of funding or attention as do other illnesses.
When she died, my family and I were relieved more than anything else. She lived with us for the final two years of her life. It was rough at times, but I don’t regret it. My wife and children deserve much recognition for the time spent and the sacrifices made in order to care for her. It’s difficult to remain patient and not lose your temper at times when caring for someone suffering with dementia.
One year later, I miss my mom more than in the days immediately after she died. Ditto for my dad, who died nearly two years ago. I once shared an office with a guy who was genuinely surprised that I spoke to my dad every day. He’d go for months without chatting with his parents, he once told me. He was even out of the country once without their knowledge, he bragged. That was incomprehensible to me.
I enjoyed talking to my parents, and in an odd sort of way I still sought their approval even though I was leading my own life with a wife and children. What they though mattered. My dad and I both loved sports and laughed about many of the same things. I miss checking in with him on numerous events, including news about his three grandchildren, recent changes in my life and upcoming opening day.
Moms and dads. They’re invaluable. They take care of us and we take care of them. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Once they’re gone, we have fond memories, including a loving woman and her Royal manual typewriter and man whose ear and advice I really miss.