Alzheimer's Brings Daughter, Dad Together

Originally published on July 8, 2011 12:53 pm

Betsy Brooks remembers her father, Charles, as a "razor-sharp" former Marine. The two had their share of arguments, she says. But that all changed late in her father's life, as Betsy recently told her boyfriend, John Grecsek.

Charles was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when he was 78. Betsy tells John about her relationship with her dad before, and after, the diagnosis.

"We butted heads from the moment we could," Betsy says.

Her father was a Marine — and very proud of it.

"I always say that we learned the Marine Corps Hymn before we knew our ABCs," says Betsy, 54. "He was a meticulous man. He was meticulous about the house and the yard. And he was a perfectionist. His favorite tool was his level."

Betsy grew up on Staten Island, N.Y. Her father had served as a Marine in the 1940s.

"I was just cut from a different cloth," she says. "My mother, she would make these lists of, you know, all my day's crimes. She would save them for my father when he came home from work. And he would turn positively livid. So, the day I turned 18, I got myself my own apartment."

"When did the Alzheimer's start?" John asks.

"It started to become obvious that he wasn't himself. He was a razor-sharp person, but he started not to be able to do simple things," Betsy says. "I remember one time I asked him to make some picture frames for me. He loved to do that sort of stuff."

But her father was no longer the handyman he once was. As Betsy recalls, "My mother called me up and she said, 'Please, do me a favor and don't ask him to make any more. He had such a hard time.' You know, he was so confused."

Charles Brooks was 78 when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. And his condition brought a change to his relationship with his daughter.

"All of a sudden, he turned to me — because he knew that if he had every single drawer out from the dresser on the floor, I really couldn't care less," Betsy says. "So he didn't really hide from me."

In fact, the pair spent more time together, Betsy recalls.

"We would sit on the back porch and eat pistachio nuts and share a beer," she says. And I could tell him my secrets. And I got to enjoy all the good that was in him."

Betsy and John spoke about her father shortly after Charles died.

"I love my father tremendously," Betsy says. "And believe me when I tell you, despite the head-butting, all I ever wanted to do was to please him. The past 12 years since he got sick — I wouldn't trade those 12 years for anything. Except, I wish the price to pay for them wasn't so high."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Nadia Reiman.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time now for StoryCorps, conversations between Americans across the country. Betsy Brooks came to StoryCorps with her boyfriend, John Grecsek, to talk about her father, Charles. Charles was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease when he was 78, and here Betsy tells John about her relationship with her dad before the diagnosis.

Ms. BETSY BROOKS: We butted heads from the moment we could. He was a proud Marine, and I always say that we learned the Marine Corps Hymn before we knew our ABCs. He was a meticulous man. He was meticulous about the house and the yard. And he was a perfectionist. His favorite tool was his level.

I was just cut from a different cloth. My mother, she would make these lists of, you know, all my day's crimes. And she would save them for my father when he came home from work. And he would turn positively livid. So the day I turned 18, I got myself my own apartment.

Mr. JOHN GRECSEK: When did the Alzheimer's start?

Ms. BROOKS: Well, it started to become obvious that he wasn't himself. He was a razor-sharp person, but he started not to be able to do simple things. I remember one time I asked him to make some picture frames for me. He loved to do that sort of stuff.

When I came home after work, you know, my mother called me up and she said, please, do me a favor and don't ask him to make any more. He had such a hard time. You know, he was so confused.

Eventually he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and all of a sudden he turned to me, because he knew that, you know, if he had every single drawer out of the dresser on the floor, I really couldn't care less. So he didn't really hide from me.

We would sit on the back porch and eat pistachio nuts and share a beer. And I could tell him my secrets. And I got to enjoy all the good that was in him.

I love my father tremendously. And believe me when I tell you, despite the head-butting, all I ever wanted to do was please him. The past 12 years since he got sick, I wouldn't trade those 12 years for anything. Except I wish the price to pay for them wasn't so high.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Betsy Brooks remembering her father Charles Brooks with her boyfriend John Grecsek. This interview was recorded shortly after Charles died. It will be archived along with all StoryCorps interviews at the Library of Congress. You can get the podcast at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.