Could This Be Your Father As Well?
I was scrolling through my LinkedIn newsfeed as I tend to do several times a day, when I saw a post.
A post I can’t get out of my mind.
Then I saw the opening lines.
“Pale Stale Male Privilege at its finest!
The sign, not for him.”
The sign…what sign…oh, that sign, now I see it.
What yellow and black line? Oh, that yellow and black line, now I see it. (note: apologies for the blurring of the sign – whoever posted this was reflected therein.)
I had to click “see more”…
What followed can best be described as a snarky commentary on this man.
The comments that followed the post were 13 – 2 in the same tone. Because…
- he was standing on the wrong side of the tape–he must feel he is privileged.
- of the words he used–he must be a misogynist.
- of his reaction when confronted–he must be angry.
I looked back at the picture.
It haunted me.
The Man, The Father
The man in the picture. Standing at the counter. Speaking with the staff behind the counter. Probably oblivious to the sign (I missed it at first glance), probably oblivious to the line taped on the floor (I hadn’t noticed it either).
After all, he’d been in this office dozens of times before. He doesn’t see well – doesn’t pay attention to details. He probably never saw the tape on the floor. Same reason he lost his driver’s license a year or two before.
Suddenly, I didn’t see an unknown figure.
I saw my father.
The Dementia, The Father
I saw my father as he began to struggle with the onset of dementia. No way Dad sees that sign. No way Dad sees the tape. Dad can’t even comprehend what is happening in our world.
And his comments to the staff behind the counter? Calling them “darlings” and “lovely ladies”?
There are many forms of dementia. Not everyone who has dementia has the memory problems of someone with Alzheimer’s.
This was the Reverend Doctor Ton. The pastor of pastors. The leader of leaders.
This was the man who was a champion of the civil rights movement in the 60’s and 70’s. He was the man who stood up for the rights of the LBGTQ community in our churches.
My father was the man who hired the first female executive minister in the entire denomination, who first put women on equal footing in church leadership, who promoted women in the ministry every chance he had.
And yes, this was the man, who at the end of his life, flirted inappropriately with waitresses, nurses, friends and acquaintances.
Why? Because he was a “Pale Stale Male”? Or because he was a “good boy”?
Because bvFTD is a type of dementia that attacks the brain in such a way as to make you lose cognitive ability.
It attacks the brain in such a way as to make you lose your social filters. It attacks the brain in such a way as to make you lose the ability to effectively process language.
The Fear, The Father
At the end, my father had the cognitive ability of a five-year-old.
His social filters were basically gone.
Can you imagine the fear felt as your world closes in around you? As your ability to make sense of things diminishes? You have the memories of an 87-year-old, but can’t comprehend the sign in front of you?
And then some stranger points out you are doing something wrong – while you have no idea what it is that you are doing wrong?
Even though I am an “old white guy”, I am a champion for diversity and inclusion.
I am an ally.
I believe in speaking up.
We Are In This Together
I don’t know the man in the photo, nor do I know the poster, nor was I in the room during the exchange between them.
What I do know is that we are all in this COVID-19 reality together.
We need to show each other grace and not assume we know someone’s motivations, their attitude, their fears, or their confusion.
Let’s help each other – let’s support each other.
That man is probably someone’s father.
In a few years, that man could be me…or you.