For sixty-seven years, my dad was my best friend. We enjoyed walking and talking, taking long drives while licking ice cream cones, traveling, and just sitting in companionable silence.
We were best friends, but we always respected each other’s physical privacy. All of this changed when I became Dad’s caregiver.
As he gradually declined, I assumed more and more caregiving roles: showering him, cleaning him after he used the toilet, putting on his adult diaper and dressing him. I feared that we would both be uncomfortable with me witnessing him naked, but that did not occur. Instead, Dad and I accepted this new situation as another stage in our caring for one another. I believe that Dad and I understood that what I was doing was done out of love.
Dad and I had prepared for the inevitable—for his needing me to tend to him. For several years, he and I had cared for my mother. Even though Ma’s bizarre and potentially dangerous behavior, a by-product of her dementia, forced us to place her in a facility, Dad and I visited her every day. I remember the first time I saw my mother naked. With Dad helping me, I stripped Ma of her food-stained shirt and dirty pants, washed her, and then re-dressed her. Dad asked me if doing so made me feel uncomfortable. No, I replied. Doing so makes me feel like I am giving back to the woman who gave so much to me.
Dad did not forget my words. The first time I faced my naked father, he looked at me with his chocolate eyes and smiled his sweet smile. Now you are giving back to me, he said. We hugged, my clothed body against his naked one, and we knew we would be okay.