A son’s unsentimental attempt to unravel the mysteries of his father’s life and come to terms with its contradictions.
Taylor, a lecturer in English at Loughborough University, began writing this memoir after the death of his father, who for nearly two decades had been suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was either unable or unwilling to talk about his past. A few years earlier, the author had discovered that he had a stepbrother, a man whose memories of their father, in his pre-Parkinson’s days, were entirely unlike his own. Taylor reconstructs scenes from his childhood and adolescence to show his father’s downward spiral—from engaged parent to a man so deep in dementia that he could not distinguish his son from a giraffe and believed he was being kidnapped by enemies. Starting in his teens, Taylor began sharing with his mother the role of caretaker. He admits to being impatient, cross, frustrated and angered by his father’s strange behaviors. It was only later when he found clinical names for the symptoms that he could begin to understand what was happening, and with understanding came guilt over his shortcomings as a caretaker. Taylor’s frankness in describing his demented father may be seen as an invasion of privacy, but it is clear that he loved him and wanted desperately to know him and understand him, going to great lengths to track down his father’s relatives, former teaching colleagues and anyone who might provide helpful memories. While Taylor’s father remains something of an enigma to him and to the reader, the unpleasant truths about being a caretaker are made plain, as are the real horrors of witnessing the destruction of a loved one’s body, personality, mind and memory.
The pain quotient of this heart-wrenching account is so high that a warning label should be attached: Think twice before giving to anyone touched by Parkinson’s disease.