Missing Dad’s Birthday Reminded Me of the Importance of Slowing Down

Mary Beth Skylis avatar

by Mary Beth Skylis |

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Last weekend, I was exploring a South Carolinian swamp when my phone buzzed. It was my dad.

“Call me after 2,” the text glowed on my phone.

“OK,” I responded.

After I’d wiped the swamp juice from my shoes and peeled back my muddy socks, I dialed my dad. Usually when he asks me to call him, he’s all business. He notifies me that I’ve received a ticket in the mail, or tells me to check my health insurance.

But when he picked up the phone, his voice was soft. It had been getting quieter and slower for a while, its pace a constant reminder of the grip Parkinson’s has on him. I could hardly hear him as he chewed on his words.

“Did you remember that yesterday was my birthday?” he asked. My gut dropped to the floor. I had spent the entire day rock climbing and dropped the ball on my dad’s birthday.

Throughout my life, I’ve been the person that everyone relies on for reminders of important dates like birthdays. I’ve always shown my love through gestures, such as being the first to celebrate a birthday at 12:01 a.m. But my heart grew heavy to know that I’d forgotten my dad this year.

“Ah man, Dad. I’m so sorry. I completely forgot.”

He giggled on the other end. “I figured all of you kids forgot. It’s OK, Mary Beth. Birthdays are no big deal to me.”

My heart grew even heavier to hear as much. It wasn’t just me who forgot. His other kids had been swept up in their lives, too, forgetting to slow down and hold their dad closely.

He turned 68 this year. According to a National Center for Health Statistics report, life expectancy at birth for the average American male is 75.1 years. This average is higher in many comparable countries around the world.

Maybe the difference in life expectancy has to do with food choices, lifestyle, or general health. Or, maybe it has something to do with the general pace of life. Americans can’t seem to slow down. I’ve been lucky enough to have my dad around for all 30 years of my life so far. But even if he reaches 75.1 years old, that doesn’t leave me much time with him. It seems more important than ever to celebrate the years we have together.

“Did you do anything fun for your birthday?” I asked him between moments of guilt.

“Your mom got me a pizza. And we’re going to do ice cream tonight,” he replied.

It took him a moment to get the words out, and I often found myself talking over him out of excitement. It’s an exercise in patience. So much of my life operates at warp speed, but during my conversation with my dad, I reminded myself that slowing down can actually lead to a richer experience.

My dad told me that he’d been watching the local wildlife. He set up a couple bird feeders in the backyard, and he likes to watch who arrives to take advantage of them. Every once in a while, he’ll find a squirrel trying to break into the bird feeder, and he races into the backyard to chase them off. But as soon as they’re gone, he leaves the squirrels treats of their own on the ground.

Dad’s ritual is a testament to the beauty of slowness. Instead of racing to my electronics in the morning, I tell myself that I should gaze out of the window. And instead of speeding through a conversation, I should create space for my dad’s slowing speech, giving him the chance to be heard in his own time.

I hate Parkinson’s for taking another one of his abilities as it slowly works its way into his voice. But I know my dad is a fighter, and we vow to adapt to change together.


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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