BOOKS AND AUTHORS A Daughter’s Chronicle of Her Father and Alzheimer’s Disease
WICHITA, Kan. (AP) _ As Leonard Wolfe slowly went from rational, self-reliant intellectual to bewildered, dependent Alzheimer’s disease victim, his daughter chronicled the descent.
In her book ″Daddyboy: A Memoir,″ Carol Wolfe Konek, associate dean of liberal arts at Wichita State University, takes readers inside complex family relationships that once revolved around her father.
″Daddyboy″ may be too frank for recently diagnosed Alzheimer’s victims and their families, said Konek, a 57-year-old women’s studies professor and researcher.
″You wonder if it’s best that some see what’s going to happen in two weeks, or two months or two years,″ she said. ″Maybe some people are better off if they don’t know that.″
Although the book left her feeling exposed, she said it allowed her to deal with her conflicting feelings toward her father, a businessman with strong socialist and feminist political beliefs.
Konek took extensive notes each time her father and family members met with doctors. The notes served as a reference for later discussions and provided material that went into the book. But the note-taking also functioned as a defense, or coping, mechanism that distanced her from what was happening, much like her father at family gatherings and celebrations, preoccupied with his still and movie cameras, she says.
Observations and anecdotes about her father and contemporary conversations are interwoven with detailed flashbacks used to tell the story of Konek’s growing up in western Kansas. There’s the stuff of most adolescent-parent relationships - conflicts over whom she dated and the hours she kept - but there’s also intellectual interplay.
″The horror of the disease is that it doesn’t progress more rapidly,″ Konek writes when a friend calls about yet another hopeful treatment.
Her father starts with memory lapses and disorientation, becomes a lost child and eventually a dependant adult infant who had to be cared for in a nursing home. He died in 1985 at 70 years old.
″Sudden death is the death of preference in a society dominated by longing for instant gratification,″ Konek writes. ″Most of us are impatient with the victims of slow progressive diseases, and with family members of such victims.
″Most family members find that they are entitled to no more than three or four days of intense empathy following the diagnosis of a degenerative disease. Then, there are weeks of sensitive and deferential treatment, followed by a conspiracy to avoid depressing topics.
″The newly bereaved often encounter impatience from family members and friends who have decided for them that ’life must go on.‴
″Daddyboy″ isn’t all death and dying.
Flashes of humor and bitter irony are sprinkled throughout.
In one passage, Konek writes about how her father sat at her kitchen table wearing his ski jacket and stocking cap as if he was about to hit the slopes or build a snowman, though there was no snow.
When one of his daughter’s friends dropped by, he offered to let her read his folder full of printed material about his disease. ″It is a family tradition that we can solve any problem given enough library time,″ Konek writes.
The reaction from her siblings has been positive, but her mother views the book as an unwarranted intrusion past the stoic, uncomplaining facade she thinks families should maintain. Fern Wolfe also disagrees with her daughter’s recollections and perceptions.
Nonetheless, the book has provided a forum for discussing delicate personal and family topics with her mother, Konek said.
″Daddyboy: A Memoir,″ published by Graywolf Press, sells for a suggested retail price of $19.