This first-person column is written by Amy Thai, an animal lover who lives in Richmond, BC. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.
“Did mum tell you I had a bunny?” It was an offhand question posed to my father on a trip back to Ontario.
Lately I’ve been having trouble connecting with him and our conversations seem one-sided. In a timid attempt to find something, anything, that interested her, I pulled out my phone and showed her some pictures of Jay, my new pet bunny.
To my surprise, my father perked up. “A black rabbit!” he exclaimed, leaning over to examine the photos. He wanted to know more. Were black rabbits rare? How old was Jay? Did I leave it outside? I rushed to find more photos, clinging to that unexpected moment of clarity. Thanks to Jay, I was hopeful that I had rediscovered a way to connect with my dad.
I only see my parents once or twice a year, so the minute, daily changes in their appearance are amplified for me: with each visit, I spot new gray hairs and new wrinkles. My father seems to be aging faster than my mother, although they are about the same age. I strongly believe it has to do with when he lost his leg to a flesh-eating disease about a decade ago.
At first, my father was triumphant. He had overcome a life-threatening infection and was determined to walk again. He worked diligently on using his prosthetic leg, walker and canes, and it was a proud moment when he walked me down the aisle to my wedding a few years later.
But over time, the hassle of mobility aids eroded his motivation to get out and stay active. He stopped joining us for meals at our family’s favorite buffet. He refused my offer to drive him to the park on a sunny day. I no longer heard the rhythmic “thump…thump” of him practicing with his prosthesis at home. He retired to his wheelchair and spent most of his time in front of the computer or taking naps.
My dad was always quiet but now he was getting distracted. It occurred to me that the decrease in his physical activity could lead to a decrease in his mental acuity. It was then that I realized that our time together was precious and fleeting, and that I had to make every visit count. I had almost lost him before, so having him here was like a second chance, and I was afraid of wasting it.
I didn’t feel like my presence alone was enough. I wanted to have meaningful conversations with my parents. I wanted them to share my enthusiasm for my new home and my promotion. I also wanted to get into deeper things like their wishes for themselves when they passed away. I could still talk to my mom about these things, but my dad now had trouble with simple questions.
I didn’t know how we could spend quality time together. And then he saw Jay.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that it was a rabbit that walked through my father’s fog. Growing up, my dad and I never talked much. Instead, our time together revolved around animal-related hobbies, like catching crayfish at the river, birdwatching, and caring for our menagerie of fish, birds, hamsters, gerbils, turtles. , crabs, an iguana and – our favorite – a bunny named Buster. Loving animals together was how we expressed our love for each other.
When I visited a few months later, I came prepared with more photos and videos of Jay loaded onto my laptop so my dad could see them more easily. I had worried that my dad’s initial interest in Jay was a one-time event, but he cheered up again when I showed him the new photos.
I realized that our love for animals was the bond that held us together even as other things fell apart. There was no need to start having deep conversations if that had never been our style. Finding joy together in a photo of a rabbit was enough.
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