I was in the middle of saying something to Dick Douglass, the director of Union County Senior Services, when I was stunned into silence.

I was in the middle of saying something to Dick Douglass, the director of Union County Senior Services, when I was stunned into silence.

"That's weird," I said, staring at the brochure he handed me for an upcoming conference.

I was meeting with Dick on Nov. 12 to discuss his plans for the conference, so I could get something in the newspaper in advance of the event.

I could not tear my eyes away from the brochure on "The Many Faces of Alzheimer's & Related Dementias."

One of the reasons I was interested in his conference for caregivers was because my father was among those who suffered from early onset Alzheimer's disease.

Daddy died of a heart attack in 1998, but his mind left long before his body.

I swallowed hard as I felt goose bumps rise on my arms and the hair standing up on the nape of my neck.

As I looked up and into Dick's eyes, I saw the bewilderment on his face.

It wasn't the brochure that was weird, although he probably had that thought.

"It's the date," I said, holding up the literature. "The conference is being held on my father's birthday."

From the time I was old enough to realize that people had birthdays, I memorized Nov. 19 as a day to celebrate my father's birth.

When I was a little girl, I idolized my Da.

He was a tall, dark, brooding Irishman and he seemed stronger than Atlas to me.

I watched one time as he snapped a new rope in two with his bare hands.

Daddy held down two or three jobs at a time, most, like the drilling rig, were hard work.

At the end of the day, he came in and dropped in his chair or sometimes stretched out on the couch while my mother fixed dinner.

He loved watching "The Twilight Zone" and "Star Trek."

I curled up on the couch beside him as he rolled onto his side to view the screen.

Depending on the couch, he sometimes stretched out to his full length and other times his long legs were either bent or hung over the arms of the furnishings.

He wrapped his muscular right arm around me and supported his head with his left.

When the show turned scary to a 5- or 6-year-old, I climbed behind my father and hid my face in his back. If the music changed and it sounded safe, I peered up over his shoulder.

Daddy twisted his head around to examine me. His blue eyes twinkled and his white, even teeth flashed for a moment before his interest returned to the series.

Daddy was a hard man to please, but I never stopped trying.

To this day, I think I still ask too much of myself in an attempt to please a man who has been dead for 10 years.

There were only a couple of times in my life when my father complimented me, but I was happy if he wasn't criticizing me or giving me a disgusted look. The highest form of praise from my father was when he was not annoyed.

"You want me to knock you on your backside?" he asked my brother often.

Only, Daddy couldn't go without swearing, so the polite terms were never used.

"Oh would you please? I've been waiting all day for this moment," my brother, Allen, said recently, as we shared what danced around in our heads as children.

I went into hysterics at the thought of it.

Allen may have thought it, but he would never voice it because Daddy would comply.

We always thought our father was rough on us, because he was.

Still, we respected him and believed in him.

He did not tolerate liars or thieves and we learned that fact at a very early age.

Consequently, neither Allen nor I tolerate liars or thieves.

So it came as a complete shock, a pain that endured for years, when Daddy accused me of stealing his money a few years before he died.

My mother, father and I were on vacation in Montana.

Daddy, who first started showing signs that something was mentally wrong while I lived in Wyoming, loved the West as much as I did and wanted to see Montana once more.

We packed up and headed for my best friend's place in Dillon.

In his later years, Daddy had quite a bit of money and he liked flashing it around. It was unnerving. I was terrified someone would knock him in the head and take it at a restaurant or gas station.

Once we got to Montana, I told him I would take his money to my friend Roberta, who worked for a travel agency, and convert it into travelers checks.

When I gave him the travelers checks, he was confused.

He told my mother that he never thought I would steal from him.

I was heart sick. I couldn't believe my father thought I would steal something from him.

I returned the travelers checks for cash to prove nothing had been taken.

Although caregivers are supposed to be in their right minds, sometimes they are as confused as the people suffering from Alzheimer's. They understand they are dealing with irrational people, but somehow that doesn't make it any less difficult.

Dick also gave me a book to read called "Ice Cream in the Cupboard: A True Story of Early Onset Alzheimer's," in which the author Pat Moffett talks about the emotional roller coaster he rode with his wife, Carmen, as she suffered from the disease.

I spent a couple of days reading the book in preparation for the conference and Moffett's lecture.

The flashbacks were nonstop in the days before the event.

When Moffett talked about his wife going into a rage and trying to choke him, I thought of my father pulling a gun on my mother and threatening to kill her.

As he described how Carmen got lost in their neighborhood, I thought of Daddy getting lost on the farm where we all lived and worked for 40 years.

The emotions toiling inside of me were overwhelming at times.

Each time I thought, "I can't do this. I can't go to this event and stir up all of these forgotten incidents," I recalled the date on the brochure.

What better way to celebrate my father's life and times on his birthday than with the memories, both good and bad?

Yes, Daddy was a hard man, but he was a good man. I don't ever want that thought to diminish.

When I remember the rages and the wild accusations, I have to also remember the confusion on his face when in moments of lucidity he recognized that he was crazy. More importantly, I want to remember the twinkling blue of his Irish eyes and the loving smile that a father shows his daughter, no matter how quickly it passes.

I loved my father, whether or not he was in his right mind, and how I would love to wish him a happy and healthy birthday.

Cathy Wogan is a staff writer for ThisWeek.

Cathy

Wogan