Sunday, October 3, 2010

Disney turned my Step-Father into my Daddy

These are memories of my Father and how Disney changed our relationship. It is not always in time order but it is in an emotional sequence.

My mother remarried with I was 15. My Step-Father was not the warm and fuzzy type. He also had no idea what to do with a teenage daughter! We did not do many family fun things. If we went out as a family it was to go camping or wherever else my Step-Father wished to go. Very seldom were my youthful desires or needs considered. Disneyland and other amusement parks were considered uninteresting and not worthy of the time or money. I found ways to go without my parents. I’d take my nieces and nephew along with neighborhood kids as an excuse to go. It did not matter much because my folks traveled 3-6 months out of every year without me so this was my fun get away. Father always said, “The day I can’t travel you will put me 6 feet under.” They were gone a lot!

I grew up and married. We always wanted children. We waited 15 years before my husband and I adopted a beautiful baby girl (who is now almost 16 years old!). My husband and I made a choice to focus on our child and enjoy her childhood with her. Trips to Disneyland were a MUST for us. My father could not see why we made such a fuss! He thought we were crazy and wasting money when we purchased our first Annual Passes to Disneyland in 1999. We pointed out how, with the pass we could spend an entire day at Disneyland for $25-$30 or even less! Many hours of fun for the entire family for the cost of a movie and popcorn! He could not understand the emotional value so we did not even try to explain that to him.

The years went by and now our daughter was 7. Father had a stroke. He had limited mobility before the stroke due to many lifelong health issues now he was even more limited. He was confined to a wheelchair or scooter. We had been going to my parent’s house once a month or so for several years fixing and cleaning things my elderly parents could no longer take care of. Now we decided we had to step it up and drove 20 miles each way once a week or more to help them in any way we could. We felt and still feel family must take care of family. This continued for three years.

After a year of going to the folks house once a week without any expectation or desire of pay or even help with the gas my parents decided to treat us to a day at Disneyland. We had not renewed our Annual Pass so we used it to help pay for our new pass. My step-father said he would try to enjoy it but, well, “Disneyland was for kids and he had never taken his own son there as a child.” What an interesting day!!

The day started out warm and bright, typical early July summer day in Southern California. We decided to do Disney California Adventure because it had opened after our pass expired and we had not seen it yet. My parents were also interested in seeing what all the fuss was about so they agreed. Before we left the house I went online and found out about handicap accessibility and what rides Father might be able to get on or even like. We made sure there were things Father might do so he would not be just sitting in the sun.

We got to the park early and got our maps at the gate. We had talked to Disney on the phone and knew we should stop for an assistance pass for Father to help him get around. The day went well and for the first time in several years I saw Father smile! Mom also enjoyed every moment. The things they liked the best were the little things. They clapped and laughed at all the little shows. We had to stop at every Artventure post and try the crafts they had. Soarn’ was a favorite of Father’s because he had been a pilot and loved flying his little plane. He loved looking at the picture of people on display in the line for Soarn’. He knew many of them from his days working in aerospace in the 1940’s and 50’s. He would point at the different plane parts and tell us what they did and some he even had a part in making! Father insisted on paying for meals and even a couple of small gifts! We went back to Disneyland without the folks several times over the next month or so. Every time the folks would ask what we saw and if we enjoyed ourselves. Little did we know this was the beginning of the Love of ALL things Disney for my folks!

We should have seen it coming!! After several months my Father asked when we were going to Disneyland next. He said he was sick of looking at the same four walls and if he did not get out of the house he would die! We knew he could no longer travel as he had before so we told him when we were going to Disneyland and said he could join us. We met at the folk’s house and caravanned to the park together. We hung out together and made sure the folks were able to get onto several rides and saw several shows together. We all purchased family service radios, cell phones were not that big back then and we could not afford them so we could keep in touch and find each other in the park. Father got an Annual Pass for himself and mom. In 2002 he finally purchased Annual Passes to Disneyland for the entire family!! That is himself, mom, his son, daughter in law and their two adult children and their spouses along with the three of us! Eleven Premium Passes in all! He paid for those for about 4 years! We all enjoyed ourselves!

Dad called every few days after we our day at Disneyland asking when we would like to go back to Disneyland with them. His cold attitude toward us changed to warm. Instead of saying, “That’s my wife’s kid.” He said, “That’s my beautiful girl and her family.” He wanted to be with us! He loved telling people that HIS daughter and her family were at the park with him! At first we went to the park about 2 times a month with them. In 2004 it became about once a week! By 2005 we were all going to the park at least 2 times a week! We were also living with them taking care of them because daddy had another stroke and mom had cancer. We would sometimes go together and sometimes separate. My Father became my daddy. His heart toward us softened and ours opened wide to him.

We saw that if dad did not have Disneyland to get him out of bed and give him joy he would have died years before he did. Here is an example. In 2003 dad had another stroke and heart attack. His abilities were further limited. He said he would no longer be able to go to Disneyland let alone anywhere else. I saw him going into a deep depression and giving up on life. His birthday was coming up and I talked the entire family into making plans to celebrate dad’s birthday at Disneyland with a special desert treat viewing of Fantasmic. His birthday was 1 month away and there was no way he could go but we would do it when he was well enough. My daughter and I went to Disneyland with several birthday and get well cards a few days before his birthday. All the cards had Disney characters on them and we wanted to get each character pictured to sign the cards with get well and birthday wishes. We could not find one of the characters that was on the cards, Daisy Duck and when I asked a cast member where I could find her he told me she was not out in the parks at all. I explained my goal and he asked if he could take the cards backstage to the characters! He winked and told me he knew where they are all taking a break. He also asked me who my dad’s favorite character was. I told him Goofy. He returned with all the cards signed and with a signed 8x10 picture of Goofy!

On dad’s birthday I gave him the cards and photo along with a small Goofy gift and Disney balloon. We told him of our plans to see Fantasmic together when he was well enough. Dad’s attitude changed for good that day! Instead of doom and gloom he started talking fondly about Disneyland and how much he wanted to go back. Within 3 months after his heart attack, stroke and bypass surgery he was at Disneyland watching Fantasmic with the entire family! After that anytime daddy got sick and would start to talk about giving up on life we would start talking about our past visits to Disneyland and work on planning a special event for the next time we went together.

I have many fond memories of my daddy and 99% of them were at Disneyland the last few years we had together. He even took the entire family for a week at WDW and a week on DCL in 2005 for OUR 25th wedding anniversary! Daddy died last year and I miss him. When I’m on certain rides or at some shows at Disneyland I think of him and how much he loved that ride or show. When something new comes to the park I often think of how he would have liked it.

Thank you Disney for turning my Step-Father into my Daddy!

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