Sometimes I want to apologize for my dad at Caribou Coffee, for the way he recites his phone number in a sing-song way for them to key into the register so he gets his Caribou Perks, the way he makes sure the baristas see him ceremoniously put a dollar in the tip jar, and for his obsession with the temperature of his coffee (read: HOT). But apologies aren’t in order. They simply adore him just as he is. I get it. I’ve had patients before that I’ve thought were wonderful whose children have stood at the bedside rolling their eyes, mouthing exaggerated apologies for their parent’s behavior. I guess it comes down to something like the difference between looking at a snapshot and thumbing through the whole photo album.
The Caribou baristas’ service to my dad extends far beyond a hot cup of coffee. In many ways, they have been a lifeline. During the height of the COVID pandemic in 2020, they would call his house to check on him. They’ve kept credit cards, gloves, wallets, and cell phones safe for him when he’s left them lying on the table. When my sisters and I started seeing changes in our father’s memory and cognition, we looked to the baristas, who shared stories and observations that validated our suspicions. The changes had not been lost on our dad’s Caribou family, either.
When I picked him up this afternoon from Caribou, he waved at his guys and shrugged his shoulders apologetically as he walked out. I could just hear him say, “Well, I’d love to stay, but my ride is here…” I felt a twinge of jealousy that he wanted to stay with them, and a blush of embarrassment that I was the killjoy.
Inside the car, he struggled with the seat belt, fumbling, frustrated. “I can’t see what I’m doing here,” he said, defeated. I reached over and clicked the metal buckle securely, a lump growing in my throat.
And then there was silence. If it were a movie, it might have been the part where sentimental music fades in, an elderly man and his middle-aged daughter driving silently through the hometown she left behind thirty years before. In a movie, it might be sad. But thankfully it was real life, and as we drove on my dad chattered away, pointing out the office of his insurance guy, the leather goods repair guy, the quilting store he’s never been in, and the gas station where a guy can still get the best deal on Snickers bars.