There is a book that I remember fondly from my childhood, one that I’m pretty sure no one else has ever read because no one seems to remember it. In fact until I Googled it just now, I was half-way convinced I made it up.

Oh wait, it’s been in print continuously since 1967 – guess there might be a few other people who have read it.

That book is about Frederick the Mouse, a poet mouse who refuses to gather any food for the long cold winter ahead. Being normal mice, his compatriots are of course busy storing food, and they all mock him and tell him he’ll be in big trouble once the cold weather comes around. They are constantly asking him, “Frederick, why don’t you work?” (I’ll choose not to get into the economic ramifications of this story.)

As it turns out, those mean mice are wrong, because all along Frederick was busy storing up something else that turns out to be just as essential as food or water. Frederick was storing up the intangibles that they would be deprived of during the long, gray winter, things such as sun rays, colors, and words. Long after they get bored with their hard-won food stores, the other mice turn to young Freddy and his memories of summer to bring joy and brightness to their lives.

Obviously, I have carried this story with me. Today, I realized that I am being like Frederick.

Instead of giving my life over to work, instead I have chosen to put my family first. When 2 PM on Monday and Thursday afternoons comes around, no matter how much I have left to do at the office, I leave and make the half-hour drive out to my parents’ house, often through traffic already heavy with summer tourists.

Once there, I hang out with my dad while my mom escapes the house for her hard-earned workout. I sit at the kitchen table with my dad, each quietly doing their own thing but with a great sense of companionship between us. Every so often, I look up from my laptop to see him paging through some massive tome on “Modern Religious Thought” or the travels of Ibn Battuta, and I tuck that image away in my heart.

I do the same when I see him close the book, take off his immensely thick reading glasses, and stare off into space for what seems like a small eternity, sagely petting the cat all the while.

Ditto when he is tottering his way through the living room en route to the deck, somehow managing to wend his walker through every conceivable obstacle, both trivial and life-threatening.

Everyone thinks I am such a martyr for taking care of my ill and aging dad. Truth is, I am being massively selfish. I am spending as much time as possible with him, not just out of the good of my heart, but rather because I am storing away the sun rays of my dad’s presence, the color of his eyes and the words of his mouth, for the long, dark winter ahead.

I hoard these memories of my dad just like Frederick did, because I know that some day soon I will have to go without. But when that day comes, I will be well prepared. I will miss him, God yes I will, but I will always have my kernels of Dad to take me through the hard times.

Frederick, thank you. I always knew you had a lesson to teach me.

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