A son's story: Fire Chief Bob Khan retires to care for father

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Many of us know or know of Chief Bob Khan.

He led the Phoenix Fire Department as the chief for eight years and was a firefighter for 32 years. He stepped down in February to take on a new role in life as caretaker to his father, who has Alzheimer's disease.

It was a surprise for some but for Khan, it was a long time coming.

"I'm focusing on, I think, the important things in life," the former chief said. "I was distracted by work, and I was starting to feel I wasn't doing a great job as a son and as a dad and not really great job as a fire chief. I had to pick, and my decision was to choose family over my career."

So in February, Khan retired.

"I felt like I was on borrowed time with the kids and with dad," he said.

Bob Khan Sr., 82, was diagnosed with dementia and Alzheimer's seven years ago.

"There are days that he's just not as good other days and he'll tell you," Khan said.

Now, Khan is able to dedicate his time to his father when he is needed the most.

"On bad days, he gets a little feisty or is not as cooperative -- just gets tired sometimes -- but on good days, he can outlast me. He can remember things from when I was a kid," Khan said.

A farm man by trade, Bob Khan Sr. is a hard worker and very intelligent, which is why it's tough to see him deteriorating, his son explained.

"The dementia is playing games with him a little bit, but he still has a keen sense of humor. We still get along real well. We like to go look at property. He's, like I said, feisty. Without me having anxiety about my job, we can actually sit down and enjoy each other," Khan said.

Dealing with Alzheimer's means life is often unpredictable. Bob Khan Sr. has moments of anxiety and can wear out quickly. It's why Bob Khan Jr. cherishes the good moments when his dad is sharp and funny, and these are the times he is glad he's not missing.

Khan says he is now a student of Alzheimer's, learning about the disease and handling hard conversations.

"To any family that's jumping into this boat with us, I would say get prepared, hopefully even before then," he said. "It's hard to read a crystal ball and see the future, but anticipate your parents needing some long-term help because once it happens it gets even more difficult."

No one has forever, and Khan wants to cherish the moments his decades of work provided and the memories he's making now that he'll hold close after his father is gone.

"You cant fake being there," Khan said. "I'm able to walk the talk. I'm able to do something and that, for me, is enormously rewarding. The peace and the happiness I get from that is really hard to describe. I'm just really satisfied in my decision and what I'm doing with dad. That being said, I'm the luckiest guy around. I really am."

For more information on Alzheimer's, go to www.alz.org/dsw.