When I was a child, the word “parent” was a noun, and not a verb.
I was trained and disciplined, fed, clothed, educated, loved, criticized, corrected, reprimanded, and, upon occasion, punished. I was *not* parented. My parents knew of Dr. Spock, but not of Brazelton, Piaget, nor Erikson. Consequences were part of that TV game show, *Truth and Consequences; *they were not viewed as the natural result of any given choice or action. When I did something wrong, something was wrong with me. My grades, even mere games like golf and bridge, were deemed measures of my character, my very person.
It’s my turn now, though. Not to parent, exactly; I’ve done that and made my own share of mistakes (times four now-wonderful young adults). What it’s time for now is to guide my father through his final developmental stage, much the way a loving parent “guides” a child through adolescence. And it’s looking likely to be just as challenging and just as ugly.
What I am trying desperately to factor in at this point is the fact that my father doesn’t see my taking charge of some of his choices as the logical consequence of his poor health and foolish decisions. Indeed, he sees it as a great moral, personal failure. (See above.)
This ego-driven, rather than reality-driven assessment is blinding and paralyzing him in ways his frail body is only beginning to. It is as if he is on a self-destructive Death March in defiance of Father Time himself, willing to crash and burn (and die) on his own terms rather than succumb to prescribed treatment and assistance. Willing to crash and burn, literally, it would seem, rather than give up his “right” to drive because some whacko doctor in Florida said his 20/40 in the one eye that is still functioning is “legal.” I understand loss-of-control issues; truly, I do. I don’t understand an intelligent man, himself a physician, rejecting sound medical advice because he doesn’t “want” to carry an oxygen tank or use a cane or walker. And I don’t understand a loving father (OK, OK, in his own way loving) refusing to listen to reason and his daughters’ insistence that he cannot safely live alone any longer. I know the economics; I do his taxes. He can afford quality care – not luxurious, but quality.
Give him time; he’ll adjust. I’ve heard the counsel, and I am trying. In fact, I had to give myself time to adjust. The very idea of moving my father to assisted living made me weep as late as last week. But as I heard him gasp for breath and watched him step up to a step that wasn’t there and fall over one that was, as I listened to doctors’ reports of heart failure and COPD and vision loss, I began to realize that healthier and better cared for, absent the tasks of daily living, he might actually gain months or years *and* his damned independence, even if he did have to see one of his daughters once a week instead of once a month!
But that’s the rational response, the stuff of choices and consequences. Can Dad grasp that lesson now? He’s acting like a two-year old at the moment, the kind who whines, “Because I don’t want to. And you can’t make me. You’re not in charge of me. Na-na-na-na-na – (hands on ears) – I can’t hear you!!!” (And yes, I see, this is the ultimate struggle for independence we’re talking about, the one that started, presumably, at age two.) So I have put him in “Time Out.” He’s thinking things over. At my sister’s.
And I am thinking – hard – about ways I might reach deep into his (failing) heart to help him understand that he is loved by virtue of his very existence, by his *being,* and being our father, not because he can do more for himself than any other 88 year-old guy.
*My dad thinks he is a special case, and I know he is not. We all have parents who grow old and fail and don’t want to. Because of the way he acts and the things he says, I can fall into thinking I am a special case, too, that his situation and our challenges are harder than others’. But I know that is not true, either. So chime in here, please, with your experiences – the words you used, the gestures you made, the successes and failures you realized, the love and relationship you salvaged. . . . And thanks.*
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