My father lives alone. I’m an only child and my mother passed away several years ago. All of his care falls on my shoulders. Son’s taking care of fathers isn’t the norm.
When my mother first passed away, sadness aside, my first reaction was panic. I knew my father needed help, and I knew a lot of the responsibility would fall on me. My mother did everything for him from doing the groceries to cooking to cleaning the house and laundry, to scheduling his appointments and making sure he got there. From paying the bills to getting a new phone, to making sure the furnace was cleaned and the gutters cleared. It all fell on my mom.
I don’t want to paint my father as inept. He wasn’t. But their marriage evolved in a different time. My father worked. My mother managed the household. It was a “traditional” marriage. The problem, of course, is what happens when that ends. Well, we went from traditional to untraditional pretty quickly.
After trying to help out my father, I realized we were going to butt heads pretty quickly unless I gave him and myself some space. He started treating me like he did my mother, or how many older couples interact. He’d make demands, not requests. He’d get impatient. He’d get resentful that he needed help.
So the natural question was, how do I fulfill my responsibility (and genuine desire) to take care of my father, without us butting heads every day. The answer was, I started using technology to act as a buffer and enable.
For example, I got my father a smartphone and an Amazon Echo. I scheduled his medication regimen with Alexa, and he gets reminders 4 times a day. It works brilliantly. Better than me calling him and getting an earful. I put all his medications in a monthly pill organizer to simplify things for him. He likes it, I like it, it works. It keeps him safe and gives me peace of mind.
Another thing I did was schedule delivery for his weekly grocery order. Instead of going to his house and him giving me a list of items to buy and going to the grocery store each week, I simply order his food online from the local grocery store. If he wants to change things up he can let me know. Otherwise, he gets all his staple food items delivered every Monday like clockwork.
I also got him a housekeeper who comes to his home half a day a week. She cleans his home (which he keeps pretty tidy) and does his laundry for the week. We bought some extra pairs of T-Shirts, underwear, and socks so he can last a week without doing laundry. This has been a godsend. There was no chance I was doing his laundry and even less of a chance he was going to do it.
I enrolled my father in some classes at the local senior center and he’s been enjoying woodworking and cards. The time he would have spent with my mother on god knows what. In the summers he plays golf at the local public golf course 5 days a week, with some friends. I also enrolled him in an astronomy class on Coursera, which he absolutely loves.
The last thing I did and still do is have my kids call him before bed every night. They do it via facetime, so we can get a visual on him, make sure he’s looking healthy. This puts a huge smile on his face. It keeps him connected to us. It makes him feel needed and wanted (which he is) and lets us check-up on him in an un-intrusive way.
So what did I learn in all of this? Family still remains my first priority. Sons can be warm and loving. Roles and responsibilities don’t have to be defined by others but can be defined by ourselves. I have no problem being my father’s caregiver, but it sure doesn’t hurt to get a little space either.
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