Dad, Father’s Day

So we’re creeping up on one two months post Father’s Day 2020 and here I am still working on this post. WordPress informed me I have made 16-revisions to this post. Part of my tardiness is related to the busyness of my life. It was also a difficult post to write. When I ask my clients to “do homework” to help them learn new skills and improve how they manage their response to life stresses, often the work goes incomplete. A social worker a lot smarter than I once told me, “If you give a client homework and they don’t do it it’s more than likely because they’re not ready to do it.” This is one that despite the inevitability is one that I would like to avoid. Perhaps it has something to do with my own mortality or the thought of experiencing some of the health problems that my dad’s experiencing. Anyway, better late than never. Here goes…

My dad is dying. Well to be more accurate we’re all dying.

At some point after he was born he contracted polio. An illness today known only by memory. Usually a death sentence, my dad presented with a limp that worsened as he aged. A number of years ago he took an early retirement for medical reasons and ultimately the disease took his legs.

When I was a boy I walked with him to the corner of our street. We stopped, said our goodbyes and I traveled another two blocks to my elementary school. He waited at the corner for a coworker to pick him up for the drive to their office. It was a walk that I had mixed feelings about. I liked it because it was time spent with my dad. When I was in the second grade I found out that I needed glasses. When I arrived at school I was bullied both for the “coke bottle” glasses and my dad’s limp. I never noticed my dad’s limp. Maybe because I was a kid, maybe it was because I didn’t want to notice it. Some of the kids awaited my arrival which usually meant being called “The son of Frankenstein” or the “Son of the Retard.” That excitement was usually piled on top of other comments like “four eyes” coke bottles” and some other rather creative but hurtful comments. It doesn’t surprise me that I became a social worker.

For a minute there I became so lost in some pretty vivid memories that I forgot where I was going with the story. Ah yes…death and the process of dying. These are concepts none of us want to address especially if it’s related to a family member. As a social worker I’m all too familiar with words like denial and minimization. Those words have saved me many times. They have also caused heartache because feelings not managed grow and take on a life of their own.

Anyway, back to the story. As we have done for more years than I can remember, my wife, kids, and I go to my sister’s home to celebrate Father’s Day. Within minutes of my arrival my mom and dad arrived. My mom opened the sliding door to the van and I watched as the ramp unfolded and gently touched the ground. Dad slowly backed his scooter down the ramp as we simultaneously wished each other Happy Father’s Day.

As we ate I engaged my dad in small talk, a concept for which I am not particularly fond. Aside from my job, I talk when I need to. Obviously in therapy that’s a necessity. I actually abhor small talk. Talking for the sake of talking does nothing for me. Any way, something caught my vision out of the corner of my eye. I gave it my full attention and sat in disbelief as I watched a steady stream of urine coming out of his pant leg. I’m not convinced he didn’t know what was happening although until I brought it to his attention he didn’t seem to recognize what was happening. A few weeks earlier I asked my dad a question. Some may gasp that I asked it at all. Others may gasp because of the nonchalance with which I asked. I asked my dad if he had given up. His answer came as rapidly as I had expected it would. He nodded and said “yes.” Despite anticipating his answer it still caught me off guard. It’s not something you expect to hear unless you’re watching a movie that might relate to chronic illness. You certainly don’t expect to hear the response to that question from your dad.

I get it. I get the response.

My dad never let me get away with anything. Being the oldest of three I, as you can expect got more discipline than what I thought was my fair share. My dad and I had our disagreements and our arguments, most kids did. What I learned from my dad was to persevere, to never give up, to never say, “I can’t.” So you can understand when I heard his response I was a little taken aback.

I have done a lot of work personally in my life to get where I am today. I’m not referring to success at work but personal work “on myself.” I’ve had a daily meditation practice for years. That practice had lead me through some pretty dark places. That’s not to say that nothing bothers me. I’m no different that anyone else. If I let those little stresses build up and don’t keep myself in check, I’ll soon wonder why the emotional tub has overflowed. Those who know me know that if they ask me for feedback, it will be honest Several months ago someone who I trust very much asked me if she could give me some feedback. She took this from me. I’ll ask and if you say “no” then I’ll keep my thoughts to myself. But if you say “yes” then I’m going to be honest with you.

I need to get honest with myself, that my dad appears to be giving up. I get it. He’s 82 and he feels like he’s a burden. He’s passively resisted all of the help that has been offered and even placed in his life in an attempt to make life a little easier.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned after 35-years as a social worker is that you can’t help everyone and you can’t help those who do not want to be helped.

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