I was getting a massage today when my massage therapist asked about my dad. I’ve told her quite a bit about the situation with my father over the last six months because it is such a major source of stress.
Yes…I talk during massages, which I know is odd, but I fall asleep if I just silently lay there and I’m not going to sleep through something I paid for, so…
Did you notice the title of my blog is …because it’s hard to shut me up?
I talk…a lot.
But I digress…
My massage therapist asked about my dad and I told her all about my last visit with my dad, which was really good, and my mom’s last encounter with my dad which was not good at all. My dad became very agitated and began demanding to know why he can’t live at home with my mom. We’ve explained this to him multiple times and he never remembers, and while explaining it again really isn’t a problem, he doesn’t want to hear it. No one wants to hear that they are so demented and feeble that they require more care than their loved ones can provide, let alone that they can’t come home because they are violent and uncontrollable.
My heart breaks for my mom, who bears the brunt of his anger. At the same time, I am beginning to wonder if frequent visits, originally meant to keep my dad from feeling lonely, are actually making him agitated and uncomfortable.
Mom and I discussed the situation earlier this week after he yelled and cursed at her for refusing to take him home. My mother worries that he’ll never get out of the behavioral unit at his memory care facility. I worry that we’ll never manage to find the right balance of visits and absences, which will force us to stop visiting just so that he can stop having episodes of agitation and violence.
There are times when I genuinely fear that I will never get to see my father again.
I realize that there is nothing preventing me from visiting my father. It’s not like the Lord posted an angel with a flaming sword at the door. (I mean, the memory care facility is nice, but it’s not that nice.)* The thing is that I want my father to be happy, to have some modicum of joy in his life, and I am willing to give up my visits with him if that is what will make his life the most joyful. If my mother’s visits are what is causing his agitation, I am willing to be the only one visiting him even though that increases the amount of time I will need to spend visiting him. And I am committed to supporting my mother in her partial or total withdrawal from my father because no one deserves to be pummeled with verbal abuse and threats of violence.
I explained all this to my massage therapist, and that is when she got a bit teary eyed and said very nice things about me. She called me thoughtful and compassionate and a whole lot of other very nice things. I appreciated her words, but that has very little to do with my thoughts and feelings about visiting my dad.
What does? Authenticity.
What does that have to do with my dad?
Let me explain.
Being authentic is about constantly embodying who I am and who I want to be in the world. I know who I am, both good and bad, and I know who I want to be as a pastor, counselor, friend, wife, mother, and daughter.
When I am trying to decide what to do about my dad and how I want to be with my dad, I ask myself: Who am I in relationship? Who do I want to be as a daughter? What do I believe that good daughters do and how should I express that?
Notice I didn’t say “What do good daughters do?” because that question gets answered with a lot of BS from culture, society, church, and all the other systems that I participate in that want to lay claim on the role of ‘daughter’. I am not interested in what other people think. I want to be a good daughter to my father, and that means that I need to remember what matters to me.
Again, let me explain. Society tells us that good daughters visit their dads regularly because not doing so means that you are abandoning your parent in their old age. Society says that good daughters encourage their fathers to eat healthy and exercise so that they live a long life.
I believe that good daughters love their elderly fathers enough to attend to their father’s needs, even if that means that things are not the way the daughter wants them to be. If that means that we visit weekly, so be it. If that means we only visit once a month, so be it. If that means that Daddy lives in his PJs and eats cookies for every meal, so be it. My vanity and my needs for things to look or appear some certain way is meaningless. My desire to have my dad be healthy and live as long as possible is meaningless. What matters is that my dad needs to have a little joy in his life again before he dies. He hasn’t had much joy for quite a few months now, so a little joy before he dies is my goal as a daughter, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else (except my mother) thinks ought to be happening. And when it comes to my mother, I encourage her to think about her own needs and not just my father’s needs, because she has spent the last nine years as a caregiver, putting Daddy’s needs first, and that has to stop. My dad is in a memory care facility now. Someone else takes care of Daddy’s daily needs and my mom needs to return her primary interest to herself so that she can have a little joy too. My mom needs to find a meaningful life alone, separate from her husband, whom she has served for 54 years. My mom and dad have differing needs, and I—as their daughter—need to be mindful of both so that I can be a good daughter to both of them.
Does all that sound exhausting? Sometimes it is, and many of you may be thinking that I have bought into the cultural BS of the ‘Good Daughter who Sacrifices for her Parents’. Of course, you are free to think that. Personally, that’s not where I am. I want to know that when I look in the mirror at the end of the day, and it’s just me, my reflection, and my God, that I have been who God created me to be in this world. My job here is to be authentically me…and for me, being a good daughter to both my parents matters a lot, just like being a good mom to both my daughters matters a lot.
Thank God I only have one husband!
So for this week, being a good daughter means that I call the social worker at the memory care facility and discuss what to do when visitation seems to be the cause of agitation. I’m betting that the social worker will have some suggestions and that together we can figure out a plan to help both my mom and dad find a little joy in every day. If not, well, at least I tried my best to do what I believe a good daughter would do. And at the end of the day, that’s all the comfort I have to give myself.
So far, it works for me.
And as for being a good Christian, I take my comfort from the Gospel of Mark, where Jesus appears to be cranky, impulsive, emotional, and irascible. If the goal is to be Christlike, I do believe that I am almost there, which is probably a blog post for a different day.
Until that day…
* Remember the Garden of Eden? See Genesis 3:23-24.