Friday, June 14, 2013

Facing the Naked Truth About My Father’s Declining Health, and What It Means for Me

When I was young, my father cared for me. Now he’s old and needs my help, but can I really provide it?

By Simon Yisrael Feuerman for Tablet Magazine

It starts as just another Sunday visit with Dad. He has been having some trouble breathing, and he is shaky on his feet. When it’s time for me to leave, he asks me to stay a little longer. “I need to take a shower,” he says with apology. “I am afraid to do it alone.” I nod. He needs me there to spot him, to make sure he doesn’t slip. He is suffering from a blockage in his lung, and his doctor has advised him not to bathe alone.

Everything is in order. My father, a military man and quintessential planner, has strategically placed towels here, clean clothes there, chairs where he can rest between his bed and the shower. But still, as he limps across the room, stopping every few steps to catch his breath, he says: “Don’t leave. I need you.”

I am angry. I don’t want to be doing this. But my mind wrestles with itself: This is the man who formed me, diapered me, rocked me in the cradle. He taught me how to tie my shoes, zip up my coat, balance a checkbook, study a page of Talmud.

Of course I stay—my father needs me. But that does not stop irrational thoughts from erupting inside, as though I’m still 15 years old and he is 45: Since when am I supposed to take care of him? Why doesn’t he just take care of himself? He’s the father, for God’s sake. But for some of us, as adults we must now return the lifetime of care to our parents, even if inside we never feel grown up enough to take care of anyone. As Father’s Day reminds us—not that we needed the reminder—a father is a father is a father. He cared for you; now you care for him.

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