Taking care of my dad has been a strange journey in trying to let go of the past and “doing the right thing.” When I was in my 20’s and early 30’s, before my father was diagnosed with Alzheimers, I had the uncomfortable feeling that I needed to deal with past issues with my father before it was “too late.” Now it is too late, and I am stuck with the challenge of negotiating my dad’s care, parenting him, all the while fighting back the knee-jerk reaction that arises when “old wounds” are opened.
I had very good reasons NOT to address issues with my dad when he was healthy. Basically, my sister had tried and had gotten shot down in a way that I was not willing to experience. I have learned that my father is a stubborn, selfish man with little to no ability to self-reflect and be introspective. Probably the very reason that I am now a therapist and make a living helping others with that challenging task. I made a deliberate choice not to challenge him on my feelings about his selfishness and, therefore, his neglect of his children.
Not that I can’t empathize with my father in an abstract way. I can examine his childhood with an alcoholic mother and philandering father who had extremely high expectations of him (that he did not live up to) and understand how he never learned to empathize and how he might shut himself off from self-responsibility. On the other hand, I am a human who was raised by this person and the child me wants him to have put his children first and taken responsibility for his actions – at least at some point. Not to say he wasn’t a good dad at times. He was, but there were many periods of my childhood, specifically my adolescence, when he was focusing solely on his needs while I struggled emotionally and financially. The child in me doesn’t care about his depression, the neglect he must have experienced from his parents, etc. I just want to have been taken care of in a way that can’t be done by a single mother with a full-time job and three kids. If there is one thing I have learned in my years as a therapist for adolescent girls- a teenage girl needs her dad.
So here I am in a position where I often have to sacrifice attending to my child and taking care of myself while I take care of his needs. A sacrifice he did not always make for us. I am glad I am introspective enough to know that this is the right thing to do and that I have to forgive my father – even without the apology. But there are many times in this process that my dad’s self-centeredness arises, and I can’t do a thing about it. I talk to him about his choices, I smile and soothe, I do for him what he couldn’t do for me. Perhaps he is benefitting from what I learned from his neglect.
Help me find a lesson in this.