UP FOR DISCUSSION … Dads … those being cared for by their children, or caring for another – usually a spouse, while their child is looking out for them; as we celebrate all of them this Father’s Day weekend, I wonder – are there unique challenges for the caregiver when the care recipient is also our dad?

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In this ministry we have many caregivers who are providing some level of care for their dad.  It comes in many forms:  we have caregivers who have devoted years to improving their aging father’s health and well-being.  We have those who look after both parents and even live with them.  We have those who are concerned with helping their dad because he is caring for another full time.  We even have caregivers who are caring for their spouse, but also dealing with differences of opinion from children who want something different for their dad.  It is a tangled and complicated relationship and I wonder whether caring for your father doesn’t bring with it a special set of unique challenges.

I recently finished the new book by Cardiologist Sandeep Jauhar entitled My Father’s Brain:  Understanding Life in the Shadow of Alzheimer’s.  Reading this story of caregiving through a medical doctor’s eyes was insightful.  Dr. Jauhar was involved with caring for both parents for a good part of his story, but the author’s primary focus was on his dad’s challenges.   He documented not only what happened, but how he felt about what he experienced and learned, watching the changes while providing care as best he could.  I was taken by the amount of frustration he felt that seemed to be unique to his relationship with his dad and how he struggled with giving his dad autonomy while still trying to keep him safe.  A constant theme throughout the book was dad’s previous success in life as a renowned Geneticist and well-published college professor.  It seemed clear to me that much of what Jauhar was feeling emotionally was because of his father’s behaviors – so different from the man he knew growing up.  Dad was angry, combative, and dismissive … perhaps trying to retain control over a life that he knew was rapidly disappearing.  The doctor documents his growing frustration, and the disagreements with his siblings who advocated for a less patient approach toward demanding change.  Dr. Jauhar fought to honor his father and the past relationship they had together for so many years.

We talk a lot about role reversals when becoming someone’s primary caregiver, and I think for children that is especially difficult to achieve.  Being able to initiate tough discussions without backing down can seem disrespectful.  Helping aging parents with activities of daily living that they once taught you and insisted upon seems intrusive and embarrassing.  And watching a relationship where a parent once provided you with loving wisdom and support turn to daily combat and disagreements over good care and safe behavior feels disorienting and just plain wrong.  Some people refer to it as “becoming the parent” … it requires ceding the role of child and that must be an incredible loss for anyone who once enjoyed a strong parent/child bond.  Perhaps there is nothing in life that can really prepare us for that kind of change.

I am reminded of Henri Nouwen’s brilliant challenge to all caregivers: “Many of us know from experience how hard it is to simply be a caregiver.  At the same time, we may need to be reminded of how hard it is to be cared for.  It isn’t easy either way!”  Perhaps children caring for their dads know this better than anyone.  For the strong patriarch of the family, as I guess many dads view themselves, needing their child’s care seems foreign and difficult to accept.  This weekend, caregivers for their dads should celebrate Father’s Day with a special recognition that this particular family situation might be among the toughest to carry.  It requires a good deal of grace and patience! Thank you for being willing to do so.  You are making such a difference in your dad’s life … something many of us as adults never really get to do for an aging parent.  That is special!




UP FOR DISCUSSION:   This Father’s Day, are you caring for your dad?  What are your biggest challenges in doing so, and how have you reconciled the changes required?  Please feel free to share your stories with other readers below.


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