Dad vs. Career

Taking care of elderly parents can be a stressful proposition. Yet it has its rewards. As our general population ages, more and more of us will deal with this challenge. Finding a balance between their needs and yours is the optimal solution.

As I write this blog, I am sitting on the terrazzo floor of terminal B in the DFW airport. The terminal is not usually so crowded, but several flights have been canceled today and the remnants of the debacle are deposited in the seating areas along the corridor.

I helped facilitate a conference this past weekend in Dallas, and am taking a couple of days to fly home to see my father. He turned 81 this year and is doing well cognitively, but has encountered several mobility issues during the past few months. He is no longer able to lift his arms higher than his shoulders, and he shuffles as he walks. Last year he fell four times, once breaking two ribs in the process. Yet he is fiercely independent and has no intention of coming to live with me or my siblings. To my dismay, he still drives and “fixes” things around the house. Reluctantly, he has agreed not to attempt anything involving ladders, but I have not convinced him to part with power tools. Although we have discussed moving my 87 year-old aunt into an assisted living home, his tone becomes hostile if I try to turn the conversation around to him.

He has furnished me with a to-do list for this trip via email. There are three main items that he wishes to address.

  1. Find a contractor to roof the house.
  2. Fix/Install a heater in the bathroom.
  3. Remove area rug from den and install linoleum flooring.

This will all need to be accomplished in a day and a half. I will also be required to go through his tax and medical records.

Reviewing the tax records will be relatively easy. He has been using the same accountant for years, so they will have winnowed through his shoebox of papers, receipts and tattered envelopes by now, and will have kept what they need, and shredded the rest. Finding trustworthy and competent help for distant parents can be a big stress reliever for a care-giving child.

With respect to his medical records, I will need to do a bit more. As has been done for my past several visits, Dad has set up a series of appointments with his doctors. We will see his general care physician, cardiologist, rheumatologist, and various other specialists in succession. My role will be to listen to their diagnoses and dictate my prescription to each for Dad’s healthcare. Later in the evening, I will explain what they said in terms that Dad can understand and write out his treatment plans on the yellow tablet that he keeps in the drawer by his bed.

Taking care of Dad can be stressful. Since Mom died ten years ago, Dad has been reliant on me for all of his major life decisions. Although one of my brothers moved back home, Dad resists his help. Because I am the one with an advanced technical degree, I am the only one he will trust with negotiating his health care and finances.

I feel guilty each time I leave him to go back to my job in DC, but there is no way that I could find a comparable job in the small town where I was raised. Life is hard in an oil field community, and opportunities to apply technical training are rare. Dad knows this and does not begrudge my opportunities in the big city. Still I know that he would rather I spend more time with him.

It is time to board the plane, and I am directed to fall in line behind a little old lady with big red hair—this is Texas after all. I wonder where her kids are and how they care for her. Living life involves many difficult decisions, and helping your parents to live theirs involves many more. By sharing life’s challenges with each other, you can manage the balance, but it requires that both parties be willing to acknowledge the needs of the other.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.

12 Responses to Dad vs. Career

  1. Sue Massey says:

    I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    – Sue.

  2. Bill Suits says:

    My mother was 87 when my father died in Wisconsin. At first she was not interested in moving. Then she visited a couple friends living in a relatively new senior assisted living facility and fell in love with the place. Having meals prepared, getting drugs delivered at the right time, and friends to play cards with all appealed to her and were impossible on the lonely farm. After her friends raved about the services, she made the decision without us even bringing up the topic. Suddenly, it was her decision. After that, the transition was easy and she is still raving about how nice she has it around her new friends and a few old ones. There is always something to do and yet she has her privacy in her own apartment. She is now very forgetful and has fallen. Walking with a walker has become routine as it has for her many friends.

  3. Liz says:

    Certainly understand the difficulty of caring for an aging parent long distance. My 82-year old mother lives 3 states away; and while she is in good health, still I’d like to be there to help her out with things and protect her from everyday chaos. There is definately an element of guilt there; but you’re right, you do have to find a balance. Best of luck.

  4. Ana Minatti, Ph.D. says:

    Thank you for writing this article. It is the first time that I read something about scientists like us, who have to take care of our parents or even more difficult widows or widowers. Your article mentions all the important things that we have to deal with: the duties and the remorses. My mother lives in Europe and I have a job in the US. I try to do my best!

  5. Mani Upreti, Ph.D. says:

    Thanks for writing life’s reality for professionals like us so nicely. I have both parents living alone all the way in a city called Jaipur in north India while I work in Atlanta, USA. My father 72, has Parkinson and my mother 65 is his full time companion from taking care of his medication, nutrition and exercise. My father is quite independent around the house but is dependent on my mother for driving the car and taking him out for walk in the park, doctor’s visit etc. My mother still tries to get some time out to remain involved in the social work for women there. Although my mother manages well, she also has high bp and gets tired sometimes of managing everything herself. I am able to visit them only once a year and it gets hard when there are things that I need to take care of and I am not there physically. I hope things will be better once I move and be closer to them.

  6. Erby Gamboa says:

    I am so glad to hear that you are taking care of your father long distance. I feel it’s our turn to recriprocate the favor our parents did for us. I am from the same oil field community. Enjoyed reading your article.

  7. Dave, I handled my Mom’s affairs in a long-distance (345 miles) fashion for the 18 months prior to her death at age 97 in October 2007. It appears you are missing some key players and legal documents if you are going to be successful. Critical documents are power-of-attorney (POA) and healthcare/HIPPA POA. Some financial institutions have their own POA rules. A good eldercare attorney will help you dad understand reason for these forms and get his signature gracefully. Said attorney will probably know a good financial advocate who can make sure local bills get paid and house is maintained. If you dad has an investment adviser, he can help, too, if you have the right POA. If your dad has problems handling things in the kitchen, get it rearranged so he can reach what he needs. Also, make sure you know who you are going to hire and how you are going to finance home health aides when they are needed.

  8. Dear All – Thanks for the comments, and you bring up several important points. Dad and I have gone through the process of updating his will and filling out Power of Attorney documents for financial as well as medical needs. Another important document is the living will which has been placed on file with the local hospitals. The decision to take Mom off of a respirator in her final moments was made much easier by her pre-directive. However, stress remains. I can’t help but wonder what if. Additionally, knowing that aging and tissue degeneration is a normal part of life does not make it any easier to watch. The logical course of actions does nothing to ease your fears that once vibrant love ones will someday fade away. What makes it work for me is Dad’s sense of humor. While I was home, we went to buy a new faucet for his bathroom sink. Standing in front of the display at Home Depot, I gathered the options available for his inspection. After reading the boxes, he chose the cheapest alternative. He said that it was the only one with a warranty that didn’t exceed his own.

  9. David, you are doing a wonderful job. Many people are not able to achieve even that – financial and other reasons. Keep up the good work. Someone dear to you appreciates it the most.

  10. dallas jobs says:

    I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my
    Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the

  11. kobi says:

    most people realize it when it is too late..

  12. very use full information. thank you.

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