I Am Not a Caretaker

For those of you that have been around for a while, you know that my 79 year old father lives in our home. There is often a misperception that this means I am his caretaker; and oftentimes, that misperception comes from him or what he presents to others, in particular his doctors.

In reality: he expected to live far less time than he has, his corporate retirement package from Sears was effectively ripped out from underneath him over the years, and – well – anyone that thinks seniors can survive on Social Security alone is… the exact reason why so many seniors are homeless or couch surfing, such as in our situation.

This is a perfectly fine way of living, for the most part. My dad has his life, we have ours. He occasionally helps with watching my 5 year old or driving to things, though that’s grown increasingly less reliable in recent years because he has his own… well, stuff to do. Again: we are paying for him to independently live in our home. Sometimes he’ll go on little trips with us, other times he won’t. He rarely eats meals with us. He has, for the most part, his own separate existence.

And while my husband and I are happy to give him a room, cover his costs of living with only minimal contribution from his monthly SSI check (mostly for his luxuries like car insurance and his iPhone), this does not mean that we are in the position to be his caretakers. Again, we can help, but we can only help so much – financially, and more importantly, in terms of senior care. Even with the financial aid, this does not come without extreme sacrifices on our part. In essence: to pay for my dad’s retirement years, we are unable to save for ours… or anything else for that matter, and it also means making decisions that often leave our kids for want. While friends and family take vacations and live exciting lifestyles, we …well, we give Grandpa a home. My biggest fear is that we will have a major problem and have to choose between continuing to house my dad, or taking care of the problem.

That’s the choice we made though, so I’m not complaining. But the other choice we’ve made, or rather I’ve made is: I cannot be a caretaker. I am happy to sacrifice and willing to do so financially, but there is only so far I can go in the space of assisted living. We are paying for him to independently live in our home. This is it. We did not do this because we thought we could personally provide assisted living and nursing care services. This is how I like to articulate it to people, because in the absence of that clear explanation, they tend to assume I’m his caretaker. I am not.

I’m sure a lot of people are going to come at me for being callous or cruel on this point, but the simple fact of the matter is that – while I’m happy to help with making a phone call here or there, or driving him to something that requires sedation or help after a major surgery, or something like that, my plate is already overflowing with responsibilities. At times, like now, it’s overflowing to the point that there is literally food… everywhere… it’s an absolute mess, and not to beat this analogy like a dead horse, the food spilling everywhere is starting to make me feel a little sick.

I have three kids, in vastly different stages of life (college, high school, elementary school). I’m writing part time on this blog, doing a podcast, appearing on other podcasts, taking writing gigs part time, and going to school myself. The kids have sports, and other extra curricular activities, we have two dogs that need care; and then there’s all the other every day stuff: cooking three meals a day, managing the grocery and other household shopping, cleaning the house, yard work, other errands… all of it adds up in time and attention, and while I wouldn’t exchange any of it at all – my plate is full. People need to understand and acknowledge that.

Moreover, I am in no way qualified to caretake. I am not a nurse. I am not an assisted living worker. I am not a dietician or personal senior needs chef. I’m not a senior transport service. Again, while I am happy to help on some level, I’m really not qualified in many of these spaces.

Flash forward to a week like this week, though, when he went to Home Depot with my 18 year old daughter, and tripped on some pallets and fell. This wouldn’t be that big of a deal, of course, if it weren’t for his general bad gait and physical fitness, and the fact that he doesn’t know how to fall properly… welp, he broke his right arm. (He’s lucky it wasn’t worse.) This would be manageable if we had any kind of a support system, or public health infrastructure to support seniors more, but we don’t. We don’t have either. With no family nearby, and with absolutely no one we can call, this turns me into his assumed caretaker.

I’ve spent the better part of the week angry, irrationally so, about the fact that this is happening. If I have advanced warning that I’ll need to help my dad with something – again, like a doctor’s appointment that requires sedation, or a surgery or something – I have absolutely no problem scheduling around that and helping out. Within limits. But these types of unplanned or acute expectations by society on the whole (and also my dad) that I’ll somehow be able to continuously drop everything to care for him, or for these types of instances to upheave our entire house, is… welp, it’s exhausting and unfair.

Since he tripped and fell on Monday, my husband has had to help him in the middle of the night while working, I’ve been texted at midnight and asked for things, he’s come interrupting my children doing their homework to ask questions about medication, and today – the coupe de grace – was when the doctor’s office expected me to cancel my own daughter’s doctor’s appointment and cancel going to my own class, to take my dad to get a CT scan. And then, my dad came into the room while my high schooler was taking a quiz online, started talking and refusing to hold his complaints about what we offered him for dinner, and how he couldn’t get his sling off …and, well again… the consequences showed up in the grade she got.

And this is where I draw the line: where it’s not only us helping him live independently in our home financially, but where I am being expected to place him and his needs above the needs of my children.

This makes me think of that article that went viral years ago, where the woman wrote about how her relationship comes before her kids. I still don’t entirely understand the logic behind it, though I respect it… but for me, the kids come first, and now I’m being expected to place other things above them, including the care of my dad, by people and a society that simply do nothing to help seniors like him. People say “oh you could pay for someone to come help.” The budget of things we can pay for him has limits, ma’am. “Oh Medicare covers an in home helper in these types of situations.” Yes, if the doctors order it, but they always default the job to me.

And this is the thing: he doesn’t really need a caretaker, but when things like this happen he acts as though he is entitled to one. And everyone else just assumes younger generation – namely me – will handle it.

I think this is largely because his generation – the Boomer generation – believes much is an entitlement to them, even if it’s really not. The fact that he believes he can walk in and interrupt children doing schoolwork without recourse, or that we should pay for his retirement while not being able to prepare for our own, is evidence to that. I constantly hear people that are older, of the Boomer age, rail on about people my age, and younger, being lazy, entitled, “nobody wants to work anymore,” and yet we are the ones caretaking entirely for a generation that has been abandoned by the government and society. And no one seems to care enough to even ask if we can do actually do it.

I have compassion for the fact that he tripped at Home Depot and fell; and that he’s in a considerable amount of pain and things are more difficult to do now. I’m willing to help out to a degree. This isn’t the first time he’s taken a tumble and really hurt himself, though; and a lot of that, as I mentioned, is his own fault for not taking care of himself. But the irony (if we can call it that) of this aging population claiming young people like myself, and my kids, do not want to take responsibility for life and its struggles is not lost on me. Earlier, he told me I didn’t know how painful and difficult it was to do anything with a broken arm; I responded that when my son was born five years ago, I was left to care for three children and recover from major abdominal surgery the very night we came home from the hospital, while my husband went to work. I had no caretaker, I had absolutely no support or help at all.

I also had major back surgery when I was 13, but do go on.

I don’t know, I’m probably just venting because this is incredibly overwhelming and I feel like an absolute garbage mother for allowing this all to go on in front of my kids. But I’m tired of my father spending all his time yelling at me, barking over me, and expecting this to become his personal assisted living facility every single time he does something stupid, and hurts himself – again, a direct consequence of his own decisions to take care of himself so poorly.

He is not incompetent. He is not suffering from cognitive decline. He is capable of independent living. Society, and his doctors, need to start treating him like it; and more than anything, he needs to start behaving like it himself.

In the meantime, I’m trying my best but I’m not sure I can ever forgive myself for my kids suffering as a result.

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  1. Mac’s Opinion

    It sucks how the elderly get nothing for support these days. I don’t get why there isn’t a better system or why they don’t fix the ones in place, surely they can be updated to today’s standards. It’s gotta be hard trying to deal with him like that.
    Just want to say that you should be happy that you actually have a father in your life. I lost both my parents, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss them.

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