It is hard to pin-point the exact moment that the dynamic between my father and I changed so that I became, in part, responsible for him rather than visa-versa. The change was gradual, but as he has become more frail and elderly I do sometimes find myself in a strange kind of parental loco position for him.
This is a role that I take very seriously. My dad deserves utter respect and five star level care. I often think of U. A. Fanthorpe’s Old Man, Old Man. In it she traces her father’s lost independence and ageing process. The opening of the poem resonates with me as my father too was:
“World authority on twelve different
Sorts of glue, connoisseur of nuts
and like the father in the poem, failing eye-sight in one part of what has made him frail and dependent on others.
Where I differ with the narrator of the poem is that she “loves / Your helplessness, you who hate being helpless”, where I hate seeing my father reliant on others.
Needing the Best Parental Care
Finding myself in the parental loco position I find it desperately upsetting if I am unable to get him the care he needs.
Today has been a challenging one for me. My father has had a terrible run of luck and, at a time when we were finally hoping he would be able to return home after an extended stay in a care home, (due to a broken leg) he is instead back in hospital having been admitted with a foot infection.
I have had an extremely frustrating time trying to get updates about his condition. Unofficially I know that he has, for several days, been medically fit for discharge, yet there is still no plan for his leaving. It seems the completion of relevant paperwork has been overlooked. Not for the first time, poor communication between hospital departments, has adversely affected his treatment, discharge date and well-being.
It is interesting to reflect how blasé I used to feel about the infallibility of my parents. Right into my middle-age I knew that I could and often did go to them with worries and concerns. My dad is a man of few words but immense strength of character, a great sense of humour and a steadfastness that I could utterly depend upon.
I leaned on my father without even realising that I was doing so. We are not a family for verbal outpourings of affection and I had no idea of the depth of feeling there was in our relationship.
External Frustrations of Parenting a Parent
This worry I have for my dad has, of course, been exacerbated by the no-visiting hospital policy resulting from the global pandemic. As an elderly man with Parkinson’s it is essential that he stays calm and positive. It breaks my heart just a little that I am unable to reassure my dad that we are doing all we can to get him home, or back to his rehabilitation programme quickly.
Hospital administrators lack the clerical capacity to communicate effectively to families about their loved ones treatment. It falls on nurses, which is unfair on them. When hospital departments fail to treat the ‘whole’ person, including their mental health, but focus only on a physical illness, then they are adversely affecting the well-being, not only of the patient themselves, but that of their whole family.
Being in parental loco for a parent is a privilege but it carries with it a lot of emotion. In all honesty I feel out of my depth and would love to be able to return to the security of being parented myself. There is an irony that the person I most want to seek advice from can’t help.
My main desire now is to keep my father safe and protected. It is what he has always done for me, but right now I feel powerless to do so. The anxiety and stress this causes is overwhelming; it is comparable only to the stress of when my own children have been very ill or upset. There are no guide books on parenting a parent. I can only trust in the values and skills I was once taught and use them to assist that same person who taught me. As U.A. Fanthorpe says:
“Let me find your hammer. Let me
Walk with you to Drury Lane. I am only a cloud.”