How does a fiercely independent daughter support a fiercely independent father who has temporarily lost some of his independence? Yes, I know- the textbook answer and maybe even the answer in the Bible is to be selfless and accommodating. Yes, put his needs above your own. Yes, yes, I know and I agree.
Yet, this man has spent his whole life working in tandem with my mother (even though they don’t even like each other half of the time) to nurture me to be an independent person- to be able to exist on my own-to move a couch to learn how to fix a toilet to be able to get from point A to point B. My independence has allowed me not to need, per se, the company of others when most people do. It’s part of who I am.
Yet, I am also a daughter who needs to care for her father. The service of help is not an easy load to bear (I know…tough cookies) He is doing everything the doctors and nurses ask of him and even what I ask of him-c’mon daddy, let’s walk up the street or don’t forget to take your temperature or eat this dinner. He is complying but deep down I know that he is fighting an inner anxiety to do all of this himself coupled with a resignation to let me take care of some of the logistics. He asks almost as if complying, “Hollee, do the waffles have too many carbs?”, “can I eat 3 turkey sausage or do I have to eat just 2”, “when do you think the swelling will go down”, “can you get me a video of the surgery” , “how far do I have to walk”. I respond.
He sits in the back seat as I take him on outings all over town but I know that he is wistful about being the navigator and not the driver. I see the new-found complacency on his face and ask a question to which I already know the answer, “Is there anywhere you want to go?”. He replies, “nope”. But I know that if he could, he’d be somewhere else. He’d be independent.
I’ve surprisingly fallen into the care giver role with relative ease after chastising myself to ‘get it together’. I have added humor to the medicine counting and actually saw him laugh and smile yesterday for the first time in a long time as I took away his walking stick and said, “stop playing like you can’t walk” and “oh, I bet you’re too weak to throw your tray away too, right?”. I think he tries to sneak back in the bed, just so I can catch him and so he can take a crisp deep breath to let me know that he got caught.
Yet, as I settle into this role for at least another 4 + weeks (he’s counting down the weeks until the doctor could give him the green light’ (hopefully, it’s not to use the chain saw), I am also struggling with my own loss of independence. I don’t want his routine to be my routine by default. I want to decide what to do with my time without the minute emotional backlash from not being right here (just in case).
In a simple world I would not think about this dilemma. I would wait for my later reward in heaven. I would acquiesce . Be the selfless daughter. Put my own needs aside.
But in my complex understanding and full-bodied experience of caring for a parent, I have to wonder– How do I maintain my independence while supporting him to get his emotional, social, and physical independence back at the same time? How do I prevent him from losing himself due to fear of a setback? How do I nurture and push away simultaneously as I do with my 11-year-old daughter?
Interdependency is how we get through life but so is our ability to be independent and have a fighting spirit. He has the fighting spirit and shown by his progress. Now it’s just a matter of getting the confidence to catch up. 11-year-old Danielle said today to her grandpa, out of the blue, ” I am learning so much about you grandpa. I always knew that you were independent but I didn’t know you were THAT independent. You just had heart surgery and your attitude is -I got this”. I almost cried at the profound nature of this statement and so did he.
Enid Lee, a noted anti racist educator, would say that you have to experience something different to believe that it is possible. This is as much as message for him, as it is for me.