18 Oct

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.


Posted by on October 18, 2011 in daughter-ing


10 responses to “Independence

  1. rebecca

    October 19, 2011 at 12:48 am

    Wow, Hollee. So powerful! -Rebecca

  2. Paula

    October 24, 2011 at 10:52 pm

    Hollee this brings tears to my eyes. This is phenomenal and you should write a book.

    • bellabarks

      October 25, 2011 at 1:56 am

      Thanks Paula !!!!! I appreciate the encouragement.

  3. Duane

    October 24, 2011 at 11:41 pm

    Wow, thanks for sharing. I can relate to this on so many personal levels. Strength is only held in reserves until it must be called upon. The only problem with that is you never know how much of it you actually have until that time. Fortunately for you and yours, your strength though challenged at times is up to the task. Remember: take breaks, walk away when necessary, give feedback, and visit that special shared place in your memories.

    • bellabarks

      October 25, 2011 at 1:57 am

      Thanks Duane. This is hard.

  4. Lafayette

    October 26, 2011 at 7:35 pm

    I really don’t think you get it. Did you think about how long your father has gone without being near you? Before he could be tough for a short period of time, but you can only keep that up for so long when the person is living with you. Did you ever think about how grateful your dad is not to only have his only daughter, but granddaughter around him and to see that his daughter will actually care for him when needed.

    Remember, your dad ain’t the dude you remember when you were younger. He has evolved and recognizes and affirms you as an adult and is submitting to you because he loves, trust and respects you.

    • bellabarks

      October 27, 2011 at 10:12 pm

      I have to think more about this, Jeff. thanks for posting.

  5. Louisa Cruz-Acosta

    October 29, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Hollee!
    It was like hearing you speak when I read your entries; thanks for inviting me to.
    I sure miss our talks.

    It seemed to me that something very personal and powerful was responsible for your move back home and I guessed it might have to do with your Papa, whom I remember fondly from so many years ago when we traveled together…sooo handsome and sweet; though imperfect in his humanity, still the kind of dad any girl would wish for.

    As I read your entries, I remembered having to care for my mom suddenly when she needed me, after her lifetime of caring for my sister and I; and then again, years later, for my beloved daughter Lorraine, once her diagnosis was finally real.

    The enormity of that kind of love, the kind that brings one to a place of genuine sacrifice, is hard to fathom.

    Yet, it is the kind all parents, and children are capable of.
    How else would we humans have survived?

    It is a difficult time when the loved one’s need becomes all consuming and changes our entire life; BUT,

    I assure you –
    I have utmost confidence in your capacity.


    With help from all the powers you possess and with your loving daughter’s support, young as she is, you will, in time, get a handle on how to preserve all that is dear to you in your own, independent life
    AND, learn to take care of your Papa, as well as your darling girl, without having to lose your self.

    I know it because, I lived it, more than once.

    It just takes TIME. It will work little by little – day by day –

    through each crisis and challenge you will see how the strength of your love and sense of duty become your pillars.

    And, one day you will wake up and realize that you are BETTER for it all.

    Blessings and Best Wishes,

    • bellabarks

      October 31, 2011 at 2:15 am

      oh Louisa, thank you for your words of encouragement. They brought me to tears immediately. This is so so hard, as you know. more than I can write on a piece of paper. thanks for your love. I really appreciate it.


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