On this Father’s Day, I wanted to acknowledge the special relationship between a disabled parent and their child caregivers. In my line of work, I see this daily. It has become common place for me. However, I know this isn’t the norm. It can be a huge hurdle, and difficult change for both the parent and the child. The parent has always been the strong one, a shoulder to cry on, a voice of reason. Now that has switched. The parent is so weak they can’t get out of bed by themselves. They cry… a lot. And sometimes they can be unreasonable in their demands. And the child must become the strong, reasonable shoulder to cry on. And all this changes in an instant.
I recall discussing this switch with one of my very first expressive aphasic patients. We were at a park working on sit to stands at a rail overlooking a river into a neighborhood on the other side. Reaching for something to discuss, I commented about the swing set in the backyard of a house in the neighborhood. I recalled that the patient had several daughters about my age, so I postulated that the man that lived in the house across the street had built that swing set for his kids and I bet that my patient had built toys for his daughters when they were young, just like my dad did. And the patient started to cry. And not just a little, I mean sobbing. I’m still not sure how I figured why he was crying, because between the aphasia and the sobbing, there was very little actual communication going on. However, I figured out that he was scared he couldn’t be a good dad anymore with all the challenges the stroke had given him. I’ll be the first one to admit that I have no idea what to do with tears. Most people’s first reaction is an attempt to comfort. Personally, when I’m a sobbing mess, others’ comforts only makes my sobbing worse. (I feel bad that I’m taking them away from whatever it was they were doing, so I get angry at my usually stupid tears and cry all the more.) So I never really know what to do. In this case I tried to reassure my patient that he was still his little girls’ daddy, that he always would be and I was quite sure they all still loved him despite his current challenges. He was still sniveling and had a lingering look of doubt in his eyes after I completed my monolog, but at least he wasn’t racked with sobs anymore.
Father’s Day can be difficult for many people for many reasons. But I wanted to speak to this special relationship today. Children: remember that’s your parent in there still. They still have earned and deserve your respect, even if they weren’t the best parent to begin with. Disabled parent: Your kids still love you, even when they aren’t very good at showing it. Promise.
Now, here’s a little video that’s more light hearted that I sent to my Daddy. Happy Father’s Day!