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Stories from the journey of fatherhood & brotherhood

Fathering My Parents

dementia fatherhood Jan 08, 2020

I knew it wasn't good when the phone rang at 2 a.m.

I'm in my mid-forties, with a child in college and two others still at home. I'm in the thick of fathering. My parents are in their early seventies, which according to the latest news, is the new 60's. They should be traveling, living large, enjoying the grandchildren, and continuing to change the world. Instead, I'm in the thick of fathering them too.

My mother has early-onset dementia. We've seen signs for the last decade, and the ruthless disease has been silently yet relentlessly stealing her away. The woman who was once vivacious, bold, kind and sneaky now struggles to complete sentences and cannot care for herself. She's still here, but she's increasingly gone.

A few weeks ago, my phone rang and jolted me out of bed. The screen told me it was my father, and the clock told me it was 2 a.m. Not good. Slowly emerging from my own sleepy fog, I attempted to understand theirs. My father hands my mother the phone, and she quickly says, "There's a man here, and I don't want to do it."

Very quickly, I knew. I knew the "man" was my father, and for the first time in her decay, she did not recognize the man who had been her husband for over half a century. After a brief interchange with her, and then another with my confused, frustrated and scared father, I got in the car and went over to help reconcile the lovers-turned-strangers I knew as my parents.

In that moment, I passed a threshold I didn't know existed. No. I didn't pass it. I was pushed.

Still in the throes of fathering my own family, I am now fully in the role of fathering my own parents. And while they have lived a full life as adults, what they need from me now is not too dissimilar from my children.

I keep wondering, no matter what stage of life I'm in, if I have what it takes. What it takes to father my family. What it takes to husband my wife. What it takes to lead my community. What it takes to brother my sister. What it takes to.... And now, what it takes to father my parents. 

Men, sometimes we get to choose what fathering we offer the world. And sometimes we don't. And yet (though I say this through gritted teeth), whether it is our choice or not, it is the offering of our fathering in the places of greatest need that changes the world. 

Do I have what it takes? I honestly don't know. I suppose we will all see...

Chris Bruno
Restoration Project Co-Founder

 

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