Soldiering Through: Men on the Front Lines of Caregiving

Laurie MacNaughton

When my firstborn was barely two she and her best friend, a little boy named Willoughby (really), spent the afternoon playing with an assortment of stuffed toys. While Willoughby practiced drop-kicking the animals against the wall, Jessica sat diapering them. When I fed them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, Jessica nibbled hers into a rainbow; from his, Willoughby manufactured a gun.

Assertions of my feminist friends notwithstanding, as the mother of girls I firmly believe it is the easy province of a woman to care for the weak, the sick, the young, the aged. And, be it nurture or nature I think these tasks come harder to men. Thus, I have unqualified respect and admiration for what seems to me to be an increasing number of adult sons serving as primary caregivers for aged and infirm parents.

I am just returned from visiting my own mother whose agonizing last chapter is rapidly drawing to a close. Seated beside her, hour after hour, is my oldest brother. A retired Bell Labs particle physicist and former Ivy League professor, this caregiving role is not an easy fit. Yet there he sits, tending her unglamorous, repetitive, relentlessly-increasing needs. I took his place as much as possible during my stay, and invariably he headed for bed in an attempt to catch up on months’ worth of missed sleep.

For my part, when my mother slept I returned phone calls. Back-to-back I spoke with two men, one a prospering real estate broker who, weekends, travels a thousand miles each way to help with his mother’s care; I then spoke with an aging adult son serving as primary caregiver for his advanced elderly father. Not many days earlier an elder law attorney called me in reference to a client trying valiantly to honor his mother’s wish to age in place, despite her degenerative condition.

Then tonight, Thanksgiving night, as I drove home from the airport I took a call. An unspoken universe of sacrifice implicit in the adult son’s one statement hit home in a way he could scarcely imagine: “My concept of normality has gone to pot,” he said simply.

Nothing more need be said, my friend. Well am I aware of what you have forgone to care for your mother. And well I know how meager is the support for a man serving on the front lines in this role as primary caregiver.

Residential managed care has an indispensable function in today’s world. Professional in-home caregivers are invaluable, and hospice a godsend. But rarely are any of these the full solution to aging parents’ needs. It is appropriate that family cares for family – and there simply is no substitute for family.

So men – those of you who diaper and dress and swab and shower an aging parent, who mop and launder and scour and scrub until late into the night: you are an example to all of us privileged to know you.

And if you would like to talk about help financing your aging parents’ needs – or would just like to talk – give me a call. I always love hearing from you.

Laurie

Laurie MacNaughton [NMLS 506562] is a freelance writer and Reverse Mortgage Consultant at Middleburg Mortgage, a Division of Middleburg Bank. She can be reached at: 703-477-1183 or LMacNaughton@MiddleburgBank.com.

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