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Helen Smith

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February 28, 2012 - 4:38 am

These are the words of Sandra Tsing Loh author of Mother on Fire, in an article at the Atlantic where she discusses elder issues and caring for her aging father:

Recently, a colleague at my radio station asked me, in the most cursory way, as we were waiting for the coffee to finish brewing, how I was. To my surprise, in a motion as automatic as the reflex of a mussel being poked, my body bent double and I heard myself screaming:

“I WAAAAAAAANT MY FATHERRRRRR TO DIEEEEE!!!”

Startled, and subtly stepping back to put a bit more distance between us, my co-worker asked what I meant.

“What I mean, Rob, is that even if, while howling like a banshee, I tore my 91-year-old father limb from limb with my own hands in the town square, I believe no jury of my peers would convict me. Indeed, if they knew all the facts, I believe any group of sensible, sane individuals would actually roll up their shirtsleeves and pitch in.”

This “devoted” author/author goes on in detail about the psychological dynamics with her father:

Yes, my history with this man has been checkered: in my childhood, he had been cruelly cheap (no Christmas, no heat); in my teens, he had been unforgivably mean to my mother; in my 20s, I rebelled and fled; in my 30s, I softened and we became wry friends—why not, he couldn’t harm me now; in my 40s, sensing that these were the last days of a fading elder, the memories of whom I would reflect on with increasing nostalgia, the door opened for real affection, even a kind of gratitude. After all, I had benefited professionally from using him as fodder for my writing (as he had benefited financially for years by forging my signature so I ended up paying his taxes—ah, the great circle of life).

Given the way that this author writes and feels about her dad, I would say that she gave as good as she got. She calls the article “Daddy Issues” and with good reason, like so many other women her age and older, she probably had issues with men that went far beyond the way that her father actually treated her and had to do just as much with a sense of entitlement and self-indulgence as it did with anything else. The fact that she wrote an article about an affair she had and her subsequent divorce is a tip-off as are her words: “I am a 47-year-old woman whose commitment to monogamy, at the very end, came unglued. This turn of events was a surprise. I don’t generally even enjoy men; …”

It’s too bad that this author feels so little loyalty towards her dad (or husband for that matter), especially now that he is old and sick. She better hope that when she gets older, her own children or family have more compassion and empathy than she seems capable of.

I realize that it is hard at times to care for elderly parents but a more compassionate approach would be welcome. Did you or do you care for aging parents? Do you cope in a more mature way?

Helen Smith is a psychologist specializing in forensic issues in Knoxville, Tennessee, and blogs at Dr. Helen.
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