You Know You're Over 40 When…

You Start Parenting Your Parents

photo (1)The view from my childhood bedroom

I knew it would happen at some point, of course. But when it did it was still a shock, and terrifically upsetting.

My 77-year-old dad has fallen ill; and I find myself back at my family home caring for him with my mum, sister and brother.

The usual signs of old age became apparent in my parents from their late sixties. Forgetfulness, say, and increasing, then constant, health worries. And although, looking back, one can spot some of the warning signs – as one probably always can – what’s happened to my father still came suddenly, and dramatically.

He’s always been a stoical chap, my dad. Very much a man of his generation, he’s not one for emotional displays or sharing worries. He’s not only held the purse strings but kept them tied very close to his chest. He’s picked us up when the chips have been down. A PE teacher by trade, he loves sport – especially basketball and cricket – and reads and watches the news so avidly that I remember, as a child, growing up in a house where as soon as the BBC teatime news bulletin was over, the TV was switched over to the ITV one; and likewise, the ITV 10 o’clock news was always preceded by the BBC’s 9 o’clock version. (Any time there wasn’t news or sports on, you could normally find him checking both of those things on Ceefax.) Strangely, however, he was never much interested in discussing current affairs or politics. I grew up in a house where news was consumed but never dissected, where (again, fairly typically for his generation) my father would never reveal how he voted.

And although I found it hard to connect with some of these traits when I was growing up – I wasn’t interested in sport, and I was interested in talking about current affairs and emotions – my respect and appreciation for my father has grown and grown over the years. He and my mum have, for example, looked after my eldest, severely learning disabled sister all her life – something which wasn’t the norm for parents of such children in the ‘60s, and which they have done straightforwardly and unquestioningly for 48 years now. My admiration for them for doing this is boundless.

So when a proud, good man such as this is suddenly a shell of himself, suddenly in desperate need of help, it’s not just my – and my brother and other sister’s – instinct to drop everything, but also our duty. This man has looked after us our whole lives, and now it is our turn to look after him. There is something, of course, particularly upsetting in seeing one’s father – the one who most of all has been the strong one, the one to turn to – be so in need of such help. But help is naturally what you do.

And after doing so for just a week so far, my hat goes off to those who care for the elderly on a daily basis. Likewise, I can’t thank the NHS enough for the amazing care my father has received from them. At a time when our health service is in the news for the wrong reasons once again, it feels more important than ever to say: those who work in the NHS so wonderfully, compassionately and effectively, deserve nothing but praise. My father’s treatment has been caring, efficient – and free. And I thank my lucky stars that we live in a country where this is the case.

I knew, as I say, that this would happen at some point in my elderly parents’ lives – that there would come a time when we children would start to look after them. That time is now, and as I sit here typing this in my childhood bedroom (with two old teddy bears staring at me from a shelf), I feel lucky and privileged that I am able to help, and grateful for my amazing siblings. Sitting next to him on the bed the other day, holding his hand, my father said to me: “You’re a good girl”. “That’s because I was well brought up by a good man,” I replied.


Barrie Mann: sports teacher, news-watcher, dad

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19 thoughts on “You Start Parenting Your Parents

  1. What an amazing testament of a great family, to see such wonderful praise for a father and family. Thank you for sharing!

  2. What a lovely tribute, Andrea. Your last comment in particular is very striking. We are who we are and our upbringing won’t change that, but I’d like to think parents help to make us the best possible version of ourselves. I think your Dad would be happy that he has succeeded in doing that.

  3. I am in a similar situation and it is so nice to hear another modern woman say that it is her duty to be there. Most people I talk to about this ask why I don’t put my parents in a home or send them back to their home country. Your father is so fortunate to have kids who care enough to be there for him at this time. Good luck and I hope he feels better soon.

  4. It ‘s wonderful that you appreciate your parents and remember the good things about your Dad.

  5. Rotraud Schiller on said:

    thank you so much for sharing! it’s so great to read this! after looking after my mum for two years in her hard times I totally share your thoughts and feelings. your words for your dad are so touching and they feel good and right. I’m happy for you that you have great siblings that stand at your side and that you all can take this on your shoulders. I know that it can come out the other way and after two years struggling almost alone I had to realize that it was just too hard and heavy for me alone…… that’s not nice, but also an essential lesson to learn. I wish you all strength, courage and endurance – it’s so right to stand together in hard times and your and your siblings´ reaction shows that your parents did a great job bringing you up :-)

  6. Helen Price on said:

    Wonderful piece! My mum has dementia and has been very ill recently – hospitalised twice in 4 weeks. The NHS is a wonderful, huge, caring machine, for which I am endlessly grateful. Me and and my sister are now ‘mum’ to our mum. She responds to us like a child. It’s a very tough time for us, but it must be tougher for our mum. Old age and dementia especially takes no prisoners. When mum sees me or my sister, she says ‘oh, lovely’… :)

  7. So sorry to hear about your mum – she’s so lucky to have you and your sister looking after her. Bravo you guys :)

  8. The bit where your Dad says ‘you’re a good girl’ really resonates with me……it is just what my Ma and Pa say to me….and it always makes me feel so very guilty….being someone in the middle…elderly parents and children ….I don’t always feel very good………..just at this minute I feel grumpy and afeared of the future…..sigh………….

    • Thanks for commenting, Libby – and I’m sorry you feel that way. I understand. I sometimes say sympathetically to my dad “It’s no fun being old, is it?” because he has so many health worries aside from the big one. Try not to feel guilty, though – I have no doubt you’re a wonderful daughter and mother.

  9. Privilege: that’s exactly how I feel about my experiences, with my father, and in the past decade, my mother. Honour, privilege, and throughout, love.

    There’s so much I want to say.. and I can’t help but feel a twinge of envy, and I’m not an envious person, for your genuine gratitude for your relationship with your siblings (mine are a nightmare – I’m on my own in the ‘caring’ department, but that’s another story) but mainly, for now, yes, God Bless the NHS. They’ve been extraordinary for my father in law, who we just saw (with my mother in law, sibs in law, nephews etc) in Tundra North Wales. Seeing him sit outside like he was in his beloved Greece – when it’s a miracle he’s alive, and all down to the good people of the NHS. I feel the same – as does my husband – that when people run it down – as an American, seeing the struggle Obama and so many others have gone thru to try to get a decent healthcare system going there – that it’s kind of like that Joni Mitchell song. Big Yellow Taxi. Don’t it always seem to go..

    Looking at your dad’s photo, and reading this.. how can I put it. I can see why I relate to you so well. Your dad reminds me of mine. He was a science education professor, or, as my mom explained when we had to say at school what our dads’ jobs were, he ‘teaches teachers how to teach science.’ Early childhood. Early sixties: his beliefs were in sync with the Kennedy era, the space race, and his textbooks required reading in college (he became quite a success on the concept of ‘Teaching Science Through Discovery’, or as he modestly put it ‘right place, right’ time’).

    Everything was a learning experience.

    And he was active, an athlete – tennis, swimming, running – and believed our bodies are like cars: treat them well, they’ll last longer. I’ve no doubt that his healthy lifestyle helped him beat the odds as long as he did. That, and his shining positive spirit.

    If they’d have met, they’d definitely be friends.

    I’m so grateful for every moment of caring I had with my dad. There is something so profound about helping with even the most basic stuff. Coming full circle: giving back to the people who gave us our lives.

    You ARE a good girl, Andrea. And clearly brought up by a very good man.

  10. Thank you for your lovely comment, Jill. I’m sorry for all you went through – for all your dad your went through. He sounds like a wonderful chap – and I bet they would have been friends, too. It is very primal, as you say, to give back and care for those who cared for us. And it feels only right to do so. x

  11. Pingback: You’re Less Of A D*ck Than You Used To Be | You Know You're Over 40 When...

  12. Jeanette Wild on said:

    You won’t remember us Andrea as we last saw you many years ago, but this is Jeanette Wild contacting you. As a young PE teacher at Darlaston Comprehensive School in 1969, Barrie was my inspiration and model of what a good teacher should be. Totally dedicated to his subject and pupils, your Dad spent long hours after school, at weekends and during holiday periods nurturing young sporting talent, giving encouragement, time and energy to ensure individuals and teams achieved their full potential and experiece success. Barrie was also a great personal friend to Len, my husband and I and we visited your home often when you were very young. Over time we moved to new jobs, homes and town and gradually lost touch. We learned of Barrie’s illness through a mutual friend and I found this blog quite by chance when looking on line for your Mum so I could make personal contact again. Your tribute to your father reminded me of those years when Barrie was the most respected teacher of Physical Education in Staffordshire both amongst other teachers and those he taught and helped. Old age and it’s problems come to us all but not all of us have left such a glorious heritage as your Dad. If he is gradually forgetting his accomplishments you can be sure no one else will.

  13. So sad to hear of the passing away of Barrie Mann.I was a student of his at Darlaston in the early 70’s.To us sports fanatics he was a giant.He virtually single handedly put Darlaston on the sports map.I was proud to be coached to the England basketball championship by him.We had so much respect for him because of the effort and dedication he put into us kids..He was firm but fair and always calm.A true gentleman

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