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Dear Dad...

Confessions of a Reluctant Caregiver is proud to present our Male Caregivers series for April 2024.  Creating it has been an eye-opening journey into the world of care through the eyes of the perceived unbreakable male personae.  But don’t we all have a breaking point – male or female? Aren’t we all fragile in moments of insurmountable grief?  Can men be emotional, feel tired, not have an answer, and not be able to carry the load alone? 

Yes.  I only wish I’d known that “yes” sooner.

An open letter to my dad could go on for pages.  There are so many words that were left unsaid and for years, I feared, unknown.  You see, he was a caregiver, long before I knew what the word meant.

There are times in my life he was present and times when we all co-existed.  He worked, we had food, he loved us – although those words did not come easily.  In the late 90’s he found something that brought his passions and faith together - a church with a softball team and a motorcycle club.  The last ten years of his life were our best – or at least they seemed to be. 

But in those years our family would be forever changed.  Mom would be diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at 52, an answer to symptoms she’d been chasing for years.  Three years later – at 55 – dad would retire.  The love story that started in high school would weave into the progression of mom’s disease.  They would spend her remaining years together, waiting.

Little did I realize what my dad did or how his presence changed my mom’s disease and the interpretation of it.  At 6’2, “Big Jim” was a foreboding figure, one that hid the symptoms and steadied the stumbles for mom.  He was a wall that Parkinson’s could not overcome – until it did. 

On July 4, 2011, my dad passed suddenly while practicing softball with his brothers.  I like to think he was doing something he loved with people he loved.  He could not have been happier. 

In describing that morning with dad, mom would say he got ready and came to kiss her before he left.  He helped her roll over in bed before leaving and then she fell back asleep.  Wait.  Helped her roll over?  I never knew she could not do that.

Over the next days preparing for the funeral, we took her where needed - getting in the car, getting in facilities, carrying a plate of food, putting on shoes, fixing her hair – to some extent help was needed in each of those activities.  Wait.  She needed help putting on shoes?  I never knew she could not do that.     

I never knew and he never said. 


In the fury and anger of death, disease, and disillusionment – I sought a trusted counsel who’d watched our lives unfold for years and was one of my dad’s closest friends.  I searched for an answer to dad’s death and my wise counsel offered nothing but a small view into the mountain of a man that was my dad.  Words they’d shared as men.

“He was tired.”  Tired?  He never said he was tired.  I never asked.

Herein lies the purpose of my story.  My dad was a silent caregiver.  He did not ask for help, he did not complain, he accepted the life he’d been given and he did the best he could.  Until he couldn’t.

He was a hard-working, dirt covered hands, pickup truck driving, motorcycle riding man’s man.  He loved God fiercely and in his last ten years, I believe found solace and peace in that relationship.  I know he loved my mom.  I know he hated her disease. 

I held on to anger for a while.  A heavy burden for a broken heart.  “Why didn’t he tell me?”  

It came up again as I grew to know more about caregiving.  “Why didn’t I ask?”

Somewhere in the middle the answer lies.  There is no blame but there are many wishes.  I wish we’d talked more.  I wish I’d seen him, not as invincible but as simply a man.  I wish we’d both recognized the caregiving role and worked to maintain his health as we have mom’s.


Above all, I hope he knows how grateful I am for all his care.  I think he does.

~ JJ


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