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Does Soup Come With The Sandwich?

I joined the “Sandwich Generation” in my early 40s when, within a month’s time, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and my father suffered two major strokes. I’m happy to report that almost six years later, they are both still with us, after another bout of cancer for my mom – kidney this time – and my dad dealing with the challenges of living with Alzheimer’s. However, I really wasn’t prepared to assume the role of primary caregiver for my parents while concurrently managing a business, a marriage, and all the joys and pains of raising two teenage daughters.

After visiting with my dad last night, watching him continue his long and losing battle with Alzheimer’s; it made me remember something I wrote about him a few years ago. This isn’t a “how to” on successfully managing the challenges of intergenerational family issues, but hopefully a reminder that we sometimes need to take a step back and put our day jobs in perspective…

January 27, 2009

I miss talking with my dad. He had two strokes towards the end of 2007, which has severely limited his ability to speak. He gets lost in a sentence or comes to a point where he can’t recall a word or name. You can see the frustration on his face. He refuses to answer the phone when someone calls the house and tries to limit himself to one or two word answers when he can.

My father was more of a presence than a person when we were growing up. He worked nights so we didn’t get to see much of him. He wasn’t the most forgiving person either. I don’t think he said more than ten words to me between the ages of 13 and 21. Given the ten words he did say to me, I’d be healthier psychologically if he had limited it to seven or eight.

My dad grew up during the depression with nine younger brothers and sisters to clothe and feed. My grandmother forged his birth certificate so he could start working early to help provide for the family. He started working when he was 6, went into the army at 18, went to college on the GI Bill and eventually earned a Masters in Philosophy from Fordham. Dad was the only family member of his generation to go to college.

Teaching didn’t work out for him so he spent the last 28 years working nights for the US Postal Service. He hated the work but it provided for his family. He was maniacal about overtime, worked nights because he got a higher hourly rate and was never happier than when he could get 60 hours/week. Dad particularly loved when Christmas came on a Sunday because between the night differential, weekend and holiday he got twice his hourly rate. He was also a fairly proficient amateur investor and put away a nice nest egg for my mom and himself. His stroke has also limited his ability to manage his finances, which I know kills him.

It wasn’t until I was an adult and started a family of my own that my dad and I spoke on a regular basis. I think he respected that I had become a provider, which in his mind was the most important role a father could play. We’d talk about work, about my kids and his other grandchildren. We finally had things in common. It opened up a whole new appreciation for him and what he had done for us when we were kids. It was a relatively short period in our relationship, but it was the best part of it because we came to it as equals. The stroke has taken that away.

Tomorrow, I’m taking dad to my little one’s basketball game. He loves watching her play, mostly because she’s an absolute maniac on the court. In between periods, I’ll talk, he’ll listen and that will be good enough.

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