The National Alliance for Caregiving says more than 10 million adults over the age of 50 in the U.S. are caring for their aging parents. It’s definitely not something my husband and I planned to do when we got married. Though I do think my first job as an aide at a nursing home did leave an impact on me.
I was 16-years-old when I was given the responsibility of taking care of elderly men and women at the center. I quickly realized some were dumped there and forgotten by their own children.
My husband, son, and I were living in Dallas in 2001, when my mother-in-law passed away in New York. It was unexpected. Days after the funeral, I was cleaning out her closet and realized that my father-in-law, who I call “Pops,” was going to be alone. That made me feel sad and lonely.
Days later I told my husband, “Your dad needs to move in with us.” I don’t know if it was an emotional decision, I just knew it was the right thing to do. I know I wouldn’t want to be left alone if the love of my life suddenly passed away.
“Are you sure?” my husband, John, asked. Of course, I wasn’t sure, because I had no idea what was involved in taking in a very independent 75-year-old man, but I thought what the heck. I just smiled at my husband and said, “Yes, I’m sure.”
We had no master plan when it came to taking in his father. John told his sister, and I told my family what we were doing, and that was it. Pops happily accepted our offer. He decided he’d give himself a year to empty his house and then sell it.
The best thing that my husband and I did was have a good attitude about our decision. Financially, Pops offered to pay his way; we said no. Instead, we urged him to save his money for the day he may need a private nurse.
If my parents could raise five children back in the 1960s on my father’s 300-dollar weekly paycheck as an autoworker, we could certainly afford Pops on our two incomes. Although, I do recall thinking that it may mean eating only tortillas with rice and beans on some days. Oh yes, Pops was introduced to Mexican food at my home.
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Almost 10 years later, I’m so glad that Pops has lived with us. Now 84, he’s still as healthy and independent as he was the day he moved in. He has helped our family in so many ways.
For me, Pops has been the other man I depend on when I need things done. He helps me not only with my son, but with shopping for groceries, cleaning my home, and even getting dinner ready. Thanks to Pops, I’m more independent and able to do more as a journalist; I can relax and focus on the task at hand because I know he’s holding down the fort.
He’s helped raise my son Alex, who is now 15, and with whom he now has a special bond that would not have been possible when separated by distance. When Alex was younger, Pops walked him to his elementary school; he now drives him to and from high school.
Alex is a whiz at history and math. I credit Pops for Alex’s smarts, because my father-in-law, a former aerospace engineer taught Alex everything he needed to know about adding and subtracting and now geometry and algebra.
Pops is also a living history book, full of stories, and Alex loves history. Both of them will sit for hours talking about the past and the present.
In one conversation, Pops can be sharing stories about his time as a military police officer in World War II, and then Alex will show Pops how Facebook is bringing together war veterans from across the country.
We also get a peace of mind by having Pops in our home. We know our son is in safe hands when we’re at work. But now that Alex is older; we know that Pops is also in good hands, because our son is very protective of his grandfather.
This year when Pops had two surgeries, it was Alex who took care of him while we were at work. I would come home to find my son in his grandfather’s bedroom; playing chess with him or reading Pops a book.
One of the best things that has come out of having Pops live with us is that he and my husband have been able to strengthen their relationship. Pops admits that when John was growing up, they never talked much. Blame it on teenage or college years, but soon John was gone from their home in New York.
These days, the two routinely do things together and never seem to run out of conversation. Whether it’s watching their favorite New York Yankees on television or working in the yard, they both make every minute together count. Male bonding at its finest.
I know that this experience has Alex thinking about us, his parents, and our twilight years. “Hey when I grow up, I’m going to have a bigger house,” he said one day over lunch, “so you and Dad can live on one side, and my wife and I will live on the other side.”
My husband and I looked at each other and just smiled.
To learn more about the “Sandwich Generation” go to the National Alliance for Caregiving at Caregiving.org.