Most people think of family caregivers as women taking care of their aging parents or children. What many don’t know is that 40 percent of the 40 million family caregivers in this country are men. These men range in age from 20-something to 60-something and up. Some step into the role suddenly after a family member or friend is injured or falls ill; for others, the role increases gradually as parents age or someone close is diagnosed with a fatal illness.
When telling the story of my caregiving journey, listeners regularly react in some mix of amazement and pity at my need to juggle the responsibilities of being caregiver to my wife, Kim, and raising my young daughter, Reagan. I often just smile and tell them that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
When Eric Epstein, 56, a lawyer from New York, learned that his 83-year-old father, Bill, had fractured his right hip while vacationing in Utah, he was on the next plane. “I wanted to make sure he was getting quality care in an unfamiliar hospital,” Epstein recalls. When the doctors determined a few days later that Bill would need a second surgery, Eric was instrumental in booking the return flights to New York, arranging for transportation, wheeling his 6-foot 4-inch, 250-pound father onto the plane, and transferring him carefully from the wheelchair to his seat.
This weekend we all had the opportunity to celebrate our fathers. As I remembered my Pop — a funny, hardworking, unselfish man — I thought about his devotion to my mom, especially during their later lives when he was her primary caregiver. He shouldered huge responsibilities that I think weighed heavily on his mind.
The more I witness the vast gap between how some folks live in this country, the more I am grateful that I grew up in North Philadelphia with a strong father, mother and family.
Too often dads take a back seat to moms, especially when it comes to holidays. A recent survey found that if Father’s Day and Mother’s Day fell on the same Sunday and adult children could celebrate only one, more than three-quarters would opt for mom! Apparently, mom is more deserving of the attention, and children claim to have more in common with her, the survey found. Even when it comes to spending, Father’s Day (this Sunday if you need a reminder) is the lowest-ranked holiday, with an average of $119.84 spent on ties and other uninspired gifts. In comparison, Mother’s Day ranks third after Christmas and Valentine's Day.
He is often the most overlooked member of the family. And in American culture, though he is often misrepresented, his role is undeniable. Across the nation, black fathers are coming home from work or seeking work every day. Some are wearing neckties, some coveralls, a company uniform or whatever is required for their occupations. These men are involved in the lives of their children and families, who look up to them, who are inspired and protected by them, and who recognize their power and importance in the home.
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