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"Do I Have to Care for Dad?"

Caregiver Question

"Am I morally obligated to care for my father? I know that legally I’m not required to be his caregiver. I'm just wondering how I should deal with not wanting to care for him. Frankly, I do not have the time, and he was not a great father to me. He cared more about himself and his buddies than us growing up. He never attended our events, left to go fishing most weekends and shows no interest in his grandchildren. Now I'm supposed to care for him?"


The Caregiver Column Answer

Although you are correct in saying you have no legal obligation to care for your father, I would like to share with you some information about being his next of kin.

Your sibling(s) and you are his next of kin, assuming that your mother has passed. If your father is not decisional, social services and healthcare folks are going to look to you for decisions about his care.  You can refuse to have anything to do with decision making, though we find that children rarely make that choice.

Now let’s shed some light on the crux of your question. Are you “morally obligated” to be a caregiver for your father? It is clear that you do not want to be. He may not have been a good parent to you, and you are within your rights to walk away from assuming any responsibility.  My recommendation, however, is that you think long and hard about your childhood, who you are as a parent, and what kind of example you wish to set.

Three things I would consider when asking, "Do I have to care for Dad?"

1. Your Childhood

Was your father a typical male of an older generation, when mothers did most of the child-rearing and fathers went to work every day?  Were men of his era more self-absorbed than today’s crop of parents? Are you carrying around small hurts from your childhood? It may be time to let go and forgive.

2. You as a Parent

Each generation is raised differently and raises their own children with a new set of rules. I do not pretend to say which generation has the answer. I do know that much has changed in the last 100 years, when we went from an agriculture age to a manufacturing age, to an information age. How you parent is likely different from your parents.

3. You as a Leader

You are the example for your children. You set the rules, and your children – fortunately and unfortunately – watch your every move. You can run, but you cannot hide. You are exposed. Ask yourself, “What do I want my children to see?” “Do I want my children to see me walk away?”

Only you can look at your situation and decide how involved you will be in your father’s care. Does involvement in father’s care require a perfect childhood? When I read the words, “I do not have the time,” I cringe.  Ask yourself, “How much of my father’s legacy am I carrying forward?”

I wish you the best.

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