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  • Writer's pictureBy April Sage

Give the Gift of Time and Compassion This Father’s Day

This month we celebrate Dads, father figures, big brothers, and chosen family who turn into the people we need most in our life. For many, this is a time for celebration, but it can conjure feelings of sadness for others. The trauma of loss or a strained relationship can be overwhelming. It is all some can do to get through this time of celebration with love and forgiveness when they are envious of the surrounding celebrations they wish they had.

To help balance my feelings of loss and challenge, I reflect lovingly on the people who chose to support me in fatherly ways over the years. A loving male role model for a young lady coming up can make a huge difference in their lives. I have chosen to celebrate former bosses, co-workers, a friend’s parent who became a parent to me, and an uncle or two that went out of their way to support me. I think they know who they are. I usually reach out every year to let them know they made a difference in my world.

My grandpa was the strong but slightly silent type. I say slightly because he had a strong voice. He was a big man and a leader in the community. He was someone people looked up to, asked for advice from, and celebrated. He could fix anything, showed up for almost everything, and demonstrated love beyond measure. He was a veteran of the Second World War, helped raise his siblings after his mom died, and was a significant father figure to me. Like most of his generation, he struggled with expressing emotion. When I would say, “I love you, Grandpa,” he would answer, “Mm, Me too.” Even as a young girl, this response did not sit well with me. I wanted to hear “THE WORDS.” When I was 16, grandpa suffered a stroke. He lost much of the use of his left side and began the painful process of physical therapy and identifying what he could do. He was optimistic and filled with drive to regain full use back in his arm, hand, foot, and leg. He would make jokes about his plight and do his best to show us progress. I loved going to physical therapy in the pool at the YMCA with him. His proud smile lit up the aquatic center as he made his way walking through the pool with ease. It was not until the stroke that I saw my grandpa express a deeper level of emotions and a willingness to be more vulnerable. I heard the words, “Yes, I love you too.” I remember the rush of emotions I felt hearing him say he loved me. For me, a rare phrase I heard from a man and especially meaningful to receive because I knew he meant it. As I have grown up, I see that grandpa clearly had barriers that kept him from such verbal sharing of love. He was not lacking in the showing up part, just the words. But words matter. Words matter so much.

I have a client who was so stubborn. We had three prep calls prior to speaking to him about how to approach moving from independent living to assisted living. His family was worried he would decline on his own. He had fallen several times; each one had gotten more severe, and now he was in rehab. Breathing required oxygen, and his body got tired very fast. It was not until his last fall that he agreed his health had taken a big enough decline to require a move from independent living to assisted living. We talked about what would happen the next time he fell and the increasing severity that seemed to occur with each one. We spoke about what was important. It was agreed that being healthy meant more quality time with loved ones and this was far more important than the risk of living without any assistance at all. I see this often, especially in men. The reduced ability to do things on their own amplifies the loss of independence or lack thereof. Choosing assisted living does not mean you are not independent in most things. This does not announce you are going to die, make you less masculine, restrict your cognitive ability, or respect for your cognition. It means you need support doing specific tasks. You are no less masculine by receiving support. You will most likely have a greater chance at long-term health than “chancing it” for the ability to say, “I live independently.” We all need help at some point in our lives. It is courageous and manly to raise your hand to choose when that time is versus being forced to make a change because you are hurt and laid up in bed because you are too stubborn.

No matter if you have the strong and silent type, the life of the party, or the jack of all trades in your life, many men hold a heavy societal burden that makes them feel “less than” if they are not a traditional bread winner, leader, or a handyman. Sharing feelings, being transparent with challenges, or showing emotion is not always celebrated, especially in certain cultures. Times are changing. People seem to be more open on social media, and you hear the world talking about mental health a bit more. But for previous generations there are deep-rooted scars that are silent and secrets are swept under a rug. Trauma can be triggered, issues resurface, and these can impede their ability to be who we need them to be. When it is not discussed, no one knows where to start to work through these emotions. Always pause and remember that we are loved the way people are capable of loving others. That their distance, reactions, or inability to communicate is not about us. It is about the past experiences that shaped them. Give the grace you would wish to see.

If you are thinking about giving a gift and struggling to decide what mug, tie, or funny tee-shirt to buy, I suggest a different route. Plan a date and give the gift of time. Nothing is more valuable than memories. If you live further away and face-to-face time seems too challenging, I suggest writing a letter. Share all the loving and true things you may have wanted to share, but have not found the time to discuss. Give the gift of yourself on paper or in-person to make a difference in the lives of someone that needs to know who they are to you and maybe allow them to share who you are in their life. It matters.

I would be remiss not to remark about the latest events in the world. The days seem filled with confusing events that have caused so much worry. The untimely loss of innocent grocery shoppers, worshipers, professionals, children, and their heroic teachers. The feelings of profound loss echo through communities at a time when there are usually celebrations and gatherings. I am at a loss of words at a time with such profound grief. May you draw comfort from those around you in your time of need and that your spiritual and/or religious needs are nourished during this trying time.

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