When Men are the Minority

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On my parents fiftieth wedding anniversary we gathered at a family-style restaurant to celebrate. After the meal the four sons and their families gave our parents presents. At the end of the evening I felt we had short-changed our mom and dad. Even though the presents were appropriate and heart-felt, I felt we should have done more. On the way out, I apologized to my mother. I joked, “If you had a girl, you would have had a better party.”

She assured me the party was perfect, and they were thankful to just spend time with the children and grandchildren. I decided to do a better job on their sixtieth anniversary. In preparation, I asked both my parents what type of party they would like. After much discussion, I learned they just wanted an open house with family and a few close friends. We had an open-house, but a daughter could have planned a better one.

Girls are better at planning parties, but my mother had four boys. I’ve observed girls are better at many things than boys. I learned over time that women’s brains are designed differently than men. For instance, they are generally more nurturing. That’s, probably, why seventy-five percent of the caregivers for family members with dementia are woman.

I am the exception since I am a man caring for his parent with dementia. Maybe, my mother should have birthed a girl child. I, especially, think such thoughts, for instance, when I take her to a public restroom. Usually, I open the door and give her wheelchair a shove—hoping for the best.

Men are in the minority as full-time caregivers for loved-ones with dementia. Nevertheless, we sometimes have the responsibility. Unfortunately, I didn’t inherit the gene for nurturing.

While researching my ancestry, I found many of my ancestors were ministers or carpenters. I did both professions. I remember, as a child, playing on the floor with toys, and stopping to admire the corner-joint on the baseboard. Since my father built the house I wondered how he cut it. It seems to be in my DNA. I didn’t find one ancestor who was a nurse or doctor. Though I love and care for my mother it doesn’t come naturally.

Sometimes, I feel I am persevering. The apostle Paul wrote these words to the Roman church, “… knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance proven character, and proven character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 NASB. So, Paul seemed to be saying, “In tough times, if nothing else, you can learn patience”.

We who care for dementia patients can testify how we are learning patience. For instance, most people with dementia become agitated in the evening. Some roam which is called the “sun-down syndrome”. Others shadow their caregiver while following them around on their heels. My mother is in a wheel chair and has a memory of about three minutes. She can’t roam, but in the evening, she becomes curious of her surroundings, and repeatedly asks, “Are we here alone?” Even if other people are in the house, she asks. Even if she just asked, she asks. Even if I’ve answered her ten times, she asks, again. But, I’m repeating myself.

The English author, Samuel Johnson, wrote, “Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance.” We care-givers are doing a “great work”. Our perseverance will accomplish what our strength cannot. Sitting with my mother in the evening repeatedly answering her questions, gives her comfort. What else would be more productive? She is comforted, and I am learning patience.

The apostle Paul said, “…we exult in our tribulations,” (Romans 5: 3 NASB) but Helen Keller said it this way, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.”

God has provided you as the one to care for your loved-one. It is a difficult time that seems unending. Unfortunately, the ending for them is death, and we don’t yearn for it. In the meantime, we can learn patience.

© 2018 Ronald Milburn