This post is inspired by this Tweet.
Many of you that follow me on Twitter know that my dad has been having health problems lately. He’s had several scary falls in the last few months & it’s become apparent he’s no longer able to live at home. He’s 72 & was in decent shape his whole life outside a 60-year long smoking habit he kicked a few years ago.
However, when he was 65 he had a bad motorcycle accident & hasn’t had use of his left arm since then. He did major damage to the nerves in his shoulder that left his arm basically paralyzed. He can move his hand & elbow a bit, but there’s no movement in his shoulder. This means that really can’t protect himself that well when he does fall. Luckily he hasn’t had any serious injuries from his falls…yet.
On top of this, he has difficulty dressing, showering & performing other normal everyday things. When my Mom was around, she was able to help him with a lot of these, even though she had her own physical limitations. With her gone, Dad is struggling being by himself. He has been living with my brother, but he works full time and puts in a lot of overtime, so Dad had to spend 10-14 hours a day by himself.
As many of you know, I’m currently unemployed/self-employed, so I’d have the time to help my Dad more, except there’s a “but”. The “but” is, I now live in an RV with my wife & 4 kids, so we don’t have the room for him. If we did, we’d gladly let him stay with us.
It’s because of all this, we are being forced to look at getting him into an extended care facility.
I hate the idea of sending him to a “home”. Anyone that has seen Ricky Gervais’s Netflix series “Derek” will know why. These “Homes” are full of people that have been tucked away nice & neat & out of the way where they won’t be a hassle to their family. Too often they also get forgotten. That’s where the title of this piece comes from.
These are the people that, at one time, would have been our Tribal Elders. The men & women that have learned life’s lessons the hard way. They are the ones that carry the knowledge of their parents. Yet in today’s society, we lock them away so they are no longer an “inconvenience” to us.
Many of these Elders have made terrible mistakes in their lives, but it’s these very mistakes where most of their wisdom lies. It’s a common cliche to say, “We learn more from our mistakes than our successes.”
We no longer take advantage of learning from them. Yes, our society is nothing like the one they grew up in, but they represent the foundations that our society was built on. It’s also true that our society is changing & advancing at a rate never before seen in human history, so one might almost be forgiven for thinking that whatever wisdom these Forgotten Elder’s have is likely outdated already.
Sadly, it is only our technology that is changing so quickly. Our brains haven’t evolved as rapidly and we are likely far more similar to our Forgotten Elders than many of would like to admit. I think that by listening to their stories, their successes and their failures, we will likely find gems of wisdom hidden within them that we can apply to our modern lives.
Going back to my Dad, I know he’s made some horrible life choices, some of which are due to him most likely being Autistic (he definitely is not neurotypical) & the response to him was affected by him being undiagnosed as such. For me, on a personal level, I know I can learn from his mistakes since it is also highly likely I too am Autistic (my oldest son is as well). My logical, analytical brain can see where he went wrong and if I ever find myself in a similar situation, I can recall how he reacted and eliminate that as a possible solution.
I actually live a lot of my life looking for clues as to how we are “supposed to act” in certain situations. My “unfiltered” reaction has ruined some relationships and friendships and hindered my advancement at work. So by watching and learning from someone that is a lot like me (half my genes come from him after all), I can often see what would be my own reaction.
This is why I am determined to ensure he doesn’t become a Forgotten Elder. I need to learn as much as I can from him in the limited time we have together so I can be the best possible Elder when my own time comes to fill that role. I freely admit that I haven’t been the most attentive son up until now. Which might be part of why I’m determined to change that now.
Being a Naturalist and atheist means I don’t get to look forward to seeing my parents in another life. I can’t ignore them in this one “knowing” I’ll get to catch up on what I missed once we’re all dead. As I get older myself, the reality of this becomes ever more poignant. If I am going to learn from my Dad, I need to do it now. I missed that opportunity with my Mom. I always assumed I had time “later” and I let my busy life rule me and take me away from my time with her.
Even the day she died I was working on the assumption I had more time with her. That is a mistake I will regret for the rest of my life. You see, she died on Mothers Day. I was planning on taking her out for dinner the next day and, in an unbelievably callous, insensitive and thoughtless display of being an inattentive son, I hadn’t even called, texted or emailed her to say “Happy Mother’s Day”.
I was a fool. A selfish fool.
As I slowly become one of the “Tribal Elders” in my Tribe, I hope, and if I was religious, I’d pray, that my sons and daughter, treat me better than I treated my Mom. I hope they can learn from my horrendous mistake and I hope I can be a better role model going forward with my Dad. I also hope that anyone reading this will learn from it as well. If your parents are still alive and if you still care for them, don’t let them become Forgotten Elders.
Ask them what their regrets in life are. Ask them to tell you a story about them you’ve never heard before. You might be shocked at how many of both of those they have. Ask them for advice. Ask them what advice they wish their parents had given them. Ask them what they wish they’d known when they were younger.
Then stop talking and listen. Take in what they have to say. You don’t even need to think about it then, just absorb their wisdom and think about it once they’ve stopped talking.
Learn from them.
Until next time, keep drinking the Kool-aid.