Few things rise to the level of the deep appreciation that I feel for my father and the impact he continues to have on my life. As a caregiver for a wife with extreme disabilities, I now recognize skills and behaviors learned from a man who didn’t journey down the road I travel, but nevertheless prepared me for it by modeling five specific behaviors.
- See beyond the symptoms. In his role as minister, I observed him engage individuals, couples, and families in all types of drama and trauma. Seeing past reactive behavior, he paid attention to the non-verbal cues, and directly addressed wounded hearts. As a caregiver for a woman in relentless pain, my wife’s body does not always get to take priority over her hurting heart. The moan of the body often muffles the cry of the heart, and it requires extra discernment to speak comfort to core hurts. Listening to that heart, however, requires a skill set not easily learned, but effectively modeled by my father.
- Lead by serving. Even after long days, my father often grabbed the vacuum cleaner, mop, or dishrag and help tidy things. He did not view the home as his castle, but rather a place to serve his family. Growing up with five siblings, we each had chores, but Dad led us all through his example. Although the surgery count for my wife has soared to nearly eighty, like most caregivers, I spend more time with laundry, cooking, and general housework than dealing with the medical community. Thanks to Dad, I learned to serve and to clean—long before becoming a caregiver.
- Treat others equally. Finding something in common with everyone he meets, Dad affirms the dignity of each person. This lesson helped me better understand people, as well as engage with America’s vast medical bureaucracy. During three decades of caregiving, I’ve needed the help of dozens of physicians, as well as nurses, techs. custodial staff members, and hospital managers of the twelve hospitals she’s visited. Dad taught me the common language of human dignity that inspires, motivates, and elevates people from all walks of life.
- Stay on Message. Whether due to his generation, or decades of ministry and military service, Dad seems to possess an amazing ability to stay on message. Knowing what he wants to say and accomplish, Dad navigates the quagmire of human drama with the deftness of a tightrope walker. As a caregiver, I daily face an onslaught of medical, emotional, financial, and other issues. If I allowed myself to travel down every rabbit hole—I’d get nothing accomplished. Thanks to Dad, I’ve learned to better keep the main thing—the main thing.
- Aggressively Love. My father passionately loves my mother, my siblings and myself, and our families. Showing deep interest in each of us, I remain amazed how one man can love and value so many. He demonstrates that value with astonishing service and sacrifice. My father exudes a joy in loving those who cannot currently, or may never, match his love. Yet it still flows from him. Dad’s love for others is a picture of God’s inexhaustible and unearned love for us. Daily putting myself between a vulnerable loved one and worse disaster, I’ve come to better understand that love.
No greater lesson for a caregiver exists than to learn to love those who may not be able to reciprocate.
The imprint (good or bad) of a father stretches into generations. That imprint contains the power to shape and direct long past the life of a father in often surprising ways.
It remains deeply satisfying for me to know that, however small at times, a reflection of my father is imparted to each wounded heart I encounter—including the most special of all to me: the heart belonging to my wife.