Adulthood’s End, part 2

Jonathan Rauch, in The Atlantic April 2010, writes about “Letting Go of My Father”. He tells about the hardships and challenges of dealing with his octogenerian dad’s decline and falls.

The article resonates with me, perhaps more so than it might have before  because I may be facing the same things soon. Rauch eloquently talks about how isolated he felt until he started blurting out “inappropriately” what was going on. Then he found many people who were or had been in the same place. 

This is an experience common to people going through everyday issues that are touchy or embarrassing. Failing parents, failing children, suddenly gay spouses, divorces, depressions, mental illnesses, horrific abuse… If you don’t break silence, you’ll never know how many other people near you have been there done that.

Rauch writes poignantly about his dad’s fierce independence and how he tried to preserve his dad’s illusion of independence way after it was obviously illusory.

I’m walking a difficult line here. If you like the usual tone of this blog, you may not be impressed with this post. I’m going to suspend the “take no prisoners” rule for a minute. Well, somewhat. In the next paragraphs, I’m going to savage the grief-stricken. But even I have some sense of decorum. So I’ll try to make a clean kill.

Several years ago, a teenage girl got herself killed skiing because she didn’t wear a helmet her parents didn’t make her wear a helmet. Her grieving parents started a crusade to make it illegal for anyone to ski without a helmet. I don’t ski, so I don’t know how successful they were. Does everyone who skis now have to wear a helmet?

The parents of this girl got a respectful, credulous listening because (1) the media are vultures who lick up spilled blood like mother’s milk and (2) who dares to disagree with the grief-stricken when they may go hysterical at any moment?

If you suffer tragedy, you get a penalty shot on the rest of us to work out your grief and need for control. Any stupid thing you think the rest of us should be forced to do, we have to listen to you demand we do it, and show decent respect. Up to a point. When it turns into a public bully-pulpit thing, I don’t like it.

Jonathan Rauch ends his article in full-on bully-pulpit-mode.

In terms of his actual decency and compassion and caring for his dad, I’m a Rauch fan. But….

Rauch says:

How can it be that so many people like me are so completely unprepared for what is, after all, one of life’s near certainties?

There are resources out there to tap, to be sure. Once you begin looking, you can find them….What I needed was for the experts to find me and tell me what I needed.

Rauch found abundant resources once he overcame his reticence to talk about the fact that he might be having a hard time. What the hell does Rauch really mean? Do we need yet another stupid over-produced PSA? A hotline? “Does your life suck? Call 1-800-CRY-BABY and we’ll tell you why and what you need.”

At one point….I joked to friends that we should all be given time off work at age 40 to take a course on elder care. I no longer see this as such a joke.  Surely [paragraph ends with advocating that multiple programs, courses and hotlines should be set up to force-feed everyone about this].

I’m not even going to comment about this. Except to say hell, yeah, I’ll take a free day off work.

Here’s Rauch’s last paragraph, unedited:

What we need even more than that, though, is for our nameless problem to be plucked out of the realm of the personal and brought into full public view, where help can find us. In the years after Betty Friedan named their problem, women who work in the home (formerly “housewives”) demanded and got a new infrastructure for support:  opportunities to study and work at home, part-time job opportunities, public and private help with child care, social networks, and so on. Perhaps more important, they demanded and got society’s recognition that they were providing an indispensable public good. As a result, they are not isolated or silent anymore, and they do not need to put up with being lonely or bored. Keeping today’s invisible infrastructure of caregivers out of sight is as stressful and wasteful and pointless as leaving millions of women feeling stranded at home once was. My mother’s friend and the feminsts of ther generation fundamentally had it right. There should be no need for anyone to go through this alone, and no glory in trying.

Rauch embodies everything wrong and right with America. No matter how much Americans talk like helpless oppressed victims, and whine like little girls about needing support groups and hotlines, Americans don’t just sit there like a Frog would and wait for rescue.  Rauch manned up and took care of his dad. I just wish he’d have been proud of it. Ain’t that America: we git ‘er done, and then we whine like little girls about it.

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