Parenting a Parent

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I remember the day my dad taught me how to ride a bike on the sidewalk in front of our house. Don’t lean too much in either direction, he told me. Be careful with bumps and biking over curbs. It was quintessential Dad -- both critical and caring. He’d always emphasize the bad stuff, like what could go wrong and what to look out for, before putting it into perspective and telling me how to avoid all that bad stuff from actually happening. That day, he said that if I stayed positive -- believing that I wouldn’t fall -- that I could find my balance.

Growing up, my dad was the gatekeeper to my confidence and motivation. He knew just when to feed me knowledge, and how to build me up. And then without warning, he had a heart attack and a stroke when I was 16.

Suddenly, my dad couldn’t even speak a full sentence. He became vulnerable, and he didn’t want me to see him like that. Didn’t want me to recognize his new imperfections. The tables turned, and suddenly it was me taking care of him. When we’d watch movies, I’d sometimes have to explain things. Or when he’d get confused about what month it was, I’d try and help.

But sitting in his electric wheelchair -- the youngest person in his nursing home -- my dad still tries to be the one guiding me. With choppy words and lots of body language, he struggles to ask me about school, and about how my social life is going. Except now, I cringe talking about my challenges, because my dad isn’t able to help me anymore. So his probing just feels like criticism.

I think the only advice I can offer my dad to ease the tension we’re feeling, is the same advice he gave me back when he taught me to ride the bike. To stay positive and believe that I won’t fall.


Because that’s the only way he and I are going to find our balance again.

With a Perspective, I’m Hank Rugg.

Hank Rugg is 18 and lives in Albany. His commentary was produced by Youth Radio.