PARENTS

The Reluctant House Dad: The Guilt Of The Sandwich Generation

14/08/2014 16:54 | Updated 22 May 2015

Little boy relaxing on couch with grandfather and father

Parental Guilt is a well known phenomenon. My wife continues to have massive attacks of it ever since she returned to an office job after five years as a stay-at-home mum.

I suffer bouts when she has a hard time at work because she's only there because I lost my job three years ago, reluctantly forcing me into housedaddery.

We both feel guilty that we don't spend enough 'quality' time with our three children aged 11, nine and six, because we're so stressed out from the pressure of having to earn enough to keep a roof over our heads.

And we feel guilty that we're not good enough parents by comparison with our kids' friends' mums and dads, who seem to effortlessly float through life without a care in the world, while we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time nagging and fretting about everything from our children's reading to times tables to the amount of time they spend playing computer games to the fact we NEVER take them to art galleries and museums at the weekends (as other parents always seem to be doing with theirs) because we're so knackered from the working week.

I feel guilty that my sons don't have enough friends. I feel guilty about not having the time to accompany them on class trips. I feel guilty if I send them to school in the same underpants two days running.

I feel guilty about harrying them out of the door in the mornings, and abandoning them to the TV in the evenings because I've got to crack on with boring but necessary stuff like making their tea.

I feel guilty for shouting at them when they'd rather play Minecraft than read a book. I feel guilty for comparing them to their classmates, who are ploughing their way through The Lord of the Rings.

I feel guilty for feeling disappointed that they're not as good as the show-off kids at singing and acting and sport.

I feel guilty for being a control freak because I actually know that my kids are great in every way. And then I feel guilty for feeling guilty.

Being a parent: it's one big sack of guilt.

But all this parental guilt paled into insignificance last week compared to the guilt I feel as a child, albeit an adult child.

The guilt of the Sandwich Generation!

I am the oldest of four boys but, unlike my brothers, I left home when I was 16, moved around several cities, before I settled in London, 200 miles from my native Manchester.

Now I'm a big fan of keeping family at arm's length. No nagging, nor fussing. No popping in and telling you what you're doing wrong. But the downside is that you can't be there for them in emergencies.

And that's what we've had up North this past week or so. My dad has lived on his own ever since my mum died in December 2010.

He's a hale and hearty fellow, except for one significant part of his ageing body: his left knee.

After a lifetime of crawling around in filthy machinery as chief fitter at a tyre factory, the cartilage in his knees has deteriorated to such an extent that there is no cushion between the end of his upper leg and lower leg.

He'd put up with the pain for two years, refusing to see a doctor, reasoning that they'd only send him to hospital for a knee replacement operation, believing that if that happened, he'd never come out alive. He's from THAT generation.

But six months ago, the pain became so great that he could no longer walk up the hill to the church memorial garden where my mum's ashes are buried.

And so he reluctantly gave in to his sons' nagging and the nagging pain in his patella.

After being referred to hospital by his GP, the next few months were spent on the waiting list for a new knee.

My dad was dreading it, and even tried to cancel, until we talked him round.

He'd never been in hospital in his life – not bad going for a 75-year-old – and feared the worst.

But as his knee deteriorated, he started to face facts. And that's when my brothers really came into their own.

They all live within a couple of miles of our dad. And they are all skilled tradesman, so in the evenings and at weekend, they rallied together to convert dad's three-bedroomed former council house to fit his post-op needs, ripping out the bath and replacing it with a stool shower, re-plumbing to fit a toilet downstairs, fixing bannisters all around the house for dad to lean on, and transforming the dinette where we grew up eating our meals into a bedroom fit for a convalescence home.

I heard about all this on the phone from my dad – and felt increasingly guilty that I hadn't raised a finger to help.

"But you've got three young kids," he'd reassure me. "Your brothers don't. Their kids are grown up. And you live 200 miles away."

I had no choice but to accept that I was shackled by both distance and childcare and that I couldn't be there for my dad at the only time in his life when he has actually needed me.

My guilt grew heavier when he eventually went into hospital. My second brother took him to the ward, shook his hand and wished him luck. When he came round from the anaesthetic after the operation, my third and youngest brothers were there to greet him.

All I could do was continue to collect my kids from school, make their teas, help them with homework, load and unload the dishwasher – and wallow in guilt.

And then, last Friday, the dam of my guilt burst.

After initially thinking that my dad would be in hospital for at least a week, a nursing sister called me to say he was being released that day – just three days after his operation.

"We've tried calling your brothers but have had no answer," she said.

"They're probably at work," I said. "Can I help?"

The nurse went on: "Do you know anyone else who could come and collect your father? We don't want to send him home on his own."

Suddenly all my priorities were re-arranged. Collecting kids from school, work, housedadding – they all seemed trivial compared to helping my dad – and to unblock the backlog of guilt that had built up.

I dropped everything, called my wife to ask her to leave work early to collect our children from school, then jumped in my car and headed up the motorway.

Friday afternoon traffic was horrific, with jam after jam after jam, and it took six hours before I eventually arrived at the hospital.

When he saw me, my dad said: "Where the hell have you been?"

Which was his way of saying: "It's great to see you!"

From then on, I did my bit. I shopped for him, cooked for him, helped him in and out of bed – hell, I even helped him on and off the toilet!

We sat together watching TV and chatted about his operation and what he needed to do to help his recovery.

But the most important thing I did was to buy him his first ever mobile phone – and then taught him how to send text messages.

"Keep it on you at all times. If anything happens to you, just press these buttons," I explained.

Then I added, sentimentally: "It's also an easy way for you and I to keep in touch, no matter where you are."

On the journey back to London, I felt that the huge sack of guilt had been lifted from my shoulders.

Thanks to his new phone, I'm now in touch with my dad more than I have ever been, and as a result, feel much closer to him.

But there is a downside: unfortunately, my dad has grown a little too fond of the text function and now sends me 20 messages a day.

The last one: "Just going to toilet."

"TOO MUCH INFORMATION," I replied.

And now I feel guilty for shouting at him!

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