There are facts of life. Natural progressions that we all know are to come one day. I know that as I grow and come of age so do my parents. I always knew that they were to get older and so I’ve placed them in my future memories of growing old, but more of a wise and sage type old. They would be there with heads full of gray hair as my siblings and I marked grand occasions in life that are a part of adulthood. College graduation, engagements, marriage, grandchildren – continuing to guide the family that they helped build.
I thought I was ready for this – watching my parents age. I grew up with my grand and great-grandparents. I know what old age looks like. I know what to expect and somehow watching my Father age has been a frightening, anxiety inducing experience in my adult years. It’s like I blinked and suddenly there were wrinkles in his neck, his eyes have yellowed and his voice changed. That’s what is most harrowing, I could hear his age over the phone. Maybe it’s just something I took for granted, considering that Black don’t crack and I was so use to being surrounded by older people who never looked my age. My Father looks his age. To me he looks rather unhealthy, but my brother who lives with him, often dusts off my questioning and concerns as simple paranoia. But it’s there and I told my brother I was going to scream and shout about it while Dad is here, because I want him to stay here. I don’t want to have to re-write any of my future memories without him here because I won’t have any emotional concern if it comes to that with those who are screaming and shouting in despair when Dad is longer no here to hear them. You know my Father always said to give him flowers while he’s here, no use decorating a grave when he can’t smell the roses. So I’ve been throwing flowers at him, asking him to take better care of himself.
My family is Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the more conservative outputs of Christianity. They believe in the Resurrection, where those who have lived their life according to God will come back in the “new system of things”, a perfect world for God’s perfectly holy beings. They’re not the only sect of Christianity or religion in general to believe that and just to note, this is not a conversation on religion, nor am I dictating what one should believe. But I do want to exemplify what I believe is not so uncommon, especially amongst religious African-Americans. Where two cultures collide in that my Dad is both Southern, so sometimes slow to draw, while deeply steeped in the dogma of his religion. I think his Witness’ beliefs are sometimes are a cover-up for lazy hopelessness, in that he can put things off by saying that he’s ‘waiting for the new system of things.’ Life will be better, ‘in the new system of things.’ His sleep apnea is no big deal, because of the ‘new system of things’ that is to come. Never mind his refrigerator full of soda and juice or his diabetes, it will all be resolved in the ‘new system of things.’ And there’s nothing I can say about it, as I try to tell him that he’s not too old to pursue his talents. My Father is an amazing cook, he can build you a house, well versed in agriculture and just has a myriad of skills, that the patrons of his Kingdom Hall have no problem utilizing, as he strikes down any suggestion from me about turning his skills into, at the very least, a side source of income. You know, because ‘God has it under control.’ I believe He does, but that does mean that you do.
If I can’t financially take care of my Father, maybe I can at least help him find the resources to set himself up for retirement, rather than continuing to work a labor intensive job at 62. Nope, here comes ‘God’ again, He has it all figured out. I can’t argue with God, but under the guise of religious sympathies I wonder if my Father is even acknowledging any of his problems. Until recent times, many of the more conservative religions counseled against ‘secular therapy’ as ‘with God all things are done.’ Coupling that with the thought of most African Americans that therapy is just a thing of wealthy White people, my Father has never been one who was open to much discussion of mental health. I’ve dealt with mental illness. And while I do use prayer as a vehicle to secure my mental stability, you still have to acknowledge the problem first. And that is often the largest hurdle – recognizing and acknowledging that there is a problem, so that you and God can see it through. I often feel that my Father just uses ‘God’ as means to end the conversation, to avoid discussing or acknowledging the matter and it worries me to no end.
I’m talking in circles and I have no real end to this. It’s a lesson in patience and perseverance. Relenting in how little control I have and hoping that my random calls and texts will awaken my Father to how much he is loved, in the here and now – and how much he needs to take care of himself for the here and now. I don’t think my situation is particularly unique. As many young adults shape their lives around providing for their families. Like being the first to graduate college, in hopes to seal the familial foundation, in thanks for their parents sacrifice in raising them. I want to thank my parents too, I’m just scared I might not have enough time to.
Sleep well parents. Take care of yourselves. Don’t work so much overtime. Remember that there is no material pursuit that is more meaningful then your presence and knowledge in continuing to help your family grow.