responsibility for the long-term
I may characterize simply the different primitive relationships that
a son has with his mother and his father in such a crisis, I would
suggest that the mother represents comfort and security in the
present, within arms’ reach, whereas the father represents security
outside arms’ reach, and a means to self-security in the future. In
reality, clearly each relationship has degrees of both.
a certain extent, a father’s post-critical-care responsibility to
his son is to provide a role model and guidance to self-sufficiency
in the world. A father must create his post-injury relationship with
his injured son from scratch and it must start with rebuilding
himself to take on this role. Rebuilding is very difficult and may
never be completed. Together you need to provide yourselves with a
cushion of understanding, tolerance, patience, humour and love. For
you both, it may require innovative approaches. Listen to the
patient, take guidance from them. As an example, I point to my need
to dampen down my “contributions” because Drew finds them too
much to handle. That requires a big effort on my part and
counselling. First, I had to recognize it as a legitimate problem.
Second, I had to recognize my
need in that behaviour, the inner budgie. Third, I had to make a
major adjustment in my protective
attitude towards Drew. Fourth, I had to zip
may be aspects of the pre-injury relationship that will still be
relevant, for good or ill.
father’s responsibility for and to his child will still be relevant
but the way the father discharges those responsibilities may be
vastly different from the way that they would have been discharged
had the injury not occurred. For example, how does a father provide
his injured child with understanding, direction, motivation and
targets for self-sufficiency? Due to the slow healing of the brain
and the need for therapies of many descriptions, you may not even
know for years what the new expectations for self-sufficiency should
be. To extend the example, if your son is aware of his cognitive
shortcomings how do you deal with depression, defeatism, excessive
self-expectations, appropriate benchmarks for performance and
progress, both in him and in you? Perfection is not possible. Clumsy
adjusting is the reality. Mistakes are inevitable.
example will paint a picture. Even though I worked hard at being
non-judgmental, professionally and personally over the years I have
been evaluative, measuring performance against what I thought were
objective “real world” benchmarks. As Drew began to resemble the
old normal more and more, I was reverting to my old reactions/habits.
At times like these I had to give myself a reality check.
matter how experienced I am at hiring, managing and evaluating
personnel in a wide variety of positions with a wide variety of
expertise, obviously I have no monopoly on knowledge or wisdom and my
world is not Drew’s world. He has every right to make his way in
the world as he sees fit and he has and will do a great job of it.
was never realistic for me to expect him to fit into the world in the
way that I have, to follow in my footsteps, to be mini-me.
Unfortunately, being partially aware of that reality didn’t stop me
from behaving occasionally as if I had all the answers. Why should it
be any different now? For the most excellent of all reasons—Drew is
in the hands of occupational and psychotherapists who are far better
equipped to help him. I need to recast myself as an additional
resource—when called on. I’m increasingly more grise,
so much. Solomon’s wisdom is but a glimmer over the horizon.
I found that being aware
that I need to be a benign advisor did not completely prevent me from
behaving badly. From time to time, I allowed my stress levels to rise
resulting in behaviour that created conflict with Drew. To resolve
our occasional conflicts, we had long respectful and loving
discussions—truly—and from these I learned a lot about how
insightful and disciplined Drew is, as his therapist had also noted.
I tried hard to change my behaviour to fit the new normal but it did
not prevent me from exploding from time to time, often at chippy,
snarky remarks that Drew made about my habits that annoyed him. At
root, it was typical conflict between males, complicated by the
3-years in after one such recent conflict, I apologized to him for a
blow-up that was totally my fault. Then half an hour later I said to
him, “I have come to the realization that you have healed enough
that I no longer need to watch your back. You have the absolute right
to run your own life. This realization has taken a huge load off of
me.” This surprised and pleased Drew.
meant it—all of it. Do I feel guilty that I made such a decision
and declaration in spite of the fact that I knew that Drew had about
six more years of brain healing to go through, that his abilities to
multi-task or juggle complex options are still degraded? I’m
somewhat surprised to say that I didn’t feel guilty in the least. I
thought then and I think now that overall my decision is best for
Drew and for me. It is not completely true what I said about no
longer watching his back; I still do and he knows it. However having
stated that, I no longer feel compelled to second-guess him to his
face, to manipulate by making “suggestions” in the guise of
adding options for him to consider. He is healing, he is in control,
he is safe, he is disciplined and he knows that should he ever want
our active support all he needs to do is ask and we will give it
unstintingly and without judgment or comment. Most of all, he will be
in the world a long time after I have gone. Even as he heals to an as
yet unknown state, he needs to relearn to successfully interact with
his world. There is no way that I can learn those lessons for him.
There never was.
realized at the time that this was a major milestone because Drew had
his freedom from me; I hadn’t given it to him. This made me very
happy because I have always felt that it is healthier for children to
earn or take their freedom than it is for parents to give it to them.
Drew was strong again! What my declaration to him did was to formally
acknowledge a state that already existed and to declare that I would
no longer get in his way.
it is through Drew’s injury that we have been able to be objective
about our relationship and that I am truly able to see him as the
fiercely independent and unique individual that he is. Even though I
have always been blown away by his talent, abilities and personality
I am seeing rich new dimensions of him that I had never seen before
because our relationship got in the way. Perhaps we are always
hardest on our first child, the one who trains us and who forces us
out of ourselves.
week or so after my epiphany and declaration, we entered another
conflict when Drew told me emphatically and rudely what to do. I
replied, “Just a minute. We have an agreement. I don’t tell you
what to do and therefore you don’t tell me what to do.” That
seemed to work. He picks up and applies things with great
were fine for a few days and then I created an ugly scene for which I
apologized multiple times to him and to Rachel. Drew went to work the
next day and did not come home for three days, staying with his
brother and with friends. I arranged an emergency meeting for Rachel
and me with Drew’s therapist. She gave us good advice and I met her
with Drew a week later. Since then things have occasionally been
tense but we have been behaving ourselves and have had no serious
conflicts for months. He is relaxing and my stress levels are
diminishing. I’m looking forward to a new healthy state between us
and believe that eventually our relationship will be better than it
has ever been.
this may sound somewhat like a typical relationship between
opinionated strong-willed fathers and sons. However, remember that
all of this has taken place while Drew’s brain, particularly his
frontal lobe, which deals with inhibition and judgment, has not
healed and won’t heal completely for years. However, his brain
seems to be healing faster than mine, which is to be expected since
older brains heal far more slowly, if at all. I joke with Drew that
soon he will be the caregiver. Perhaps we’ll wave to each other as
we pass, going in opposite directions.
Did I mention patience? It isn’t easy. There is no road map as such
but there are those who can guide you. There will be bumps in the
road. But with patience, open mindedness, much love, a sense of
humour and forgiveness from you and your loved one, you will work it
out. You and your child will grow closer and your love for each other
and your mutual admiration will increase dramatically. You will have
a deeper and richer relationship. With your child and family enjoy
the moment; enjoy each step of progress. Your other interpersonal
relationships in the family, community and business will be enhanced
dramatically as well. You will have more appropriate priorities. You
will see others for who they are, not for who you want them to be.
You will be more prepared to accommodate the humanity of others, even
if they don’t fit your ideal. You will have a better balance
between emotions and intellect. You will better manage your
expectations of others and of yourself.
did I mention surprises? About 15 months after Drew’s injury, he
asked me to stop hugging him. “Why?” I asked. “Because you hug
me every time I go out, even when I go to work. It’s like you don’t
expect to see me again.” I realized that he was right enough; so I
stopped. I still get the urge.