A Daughter and Father Find Forgiveness

All my life I had feared my father.  But becoming his caregiver gave me the opportunity to see him in a different light—and forgive.

By Margaret Berberich, Colfax, California

As appeared in

How did Mom ever put up with all of this? I won­dered, not for the first time since my husband, Mike, and I had moved in with my elderly father after my mother passed away.

The living room was a total mess. I stacked the condolence cards into a neat pile on the coffee table and swept a dying flower arrangement into the garbage pail. Then I stacked the now-empty boxes Mike and I had packed our things in to make the move to Dad’s. Finally I picked up a laundry basket and gathered up the dirty socks Dad had dropped on the floor near the couch. I balanced the basket against my hip and headed down the hall. Cau­tiously, I approached the open doorway to my parents’ bedroom. Dad sat on the edge of the bed, fumbling with his gray-striped pajama top.

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“Do you need any help?” I asked.

He didn’t look up. “They must be making these buttons smaller than they used to,” he grumbled.

I sighed. Mike and I had moved in with Dad both to ease our financial burden after our pizza restaurant went under and to help Dad adjust to life without his wife of 52 years. Mike went back to school to become a pharmacy technician and was in class much of the day. I spent most of my time with Dad. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep this up. Being with him made me feel all knotted up inside.

To say Dad and I didn’t get along would have meant we had some kind of relationship. We didn’t. Not since I left home after high school. Picking out Mom’s casket was the first thing we had ever done together. I was the sec­ond of four girls and that was what he called me: “Number Two.” No name, just a digit. He was harsh and judgmental with my sisters and me, and he had a temper. Once we were grown, none of us girls wanted anything to do with Dad. It was Mom we loved and stayed in touch with.

My younger sister and I were shocked at what we found when we visited Dad in the weeks after Mom’s funeral. Dad’s medications were scattered haphaz­ardly on the counter and he had no idea which was which. He frequently lost his footing on the uneven terrain of the acreage surrounding the house. The landscaped flower beds and lawn he’d always showed off now looked more like a vacant lot, overgrown with weeds and strewn with broken gardening equip­ment. It was clear Mom had picked up the slack the past few years.

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“He needs more help than we can give him,” my younger sister said. “He needs to be in a retirement home.”

I was inclined to agree, but mem­ories of Mom wouldn’t let me. She loved Dad—Lord only knew why—and she would not have wanted to see him forced out of his home. Along with our business, Mike and I lost our house and needed a place to live. So moving in with Dad seemed like a solution for all of us.

I’d thought it was God’s timing, but now I wondered, Lord, how can I take care of this man I don’t really care for? Teach me how to love the unloveable.

I looked at Dad, his pajama shirt all twisted. The few buttons he had managed to close didn’t match up right. It might have been comical, if it weren’t so sad. I was so used to dreading him that I was surprised to feel a twinge of sympathy. “You know, Dad, if you want, I can sew the buttons closed, then you could just slip the top over your head.”

Dad nodded. “That’s a good idea,” he said.­

A compliment? First one I could re­member. I put the laundry basket down and sat next to him on the bed. Slowly I rebuttoned his top.

It felt so strange! Growing up, I lived in constant fear of the man.

No matter how awful he’s been, he’s helpless now, I thought, fastening the last button. He needed someone. But, Lord, why me?

For the first few weeks, I clung to the hope that somehow I could teach Dad to live independently and that this living situation was only temporary. But soon it was obvious that he had age-related dementia. He couldn’t learn how to wash his clothes or vacuum the floor. He couldn’t shop for food, much less make it himself. All the things Mom used to do for him. I drove him to doc­tors’ appointments and helped him go from using a walker to pushing himself in a wheelchair.

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Your Comments (7)

Much the same with me and my elder daughter. I am now aged
80 years. She does not understands me and I am waiting and praying that the Lord would bring both of us to a situation of reconciliation generating the fragrance of love and affection which I would carry with me to my grave.

I totally understood the distance between this father and daughter. That was me and Daddy down to the knot in the stomach. He too had a temper and all his children related to him through Mom. After she was gone, we were forced to relate one on one. Thankfully, I too peace and relationship with him . Now I treasure the memories of jaunts around our county to visit his multitude of friends after his failed eyesight prevented his driving. He never met a stranger that wasn't a candidate for a friend. What a legacy!

Thank you for sharing your story, Margaret. God will bless you in many ways for taking care of your father. Your story brought tears to my eyes. You are an angel.

I say thanks to all the caregivers out there that step up and help someone out. I have seen some residents in nursing homes who never have a visitor besides me, and the nurses thought I was the daughter. I only went a couple of times a month, but the nurses had never met the daughter. So God bless those who are brave and loving enough to do the inspired thing. I am sure you have been blessed by Him for doing so much.

I wish there was hope for a reconciliation with my father before he passes away. I have not been a very loving daughter - nor he a loving father. We have much to forgive of each other. The only hope we could ever have of a relationship comes from God.

What a special story of reconciliation..God does work in mysterious ways.

The story about the father and daughter hit so close to home I could probably written it myself.
I did not move in with my daddy(father), but was his caregiver for six months before he passed away.
All the things Margaret was saying about her father was like I was back with mine again.
Daddy and I were never close, but the last six month, sorting out prescriptions, riding his golf cart with him and cooking and cleaning, helping him bath, etc. It is like it was just yesterday.
Thank you Margaret for sharing your story with all of the caregivers around the world.
Susan