Standing at the door to my bedroom in his dark blue suit, my father tapped his foot while staring at his sixteen-year-old daughter. “Jackie, hurry up. We’re going to be late,” he ordered.

In the Madden family, punctuality was right up there with perfect manners and good hygiene. We were never allowed to be late for anything. Being tardy for school, church, or dinner was equivalent to a mortal sin. It was a sign of disrespect and punishable with near death, or its equivalent, a good grounding.

“Dad, I still have five minutes,” I wheedled, trying to get him to calm down but not sound insolent. “You can’t rush a girl when she’s in the final stages of fluffing herself.”

My father could shower and shave in less time than it took to pour a bowl of cereal. I seemed to need an entire day. Picking out that special outfit required time and deliberation. And hair and makeup? That took an eternity.

With his typical harrumph, he pointed at his watch. “You just wasted one minute. You have four left.”

More than fifty years later, the tables turned, and everything my forty-year-old father could do at the speed of light now take my ninety-six-year-old father careful thought and consideration. Each day say starts with the same simple routine: a sponge bath in bed and fresh adult diaper. Next, he’s dressed in sensible sweatpants and easy-to-slip-on cotton shirt. Finally, he’s wheeled to his breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, and medication. All this takes about an hour. Then it’s off to his tattered recliner for a day filled with what appears to be devoid of anything substantial. With his eyes closed, he looks like he’s asleep. But I know better.

Jack Madden is a gentle man that converses with the Lord daily in his mind, body, and soul. In those quiet hours alone in his chair, he connects with the spiritual world. I know my mother is calling him to be with her, but he’s not ready. He has things to think about, a lifetime to remember, and people to pray for.

My caregiving journey with my dad has me constantly re-evaluating the gift we call life and a family’s role in it. Why do some die young and others live far past what is deemed reasonable or necessary? Has medical science gone too far in keeping people alive longer than they should be? Is it a requirement that an adult child now be responsible for their aging parents after just launching their own children into the world? Sure, our parents cared for us when we were young, but that was their choice. They wanted children to complete them, just as we’ve done. Will we be expecting the same from our children? There is no right or wrong answer to these questions, only what works for the people involved.

Years ago, I made a promise I’d never leave my father in a nursing home. Has it been easy? Hell no! The house constantly smells of dirty diapers, and the floors and walls are permanently scarred with divots from the metal spokes of his wheelchair. His need for constant care means I have no freedom. I feel trapped in my own home, and often angry at the unfairness of it all.

Does taking care of my father have its rewards? Absolutely! With my dad by my side each day, I’ve learned not only about my heritage and the incredible human being I’m proud to call my father, but about humanity—especially my own. I’ve been able to care for another human being despite the hardship and pain to me. I’ve learned to (usually) set aside my negative emotion and selfishness in order to treasure his life. But most importantly, for me it’s been the right thing to do.

Though the tables have turned, and I’m the one waiting for him to get ready—and often assisting in the process—I’m not hurrying him along, as he once had to do for teenage me. Instead I pray, “God, give him all the time he wants. Let him stand in front of that mirror in his mind and study every line that traverses his handsome face, for it’s the map of where his life has traveled. Let him look into his closet and take hours to pick the perfect outfit to wear and allow him more time to comb that beautiful white hair for as long as he wishes.”

As far as I’m concerned, my daddy can be impolite and throw punctuality out the window. I’m thrilled he’s too busy to die because I’m too selfish to let him go.

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