These two emails arrived hours apart from one another. I put the pieces together and contacted the emailers. It turns out that it’s the same people writing about the same issue. This is a first time something like this has happened to me. I had a long email communication with “Chani” and her friend “Shayna.” There is no right answer here. It’s part of the struggle we all live with, living our own lives and still fulfilling the mitzvah of kibud av.
I am writing on behalf of my friend Chanie. I love her like a sister. We are as close as close can be. I only want the best for her, and I feel and know that the best thing for her to do is to live her own life, go out on dates, and continue her search for her bashert. Chanie was married for a few years when she was in her mid-20s, but it ended in divorce. I won’t go into details since it’s not my story to share.
Chanieis in her 50s now. She has siblings who live in Eretz Yisrael, so they aren’t around much. This is one of the reasons I’m close with Chanie. Whenever she needed a sister, I was here and helped her any way I could. She is my sister. The issue is Chanie’s duty to fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av.
To make a very long story short, Chanie moved back in with her parents when they began needing some additional help here and there. They weren’t sick, but they were getting older. An aide was hired for eight hours per day, but Chanie had the night shift. Chanie’s siblings agreed with this plan because, their parents were being cared for by their daughter – who else can provide as much love and attention PLUS they were thousands of miles away. By Chanie making this choice, it meant they didn’t have to get too involved or make decisions. But by Chanie doing this and having the “night shift,” it meant that she was limiting herself to when she would be able to go out and socialize, meet men, have dates, etc.
Chanie’s mother passed away last year. And until a few months ago, her father was holding his own. The last few months, he’s been going downhill. She’s taking him to countless doctor and therapy appointments. They also go on walks and play Gin Rummy all day. I didn’t know it, but Chanie had resigned from her teaching position to be her fathers’ full-time aide, even though there is still an aide present, now it’s for 12 hours daily. She began working at home remotely doing medical billing. Now I worry that she is hardly getting out of the house at all.
I understand how important kibud av is, and how we all feel like we can do better. I have that guilt, too, but I can only do what I am able to do. I have a career, family, and a household of my own, but I do as much as I can for my parents. Chanie thinks that the reason she never got married again was because her tafkid is to help care for her parents as they age and need help. She has a huge heart, but I don’t think kibud av means to literally give up your own life to be there to help your parents. Chanie and I see each other less and less. She’s canceled plans that we’ve had because something “came up with her father” or whatever the reason. I am not telling her not to take care of her father, but she hasn’t gone out on a date in months! She dated a few men when she first moved in with her parents, but as her role of caretaker grew, her dating life was the collateral damage.
I’ve spoken to her about this many times, but I can’t make her understand. I know her parents wouldn’t and don’t want her to give up on getting married and living her own life because she is caring for her father. Chanie really believes she has remained single after her divorce because she is supposed to care for her parents. She’s telling me that she’s so lucky to have this opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah, and if Hashem wants her to marry again, “it’ll happen.” I told her that was crazy, and Hashem wouldn’t “plan” like that. I called Chanie’s siblings. They agreed with me but aren’t going to push the subject. With Chanie handling all of it, it puts no pressure on them. They won’t push it because then they will have to step up and it’ll disrupt their lives in Israel. I said it to them. They didn’t deny it. Chanie promises me that she does leave the house without her father and gets to see people. But the cashier at the grocery doesn’t count. Her social life has suffered on all counts.
When she told me she resigned from her teaching position, I was shocked. She’s not collecting her whole pension. I can’t imagine the medical billing job she now has is paying close to what she was making, because she only works at it for a few hours in a day.
Goldy, Chanie loves your column and non-advice you provide. And I love Chanie and have no one else to help me. I told her I was going to email you if I didn’t see her getting out more and dating. If her father was in his right mind, he wouldn’t want this for her, and neither would her mother a”h. Please help me. What she is doing is not the meaning of kibud av. She isn’t supposed to give up her own life to care for her parents. I’m afraid for her. Can you please just tell her what your thoughts are and how she should not cut off men or friends in order to care for her father?
I’m writing because I think my best friend may have written on my behalf. She threatened to do so, and I believe her. She thinks I should be living my life and what she feels is right for me.
I’m divorced. I don’t have any children of my own. It’s just me. It was logical that I move back with my parents when they got older and needed assistance. My brother, sister, and I spent a lot of time discussing this. Arrangements were made for an agency to send an aide to their home. But there are all those stories you hear about with aides and how they steal or abuse the people they are paid to care for. In the beginning, I visited them every day so the aide would see I was very involved. A few months later I decided to move in. This way I can keep a close eye on them, their aide, and be there for them when the aide isn’t there, at night.
This was an arrangement that worked until my mother was niftar. Maybe because it was because of her death or maybe because of his own age and health catching up with him, but my fathers’ health started to fail soon after. My father can’t drive anymore, so I took days off from work to take him to appointments and to be there any time my father needs me and when I feel he needs more than the aide can provide.
My time off conflicted too much with my work schedule. I spoke with my siblings, decided to resign from my job, and take on another job that I can work at remotely. I’m able to care and be there for my father and can work at night. Finances have changed, but I am doing okay. I’m so lucky. I’m getting to spend this time with my father, and I can fulfill the mitzvah of kibud av. It’s a win-win.
This is where my friend comes in. She thinks I’m hurting myself because I haven’t gone out on a date in a few months. I’ve also had to cancel plans with her a couple of times. She thinks I’m giving up my life to “be a good child and care for my father.” She even spoke with my siblings and accused them of not getting involved because it they didn’t want to disrupt their lives and be more present (they live in Israel) and make more decisions. The only decision left was to place my father in a nursing home. I will not do that! I am more than willing to help my father. I want to do it. I don’t think I am giving up anything. I was married before. It wasn’t bashert. We don’t know Hashem’s plan. What if I was meant to remain single all this time so I can be here to care for my parents? Maybe I’ll meet someone the old-fashioned way, naturally, and not by getting set up on a date. I’m not turned off to dating, but I have prioritized my life now. My father is my focus. It’s so satisfying to know that I am here helping him. Why can’t my best friend see that? She means well, but she is pushing me to do something that I don’t want to do. Is that right?
My response will appear in next week’s article.
Hatzlachah to you all!