Grad School and My Father's Care

When I decided to apply for graduate school, I chose the best programs. I only wanted programs that were top 10 in my field. It just so happened, none of those programs were near where my father lives.

It was not intentional, I simply knew I had to be in the best program or it wouldn’t be worth the $1,000s in graduate loans I would have to take out. I didn’t expect to even get in, but more to familiarize myself with the programs and the process of applying.

Staying close to home

Little did I know I got into NYU - the #3 program in the country. I found out I had gotten into the program when I landed in Dallas to visit my parents. It had been my first time visiting in a year. I knew my father hated New York but I never thought he would hold me back from pursuing the best education I could get.

When he found out he said, "congratulations" and I was relieved. He is happy. I can go without guilt. But my relief was short-lived. The next day he was having an off day and had an episode of anger. When I tried to calm him down and understand what he was upset about, it was this - he does not want me to go to NYU.

He wants me to find a way to go to school near him and be with him as he gets sicker. He feels betrayed and angry that I did not think of this on my own. Couldn’t I see how sick he is? How much help he needs? It didn’t matter that this was a top program in the country. He just wanted me to be with him and to take care of him.

Seeking dad's validation

I didn’t know what to say. I felt upset I had lost the validation of my father. I did not know it until that point, but in everything I did, I was seeking his validation and carried grief when I didn’t have it. I was secretly hoping getting into a top master’s program meant I could finally say I had it.

Every day I manage my father’s healthcare. Even if I am in New York, I am present for all telehealth appointments and take vigorous notes. I schedule his appointments, I research his insurance options and most importantly, I make sure he is receiving the best care possible. I do as much as I can from afar.

It had not occurred to me that he would even want me to sacrifice my education so that I could take care of him. He never thought like that when I was younger. He always pushed for me to do my best and pursue my education. But here it was, the clear signs of his dementia coming through.

Signs of dementia

His mindset has changed and his foundational beliefs have disappeared. A symptom of his dementia shines through and blinds him - he can only see himself. And while I felt immense sadness after that angry confession of his, I also realized I had to make a decision for myself.

I spent the next two weeks trying to see what I could do if I lived at home with him. What would become of my life and would it really make a difference to defer and stay to help him? How many years would I give him? And the conclusion I came to was this, I had nothing to give him anymore.

I had no effect on his moods or his anger or his will to get better on his own. He simply just wanted me there. Inexplicably. And while I love my father, this was not the man I grew up with. I realized I have to do what I have to do to secure my future and help my family.

If I can graduate in two years with enough money, maybe I can get him even better care. Maybe I could get him a home health nurse. I don’t know what graduate school holds for me but I know not going is not an option.

Setting my boundaries

He called me about an hour ago crying and angry. Why was I so far? For what reason? He proceeded to insult my career and verbally spit on the prestigious program that I had been accepted into. And though it may have no effect, I drew my boundary.

I told him if he was upset about me going to graduate school far away that was one thing. But to be rude and condescending was another. Though he may be sick and have dementia, I do not have to live with hearing him invalidate my hard work.

I know if he weren’t sick, he would understand what it has taken for me to get here. I simply have to make peace with what I can offer him.

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