An agenda book with a phone call reminder for every day of the week, placed next to a pile of family photos and a cellphone

Daily Phone Calls to My Dad With Parkinson's

Growing up, having conversations about religion or politics or school was pretty typical at our dinner table. The topic of the day generally depended on the mood of my father. If he was in a religious mood, it would be something religious. Conversations with him, while they weren’t stoic, they were limited. He didn’t care much for small talk and hated talking to just talk. If there was silence, he’d find something educational to fill it with.

My relationship with my father growing up

Being a typical Indian family, as a daughter, I just connected better with my mom. It was never intentional or never because I loved my dad less, it’s just what ended up happening. So when I moved out for college, it became a routine to call my mother and my sisters every day, sometimes multiple times a day. If you think we did not get our money’s worth with four-way phone calls, you’re mistaken. However, my father was kind of absent from these daily check-ins. I called him when I was feeling particularly sentimental or if I just missed him. He never called me. Again, not because there was any love lost, it’s just how it happened.

But then, more recently, I moved out for the second time from my parents’ home. This time is a bit different. We’re all older. We have more or less responsibilities (more for me, less for my parents) and most importantly, time is much more finite. It’s almost as if, as I walked out of their house, I could hear a clock ticking, reminding me that I am willingly spending less time with them knowing they don’t have very much left. Most importantly, he is sick with Parkinson’s.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again - Parkinson’s disease is a b*tch of a disease, robbing a once able-bodied man of his abilities and forcing him to live with no end in sight. We don’t know how long he will live. Life must go on. It’s just a fact. So I moved out and much like the first time, I am not in the habit of calling him every day. I wouldn’t even know what to talk to him about. Not to mention that I can’t really understand him when he speaks. If I ask him to repeat what he said multiple times, he gets frustrated and says forget it. If I pretend to know what he said, he knows and thinks I am patronizing him for just nodding along. Neither situation is ideal.

My relationship with my father now

About a week ago though, he started calling me at my lunch. Nothing too long, just exchanging casualties. Mainly me asking him if he had gotten up yet, if he has eaten yet, if he showered yet (usually the answers are all no). Before I knew it, it became a bit of a routine. The majority of the time, it ends up being a phone call with a list of small tasks he has for me to do.

Yesterday, I didn’t get lunch because I got busy at work. He didn’t call and it slipped my mind to call him. By the time I remembered, my mother was already home and I figured it wasn’t a big deal. He calls me later in the evening and is visibly upset. He asks me why I didn’t call. I told him, I got busy with work but I am sorry. He says, how long does it take? It’s just a quick phone call. And in that moment I realized what I knew this whole time, he didn’t just depend on me for the tasks or for the numerous phone calls to his doctors.

Somehow from dinners where he dominated the conversation to this moment, a switch flipped. I needed to actively be his daughter. It can’t be that it just happened anymore. Maybe it’s the Parkinson’s, maybe it’s old age, but somehow he started depending on me. For all of it.

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