In honor of Father’s Day, we are proud to share the thoughtful, provocative and honest voice of Jeff Shannon. Jeff was a veteran writer on disability issues, who wrote frequently for our blog. He was also a C-5/6 quad, who was injured in 1979. He passed away in late 2013. Jeff was 52.
I’ll never forget the last time my father helped me. It was a typical situation, repeated dozens if not hundreds of times over the previous three decades: Something would go wrong in the afternoon or evening, and my mornings-only caregiver would be unavailable to return for off-hours assistance. Most of the time, my dad would be available, sometimes reluctantly, but available nonetheless. He was not the kind of guy who could easily say “no” to his children — especially to his youngest son who’d been paralyzed at the age of 17.
That last time was no different, with one major exception: At the time, shortly before Thanksgiving of 2010, neither dad nor anyone else was aware that he was dying. We knew he was ailing, but the extent of his illness was unknown, even by his doctors. Pancreatic cancer was a prime suspect, but a firm diagnosis remained stubbornly elusive. Dad felt tired, and was suffering from mild abdominal pain, but he was the kind of guy who’d remain stoical about how he was feeling. He didn’t want to worry anyone, so there he was, late on a dark, blustery November afternoon, arriving at my house as he had countless times before, responding to my call for help. (More often than not, this involved a quick clean-up and change of pants; you can guess the rest.)
This time something was obviously wrong. Dad was clearly lacking energy, and pain was draining what little vitality remained. As he was getting me dressed and helping me get transferred back into my wheelchair, I watched him struggle and, for the first time in over 30 years, he needed a few breaks to rest.
Was I “Taking Advantage”?
As he rested, I was struck by a tidal wave of guilt and shame. I’d felt that way before, less severely, when I’d relied too heavily on my dad’s good-natured availability. Despite his weakened condition I had placed my needs above his, and as dad sat on my bed, tired and quietly frustrated, all I could think was that I was a lousy and selfish son who had exploited my father’s devotion for decades. I had never taken his kindness for granted, but for a variety of reasons I had allowed myself to expect and depend on it.