Again, Father’s Day ads showed only relatively “new dads.” Not unlike Mother’s Day ads and Grandparents’ Day ads only depict lively ball-tossing elders. Visitors from that other planet seeing these commercials figure that earthlings stay forever youthful and vigorous.
The Elderhood Revolution is a longtime a-comin’. Indeed, it seems headed in the wrong direction, with everyone obsessed with staying young and indifferent to those who need, say, “assisting devices,” like the man in a wheelchair outside the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ monument on Memorial Day. And yes, he had lived long enough to remember when TV and radio humor was always G-rated, including late shows like Steve Allen’s. He may dislike the change. Let’s hope he says so.
The mayor did shake the man’s hand as he left the Memorial Day ceremony, but too many milled about for this cane-dependent columnist to risk getting close for a photo shot. The able-bodied need to learn what it’s like needing “assisting devices,” even a cane.
Ah, but it was worth the wait to learn that the companion of the man in the wheelchair was his son—a person who loved him. And we sure could use photos, stories and songs about filial love, which this son shows every day. He regrets, however, that “for now, it has to be in a nursing home setting.” But the father quietly demurred, “My son’s being there every day makes it almost like living at home—couldn’t ask for a better son.”
And isn’t it strange why we don’t ask why a wheelchair is needed? Often it’s taken for granted when someone is old. But the reality of losing one’s mobility, or any faculty (and maybe support systems), needs to be widely and candidly discussed—and in media which so shape customs and views. The emotional and physical pain involved should become common knowledge and common cause, and not written off as just “part of growing old,” which even its “victims,” especially males, are conditioned to do.
If ever empathy were needed, dear Mr. President, it’s for all of the above conditions that rarely make the medical shows and sure aren’t “hot” enough topics for that unfathomably hugely popular and influential program, The View.
And the mayor’s elder mother’s splendid health may blunt her son’s elderhood empathy level. For starters, let’s send him and the president—both of whom are urging greater volunteerism—the Jan. 27 New York Times letter from Vivian Fenster Ehrlich, director of Dorot, a most respected elder-services group.
Ehrlich so movingly writes about the “millions of Americans” who gave so much to their communities and their country, but who are now alone and “prime candidates for volunteer assistance and companionship…and yet they often fall to the bottom of everyone’s list of volunteer opportunities. This is especially regrettable when just a few volunteer hours a week can make an enormous difference in a senior’s life.”
Amen! That’s surely an immediate need, but my so deeply held dream is for change that expects and enables elders to be an integral and respected part of any existing family network, community and society—including the custom and view-shaping media. It’s not an impossible dream if enough of us share it. I hope that you do.
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