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"My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's taking it well, but my dad's in denial. What can we do?"
Your instinct to get your dad to "let it out" in many ways reflects the generational differences between younger and older people when it comes to feelings, mental health, and psychology. Our parents were raised--many during Depression--with their attentions on subsistence: putting food on the table, fleeing religious oppression Or similar injustices in other countries, and other life struggles that left little time for focusing on feelings (much less discussing them). In particular, many men of this generation had to grow up fast, and part of their feeling responsible included not discussing their fears.
These same men became parents who vowed that their children wouldn't experience such hardships, and they honored that vow by making sure we had access to conveniences and luxuries including, in many cases, a higher education. We were exposed to psychology and a popular culture rife experts who extolled the virtues of s expression. Consequently, many of us learned to cope with traumatic situations in a very different way than our elders did. Not necessarily better--but different.
In or Out of Character?
The Fear Factor
• Talk to him, but mostly listen. If you can get him to speak about this, he should do most of the talking. Don't try to pry words out of him. The best way to broach this Subject is to share your own fears. Perhaps you feel you need to be strong for him, and he, in turn, reciprocates. Be honest: "Dad, I'm really frightened about mom" might be a better way of broaching the subject.
• Find the right confidant. Perhaps he wants to protect you from his sadness or fear. Don't be offended. Is there a friend who might help? Sometimes there is another sibling with whom dad can more easily share his feelings.
• What about support groups? Men are tough customers when it comes to these, but they exist for spouses of breast cancer patients, and it's a place where he could vent with more anonymity. Ask your mom's oncologist for a local referral.
• Consider the possibility of depression. A frequent topic in this column, depression may be part of the picture. It's entirely possible that he is depressed, and some of his refusal to communicate might be related to this. His physician might be a resource here. Do your mom and dad have the same doc? If not, you could ask their doctors to communicate with one another.
- Lachs, Mark & Pamela Boyer; How can I help?; Prevention; Jul 2003; Vol. 55; Issue 7.
Reflection Exercise #3
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Online Continuing Education QUESTION 10
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