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family shame


In a traditional wedding picture there’s a couple staring at the camera with faces radiating the joy of the day.


It’s a look of happiness as they look forward to the rest of their lives together.


Getting married is more than a date, it’s a roll of the dice on the long game. Who’s going to be around at the end.


Add kids and the idea of a longer life carries more meaning. At least to one of the couple if the other is indifferent.


Now I hear you ask, ‘But little Dave, how can parents be indifferent?’


I know it’s hard to hear, but some parents are on a timeline. Maybe you’ve heard the words, or said them?


A man with slicked back hair, either a style statement of hair loss prevention treatment, said to his buddy, “My kids turned eighteen and I turned them loose, out of the house and on their own. I did my part, now it’s my turn to have the same fun they did.”


Whether you agree with his parenting tactics of not, is this man looking forward to a reboot of his teen years? Look around at the all the hip old people for the answer. Is there a kid out there who enjoys seeing a parent regress?


Then there’s the other side of life, parents who stay engaged with their kids at every age. This is the mom and dad who stayed married through the usual trials, like feeling the hungry eyes of others checking them out and not jumping.


They want to spend the coming years together, visiting kids, welcoming grandkids, keeping their empty nest open to their little birds on a regular fly by.


A mom with the right attitude asked me about my own trials and how my wife got me to see the doctor.


“How did your wife help you during your illness,” she asked. “I’m trying to get my husband to see his doctor.”


“I made the mistake of showing her the little lump on my neck and it was off to the races,” I said.


“All I want is my husband to get a check up. He’s got no symptoms, but it’s been years and years,” she said.


As we talked I rounded up the best thing my own family did to push me toward a healthier future.


“This is hard to say, but it works. It’s even harder to take. A rift in the family life could happen, but if everyone’s still alive to fix it you’ll be fine,” I said.


Then I stopped talking and looked at this lovely woman. She looked back with the same expression I’ve seen when I’ve tried my pregnant pause.


“Yes?” she said.


“I can’t talk to your husband about his health. I could but he wouldn’t listen,” I said.


“He doesn’t listen to me either,” she said.


“Then it’s time for peer pressure, but instead of peers it’s the kids. They need to encourage him to see his doctor, then shame him if he doesn’t,” I said.


“Shame? That’s going to be a problem,” she said.


family shame

“Family problems could result, but if he gets in, gets checked out, then it’s worth it? That’s the question. If the doc catches something early, it’s worth it,” I said.


“How did your family help you?” she asked. “You’ve got two brothers. How did they help?”


“And a sister with a houseful of teenagers working overtime. She’s got more to do than ten people, just like you had a few years back. My wife and kids did the family shame,” I said.


“And it worked?” she asked.


“Without too much drama, they’re the reason I pulled through the way I did. I remember all three of them standing around me while I laid in bed unloading,” I said.


“Unloading what?” she asked.


“They said I was trying to kill myself, lying about what I ate and drank, and looking for an easy way out,” I said.


“That’s awful,” she said.


“And awfully true. I was in the death spiral of hopelessness stuck between the fear of cancer and the results of treatment. I kept quiet about the whole thing, my sense of doom, depression, and weakness. It all sucked the life out of me, the chemo, the radiation, and the way life moved on without me,” I said.


“But something happened?” she said.


“Looking at the three of them rag me down with family shame filled me with a weird joy. I wasn’t going to fight for my life in the death spiral, I was too beat down and ready to check out. But I sensed a need that only I could fulfill. Who would be the new husband, the new daddy. I hadn’t thought of that until then. I was the husband and father, and they reminded me. They were worth fighting for,” I said.


“How did it turn out?” she asked.


“I think my fight or flight instinct kicked in,” I said. “It was a turning point and I started climbing out of the hole.”


“So I need to tell my kids to shame my husband?” she asked.


“It worked for me and I was as surprised as anyone. They flipped the switch with family shame by saying I was an unreliable patient. Me. Former Army medic. One time caregiver for half a decade. And I’m unreliable? I don’t think so. But I needed to prove it,” I said.


“Did you?”


“Yes, I think so. Here we are.”


Family shame doesn’t work for everyone, but if nothing else works, take a shot. It may only work once, so make it count.
About David Gillaspie


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