Juan Erman Gonzalez was showing his clothing patterns to a customer when his cellphone buzzed. It was his mother telling him that his father had another fender-bender. Gonzalez excused himself to his agitated client and zipped off to persuade Dad to give up driving.
That was three years ago.
Today, Gonzalez’s dad, 85, resides in an assisted-living facility. The younger Gonzalez and his brother, Guillermo, deliver their father special meals, spend a few hours by his side, and mow the lawn of the home he refuses to sell. Just when Juan Erman Gonzalez thinks the care arrangements are working smoothly, something will change and require his attention.
Gonzalez says he’s lucky; as a freelance clothing pattern designer, he’s usually able to fit work around his caregiving schedule. “Sometimes I am able to work a complete week, sometimes not.“
Gonzalez is among an increasing number of men caring for aging parents - especially fathers - and experiencing the work/life conflicts this new dynamic brings. While men are less likely to help Dad in the shower or getting dressed, they are stepping in to hire and fire doctors, drive Pop to the grocery store, and manage finances.
“They are doing things they never expected to do for their dads,“ said Gary Barg, CEO and editor-in-chief of Caregiver Media Group.
Because more male caregivers work full time, many report that overseeing Dad’s care has required they modify their work schedules, leave early, take time off or turn down overtime.
According to a study published in 2009 by the National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with the AARP, 1 out of 3 caregivers - about 14.5 million - are men. “I think it’s clear that the demands on men as well as women are going to increase in terms of family care,“ Barg said.
John Schoendorf, a Miami forensic accountant and only child whose mother died at 40, has been transitioning into the caregiver role for the past two years, and has become closer with his dad. “My father has comfortably brought me into the loop of his financial and medical world.“
Still, Schoendorf has had to change his late-night working habits and rearrange his work hours to go with his 86-year-old father, Harold, on doctors’ appointments. “I have had to remember family is more important than work. That’s harder to do sometimes than others.“
While male caregivers like Schoendorf deal with the same issues as their female counterparts, they also face distinctive challenges.