Caring for my dad.

I have a gratitude journal. Every night I write down three things for which I am grateful (apart from the obvious, I mention my domestic worker and my ungrateful cats far too often), but over the past few weeks, I often write that I am grateful that I get to look after my dad.

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Caring for an elderly parent is hard and draining if you do it on your own at home. How lucky am I that I get to do it with my team, right here at the Sunninghill Recovery Lodge?

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The word “blessed” has become a bit of an irritation to me. On Insta it is really just saying “I am rich” and let’s not even talk about blesser and blessees in Africa, but I really was blessed with a great dad. He was way ahead of his time when it came to mental health and relationships. He took me out on a “date” every month – just to the movies or to have a toasted sandwich at Wimpy. He somehow kept loving me through my revolting, rebellious teenage years and forgave me my spectacularly bad decisions throughout my student years.

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Just like his old age and need for care coincided with me opening the Recovery lodge, his retirement happened at the same time I opened the Woodmead Guest Lodge in 2001. So, for the next ten years, my dad would work there for three hours a day. My staff adored him; the guests even more so. It was wonderful to get to know him as a colleague, not just a dad. Dorcas, who was a cleaner then, was trained by my dad. He saw her potential, and boy am I grateful to him for that.

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Now, many years later, my dad is back with us. Same place, same team, different name and much better facilities, but our heart and core has never changed. We are still all about kindness.

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If you’ve ever made the decision to move a parent to frail care, you know how hard it is. For us it was especially hard as my mom (his wife of 59 years) desperately still wanted to care for him at home, but it was simply not possible any longer.

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The transition was surprisingly smooth for him. He settled in so beautifully, almost as if he never left. Now we have a sweet little routine. I get to kiss him good morning and he is usually busy with a coffee and rusk at that time in his cute paisley pjs. Every morning he seriously asks me: “What do you expect of me today?” and then I tell him, “Pa, I want Gift to shower you, shave, eat, and come help me in the office. Then have lunch, go for a walk, nap, play a game on your iPad and eat your dinner.” You see, our man likes a plan.

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So then, Gift (who for some reason my dad calls Ziggy) baths and dresses him. Together they walk to the dining room where he sits down, with a linen napkin, and a bib. Gift cuts his food and Dorcas serves him coffee. (He might be frail but there is nothing wrong with his appetite). Then he comes and sits opposite my desk while I work. He just sits and watches me the whole morning. His presence a reminder that I have always been loved, always been wanted, always been cared for.

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The entire day is filled with tender moments. I am never pressurised to make every second count during a rushed visit like so many of my friends with their folks. I just get to love my dad and pay back a bit of all he invested in me.

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His presence reminds the staff of our roots – that in a weird way this is a family business, and my guests know that the same level of care and commitment we give to my dad is guaranteed for them too.

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