If you really try, can you recall even once being held as a child? What about surprise spit-ups on someone’s favorite shirt? A lot of us just assume these things happened, and likely they did. It’s sort of wild when you stop to think of it. Sure, we remember sick days, getting waited on hand and foot until we felt better, someone distracting us while we got our first flu shot, but there are so many moments we don’t know about, like somebody singing us to sleep, then taking us for an hour-long car ride in the middle of the night on a Tuesday when that didn’t work.
We assume so many things when it comes to the care we’ve received over our lifetime, but whether you remember it or not, it happened. You’ve been cared for so much of your life, and you’ve probably cared for others along the way. We often think of mothers when it comes to diapers, feeding, changing, burping — maybe it was, bless her heart — but that’s not always the case. Nearly 40 percent of the 53 million caregivers today in America are men. They, too, change diapers and spoonfeed others who can’t take care of themselves every day, but that’s how a lot of male caregivers are recognized today: not often enough and sometimes easily forgotten.
When I think of how I got to be 36 years old, I realize it wasn’t on my own. I had a lot of help along the way, oftentimes by two people who never considered themselves caregivers. My “Ma” and “Pops” simply considered it their job as parents. My father worked six days a week, 12-hour days, rarely missing a baseball game and eventually found the time to coach my basketball team himself (probably because he got sick of watching other people screwing it up). My mother gave up her job to raise us, never once did either brother or I hear her complain about it. She simply set everything she’d be building towards — she graduated from a great college and began working for the FBI — to take care of two mini-men she’d never met.
“If I zoom out, I can see that all of these people who are going out in the world doing these amazing things, there’s always an element of caregiving that has to happen…but it’s invisible.”
We don’t think of ourselves, men especially, as caregivers. If you asked anyone who was, they’d likely say they’re there for the people who need them, just like any mother, daughter, family member or friend would. That’s the inherent beauty of life and social connection, and a lot of why this last year has been especially hard. In a time of social connection crisis, it’s high time we realize we’re all valued members of the caring community. It often goes unnoticed, happening between people who are bonded for life, many whom would gladly do it despite the many hardships and wouldn’t change a thing when it’s over.
For those of us who have raised children to be wonderful human beings, have tied our injured or ailing parents’ shoes after learning it from them, who have sat on the line for hours to make sure they get their COVID-19 vaccine, you are a caregiver. For those of you that have driven to pick up medicine for a neighbor, shoveled their driveway or mowed their lawn, you are a caregiver. For those of you that looked after your little brother or sister when your parents are busy, who made sure they got to school on time, fixed meals when you weren’t even old enough to drive, you are a caregiver. There is no face or name, color and size to this invaluable archetype. We’ve all been there, giving and receiving love, from day one, and we’ll continue in our own way until we’re long gone.
One day, I imagine, I’ll return the favor and set aside my life, my self-absorbed goals and my personal priorities to spend time and share moments, some absolutely gut-wrenching and terrifyingly miserable and hopefully several joyous and unforgettable memories I wouldn’t otherwise had without stepping forward into the role when someone I care for is in need of that care. It may be a favored unreturned or one that gives back ten-fold. But keeping the score when it comes to caring doesn’t matter, it call comes back around one way or another.
That’s the love that comes full circle.
That’s the deal, and hopefully, you give as much as you get, if not more.
Who is a male caregiver in your life? Are you one of them? How do we celebrate them, how do we recognize them? We share their stories.
Share their story. Share your story. Courage is contagious.
View the first episode, Man Enough to Care: A Love That Comes Full Circle here now.