Balancing Act: Flexibility helps men, their dads

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Juan Erman Gonzalez was showing his clothing patterns to a customer when his cell phone buzzed. It was his mother telling him that his father had another fender-bender. Mr. Gonzalez excused himself to his agitated client and zipped off to persuade Dad to give up driving.

That was three years ago.

Today, his dad, 85, resides in an assisted-living facility. The younger Mr. 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 require his attention.

Mr. Gonzalez says he's lucky; as a freelance clothing pattern designer, he's usually able to fit work around his caregiving schedule.

He is among an increasing number of men caring for aging parents -- especially fathers -- and experiencing the work/life conflicts this new dynamic brings.

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.

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, Mr. 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 Mr. Schoendorf deal with the same issues as their female counterparts, they also face distinctive challenges. They are more likely to use paid assistance for their loved ones' personal care. They tend to travel farther or spend more time organizing care from a distance, and they are more hesitant to let a boss know about their role as a caregiver, according to the AARP. In fact, men feel challenged by the perception that their need for flexibility will be seen as a lack of commitment to their job.

Sons often find their new role is an emotional and logistical roller coaster.

Experts say getting ahead of an aging father's needs makes the balancing act easier -- but often doesn't happen. Men are more likely to ignore the mental or physical decline and believe a father who says he's fine -- until it reaches a crisis, said Amy Seigel, director of Advocare Care Management in South Florida. "When a father says he's fine, a son goes back to his childhood and he is still that guy's son."

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Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC. She can be reached at balancegal@gmail.com.


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