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30 Years of Care-giving and Counting

The Story of D.J. Baker Senior

By Megan BakerPublished 7 months ago 6 min read
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30 Years of Care-giving and Counting
Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash

My dad's story doesn't begin with his role of care-giving for my brother, obviously. But it is a huge part of his life - and will be until he can no longer do so.

Born in 1972, my dad's early years were spent growing up in the house my grandma was raised in - a house built by her own father. In it, he grew with two younger siblings; my aunt and my uncle. Early days were spent dividing chores between them, and my dad quickly grew adept at "turning wrenches" - also known as mechanical automotive work.

He attended a nearby public school, though his grades were spotty in some subjects. Still, he shined in automotive work, even earning himself the chance to further his talents beyond high school if he choose to do so.

At 18, he became one of the youngest known diagnoses of glaucoma.

And then he met mom.

It started out simply enough; mom came in to the same Wendy's dad worked at, looking for another job to support her and my half-sister. Technically, she was still married to her second husband, though they were going through a separation. Dad was 18; she was 33.

By Batu Gezer on Unsplash

Upon first seeing mom, as dad likes to tell it, he turned to his life-long best friend - who I have always and still do call my uncle Mikey - to say, "I'm going to marry her."

Now, at the time, my uncle Mikey thought my dad meant my half-sister, who would have been 12 at the time.

"Isn't she a bit young?"

"Not the daughter! The mom!"

And so it came to be that dad pursued a relationship with my mother after she was hired on at the Wendy's. Things didn't go smoothly, however....

Grandma didn't like that 16 year age gap between my mother and dad; she didn't trust it. She even went so far as to follow the two around, putting strain on the young relationship.

And then mom found out she was pregnant. As she's told me twice - at 14 and in my early 20s - she considered aborting me. She largely decided not to due to how excited my dad was.

And so, in 1991, at age 19, my dad became a father. 4 months later, he married my mother.

I was born prematurely. As such, I was kept in an incubator for my first month or so of life. Very soon after my birth, my parents discovered that they were pregnant again.

By Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

In 1992, at age 20, my dad became a father again. This time, it was to my severely disabled baby brother. 3 months premature and weighing only 1 pound, 6 ounces, no one knew how long my brother would live, though no one ever gave a life expectancy.

I was 5 or 6 when grandpa - dad's dad - passed away. Dad, only about 25 then, no longer had his own father to turn to on matters of child rearing. I know it was incredibly hard on my dad, and that he misses grandpa dearly to this day.

With grandpa's passing also came the end of our family helping out with my brother; prior to grandpa's death, he and grandma had watched my brother and I. But after grandpa passed, we were too much for grandma.

For a while, our parents sent us to daycare and such, but the costs were simply too great to sustain for long, especially where my brother was concerned. Dad quit his job working at an automotive part store to become a full-time stay-at-home dad.

For a while he held that up well. But as we grew older, more of what should have been his responsibilities wound up landing on me: I was expected to feed, change, and medicate my brother sometimes so dad could finish working on side projects for extra cash for the family or work on making dinner. As more time dragged on and I grew even older, I was expected to take on more of this more often.

By Keagan Henman on Unsplash

I was still proud of my dad; I saw all that he did around the house or for other people. It was a lot that I was asked to do, admittedly, but it was just me, dad, and baby brother at home most of the time while mom worked her job to finance the family.

And so that's how our family life continued on: mom working her job to pay the bills and dad care-giving and doing side work for extra money.

Once my brother and I graduated high school, dad had to shift his routine. While my brother had attended school, dad had always worked those side projects. But once my brother was home full-time, dad had to accommodate for that. Since I still lived with my parents, it was too easy to rely on me to pick up the slack; no one else was going to do it. My brother was too big for other family members to physically lift and maneuver as dad could.

Eventually, we all settled into a new routine.

About the time I was moving in with my boyfriend in 2015, Shield Healthcare - where we get some supplies for my brother through - was hosting a care-giver contest. With my interest and a smidge of talent for writing (though you'd never guess it since that was the only thing I've ever done right with my writing), my mother suggested that I nominate dad. I did so, never expecting it to do anything.

Except, my nomination of my dad won! I believe he received a $500 Visa card and plaque for it. I've always thought he deserved so much more for all he has to do to take care of my brother....

By Joshua Golde on Unsplash

Shortly after winning that Visa card, the recliner dad used broke. I thought for sure he would use the card towards a new one....

Instead, dad held onto that card for over a year. He held onto it until his and mom's 25th wedding anniversary, when he used the card towards buying mom a few nice pieces of jewelry. I should know; he took me and my brother along to help pick them out!

I still help out as secondary care-giver for my brother, but the bulk of the strain lands squarely on dad since I moved in with my boyfriend just a few minutes away. There's so much that I wish I could make easier for him....

One of my first public pieces, "The Caregiver's Routine", details a lot of what me and my dad go through to take care of my brother. It isn't pretty. While the story itself is fictional, all the small details of care-giving within are real and true parts of our days. Bathtubs as toilets and all.

Our dad just turned 50 this year. He's already put in 30 years of care-giving for my brother, from bathing to feeding to medicating. Through countless surgeries and rounds of physical therapy. With little to no guidance or help.

I don't know how many more years he's got in him, but I can't help but be proud of my dad. Not everyone takes on a lifetime of care-giving from age 20.

Shit, most run from it - no matter the age.

By Alex Shute on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Megan Baker

A Colorado native and secondary caregiver to her younger brother with special needs, Megan enjoys her adventures in World of Warcraft, various types of documentaries, and making homemade items for the critters and people in her life!

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