How To Get a Stubborn Parent to Listen

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S1: Hello, how to listeners, if you are listening to this, it means you probably like our show and you should let other people know. We would so appreciate it if you would go to Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts and leave us a rating and a review and tell your friends to tune in. Thanks. So, Joel, if you don’t mind, could you read the tweet you sent a few weeks after the pandemic started?

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S2: Yes, sure. Let’s see, it’s high. So, yeah, I tweeted this on April 9th. You think you’ve conveyed the seriousness of the situation to your parents. And then you find out your father went to a honey big ham for your mother, who is planning to cook Easter dinner for your grandmother and wash her hair.

S3: So this is Joel Anderson, a staff writer at Slate and the host of Season three of the podcast, Sloper. And Joel was tweeting about his parents in the Korona violence. Joel himself, he recently got infected and any thinks his parents aren’t taking enough precautions in Houston where they live.

S2: My mother was a nurse for many years. My dad was a medic in Vietnam. So they have all the information. But I thought they still weren’t quite as rigorous in adhering to social distancing as they should have given their elderly black people. So I just I’ve been really been concerned about them and I’ve been trying to stay on them ever since.

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S1: So, like, what are they doing? Are they like are they leaving the house like like, well, how are they quarantining?

S2: One night my mother wasn’t answering her phone. And so my aunt was on her way over there to check on her. And I was like, All right, well, hey, Aunt Tootsie, don’t go inside. Make sure you keep your distance. It’s like, what are you talking about? I was just over here on Sunday and went in the house and got, you know, oxtail and use bath and day everything. I was already over here. I was like, what? You guys had a full blown family dinner in the middle of a pandemic. And yes, I think that they think that I’m overreacting a little bit. In fact, my my father posted on Facebook, you know, there are laws put down by state and federal government and then there are the regulations handed down by my son, you know, and like I you know, I’m just very worried about you.

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S1: I mean, you’re 72 years old, you know, and it’s like when you point that out like it, besides your dad kind of flaming you behind the scenes on Facebook. Like what? What have you found actually works?

S2: I don’t think anything works. To be honest, I’ve just had to turn to Prysner.

S3: You’re listening to how to. I’m Charles doing. So what should Joel do to get through to his parents? What would you do? It’s a tricky situation because for most of our lives, our moms and dads are the ones telling us what to do. But what happens when it’s the other way around, when it’s the children who are now adults who know best? That’s a pretty drastic shift and it doesn’t always go over well. On today’s show, we’ll hear from a listener who’s trying to figure out how to convince his 86 year old dad to stop driving because he’s terrified he’s going to hurt himself or someone else.

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S1: But his dad refuses to give up his keys. And so for help. We’ll turn to a surprising source, the former Saturday Night Live comedian Jim Breuer, who, believe it or not, knows exactly what to do.

S3: Don’t go away.

S4: OK, can you guys hear me now? Yes. And I’m still not on headphones. Sorry about this. I hate it when I’m that guy.

S1: That guy is Allen from Colorado. Allen wants to be candid about his parents, but he doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. So we’re not using his real name.

S5: I have the good fortune of having a very good relationship with both of my parents who are in there. I would be used to saying mid 80s, but now we’re pushing up into the early 90s. My mom is eighty nine, my dad is eighty six, and I see them regularly. They’re about a 15 minute drive away. Hopefully with me doing the driving.

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S1: Well and that kind of gets us to why you had written to us.

S5: Well, my dad prides himself on being a very good driver. He was born and raised in New York and he knows how to parallel park better than anybody and really just feels like driving is part of his identity and his health is decline and he becomes more frail. His driving skills have continued to get worse and worse.

S4: And what does he say? Oh, I’m fine. I never thought I’d be the guy that had to sit down and have the old guy who has his car keys taken away.

S5: You and your brother are out to, you know, ground me. And it’s very upsetting to him. And he will tell a stranger on the street, my my sons don’t let me drive anymore, even though he does.

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S1: And have there been any incidents?

S5: Yes. He was coming back from a long road trip, which he and my mom enjoy and fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the road and totaled the car. And gosh, fortunately, nobody was hurt. So that really was a wakeup call. And I talked to his cardiologist and I said, I need you. I need your help. Could you please do me a favor and be the messenger and tell my father he can’t drive? And we had what I thought was a turning point conversation. Now I look back on and I realized just how naive I was despite having that conversation.

S1: Alan’s dad has kept driving. And Alan has kept working. So how does he get past his dad’s stubbornness? We turn to an expert who knows all about dealing with a parent who doesn’t want to change.

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S6: Name’s Jim Brewer.

S7: Most people know me as a up comedian. Jim got his start in the 1990s and Saturday Night Live, and his dad was there for Jim’s very first show.

S6: I flew him up from Florida and we went to the show and I got cut out of the first show and we went to the. They had these after parties and we were there. And at the end the night we were leaving and I wanted my dad to meet Lorne Michaels.

S1: Lorne Michaels, of course, is the creator and executive producer of SNL.

S6: And I’m trying to explain to him, this is the man that’s created so many stars like this is this is an icon. And he goes up to Lorne Michaels. And I said, Dad, this is Lorne Michaels law and this is my father, Lauren ghostwrote. Very nice to meet you. And my dad goes and I flew up from Florida to see the show and Jimmy was in on it show socket. Well, what happened? And Lorne was very classy. He goes, well, you know what happens? And next week, Chevy Chase is on his already inquired about Jim. Yes. Is next week on that here next. So who what happened tonight? Because the show sucked.

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S1: Jim’s dad was a real character. He was this World War Two vet and sanitation worker from Long Island who loved his New York Mets.

S8: My dad wore to that shuffles around on my Sylvester Stallone, my meat, my dad’s. Absolutely. To Jim’s comedy career. Took off with characters like Goat Boy on SNL and in standup specials. And as a regular on Howard Stern, his dad was his biggest fan.

S1: Father’s memories, meanwhile, however, is father was getting older. It and at some point, just like Alan’s dad, driving became a major issue.

S6: My father, we knew he couldn’t really drive, but he would admit to it.

S1: Jim says that at the time his sister needed a car and so his mom just gave her the car that belonged to Jim’s dad without asking him.

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S9: From that moment on. My father. Stop shaving. He stopped bathing. And he would sleep all day long. He felt so betrayed.

S6: And I didn’t realize that till months and months later when I took him. I took him out on the road with me and we were in Florida and I was actually gonna go visit that sister. I said, hey, dad. Gonna go see so so they went, Yeah. Maybe they could take something else or me. No one cares about me. And that literally was the beginning of killing my father. Now, I don’t know how old you are. I’m 52. I’m 34. OK. They’re staring at death and mortality and a lot of times we don’t take that in consideration. You know, whether you want to realize or not. He does not have a lot of time left. So him giving up the car is throwing in the flag. It’s over. Now I have to be dependent on everyone else.

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S1: Let me ask Alan what he does. How do you think your dad would react if if you guys just took away his car? Is is his identity tied up in the same way with kind of this freedom and being able to to be an adult?

S10: Absolutely. 100 percent matches up at the light bulb for me is just the recognition about the mortality. My dad is very uncomfortable with mortality. I try to you know, that’s something that’s a very personal struggle. And I don’t think I frankly have fully processed exactly just why this issue and the control issue and the throwing in the towel. I see it now and more clearly than I had. And I’ve said to myself and I’ve said to my children, when I am in your grandfather’s role, please remember this, remind me of this conversation so that I have the wisdom to let go of the keys. And now I see just how unrealistic that perspective is for him. Maybe I’ll be capable of it, but when I’m 30 years older, who knows?

S11: This is the first big issue. Whether you’re trying to get your parents to stop driving like Alan or stop throwing Easter parties during a pandemic like Joel, recognize that surrendering something important like that doesn’t mean just giving up a car or your social life, but possibly surrendering your independence. Jim says that after the car was taken away, his dad’s ability to take care of himself started deteriorating. And so Jim decided to take his 84 year old dad on a comedy tour with him, an experience that Jim made into a documentary called More Than Once.

S12: What time to show? I know what time to go to sleep.

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S11: When we come back, Jim will share some of the lessons he learned on the road with his dad. Stick with us.

S13: The pod cast, an arm and a leg is a show that takes on a topic most of us find enraging and terrifying and depressing. The cost of health care with stories that are entertaining, fascinating and useful. Of course, now that we’re living in the middle of a pandemic, an arm and a leg is more relevant than ever. It’s like a financial how to for surviving Cauvin 19 recent episodes include tips on how to talk to your health insurance company from someone on the inside. In another episode, we hear from a woman who survived Kovik about how she made it through without going broke. The host, Dan Weisman, is a longtime reporter for outlets like Marketplace and Planet Money. Check it out. An arm and a leg show dot.com or wherever you get podcasts.

S1: We’re back with our listener, Alan, and comedian Jim Breuer. And when Jim decided to take his dad on the road with him for his comedy tour, it was at a time when Jim’s dad was developing Alzheimer’s and needed some care.

S6: I knew if I left him alone, nobody would sacrifice what I would do, clean him. Every time he craps himself and shower him, get him on the bus. Now it’s got to go the bathroom. S. But A can you pull over? Oh, shoot. He didn’t make it. Now you’re clean again. But you know what? That time.

S9: We we laughed so hard. There are times where I cried, but I knew, I knew. If I didn’t do this. He had nothing to live for.

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S8: Dad’s always up pops. You good? There he is.

S3: Stick your hand out muff in as he went on tour. And more and more people sort of learned that his father was in the audience. They would start recognizing him and coming up to his dad and talking to senior dad.

S6: All right. I got to go. He would say rude things sometimes. He he talked to people. Dry guy.

S1: What do you say? What rude thing to it is?

S14: They all busted balls. I mean, and they’re talking you the table. And making fun of people as they walk by. You going to really run on that one?

S6: What’s wrong with you? I can hear you already. Can hear me. Yes. But I saw how much life it gave him.

S1: Well, let me ask you this, Jim. When you when you think back to that period of spending all that time with your dad and and I’m sure is stressful because you’re going up on stage, you’re doing shows, you’re trying to manage him, like what did you learn that someone like Alan can benefit from?

S9: I learned sacrifice. I learned the importance of life. The importance of getting rid of our own pride and selfishness. The greatest thing that I had in my life was those moments with my dad that I sacrificed to go out of my way knowing I look as a soldier. He’s a wounded soldier now. It’s my duty as a human to take care of this soldier.

S1: Alan, do you think. Do you think your dad’s like that?

S15: It absolutely typical Brooklyn Jew and a lot of ways that lived and died by the Brooklyn Dodgers, pretty much a curmudgeon and I’m smiling hearing these stories because so many common denominators. But he has got a wonderful sense of humor. And I’m so blessed to have the relationship I have with him and the ability to have a lucid conversation with an 86 year old father. And I’m feeling incredibly motivated right now more than I ever have to to take advantage of these precious days that we have left. And I’ve got to tell you, if he were to pass now, I would be saddled with a lot of guilt right over. Did I really try my hardest? Did I really try to make those last years of his life as positive as they could be and as full as they could be?

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S1: Do you feel like. Do you feel like that guilt might be influencing how you communicate with your dad?

S15: Yes, I do. I mean, if you’re guilty. Yeah. Focusing on yourself. So I think I would be entirely better as a son in a support system if I let go of the guilt.

S16: So here’s our first rule without meaning to.

S11: It’s easy to make the way we treat our parents about ourselves, about our guilt or or our concerns about what’s going to happen when we get old. But the more we can let go of that, the more we can see our parents the same way we would see a friend. That’s when we can really help them and us see the situation with clear eyes.

S16: Pretend I’m your dad. What would you tell me if you could tell me anything?

S17: I just feel like more than anything, it’s not what I say. It’s just being in his presence and showing that he matters to me by taking time to show that.

S15: And like, right now, I feel like I should drive over there and look at my calendar for the day and all the meetings I have lined up and zoom and conference calls. And I’m like, is any of that? Is that really that important? Can I. Can I just skip out on all that and just go over there and hang out on the back patio with our masks and just just chat? And the answer is an emphatic yes.

S6: I gotta tell you, one of the things I did, I would go over his house. I go, Dad. I know you don’t know to work YouTube, but we do. You see this concert? I found Hank Williams in 1940. And look at this. And then that brings on memories and it brings on happiness and it gives him a little extra breath and life. And now he’s not concentrations like, wow, I want to get my car.

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S14: I want to drive. And I run. I want to show you.

S6: I can drive. Now, you just spending time. You’re going to have the greatest memories of your lifetime. Just watching this. It’s like watching a child grow. Except for we were never taught that this is what we’re supposed to in our parents.

S18: Here’s the next. The more time you spend with your parents, the easier these conversations and changes are going to be. Part of the challenge isn’t just convincing parents to give up some independence. It’s dealing with that anxiety and guilt that you feel. And the more time you spend with them, the more those conversations become about strengthening the relationships, about showing them that you love them rather than just fighting over the Karkinos. Jim, let me ask you. When did you realize that you were you were getting through your dad, that you guys were developing this new relationship? I knew right away.

S19: I knew right away that, first of all, just being there. And the minute I got rid of the attitude of you need to do this and you do to do that.

S6: I just realized the more I gave him love, the more I just spent time. The more I played his music, the more I take the mouth for a little drive here and pretend I needed company. Hey, Dad, I need could you please take from me?

S9: And now he feels important, but it just gave him meaning. It gave him purpose.

S15: But I just took away from Jim’s last comments. There is is asking him for advice. Reversing that. Because again, I have not done a lot of that. But when I do when I ask him a question and I do because I ask him a lot of questions about history, he is. My dad’s a retired history teacher, and I can just see when I ask him questions. He lights up. And so what I’m thinking right now in terms of my strategy is really let it let it happen. Just see what happens. Spend the time, make a concerted effort to make this about him and try to be the best friend I can be to my dad. There you go. For the next one day at a time. And just see, don’t force this conversation. The mistake I’ve always made is trying to force the conversation about driving when it isn’t very uncomfortable. They’ve been very rehearsed and they feel very artificial instead of just just go with the flow.

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S6: And he’s not a student. Maybe drive. He knows it. He’s not stupid. He knows. Right. I was driving him everywhere. After a while and once in a while he’d go. Can I drive? And I’d laugh. And I go. Hell no. And then after not driving for a while. I brought him in my neighborhood and I swear on my life. I said, do you want to drive through the neighborhood?

S19: He got in the car and he almost hit two mailboxes. I’m not going to lie to you, I’m scared to death. And he made it to the cul de sac and back. But I can tell he realized he was struggling and the issue never really came up again.

S1: But then there does come sometimes when we do need to ask them to do things they don’t want to do, like like give up their keys if we think that they’re unsafe. And one of the things that experts suggest is they say a way to do that is to say, instead of I’m trying to force this on you, to say, look, could you do this for for your kids or grandkids? Right. To tap into that that a parent wants to be a parent. And that if we frame this as I worry about you all the time and it’s right. It’s really keeping me up or I just I worry about the impact you would have on your grandkids, my kids, if they heard that you had been in a car accident. Do you think that would change the conversation?

S15: The closest thing I’ve had to that conversation, I asked him just just try to reverse the roles. What would you do? And ask him the question. And I don’t know that I really stayed with that conversation long enough and pursued it to a to a place where maybe a life or might go off. But I do think that I can say to him, Dad, just just put yourself in my shoes.

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S20: Here’s our next rule. Let your dad be a dad. They ask him for advice about the problem you’re dealing with. They ask him, what would you do if you were me? And then you can take it a step further and appeal to his instincts to protect his family. You can say to him, imagine how your grandkids would feel if you got hurt. In other words, your parents are just like everyone else. They want the opportunity to make the right decision rather than having it forced on them. Well, there is one more question I wanted to ask both of you guys about, which is, you know, I think that sometimes even with the best of intentions and the best advice, it doesn’t work. Right. And so there is this question, which is at what point do we go out and enlist help?

S15: Yeah, good question. And I’ve asked that question a lot. And I don’t have the answer other than, you know. Time is ticking. And and I, I don’t I don’t have the answer.

S6: What do you think on that? I, I can tell you this. I don’t think that far. We can’t think that far. We. Yes. Think about right now. Right now is where we live. Right now is the moment that we’re in. So that’s number one. Now I think with the time you’re gonna invest, the time that you’re going to sacrifice and the love and the honor you’re going to start giving him, I’m going to predict this problem becomes less and less and less. Even then it’s out of your hands if he wants to take a drive and no one’s around. Let’s just pray it doesn’t get to that point. But right now, you’re living in the now.

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S1: Here’s the final rule. It’s really easy to get scared thinking about the future and all the potential catastrophes that can occur. But sometimes that fear makes us so controlling that we worry about a problem that might occur when we ought to be dealing with the right now. You’re going to be able to handle whatever comes down the line, particularly once you spend time in the presence building up your relationships with your dad or your mom.

S15: Absolutely. What I’ve learned already is that this is not about me, which it was coming in. How can you help me take my dad’s car keys away from him? And now that’s not the question at all. How can you help me be the best friend to my dad during his must be honest final days and chapters of his life to make it the most meaningful for both of us? I am so motivated. This conversation started out about driving and it’s gone a completely different direction and one that I was not anticipating.

S6: And how amazing is that? How amazing is that that you still have that opportunity? Yeah, I learned more about my father in the last five to six years. Than I ever did my whole lifetime.

S1: And he he passed away in 2014, is that right?

S6: Yes. Yet, you know, he finally had this last stroke that took him out and he was done. And we had him in the room and we played his music. And I would still talk to him like he can hear me. And I would blast his shops nonstop. I go, you can’t even move right now. But he would open his eyes once in a while. And I kept telling him, I said, listen, I know you don’t want me here when you go, but I’m holding you and I know you didn’t want that because you’re mad and mercy I’m holding you. Assister, don’t try to leave when I’m not in this room and I wouldn’t leave the room. For over 24 hours, I would sleep in here and everything. My nephew came and everyone said, you got to take a shower. You smell disgusting militarism. My dad still lives because he smells you. Keeping him alive. And, you know, we’d laugh. So I said, Dad, listen to me. I’m going to take a shower. Don’t try to sneak away, OK? I went up, took a shower, got out of shower, and my youngest daughter said, Dad, grandpa’s grandpa is opening his eyes. But I knew what that meant. I went running down the stairs into the bed. He was grasping his last breaths. I jumped into bed and I said, You sneaky bastard. You try to get out of here while I was in it. What did I tell you? I told you I will never let you go.

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S21: And it was beautiful.

S3: Thank you to Alan for sharing his story with us. And to Jim Brewer for all of his advice. You can find his comedy specials and tour dates at his Web site. And after you’ve done listening to this, you should definitely check out his podcast called the Jim Brewer podcast. If you’re listen to this show and you’re thinking to yourself, wait a second, I have a problem that I need help with. Then you should contact us. You can send us a note at how to it’s late dot com or you can call and you can leave us a voicemail. Our number is six four six four nine five four zero zero one. And if you are a fan of the show, please consider becoming a member of Slate plus for just thirty five dollars a year. That’s right. Just thirty five dollars a year. You get to listen to this show and all of your favorite Slate podcasts ad free. Plus, you’ll be supporting all the wonderful news and entertainment coverage that Slate provides. Go to Slate dot com slash. How to. Plus to sign up. Thank you. How TOS executive producers Derek John, Rachel Allen is our production assistant and Mayor Jacob is our engineer. Our theme music is by Hannis Brown. June Thomas is the senior managing producer of Slate podcasts. And Gabriel Roth is Slate’s editorial director for audio. Special thanks. This week to Son Park. Amanda Godman, Katie Raeford and Maggie Taylor.

S21: I’m Charles Duhigg. Thank you for listening.