I went to my dad’s house recently and helped him move some logs, getting ready for winter. The physical distancing restrictions had just started and we kept a couple of metres apart, one of us loading the wheelbarrow and the other unstacking.
I noticed he was hobbling with a sore hip – he’s got bad feet and sometimes the misalignment migrates further up. Mum told him to have a rest, but he wouldn’t hear it. He wanted to keep working, get the job done. Make a contribution. No ifs or buts.
The next day he was in bed with excruciating back pain, his whole body out of whack. “Learned your lesson?” I asked over the phone. “Will you let me do it next time?”
“Maybe.” But he won’t. I know he won’t. And this is what scares me most about the coronavirus and its effect on our family. I’m worried my dad will die of stubbornness.
My dad is particularly vulnerable for two reasons – he’s an over-60s male with chronic heart disease, and he loves going to the supermarket on Wednesday mornings because they update the prices in the computer system on Tuesday nights and sometimes forget to change the shelf labels, which means you can get the discount for the previous week and the new week, or even get the item for free if there’s been a big stuff-up.
Apparently it saves the family about $3.20 a week.
This has become such an entrenched routine we’ve dubbed him Daddy Discount, or on those days when his fiscal pantry management is particularly impressive, the Chief Household Officer (CHO for short).
But as one of the only places where large numbers of people are still congregating, supermarkets have become a likely hotspot for the virus. I’ve asked Dad not to go, to let me or Mum do the shopping, but last time I asked he had just come back from Coles and Bunnings. He always picks up the groceries. It was just one trip. What’s the big deal?
If he had to change his habits to save someone else, he’d do it in an instant. He loves his kids, loves his wife. He wouldn’t put them at risk, no way. But the same cautiousness doesn’t extend to his own health. He’ll be right, won’t he? He’ll pull through. Nothing to worry about. Carry on, carry on.
This is a curious quirk of the pandemic – the older demographic most vulnerable to the coronavirus are also the most resistant to their children’s pleas to take it seriously. They think we’re overreacting.
Chatting this problem through with my siblings, I realised while Dad doesn’t listen to me, he does love to read the paper each morning.
So here goes. This is an urgent public health announcement from the Chair of the Crisis Council of Concerned Offspring to an audience of one: Dad, please stay at home. Someone else can go to Bunnings or Coles. Those bargains will still be there in a few months’ time, but I’m worried you might not be.
First published in The Age.