“Maybe it’s unfeeling of me, but I have my own life to live.”
The sentiment is widespread and, as society ages, spreading wider and wider. How much care and devotion does a grown child owe a needy parent? If we ask what a parent owes a dependent child, the answer must be: whatever the child needs. It’s less clear at the other end of the age spectrum. Nature didn’t program us for lifelong care of increasingly infirm parents.
Spa! (March 23-30) finds more and more adult children giving up in despair, sometimes simply vanishing, leaving a helpless parent to fend for him- or herself. It introduces a woman languishing alone in a nursing facility in Tohoku. The facility is relatively inexpensive but badly understaffed. “When is my son coming?” the woman mutters to herself. No one’s with her, no one’s listening. Her son, in his 40s, lives in Tokyo. She last saw him five years ago.
At first he visited every three months; then six, then once a year. When he’ll come next, no one knows.
Spa! polled 300 men aged 30-59, asking about their relationships with their parents. Only 74 said they were caring fully for them, while 19 admitted doing nothing at all. In between, 143 said they pay the bills but do nothing else. All in all, it’s a harsh world to grow old in.
It’s not easy on the children either. “Yoshiyuki Kinoshita” (a pseudonym) gave up on his father in favor of his “own life” – but it was hard. He suffers remorse. Did he do the right thing? Is there a “right thing” to do?
He was in elementary school when his parents divorced. His father moved out and the boy saw little of him – but what little he saw he liked. Clearly the man was trying to be a good father. He was in the real estate business, doing well. He took his son out, gave him spending money. Yoshiyuki was drawn to him. At the same time he was close to his mother. He knew how hard it was for her, raising a child on her own. He tried to make it easy. He was a good boy, studied hard, took out a student loan and went to university, graduated and got a job in a local bank.
That was in 2008, the year of the Lehman Shock. The economy buckled. Yoshiyuki himself kept his job, but his father’s business was ruined. The elder Kinoshita went to pieces and took to drinking. His son watched him degenerate into a cringing, wheedling alcoholic.
He’d call to beg for money. “I don’t have enough to pay my cell phone bill. Lend me 10,000 yen… lend me 20,000 yen…” And so on. “It just kept escalating,” Yoshiyuki tells Spa!
Yoshiyuki himself was earning barely more than 200,000 a month. He had his student loan to repay. He went deeper into debt to help his father. Before he knew it he found himself 5 million yen in the red. Meanwhile, he was planning to get married. “I couldn’t,” he says, “be his ATM forever.”
He gave his father an ultimatum: “I’ll give you the money I have on hand and then all is over between us; I will no longer acknowledge you as a father. Or – you turn your life around, and I’ll be your son. Choose!”
Sobbing, the father chose the money. Yoshiyuki transferred 150,000 yen into his father’s account and, as it were, closed the book. He walked out of his father’s life, and cut his father out of his. The end.
That was three years ago. Yoshiyuki married. His mother remarried. Yoshiyuki is 34, his father 64. What his father is doing he doesn’t know, but “I picture him dying alone of the coronavirus or something. Well, if there’s no one to tend his grave, so be it.”
“Unfeeling”? What would you do, readers, in his place?© Japan Today