My Father’s Keeper

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Silin, J. (2006) My Father’s Keeper: The Story of a Gay Son and His Aging Parents. Beacon Press: $23.95 0807079642

My Father’s Keeper is one man’s story about how he uses parallels in his professional life to help him in his personal life.  Author and educator, Jonathan Silin, grew up as the younger brother in a well-educated Jewish household in the Upper East Side, New York during the 1960’s.  The book covers the different phases of the author’s life as a gay man, and the range of acceptance that he received from his parents over the course of their decline in health.  As Jonathan progresses to embody the role of primary caregiver throughout the book, he shows how his career experience as both a teacher and HIV/AIDS caregiver helped him to cope with the strenuous responsibility that he faced up until his parent’s final hour.

The overall style of My Father’s Keeper is that of a fluid, sometimes ongoing thought process that bounces from one time period to another.  Admittedly a victim of unorganized thought, Silin’s style of recounting personal anecdotes and then jumping to experiences shared between him and his parents is a refreshingly challenging read.  Much unlike an expected depressing recount of the unavoidable decline in the health of loved ones, this playful yet deeply moving style of writing is both informative and attention grabbing simultaneously. The somewhat haphazard and lively form of storytelling resonates with Silin’s personal belief that he is both adult and child during the entirety of his later life.  People of all ages can relate to this style of writing, which makes this book ideal for its intended large population of those with aging parents.  It is a difficult transition to have the role of caregiver or parent be flipped to that of the receiving end, and this book exemplifies how familial relationships and roles can change at any point in life.  This book can and will help many who may find themselves in the same position of the author someday.

Jonathan Silin pulls much of his writing and teaching expertise from his very interesting past.  A self-considered rebel and black sheep of the family, Jonathan originally dropped out of college and self-taught from a selection of existentialist writers.  Coming out as a gay man before the Stonewall riots also helped to strongly shaped him as person with steady beliefs.  Although this internal strength would prove useful in his careers, it also served to drive a wedge between the previously close relationship that he had with his father; a wedge that would linger as a guilty weight on his father’s conscious up until his death.  Interestingly, Jonathan places high value on keeping death in front of him at all times, and expresses the importance by teaching children about the understandings of such topics as dying and HIV/AIDS.  The life experiences that have helped to shape the person Jonathan has become ultimately prepared for assuming the role of primary caregiver for his parents.

I chose to read this book, because like many college-aged students, my parents are beginning to show signs that they are aging.  My parents were in their forties when they chose to have me, and being an only child, it is getting difficult for me to live over 600 miles away from them as they are getting older.  Another relatable aspect of why this book appealed to me is the fact that as a homosexual, I can also relate to the tribulations of the author as he struggled to have his significant other fit in with his very conservative style family.  This book suggests that if one is to care for their elderly parents, they must have full artillery of emotional support and coping techniques in order to stay strong enough for their parents as well as themselves.  The emotional support of the author’s partner, Bob mirrored that of Silin’s sometimes anxious one, and once he was accepted into the family they became a level-headed caring team for his parents. The thoughts shared by Silin about his parents are raw, uncut and relatable.  He tells of feeling honor for having their trust in giving them complete care, and of at the same time having anger both at himself and them for harboring feelings of burden.  The full gamut of emotionality is explored within these hardback covers, and I give it a full recommendation to anyone who is looking for a compelling, passionate read about of the very human aspects of aging with compassion.

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