Should I Stay or Should I Go?
August 15, 2008 5:00 PM   Subscribe

My father just had a heart attack. I am dropping everything to go and visit him this weekend, but he keeps insisting I do not come and visit. Am I being a jerk for going anyway?

My father and I have a complicated relationship, but he's my father and I love him very much.

My dad lives about a 5 hour drive away. He had a heart attack either on Tuesday or Wednesday (I haven't been able to piece it together from our short phone calls), and will be in the hospital until Sunday. He's still unstable. It's a little (okay, a lot) scary, but he's alert and "all there" -- even though he seems pretty freaked out and emotional.

I am in the middle of, hands down, the most stressful work project of my life. I've been working 80 hour weeks for an exceptionally long time, and it's getting crazier as we near our finish line. Things will calm down (to almost a standstill) in three weeks, but up until then, it's going to be all work, all the time, under incredibly high pressure. It's going to take everything I've got to make it through to the end. He knows this, as we've discussed it before his heart attack.

I spoke with him twice today, telling him I want to come and see him this weekend. He says he doesn't want me to deal with the stress of driving, that he's tired and doesn't want visitors, that just hearing from me on the phone is enough, and that he is stressed out knowing I'm coming. He wants me to come up in the middle of September when things have calmed down and I'm not so stressed out. He asked me to do something nice for myself instead of coming to visit him, like get a massage or go to the beach.

This, to me, is not an option. I am very worried and I just want to see him, to know he's okay, give him a hug, and for him to know that I'm here for him. I have already booked my hotel room and I plan on going anyway.

Is this a dick move? I will admit that there is so much going on that my head is not on 100% straight about this.
posted by pazazygeek to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
No I think you are doing the right thing going to see him. Not at all dick-ish. He needs yuo right now, even though he may say otherwise.
posted by Penelope at 5:06 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go. It might be hard for men of his generation to admit when they need interpersonal support, but I can almost guarantee you that he does need it and he'll appreciate your being there.
posted by matildaben at 5:06 PM on August 15, 2008

My dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer a few months ago and had to have surgery; my folks initially said that I didn't need to come (they knew I was busy at work and they didn't want me stressed out, my dad said he'd be fine, etc.), but I insisted.

Once I was there, they were actually relieved that I could help with errands, take care of the dogs, talk to the doctors, and just generally keep things humming along calmly for a week or so while he was going through surgery and my mom was (to be blunt) totally freaked out. So I can't tell you if you should definitively go; all family dynamics are different, after all. But I will say that this is certainly one time my parents were very pleased that I disobeyed them.
posted by scody at 5:09 PM on August 15, 2008

Go. And don't feel bad about going.

I am very worried and I just want to see him, to know he's okay, give him a hug, and for him to know that I'm here for him.

These are all excellent reasons for going.
posted by gomichild at 5:13 PM on August 15, 2008

I will be the voice of dissent.

If the doc thinks he is stable and he has said he would feel more stressed about you coming, why not just go visit him on his terms, maybe wait a week when he is no so overwhelmed with doctors, nurses, wellwishers, insurance, hospital food, new medications, etc, etc, etc.
posted by ian1977 at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2008

he asked you to do something relaxing for yourself, so tell him the thing that best fit that bill was coming to see him in person and wish him well.
posted by supermedusa at 5:18 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

GO - you will be glad you did, and possibly full of regrets if you didn't. These are the times for families, even the complicated ones, to be together...
posted by mmf at 5:20 PM on August 15, 2008

No I definitely don't think you should go. My father had bypass surgery and I told him I would come the day AFTER his surgery. The last thing he needed was his family coming down to get a last glimpse "goodbye" before his surgery. (He survived and is doing well). If your father is saying he is stressed out about you coming, even if he actually does want you to come, I recommend you do not go. He does not need either "good" or "bad" stress at this time. Explain this to be your reasoning and ask him when it is best that you come. That's what a person who cares would do.
posted by vizsla at 5:21 PM on August 15, 2008

I was in a similar situation with my dad - I was in school, I immediately drove to see him. He was stressed that he was "making me" miss exams. He honestly needed just to rest - he was zonked, as in doze in the recliner and occasionally watch some minor TV. He loves me and appreciated me coming, but in retrospect it would not have done him any favors for me to hang around too long.

How about - okay, I won't come until September, but can we talk twice a day when you feel up to it? Ask if he will reconsider for next weekend, even if you can come for just one day out of the weekend.

He knows you love him, that you want to be there for him. Let him relax and be happy that he is caring for his daughter.

Is there family/friends there with him that you can run this by? I'm basing my thoughts on my situation, but maybe it would ease your mind a little bit to talk to someone who knows the situation better. If you think it would help, ask him to give permission to his doctors to talk to you, and maybe they can give you some more insight.

I know how scary this is. I am so sorry. Just reading this is reminding me of how I felt, and I know it sucks.
posted by KAS at 5:22 PM on August 15, 2008

I'm your dad's generation and when I had a heart attack the last thing I needed was company!
Also, worrying about your drive will cause more him more stress and problems.
WAIT. When he's home and needs someone to do the laundry, cook, go to the store etc is when he'll need you more. I've talked to other men who were in ICF about this and most said they wanted to be left alone until they felt better.
posted by jara1953 at 5:23 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

I should clarify - my dad had a heart attack, asked my mom to tell me to wait until I had mroe time to come, I drove breakneck speed for 12 hours to see him. I stayed about an hour - I could tell by looking at him that it was making him sad and stressed that he felt like he was hurting *me* by me being there - I didn't see it that way, but dads have that protective factor I think. I listened to him and went back, even though I hated doing it.
posted by KAS at 5:25 PM on August 15, 2008

"he's tired and doesn't want visitors, that just hearing from me on the phone is enough, and that he is stressed out knowing I'm coming."

He's being straightforward with you. Visitors are great, but they're also taxing, especially if the patient is preparing for surgery or other procedures.
posted by orthogonality at 5:26 PM on August 15, 2008

Ian1877--pls. reread the post. He states his father is unstable.

Go! Go! Go! Do not feel bad, guilty or anything else. You are not a visitor, you are his son.
posted by 6:1 at 5:31 PM on August 15, 2008

Don't do this to show him you do really care. A heart attack is not an emotional crisis of the heart. It is a physical condition like breaking your leg (only much worse). He is very weak right now and needs time to relax. I absolutely guarantee you not going and explaining why to him is the very best thing you can do to show you care. No matter what the history of your relationship.
posted by vizsla at 5:32 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it comes down to what you want to do. If you really can't afford the time / hassle of going right now, it sounds as if you should stay home: if it's what you want to do, it's also your dad's request. But if you'd rather go see your dad, I think it's extremely reasonable to go see him. (If I were you, I'd probably go.)

As for it "being a dick move," it's the furthest thing from it. But just frame the issue as something you're doing for you, not him. Make it an, "I've been under so much stress lately that I guess I kind of freaked out when I heard about your heart attack... With all the work, people joked I was going to have one. I just had to come see that you were really alright so that I could breathe easy." Or something of that sort. In other words, don't let him think that you're being 'gracious' by dropping all your work to go see him, but that he's being gracious by letting you come and be comforted / relaxed.

And besides, I don't know how these things work with other people, but I've found that sometimes, when the pressure hits 110% and the work still keeps piling up, taking some time off to catch my breath helps in the long run.
posted by fogster at 5:35 PM on August 15, 2008

Is this a dick move?

posted by stubby phillips at 5:41 PM on August 15, 2008

First question is: do you NEED to be there, for reasons other than emotional? You don't mention a mom or stepmother or partner, so if he's alone I would say go - if you can see the doctor and have the conversations you need to have there, you could truly add value by going right now. If he's going to be going home alone, someone needs to advocate for his care once he leaves the hospital. Maybe he's fine to do that himself, but that's worth going to check out.

If there's someone there to run that particular interference, then listen to him. This is exhausting for him, and if you'll stress him out by going it would be better all around to hang back. Just for a little while - maybe do it next weekend, and then again in three weeks when work slows down.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:44 PM on August 15, 2008

Best answer: So my dad just went into the hospital on Wednesday, massive dizziness, can't walk, 75 years old. I'm 3000 miles away, and when I call, we talk for about 30 minutes. Then he's tired, and I'm tired, and we ring off. I say goodbye and think it might be the last time. I suspect/fear he's 'putting on a good face' but I don't think he wants me there. I am worried about him dying, but I realize that I can just tell him how worried I am, and how deeply I care, and then respect that he's not asking me to come.

I know you want to go, and if you do, know that he might be secretly relieved that you overrode his wishes, or annoyed. You might hover and feel helpless, but glad you're there. That's okay. It's also okay for you not to go. You don't need to feel guilty about that either - it's not that you're making a choice about a job (meaningless?) over your father (meaningful). You're respecting your father's stated wishes. That's never bad.

I guess what I'm saying is that whatever choice you make, it's okay. It's not about the final moments, it's about all of them.
posted by anitanita at 5:52 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreeing with fogster, if you do this, it is not for him, it is for you. That doesn't mean it is a dick move bad thing to do. What it means is that you should be honest with yourself about your motives. Maybe you need to do this to refocus on "what's important" or "family" in this time when you job is stressing you so much. On the other hand, maybe you're so stressed right now that you don't really know what to do but are grasping to do the "right thing."

Whatever you do, it's o.k. Your father knows you love him. He knows that you care.
posted by Robert Angelo at 5:54 PM on August 15, 2008

Response by poster: For a little more clarity:

My father lives alone, and is self-employed. He's divorced and does not have a significant other. He does not have a lot of money, I can tell that he is extremely worried about having to take the time off to recover. I don't know who is going to help him home or who is talking to his doctor, if anybody. I've only spoken to him. The rest of my (very small) family is down here. Nobody else is planning on visiting at the moment.

I know that my dad knows that I love him, but he's extremely reticent to reach out to me as we were estranged (for my sanity, he wanted to maintain our relationship, but it was too difficult for me at the time), for about a year, about two years ago.

I'm leaning toward going, but I just want to keep my head on straight. I don't want to act selfishly and only with my own regard in mind. I'm really torn about it, as you can well tell. I appreciate all of your responses.
posted by pazazygeek at 6:01 PM on August 15, 2008

I would say ask his nurses, not his doctors. His doctors--and my apologies to the doctors here but in my experience it's true--have their egos on the line and their responses are not that reliable. The nurses, on the other hand, will be just as experienced, if not more so, than the doctors, and they will be closer to your father. They will be able to advise you on his mental and emotional state as well as his physical condition. If the nurses say go, drop everything and go. Even if they say it in a non-committal way, like, "You should come," not, "Oh dear hurry he's dying." On the other hand, if they say no, he's doing OK and he doesn't need company, wait and go when he wants you to.
posted by bricoleur at 6:22 PM on August 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Go. It sucks being in the hospital alone, knowing not one person is coming. If he really doesn't want you there you'll be able to tell when you get there and can leave whenever and you've only lost a day. Since you say your dad's hesitant to reach out to you, I think he would appreciate you going -- but let him know you're coming beforehand; don't just pop into his room unexpectedly because you didn't want him to try to talk you out of it over the phone.
posted by lilac girl at 6:26 PM on August 15, 2008

I think you should go. Any stress he is caused by your being there can't be greater than the stress he would get from having to find someone to drive him home, being alone, being scared, all of that. Perhaps you can tell him that since work has been so crazy for so long it would be great for you to get away for a while - so he doesn't worry about stressing you out. If he's the type that is very "don't worry about me" he might be more open to you not fussing over him and not making it a "omg I need to come down, I know work is busy but you're more important" thing.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:44 PM on August 15, 2008


This same thing happened to me last week. I wasn't sure if I should go either but my girlfriend made me and it turned out for the best. People had been telling me to stay home but I got on a plane anyhow. After the fact, it seemed like this was what everyone expected of me.
posted by metajc at 6:49 PM on August 15, 2008

(Qualifying my "go": You said he's getting out on Sunday and you're going down for the weekend. Will you be able to drive him back and get him settled - maybe do some grocery shopping or make a meal? I think that's much more useful than just visiting in a hospital where you will be sitting around - making him feel bad that you're down there sitting around and all.

You could ask: "Hey, Dad, I know you don't want to deal with me visiting while you're in the hospital, but I'd feel better if I could give you a ride and maybe hang around for dinner on Sunday and Monday and make sure you're good. It'd be a nice break from work and I'd feel better after seeing you. What do you think?")
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:49 PM on August 15, 2008

Pazzy, I second talking to the nurses (and a doc too, if you can) for your own peace of mind.
This will give you better information about your Dad's condition, so you can make a decision with the full facts in hand. From what I'm reading, to be blunt, this is about your worry for him and his health - there's nothing wrong with that in itself.


He's fully cognizant, under medical care, and knows what your situation is. He's asking you to stay. Consider alternatives to going - calling, writing letters, etcetera. That way he'll know he's being supported, but he can devote his full energy to getting better.

I'm amazed at the people in this thread urging you to second-guess him in the belief that he'll necessarily be glad you came. Scody's right that all family dynamics (and situations) are different, and in the end, you're going to have to decide if you think you can be enough help to him to justify ignoring his express wishes. I don't get the idea you can actually afford to be his gopher once he's out of the hospital (which is looking ahead a bit), so you may want to continue to consider how you might be able to get what you want - reassuring Dad, reasuring yourself - in other ways.

Only your Dad will be able to tell you, later, if it was the right choice or not.
posted by canine epigram at 6:50 PM on August 15, 2008

If I were in that bed I'd ask you not to come because I wouldn't want to be a burden on anyone. However If I lived alone I'd be stressing about the house (or Apartment), and would feel better knowing that someone was looking after the place. I imagine he didn't plan to have the heart attack, so the mail is piling up, and the newspaper is sitting out etc. So go. Visit for a bit and then check in on the house. Put your dad's mind at ease. It is really the best thing to do.
posted by Gungho at 6:52 PM on August 15, 2008

BTW, I had a good time while I was there. And my mom and dad (divorced) were both very glad to see me.

Finally, everyone where you work will understand. This is more important than work.
posted by metajc at 6:53 PM on August 15, 2008

Please, please go. My wife's mom was 49 and passed away 2 months ago. She also didn't want us to inconvenience ourselves to drive 5 hrs to see her when she was 'really ok.'

We barely made it to say goodbye while she was still cognizant.

posted by CwgrlUp at 7:03 PM on August 15, 2008

no, you're not being a jerk. go, let him protest, and make sure he's comfortable. it'll mean a lot to him, even if he can't admit it.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:18 PM on August 15, 2008

I'd go. I treasure every day I spent with my Dad last year when he was sick and I think it meant a lot to him too. I can't go see my Dad any more but you can still go and see yours.
posted by w0mbat at 7:33 PM on August 15, 2008

He asked me to do something nice for myself instead of coming to visit him, like get a massage or go to the beach.

Sweet, but if you were really to do what your father wanted, you'd be missing work anyway. Tell him you'd love to spend the time with him. It sounds like he needs the family support. Even if he's well, chances are you won't regret going to see him, to give him a hug and something to keep busy if he's feeling up to it later (a newspaper?). But if, godforbid, things take a turn for the worse and you don't go, chances are much more likely that you'll regret it.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:52 PM on August 15, 2008

Go. You've already decided to do so anyway, and it will help you and it can't hurt him. Even if you spend much of your time in his room while he sleeps, you'll have the peace of mind that comes from being there. My father told me again and again that I didn't need to come back for his hospitalizations and operations, but I was guilt-ridden when I didn't, happy when I did, and I could see that his pleasure at seeing me was much greater than any guilt he might have felt at taking me away from my responsibilities at work. I just wish I had not stayed home on the two or three occasions when I thought my presence wasn't really necessary.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:18 PM on August 15, 2008

The worst that could happen if you go is much better than the worst that could happen if you don't.

I would go and save myself from the possibility of regret.

Seeing him will take a huge weight off your shoulder, and deep down, he will be grateful.
posted by alligatorman at 8:59 PM on August 15, 2008

If your Dad lives alone then why not go when he goes home from the hospital. He's likely to need help then.

It's hard. A few years ago my Mom spent several weeks in and out of the hospital with some serious health problems. She asked me to not go visit her and I respected her choice. She didn't want me to come home when she only had the strength to spend an hour or two with me each day. As close as I am to my mother, it was very, very hard to not hop on a plane.
posted by 26.2 at 9:04 PM on August 15, 2008

If you go just go and make it a surprise. Your Dad won't have to go through the anticipation or stress (if there is any) of waiting and/or worrying. I'm a Dad of adult children and if I were sick I'd tell my kids to take care of their own business and not worry about me but I'm sure I'd be happy to see them if they just appeared unexpectedly (although under other circumstances I might be a little pissed about having to explain the mound of blow and the hookers :) ).

Dad's don't want to feel like a burden. We're supposed to take care of other people not the other way around. If you're going to take care of us you have to sneak up on us for us to be comfortable about it. I think showing up toward the end of his hospital stay is a great idea. You can offer actually help when he is released rather than just a pat on the hand which will probably make him feel better because it actually would involve getting things done (as men are meant to do). I'm probably a little younger than your Dad (48) but I'm trying to put myself in his place with my 24 & 25 year old sons. If he's much older than 48 double the "don't want to feel like a burden aspect".
posted by Carbolic at 9:21 PM on August 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

My dad was in his 70s when he had a heart attack. It was 48 hours before I was supposed to leave for a 10-day vacation to England. We (Mom, brother and I) spent that night in the ER waiting room, then finally were taken up to visit Dad in the ICU around 6:00 the next morning. Dad kept telling me to go on my trip, don't worry about him. The nurse took me aside and implied that it would be about the most selfish thing in the world I could do to go off and have fun while my Dad was in the hospital. My boss (who was a few years older than my Dad) called me at home later that day, though, and told me "Go. If I were in the hospital, it would only make me feel worse if my daughter canceled such plans because of me." Mom eventually agreed that Dad would blame himself if I stayed home, so I went. I felt sick to my stomach for the first few days, but I called home regularly and found out that Dad had been transferred out of the ICU after two days and was doing much better. He actually got home before I did. I think I made the right decision, and I think you would be doing the right thing, too, by abiding by your father's wishes. He won't have to worry about you missing work or being on the road, and he can relax (as much as is possible in the hospital, anyway) and not have to worry about being "up" and personable for visitors. Keep in contact with him by phone; if he doesn't feel like talking he can tell you "I'll call you later" and not feel guilty, whereas if you drive all that way and he doesn't feel like talking, he'll force himself to do so anyway.

Best of luck to both of you - hope he gets better very soon.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:09 PM on August 15, 2008

He's your father. You love him. I believe you should go. It sounds to me like you really want to. Follow your instinct. Your inner voice will never let you down. You're not a visitor, you're his son. Put yourself in his place. Would you want to see your son? I would.
posted by wv kay in ga at 11:58 PM on August 15, 2008

>Follow your instinct. Your inner voice will never let you down.

Listen to Kay.
posted by yclipse at 5:53 AM on August 16, 2008

The worst that could happen if you go is much better than the worst that could happen if you don't.

I believe this is the correct analysis. Maybe it's true that your dad will be a little stressed by your coming. More likely he will feel less frightened and alone and very glad you came, even if he wishes that his illness weren't interfering with your work. If you don't go, and things go south, well . . .
posted by HotToddy at 7:42 AM on August 16, 2008

If you were estranged recently I wouldn't go.

Not for spite, or anything like that, but because your relationship is still under a lot of strain and it will stress him out to be around you. Normally that stress would be outweighed by the pleasure of being with his son, but in this situation, it will simply be stressful.
posted by sondrialiac at 7:46 AM on August 16, 2008

Everyone seems to be awfully worried about how *you* will feel, but it sounds to me like your father feels differently. Not everyone is comforted by having other people around, especially when they are sick. Be sure you are not just putting your feelings above your father's before you go.
posted by dzot at 7:57 AM on August 16, 2008

Jeez, did you listen to what your dad said? He said don't come to see me. Respect his wishes. Maybe, just maybe, he said that because he doesn't want you around. Of course you have good intentions in going, but there's also a bit of martyr-ish "I'm so busy at work but I've just got to drop everything and visit my Dad because he needs me." I don't know you, but I don't think that's the case.

Nonetheless, sometimes even visits from people you want to see can be stressful. And stress is the last thing your dad needs. You showing up will stress him out at the very least because he knows you're busy at work and being there is a sacrifice.

There are other ways to support him. Call him everyday. Send gifts via mail. But don't do what he expressly told you not to. This is about him, not you.
posted by zardoz at 11:25 PM on August 16, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone for your thoughtful answers. In the end, I did decide to go, and I'm back now. I'm thrilled that I did go -- and he was as well. He was much healthier and in better spirits than I had expected, considering the severity of the situation. He's back home now and is recovering, but I feel much, much better knowing that he's okay, and having had a chance to visit with him and make sure he's okay. He was concerned about me wearing myself out by driving up to see him in the midst of all of the chaos right now, but said he was really, really happy that I came and felt better having seen me.

I feel much more at ease having seen him, it set my mind at ease both to see him doing well, and to be able to give him my love and support. It was worth the tiring drive, and I am much more focused at work today.

So -- it all worked out wonderfully and everybody feels much better. Thank you, askme!

Also, I'm his daughter, not his son! :)
posted by pazazygeek at 4:06 PM on August 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Good for you pazazygeek - glad to hear that it turned out okay.
posted by anitanita at 12:51 PM on August 21, 2008

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