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EditorialIsland Voices

Column: Parenting a strong-willed parent in the age of coronavirus

Nicole Lim
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Nicole Lim

“You gotta try this focaccia I bought at Whole Foods today,” my dad cheerfully chirps, as my blood pressure surges.

“What?! I’ve been running errands all day to minimize your exposure!” I shout through my face mask like the exasperated parent of a difficult teenager. The global pandemic has made grocery stores and anywhere involving people a potential death trap, especially for the elderly, and accelerated the role reversal with my parents, thrusting me into a caregiver role, or at least family shopper.

For the last six years, I’ve been on a nomadic adventure a la “Eat Pray Love” meets “Wild.” In mid-March, I was teaching yoga at a remote whitewater rafting camp in Patagonia. When I returned to civilization, COVID-19 had exploded, and I was volun-told by my mom to return home. So, 20 years after leaving Hawaii for college, I find myself neurotically lecturing my dad about the dangers of artisan bread runs and uncertain whether I’m on a long trip or permanently back home.

As the “parent” now, I understand what it must have been like to want to keep a strong-willed and independent (OK, stubborn and defiant) daughter safe from the dangers out in the world — it would have been way easier if I had been content to just stay home all the time.

My dad and I have used similar parenting tactics on each other: fear (him: rape stats; me: COVID death stats), attempts to control (him: curfews, me: getting my mom to tattle), emotional pleas (him: worry masked as strictness; me: full-on tears), and bargaining (him: later curfew, me: offer to buy his treats, though I know it’s more about the freedom to indulge than the indulgence itself).

I also empathize with my dad’s current frustration — it’s like senior year in high school, but he doesn’t get to enjoy “senioritis”: visiting his grandchildren on the mainland, playing golf with his friends, and impulsively buying carbs. We’ve both exhibited adolescent antics with lying (him: “I always wear my mask,” me: “I always keep curfew at Natalie’s house”) and insolence (him: turning up the TV; me: cranking up my boombox).

The key difference, though, is that I was under the legal guardianship of my parents. And as much as I feel like I know better than my dad now, I need to respect that he is still an autonomous adult with the right to live how he wants to, even if it could ultimately kill him.

My concern with my dad’s safety mirrors my mom’s disapproval of my “unsafe” lifestyle. I dive with sharks, globetrot alone, and don’t have a “normal” job. I can’t imagine how my mom worries, sending texts like “What country are you in now?” She has the prerogative to have her own opinions, but I’m also an adult, and this is my life to live.

Her judgment takes joy away from things I love, so I end up not wanting to share them. I often rave about passion projects like leading queer webinars, and my mom’s first question is typically “Did you make money?”

Similarly, my vocal condemnation for activities that make my dad happy may change his behavior slightly but it definitely reduces his enjoyment. A “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy minimizes conflict but creates distance.

To my mom’s credit, she admits that she will “always worry as a mom” but has gotten to a place where she “doesn’t agree” with my lifestyle AND “supports and loves” me. Can I also be supportive for my dad in a way that increases his safety without detracting from his happiness? Like encouraging him to wear his face mask and talk story outdoors with his friends, socially distanced. This balancing act requires discomfort and faith but is worth the real connection and acceptance. Perhaps, you can have your focaccia and eat it, too.

Nicole E. Lim, of Honolulu, has nomadically traveled the world, and is working to publish “The No Plan Plan,” a memoir based on her global adventures.

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