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Why is Dad so Crabby?


So, why is Dad so crabby, anyway?

Sometimes, for some families, the hardest part of parents’ aging is trying to keep up with their rapidly changing minds and surprising new responses to everyday occurrences.

Are they trying to bewilder you on purpose? Is it because you are killing yourself meeting medication deadlines, pleading with them to put clothes in the laundry so they’ll look like the tidy, well-turned out people they have always been, or is it because they don’t trust you as much as they used to and they might even like your sister better?

It could, of course, be any one of these or many more unlikely reasons, but let’s look at the real probabilities.


Aging is fraught with the experience of loss. Look back 10 years. Put yourself in dad’s shoes. Try to identify the losses that he has experienced; some you will know; many are his alone. Loss of confidence, stamina, perhaps mobility, are specific to his body and to his interpretation. What about loss of prized assets, perhaps the house, car, professional memberships. Loss of friends, family members, pets and hobbies; these are deep-set and abiding, increasing with every notification of another’s illness or death and with every drop in physical or mental acuity. And what has replaced all those losses? Not a heck of a lot.


The awareness and recognition of loss often results in new-found strength and a re-ordering of one’s life. In many situations, however, the losses are not defined, contemplated, analyzed and turned into a higher purpose. In the lives of many older people, ongoing loss results in an awful sense of fear; eating away at self-confidence, stealing the ability to find joy and adding confusion, misunderstanding and irritation into the once simple art of communication.

This may be a glimpse of light in the search to understand new or changing behaviours. The subject is endless. Don’t give up on your grumpy dad; he is hurting and frightened. Maybe he is fearful of the loss of your love.

Written by Anne Duggan, Invited Advisor to Bell Alliance on Aspects of Ageing

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