Paying dues helps build character

A column by Graham Hookey

Paying dues helps build character

Someone recently dropped me an e-mail, expressing a little disappointment that I had broached the topic of youth anger in my reference to the Vancouver Riots, but had not explored that concept further.

Since I have spent the last couple of weeks in the company of people in their 80s, and seen a similar brewing anger, perhaps I can address the concept for both youth and the elderly.

I suppose there are many forms of anger, but the most dangerous is simply pent-up frustration.

When anyone, at any age, feels they have lost the ability to control the quality of their life, they simmer with anger.

I have heard it in youth who are frustrated with the debt racked up in getting an education and the subsequent lack of employment opportunities and high cost of living.

And now I am hearing it from the elderly who, feeling their health slip away, find access to doctors challenging and medical resources stretched and rushed.

As an educational administrator, I spent a lot of time counseling angry young people to try and help them understand that, regardless of the challenges they faced, there were things they could control and they should develop both the determination and work ethic to overcome the obstacles they face.

The current economic situation has removed the notion of a sure job, both for those already employed and those seeking it.

Still, there are jobs to be had and jobs to be made, and while instant entry into the middle class may not occur, a little time paying some dues (and debt) can build character while building equity.

Now, as an elder-care supporter, I am counseling my own parents and their friends on the operation of the health care system and how they can best access resources both to support themselves and each other.

There is no question that the health system is already stretched – they have almost all spent time in a hallway in an overcrowded hospital at some point – but there are also resources available outside the traditional family doctor route that can provide both knowledge and support for them.

Numerous home-care alternatives, both private and public, are accessible.

Many private organizations can help in things like eyesight and hearing, critical senses necessary for independence.

As well, there are many new assistive devices that provide support at home, everything from computerized home management systems to raised toilet seats and safety bars.

So often, these devices are installed after an accident and the need for medical intervention, rather than before so as to avoid as much medical intervention as necessary.

Home builders would be wise, in my opinion, to consider a shift from the megahomes we drifted towards in the last 20 years to smaller, low-maintenance homes that are appropriately outfitted with safety mechanisms for the elderly.

Adults who are in the process of considering how to help their parents remain independent need to analyze their home and take some proactive actions in ensuring the homes are safe.

Simple changes, particularly to the bathrooms, kitchens and floor surfaces, can dramatically reduce the risk of an accident that will open up a whole new level of potentially frustrating issues.

I am in the perfect ‘sandwich counseling’ situation. I have three well educated sons looking for meaningful work and I have two aging parents for whom I am trying to maintain as much independence as possible.

I’m encouraging the boys to put their intellect to work in thinking of things that could help their grandparents because if it helps them, it might help many and could be a great business opportunity.

I am encouraging my parents to consider renovations to their home, for which they might have to hire some local young contractors.

Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, the needs of both of those generations might just help alleviate some of the frustration, and anger, of each.


Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer. Email him at