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Heavy Meddle: How Do I Deal With My Dad’s Fear Of Flying?

A woman wants her aging father to take a plane out for visits. He’s dead set against it. (JD Mason/Unsplash)closemore
A woman wants her aging father to take a plane out for visits. He’s dead set against it. (JD Mason/Unsplash)

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions. You can use this form, or send them via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

My father lives in Wisconsin. I bring the kids out to visit him at least twice a year, and he in the past has come to visit me at least once a year, driving the 17 hours from Wisconsin. He is 78 years old now, and less willing to drive out here, which is good, because I'm afraid he's going to fall asleep at the wheel. He absolutely refuses to fly, though. Fifteen years ago he got a blood clot in his leg on a trans-Atlantic flight, and so has taken against airplanes.

How can I get him to fly out here? If I can't, what can I do? I feel very guilty that we're not seeing more of him.

I would like him to speak to his doctor, get the OK to fly, and then take a plane out to visit us. He has time, and it's not so expensive for him. He just doesn't seem to want to, saying either that he's very busy at the moment, or "Arrrgghhh" and stopping the conversation. How can I get him to fly out here? If I can't, what can I do? I feel very guilty that we're not seeing more of him.

Signed,

Grandpa’s Fear of Flying

...

Dear GFF,

First things first: Try a little more self-forgiveness and a little less guilt. You take your kids to visit your dad in Wisconsin twice a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Second things second: Your dad got a blood clot the last time he flew. He has a right to not want to get onto an airplane again. I wouldn’t push him to fly if he doesn’t want to.

Third things third: Given his age, and the risks inherent in long drives, it’s a good thing that he doesn’t want to drive all the way out to Boston.

Try a little more self-forgiveness and a little less guilt. You take your kids to visit your dad in Wisconsin twice a year. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

Fourth things fourth: We are fortunate enough to live in a prosperous country where there are many different modes of travel, aside from planes and cars. One of the most enjoyable is trains. I don’t know where your dad lives in Wisconsin, but if can get himself down to a big city such as Madison (and I imagine he can) he will find that Amtrak can get him to Boston in a little more than a day. And he can get a good night’s sleep in a couchette, or sleeping compartment. This strikes me as an ideal compromise, one that allows him to come see you and his grandkids without risking life and limb.

One a final note, I think it’s wonderful that you and your dad are close enough to want to make a long trip to connect. I know something about this, as my aging dad is all the way out in California. One thing I’ve realized, as he gets older, is that he feels the toll of travel more than he once did. So I think it’s extra important that you can talk with your dad about this, in a way that’s direct but respectful.

Aging, as my late mother used to tell me, isn’t for sissies. And it can be hard for elderly people, and their loved ones, to confront the physical limitations that come with it. But avoidance only exacerbates the tensions that arise. They have to be faced, together, with candor and compassion.

Good luck!

Author's note: Wow. This is the first time I’ve recommended Amtrak to a letter writer. I’m sure some of you have advice that’s a little more useful for GFF. Send along your feedback, and/or counsel, in the comments section below. And please do send along a letter to Heavy Meddle, if you haven’t. Use this form, or send your questions via email. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond is the author of 11 books of fiction and nonfiction. He writes Cog's advice column, #HeavyMeddle, and is the co-host of Dear Sugar Radio.

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