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KPCC's podcast Snooze explores the things in life we all put off

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

We all procrastinate, from little things like getting an oil change to big things like planning for the future, for ourselves, for our families. And recently, the future caught up with reporter Megan Tan. She was confronted with one of the harsh realities of getting older - an ailing parent in need of full-time care. Tan chronicled that experience for her podcast, "Snooze."

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

MEGAN TAN, BYLINE: Hey, Dad, how are you?

VINCENT TAN: Struggling today.

M TAN: For my dad, these past few years have been tough. He retired, got a divorce, started living alone. Even though he lives in Ohio and I live in Los Angeles, I think about him every day.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

M TAN: When he doesn't answer the phone, I assume he's in a mood or he's too tired.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEEP)

M TAN: Hey, it's me. I just wanted to call and say hi, see how you're doing.

After leaving three voice messages, he finally calls me back. He's calling me from the floor. He had fallen and had been on the floor for days. I immediately grab another phone and call Kristel, my older sister. She's already in the car on her way over. I don't hang up. I don't know what state he's in, if he's hit his head, broken a hip, had a heart attack or a stroke. What I do know is I wish I wasn't so far away. For most of my life, I've avoided taking on any kind of family responsibility. I'm the youngest. My sister Kristel is 10 years older. She helps my dad file his taxes and helped our parents sell our childhood home. Me, I study abroad in faraway lands and follow dream jobs all over the country. I'm always too busy to come home. But when my dad falls, is rushed to the hospital and then to a rehabilitation center...

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #1: Pull the straps to tighten and breathe normally.

M TAN: ...I decide to buy a one-way plane ticket.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #1: Oxygen is flowing even if the bag doesn't inflate.

M TAN: I'm walking into the rehabilitation center, and I see my father. He has a walker. He's thin, and he has hair on his face that I've never seen before. When I walk up to him, I say, hi, Dad, and immediately give him a hug and kiss. But he doesn't react. He doesn't smile.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

M TAN: The next day, my father's on a no kick. Let's have breakfast. No. Let's take a walk. No. Put on clean clothes. No, no, no, no, no. Want to try to go to the bathroom? No. Come on. Let me help you stand up. I'm grabbing his hands, and he's digging in his heels. After spending eight hours with him, I walk out of the hospital, and I wonder if every day is going to be a battle.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SLOSHING)

M TAN: (Sighing) I don't know why today was such a hard day - maybe because I'm tired. You really have to tell yourself that you're doing OK because no one is here to tell you that.

The next day, I bring a razor. When I pull it out of the bag, his face lights up. It's the first joyful expression I seen from him since I got to Ohio. All right, stay, stay. Let me just get - this is it. This is it. Are you going to smile? (Laughter) Good. Great job, great face.

I've never shaved my father's face before. It's a specific kind of care. You have to be gentle, close, and there has to be trust. I realize in that moment that our roles are reversing. That night, I tell him he'll never be alone in the way he was before - promise.

All right, Dad, are you listening? Today is - what? - February 20.

February 23.

February 26, 2022.

All right. What's the guidance?

When I arrived to my hometown with a one-way ticket, I thought I'd be here for a few weeks, a month at most. I was expecting my father to bounce back so I could return to my life and he to his. But then one of his doctors tells me and my sister that he can't live alone anymore and suggests he move in with one of us. Does he even want to do that? After dinner one night, my sister and I bring it up.

Two big questions - stay in Ohio or move to California. It's like choose your own adventure.

V TAN: Based on my health basis, I don't think I can do either one of them.

M TAN: That's not a part of...

KRISTEL: That's not an option, Dad.

M TAN: Yeah. And when you - if you come to California, you would be staying with me. You say, me and Megan, new roommate situation (laughter).

My dad has lived in Ohio for the past 54 years, ever since he left Singapore. And now at 75, we're asking him to put his whole life in storage and hop on a plane with me, his 31-year-old daughter, and trust me to take care of him. I'm scared, too. I'd be giving up a part of my life as well. After sitting in silence, I say...

If I said you have to move to California and live with me, how would you feel about that?

V TAN: I feel great.

M TAN: Oh.

KRISTEL: Oh.

M TAN: Great.

V TAN: OK.

M TAN: Great. Let's choose that one. You said you'll feel great.

People keep asking me...

Are you ready to take on this responsibility?

And...

Do you know what you're getting yourself into?

Dad, what's our deal? To have hope. Can you have hope? We're going to live together.

V TAN: Oh.

M TAN: Step by step. I need you to trust me, remember?

The answer is he's my father and I'm his daughter. And no one is going to love him as much as Kristel and I do. No one is going to make sure he eats his favorite foods, writes down his goals and starts to envision himself walking again. But we will. I will. Before we jump on a plane to California, I tell him... You're going to be OK, Dad. OK. Tomorrow's going to be great. And I'll be with you the whole time.

COMPUTER-GENERATED VOICE #2: Welcome back to travel with American Airlines. We're glad you're here. Your safety is important to us. Please pause for a moment to give your attention to the flight attendant.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: Reporter Megan Tan and her father currently live together in Los Angeles. She hosts the podcast "Snooze." You can hear the full version of this story anywhere you listen to podcasts. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Megan Tan
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