Awkward conversations with Dad

June 19, 2020


As Father’s Day arrives again, you may find yourself recalling bygone childhood days when you gave your dad hand-drawn cards made out of construction paper. Maybe you remember playing catch in the backyard or how he taught you to change a tire.

You might even remember a time when he took you aside and had The Talk — that awkward conversation about what it means to be growing into a young adult.

Well, it’s payback time.

Just as your dad’s love and concern for you prompted that conversation, your care for Dad may prompt you to have a talk with him about his health and how to keep it as vibrant as possible as he ages.

Making health a team sport

Hopefully, you and your dad are both in great health. As we all age, however, we are at more risk for certain diseases.

Fortunately, there are basic screenings that help identify where we are at risk. Some — like colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies—help your doctor identify and treat the disease early. These tests can also show us where we can make positive lifestyle choices to improve the length and quality of our lives.

But it’s easy for men to be caught up in the busyness of life and forget how vital these screenings may be. A little loving reminder from you might help your dad make an appointment with his primary care provider sooner than later.

If you find your dad is hesitant, try making health screenings a team sport by:

  • Agreeing to get up-to-date on your own screenings.
  • Offering to give your dad a ride to his appointment — and maybe throw in a lunch date while you’re at it.
  • Setting up an accountability challenge — maybe you can mow his lawn or wash his car if he gets his screenings before you do.

Essential screenings for older men

So what kind of screenings do you and your dad need? Your primary care providers will know.

Your doctors or nurse practitioners can evaluate your physical and mental health, your lifestyle, your health history, and your goals. They can recommend the screenings you need and follow up with you on lifestyle improvements and, if needed, treatment plans.

Typical screenings for men include:

  • Colorectal screenings: Because colorectal cancer remains one of the leading cancers in this country, staying current on your screenings can be a lifesaving decision. Screenings include fecal occult blood tests, colonoscopy, and flexible sigmoidoscopy. Your doctor can review each test’s benefits and drawbacks and help you and your dad decide what’s best.
  • Prostate tests: These include a digital rectal exam — in which your health care provider manually checks for lumps or abnormalities — as well as a blood test for the prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Your health care provider can steer you to which is most appropriate.
  • Biometric screenings: Often included in annual physical exams, measurements of your weight, waist circumference, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar help you and your doctor or nurse practitioner know what risks you have for various health problems like heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. The results can also help you and your dad know where you both can make lifestyle changes to improve your health and decrease your risks.

Your dad’s primary care provider will know if your dad has risk factors or health problems that suggest additional screenings are needed.

Keeping a healthy relationship about health

If you want to make health conversations a little less awkward with your dad, be sure you keep up a healthy, ongoing relationship with him. Stop by or call him often. By being actively in touch, you’ll also be more aware if anything is changing in his life.

Keep your eyes and ears open for signs your dad has memory problems or difficulty driving. Visit your dad’s home and be sure he’s able to take care of himself and his environment is safe and appropriate for his needs.

Most of all, keep your heart open to your dad. It may be difficult for both of you as you, his child, begin to offer him suggestions and guidance. Assure him he will always be your dad — you just want to keep him around even longer.