Calling Dad or Mom in a panic? One Dad says …

Heather Jose photo.

Heather Jose

This week, please welcome one of our most popular caregiving authors, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt. He researched and wrote our signature book: A Guide for Caregivers. Last week, I wrote about the need for caregivers to take breaks, from time to time. And, I am. I’ll write again, soon.

As a parent myself, I love this column by Ben. It’s tempting to enjoy that great feeling when people think you’re a super hero, but real life always intervenes …

‘I’m Only a Father’


Panic ButtonAFTER our younger daughter graduated from college with a degree in interior design, she was hired by Pottery Barn to help design and setup stores across our country. When she wasn’t traveling to other cities, she would spend a day or two at stores in the mid-Atlantic region working on redesign.

One morning she left in her little car before 6 a.m. for Baltimore. About five miles from her destination, on a busy interstate, the car broke down. She called me—frantic and scared—as 18-wheelers sped past shaking her and her little car.

“Dad, I’m going to be late for work. I can’t get the car to start. What can I do?  I need your help.”

That’s when I said the words I’ve got to live with forever, now.

“I’m only a father.”

I quickly added, “You will have to call a local garage or towing company.” And, an hour later I got a call that she was at work. The mechanic had come, made a minor adjustment, and she was on her way.

Once the panic was over, and with a relieved smile, my daughter told the story to all her colleagues at work. They teased her for weeks with my line: “I’m only a father.” For all the young people at the store, that captured the universal, inevitable moment of discovery: Mom and Dad aren’t super heroes.

“I’m only a father,” has become one of those touchstones in our family lore. It is raised and shared in our family gatherings. I often repeat it myself as I acknowledge my limitations and sometimes re-frame it:

“I’m only a caregiver.”

“I’m only a husband.”

“I’m only a minister.”

“I’m only human.”

The irony is that, the more I acknowledge my power and limitations, the more I discover my capacity to be present and available to others. As I shed the demands of perfection, I often experience the genuine good gifts I am capable of sharing.

Please, add a comment below: What’s your story of admitting your limitations? And, share this with friends: Click one of the social-media icons with this column and invite friends to read this with you.

(Originally published at This column also has been republished, with permission, at the website for the Day1 radio network.)

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  1. Paul Hile says

    I love the last bit here. And I will begin to repeat these lines: “I am only a caregiver. I am only a husband” in the hopes that I, too, can realize my capacity to be available to others.

    As always, thank you.

  2. Jessica says

    I love this story… being able to say “I’m only” can remove so many of the impossible expectations and high standards we place on ourselves.

  3. Sharon says

    How fortunate you are to have a daughter who is capable of calling a towing company, and has the financial resources to pay them. My adult son, with severe perceptual limitations, had an auto accident last week in another state. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt (but I suspect the other driver will claim some injuries). Our son was cited, although he swears it was not his fault. We are having to find a lawyer to go with him into court, working with him to find a body shop to repair his car, and since he has very limited funds, we will pay for the repairs. I am only a mother, but the responsibilities never end and the panic is at my doorstep, not my son’s.

  4. Karla says

    This story is a great reminder for people that we can’t take for granted forever the people who’ve helped us for most of our lives to date. My father, being an automotive engineer who’s as good at fixing cars as he is at engineering them, has always been able and willing to fix 99.5% of everything that’s ever gone wrong with my car, saving me hundreds of dollars every year in repair labor since I began driving fifteen years ago. Dad is getting older now, though, and it’s getting difficult for him to get up and down and under and around a car like he used to, and hours-long repairs take a lot out of him. Earlier this month as I watched him troubleshoot and attempt to fix a bizarre electrical problem my car was having, it occurred to me, the time has come to stop asking him to do this, and for me to handle the situation with whatever repair shops, and if necessary rental car services, as necessary. I’ve always expressed my appreciation to Dad each time he’s worked on my car, and I usually paid him for whatever parts the car needed, but being honest with myself I have taken for granted his generosity with his time and resources any time my car gave me trouble. Now, if I have car issues, my first call will be to my insurance agency if I need a tow, to a repair shop if I need it fixed, and a rental car service if I need to borrow a car. I ended up doing two out of these three after the car’s electrical issue proved too obscure, and despite the nuisance and expense I did feel a sense of empowerment that I was able to handle the whole thing myself.