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Caring for Our Veteran Fathers

Most people pressed into the role of caregiver enter the sometimes lonely world unprepared for the immense responsibilities and intense commitments it requires. There are no how-to classes in high school or college, and even if there were, who would willingly take them?

I certainly would not have. That all changed in 2009.

My father Ron Mizutani was born on January 5, 1939 in Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i. Dad served in the U.S. Army, spending much time in Germany. He seldom talked about his time in the military, yet we knew he was proud to serve his country. Sgt. Mizutani loved being a soldier. Following his military life, Dad enjoyed a 35-year career at Hawaiian Telephone Company.

In August 2009, Dad suffered a severe stroke that changed his life … and mine. I knew nothing about caregiving but quickly learned. I had a crash course on the complexity of Medicare, the insurance world and bill paying.

While the stroke took away his ability to speak freely, we still found ways to communicate. He did it with his smile, wit and sense of humor. Still, depression set in as he worked to improve his functional abilities, knowing the activities he once loved would no longer be a part of his life.

His medical issues intensified. There were seizures, muscle weakness, incontinence, frequent falls and mobility and balance issues. The once-rock of our family, who held a 3rd degree Black Belt in karate, was now in a wheelchair all the time.

If someone told me I would one day be a caregiver for my father, I would have said, “You’re crazy.” Yet, there I was, on call 24-7, 365 days a year. Caregiving consumed my life, but did not define me.

According to AARP’s Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, 51% of family caregivers felt that their role gave them a sense of purpose or meaning. It was no different for me.

The time came that I knew I could no longer do it alone and in his final years, dad called Hawai‘i Kai Retirement Community home. On July 27, 2019, Dad took his final breath.

I think about my dad every day and I am thankful I had the opportunity to be there when he needed me most. Our veterans deserve only the best. They gave …as we should.

A hui hou Daddy … until we meet again.


Ron Mizutani