Quick Hit Op-Ed Friday June 19th, 2015, 4:49pm

Op-Ed: This Father's Day, Remember That Caregiving Is Real Work

The following was written by Rev. Daniel Dale, former pastor of Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ.

Last Father's Day, my father was still alive.

Losing him was hard. But thanks to his caregivers, his last four months were filled with growth, community and dignity.

It was not until my father's stroke that I really understood the difference that good, quality home care can make. And that's why I am urging my state senators to support the Illinois Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

Even though I left work last year to become my father's full-time caregiver, I could not do it all. I had to take one day a week off.

For that day, home care workers did everything. They moved him from his bed to his wheelchair to the toilet and back again. They gave him a sponge bath every morning. They checked his skin. They helped him use the bathroom, brush his teeth and get dressed.

My father was never going to walk again. But they motivated him to work hard, to get his strength back, and to improve his quality of his life.

Thanks to their patience and encouragement, he spent up to an hour and a half a day on his physical therapy exercises. "The therapist said we have to get up to 15 reps this week," Turtle, one of the caregivers, would say. "We can do this!"

After a month, he was able to use a motorized wheelchair. Then he gained enough strength to stand up and sit down by himself. Before long, he could come down to the dining room unassisted.

Every week, Turtle -- who was a veteran, like him -- took him to breakfast with the other veterans at the Magnolia Cafe. Eating breakfast with his friends meant so much to him. And that meant so much to me.

Thousands of sons and daughters have had experiences like mine. We are asking the Illinois Senate to approve the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which will grant home care workers the same protections that other workers have.

Currently, caregivers are excluded from state minimum wage, overtime and sexual harassment protections. If they strain their back while lifting someone, they have no sick time and no safety net.

Through my parish, I've met home care workers, just like the ones who helped my father, who earned less than minimum wage and struggled to support their families.

I even met one live-in caregiver whose employer paid her in room and board -- no money. It was like indentured servitude.

The Bible tells us that God will judge our societies by how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable. Domestic workers contribute so much to the well-being of our parents, our children and our homes.

But their meager wages frequently include abuse, injuries, and hours so long they would be illegal in any other profession.

Every night that my father was still alive, my arms ached from lifting him.

So did the arms of the caregivers who bathed him each day.

Caregiving is real work, and Illinois should recognize it as such.

Rev. Daniel Dale recently retired from serving as pastor of Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ.


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