The art of aging
Mindy Fried ’89 M.A. ’96 Ph.D. discussed her role caring for her father
Though he was called “Red” in affectionate homage to his flaming hair, Mindy Fried’s ’89 M.A. ’96 Ph.D. father’s nickname can also used in reference to his political views. Emanuel “Red” Fried was an active member of the American Communist Party. His political affiliation greatly influenced Mindy Fried’s childhood, as she explained at the discussion of her new book, “Caring for Red,” hosted by the Women’s Studies Research Center on Thursday.
As Emanuel Fried aged and became unable to care for himself, Mindy Fried found the roles with her father reversed. “I’ve been deeply immersed as caregiver, case manager and daughter extraordinaire,” Mindy Fried said at the event. After Emanuel Fried fell at home, Mindy Fried and her sister chose to institutionalize him in an assisted living home.
Mindy Fried works as a sociologist, is the co-principal of Arbor Consulting Partners and the author of four books and teaches at Boston College. Mindy Fried also taught as a visiting professor at Brandeis from 2004 to 2007, during the time of her father’s institutionalization. She offered the class “The Sociology of Aging,” and there were many lectures in which she drew on experiences with her father.
Aging is a topic rarely discussed on college campuses, yet it represents the inevitable. Mindy Fried noticed a gap in research conducted specifically regarding the sociology of assisted living homes. As she cared for her father, Mindy Fried began to write about her reality on her blog “Mindy’s Muses.” From there, the seed was planted to write a book about her experiences.
She looked at several key questions when framing her book. “How can we help our parents get the most out of their lives until the end and ensure that they are treated with dignity and respect by friends, family and professionals? How do we handle this right of passage, this chapter in our lives as adults? How can we juggle their care with our other obligations ... being present and available for our friends and, perhaps last on our list, taking care of ourselves?” Mindy Fried asked.
In her book, Mindy Fried looks at the day to day of lives of residents, the power hierarchy amoung workers and her own emotional transformation. The institution itself became her father’s all-encompassing reality. Mindy Fried recalled an experience where she had fallen asleep in her father’s bed only to be woken up by a worker conducting room checks. This complete lack of privacy was nothing new for Emanuel Fried.
As a Communist in McCarthy Era America, the Fried family faced hyper scrutiny from friends and the outside world. Emanuel Fried was subpoenaed twice by the House Un-American Activities Committee, where he faced intense questioning. In a journal she found written by her 13-year-old self, Mindy Fried read, “I’m frightened to find out how my friends will react and to find out who are my real friends.” She also recalled details from her father’s subpoena, describing her mother’s and sister’s roles in supporting her father. Mindy Fried also wrote, “One 15 year old got locked in a cage for screaming and yelling while her father was on the stand.” She later learned that it wasn’t a real cage but was described to her as such.
Emanuel Fried had always been paranoid that he was being followed, and for good reason. Later, using the Freedom of Information Act, Emanuel Fried was able to get all of the files the FBI had collected on him. He learned that he had been followed starting in the 1940s through 1972, and over 5,000 pages had been collected on the family.
Mindy Fried used this point in her presentation to discuss continuity theory, an idea which claims that people’s internal structures remain with them throughout their lives so that who they are in their younger years carry with them throughout their lives.
Emanuel Fried’s paranoia also lasted. He called Mindy Fried late one night in a panic, claiming the workers at the institution were trying to get him. “You’ve got to get me out of here,” he told her frantically. Mindy Fried calmly spoke to her father and was able to quell his anxieties.
Yet there is also a struggle to hold onto identity over time. As people’s ability to care for themselves fades, it also often feels like part of their identity does, as well. This was also true for Emanuel Fried. Mindy Fried described an instance where an article written about her father in the Buffalo News was posted to the bulletin board in the institution’s hallway. Other residents approached Red to congratulate him on this achievement, and he lit up with this praise. Emanuel Fried finally felt like “You see me for who I am,” Mindy Fried explained.
Though many people claim that it is in this bare-bones state that people are able to find true meaning in their lives, Mindy Fried reflected on her experience and respectfully disagreed. “But actually, we’re always trying to [find meaning] throughout our lives. Making meaning is a lifelong endeavor.”