The Doc Project

Lather, rinse, repeat: The day I stepped up as a son

When he was 21, Graham Isador sat in a hospital room with his wheelchair-bound mother and his comatose dad. That day his role as a son changed forever.
The writer's parents on their wedding day

By Graham Isador

When I was 21, my mom broke her ankle in three places. She had tripped in a parking lot after my parents' new puppy – a Border collie/lab mix purchased to assuage the empty nest syndrome that had popped up since I left for university – had tugged a little too hard while chasing after a squirrel. The break put my mother more or less out of commission, taking her off her job, landing her in a weelchair, and giving her a lot of time by herself while my father went to work. 

Our phone chats during this period were long and involved. At first, Mom would fill me in on the latest events in the lives of distant cousins. Later, she would narrate whatever mischief the dog had gotten into that day. When she finished with those topics she'd make up Rear Window–esque scenarios for whatever neighbours she could spy on from the couch.

During this time she tried to keep things jovial but I could tell the accident brought her down. Mom worked as a vice principal for as long as I could remember. It meant she was used to being in charge. The ankle put her at the mercy of her physical limitations and, despite her best efforts, it peppered our talks with a frustrated tone. She'd make jokes about hopping along from one room to another but in the same breath laugh about how useless she was.

For Dad's part, Mom's accident was driving him bonkers. My parents were egalitarian in their division of labour around the house, dividing up the chores as best they could while both working full time. Having my mom out of commission meant that in addition to his work as a judge, my dad was now solely responsible for all of the cooking and cleaning. When I spoke with Dad he'd make strong hints that maybe I could make it home for a weekend, maybe even a week, to help pick up the slack.

I pretended not to pick up on Dad's hints until eventually he flat out asked if I could come help. He said being part of the family meant taking on some extra responsibility when needed. In return, I gave him some half-hearted excuse about school being busy. I said there was some concert I had bought tickets to or a play I wanted to see. Dad understood but asked if I'd give it some effort to get down. You know, when I could. I told him I'd try my best. I said I'd make it down in a week or two.  


Less than a week after that conversation, my dad had an accident of his own. It was serious. I rushed to my parents' place as quickly as I could. In the time after Dad's accident I ended up taking on a kind of responsibility I was wholly unprepared for. 


Click LISTEN above to hear Graham's story.

Graham Isador
About the contributor  

Graham Isador is a contributing writer for VICE and The Hard Times. He is the artistic director of Pressgang and was an inaugural member of the playwright's unit at Soulpepper theatre company. He is based in Toronto.

Acey Rowe
About the producer

Acey Rowe is an award-winning radio producer and host of The Doc Project. Hailing from Gatineau, Quebec, she got her start in broadcasting co-hosting the afternoon drive on 103.9 PROUD FM in Toronto, the world's first LGBTQ commercial station. From there, she joined the CBC as a producer for DNTO in Winnipeg, where she told stories and helped other people tell theirs. Acey's work has been featured onThe Current, q, Podcast Playlist, Tapestry and Day 6, where she won a Gabriel Award. She is also part of the team that makes Now or Never.