My dad is going in for major surgery. He acts like it’s no big deal but I want to be as helpful as I can. Should I bring it up and try to talk to him about it or would that scare him or make him worry more?

–Concerned Son (United States)


Your father is lucky to have you as a son. Sometimes when people are afraid, they try to minimize their worry both so they don’t have to deal with their own fear and as a way to be brave for their loved ones. I think this is especially true for many parents because they feel they always have to be in charge and strong for their kids, no matter what is going on. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work so well because not only are they avoiding dealing with their own anxiety (which can make surgery even more stressful) but they are depriving their loved ones a chance to talk and be real with them and to support them.

Keeping these things in mind, in deciding how to handle this with your father, I often look intuitively at what someone can handle. Let your father take the lead. If you ask him an open-ended question like “How are you feeling about your upcoming surgery?” and he says “Fine. Not a problem,” just give him space to act like it’s not a big deal to him and tell him that you love him and that you’re there for him if he needs anything, keeping things light.

If, on the other hand, he answers that he’s a little nervous, you can take it from there, using your intuition to gauge how far to take the conversation while giving him space to feel whatever he’s feeling and letting him know you love him.

Blessings to you and your family.

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