Dear Family Advisor

My father's racist and inappropriate remarks have gotten so bad, I don't want to take him out in public.

Last updated: Apr 14, 2008

My father was always a bit prejudiced, but he's gotten worse in his old age. Many of the restaurants I take him to are staffed by immigrants. The staff seem especially courteous when dealing with a cranky old man, but he's rude to them when he can't understand what they're saying. He also says inappropriate things to doctors and nurses and home health aides. My teenage children don't want him to visit in case he says something racist to or around their friends, and I think his behavior is a bad example for them. I may have to put him in a nursing home soon because of his failing health and memory, but I'm afraid that if I do, he'll offend the staff, and they'll take it out on him or give him less care because of his rude and hurtful remarks.

You need to correct your dad's remarks on the spot, in front of the person he's offended. Just make it quick and to the point: "That was inappropriate, Dad." Then turn to the other person and say, "I'm so sorry. That was rude and untrue. I hope you'll forgive him."

Be patient if the person is still put off. And if your father continues, remove him from the situation.

This takes more courage than ignoring his remarks or rolling your eyes like an embarrassed teenager, and you might actually need to practice to make yourself comfortable enough to do it. But in the end, you'll find you feel more comfortable taking action than you would slinking away or getting angry with him.

Correcting your dad may not stop him in the future -- in fact, it probably won't. That's not the only reason to do it. It's also the right thing to do for the person who has been insulted, for you, and for your children. You're making it clear that you don't share his opinions or excuse his words.

In fact, it's not only right to speak up; it's smart. Your parent's doctor, nurse, home health aide, taxi driver, and restaurant server decide what kind of service to give him, which can have an impact on his life and ultimately yours as his caregiver. They may try to ignore abuse, but that doesn't make it easy or pleasant for them. It's important to let them know that you understand that.

And then, ultimately, you need to forgive your father -- just as you're asking someone else to do. Even if he made offensive remarks in the past, he may not be aware of them or capable of controlling them now. Remember that he grew up in a less enlightened era, and age or dementia can cause long-forgotten thoughts and words to bubble to the surface. Forgiveness and mercy are gifts we must learn as caregivers and family members -- for ourselves and everyone else involved.