It was an adventure that I never thought I would go on. No. I didn’t recently go rock climbing or skydiving, but, to me, what I did a couple of months ago posed just as much of a risk. I hired my first male caregiver.
It started out innocently enough. Like so many times before, when I needed more assistance, I posted an ad on Craigslist. “Dependable, trustworthy female needed” it reads in part, “to assist a wheelchair user with laundry, cooking, and other errands. Some personal care is needed.” Pay starts at $10 per hour, blah, blah, blah. Contact me for more information. I’ve probably posted a similar ad hundreds of times before. Very few things surprise me. But this did. An email that I got in response said:
“I am very interested in this position. I am, however, a male. If you feel that you would consider a male for this position, please email me back.”
Whoa. Not to be sexist, but why would a male want this position? At first, I really couldn’t figure it out. He is a boy, after all. But all his emails were polite and respectful. I figured that there was no harm in interviewing him. If I didn’t like him, I wasn’t going to hire him and there would be no choice to be made.
Within minutes of when Aaron showed up at my door, he was beyond impressive. In fact, he blew me away. Since I have been hiring caregivers for the past 26 years, I pretty much have all the interview questions that I ask memorized. And that being the case, I know the answers I am looking for.
When I ask, “Of all the jobs you could have in this city, why would you want this one?” The responses that I get tell me volumes about whether a person would be a good fit for this job. If the answer is “I am a pre-nursing/pre-physical therapy/pre-occupational therapy/pre-med major and this job will give me lots of experience,” they are not who I am looking to hire. It is fine for those things to be a secondary reason for the interest in this position. But I don’t exist to make anyone’s resume look better. And without sounding totally obnoxious, this job is about other people meeting my needs, not the other way around.
So, when I posed the question to Aaron I thought I knew what he was going to say. Very few people surprise me. But he did. He said, “Well, I am very close to my family, and I would hope that if any of my relatives ever needed anything, and nobody was available, someone in the community would step up and do what was necessary to make them comfortable. That is what I would like to do for you.”
I pressed him further. “But you are a boy,” I said, “Why would you want this job when you could easily work at Target or anywhere else?”
“I like to see the results of my efforts making a positive difference in someone’s life” Aaron said, “If I worked at Target or anywhere else where I would see a bunch of people every shift, then I wouldn’t see the results of my efforts in the same way as I would working for you.”
Okay. I have to admit, those answers were brilliant. Of the hundreds of people I have interviewed over the years, Aaron’s interview was probably in the top three.
Now I had a problem. Could I actually hire a guy? My caregivers help me get dressed and undressed, get in and out of the shower and many other things of a personal nature. How comfortable would I be with a male doing all of that? He is a boy, after all.
I wasn’t sure and pondered the question for more than a week. Finally, I sent an email to Aaron and asked him how he would handle those kinds of situations.
His response explained that he had an idea. “From what I gather”, he said, “you do most of the things that require personal care in the morning and at night. If you choose to hire me, what if I started out working only in the afternoons? That way, you could get to know me better before we tackled the more personal stuff.” I must say, Aaron, that idea wasn’t bad at all.
But there was another thing that made me hesitate just a bit. I am just not very used to hanging around guys. Would Aaron get what I was about? Would he understand how passionate I am about things like advocacy and disability humor? I didn’t know. Then a friend of mine asked me a direct question. “If gender were not an issue, and you had to make this decision based solely on the interview, would you hire this guy?” In a heartbeat. Absolutely no doubt about it.
The answer became clear.
So, Aaron became one of my caregivers about two months ago. In recent weeks, he has taken me to many therapy and doctor’s appoints. He has done my dishes, laundry, and helped me in and out of bed. He is stronger than anyone who has ever worked for me in the past, so when we do my evening exercises, he stretches me well. In fact, he does that on many different levels.
On days when nothing has been scheduled, we have gone to the park, gone out to eat, and gone shopping for the “just right” pair of sunglasses. He’s even gotten me hooked on “How I Met Your Mother”.
The other day, he took me to get my hair cut. We went to a place where appointments are not required. Aaron read the sign on the door that said: “Walk right in”. Then he turned to me in my wheelchair and said: “That’s kind of mean…” I laughed out loud.
There was a time not too long ago when I wondered if I could hire Aaron as a caregiver. I wondered if he would get where I was coming from and what things are important to me.
I am no longer worried. He totally gets it. Even though he’s a boy.