FEATURE: Male managers juggle work commitments with elderly parent care
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While women have long been the main caregivers for elderly parents in Japan, the rapid graying of the country's population, coupled with the prevalence of smaller families in recent generations, has seen more men taking up the responsibility.
Among them are a growing number of men in management positions who in the past may have relied on their wives to do the job, but who no longer have the option due to their spouses' own work or family care commitments.
Masatoshi Bamba, 53, a municipal government section chief in Osaka Prefecture, western Japan, spends more than an hour each way to visit his parents' home in Kyoto every weekend.
His 83-year old father has illnesses including dementia, while his mother, 82, is suffering from the aftereffects of a stroke and thighbone fracture.
His parents live on their own, using daily home care and other nursing services as they are officially certified as requiring long-term care for their daily lives.
In case of emergency such as sudden hospitalization, Bamba rushes to their home even on weekdays.
He said he cannot rely on his wife because she is also working and busy taking care of their five children.
Bamba once broke down with fatigue. Since then he has come to pay more attention to his own health and try to make necessary work arrangements beforehand.
"When I take care of my parents' need for care, I feel something like human dignity," Bamba said. "Accumulated experiences to settle problems under restricted circumstances have helped me improve my judgment and widened my view."
Yasuyuki Takahashi, 53, president of Tokyo-based caregiver placement agency Pasona Lifecare Inc., boasts of being a "care boss" and blogs about experiences in caring for his parents.
Takahashi's father, 87, was once designated as in a high level of requirement for long-term daily care but later became capable of walking on his own thanks to physical therapy. Last year, however, he suffered a compressed fracture in the lower back.
His 84-year-old mother is having trouble with her legs. Takahashi says his wife needs to care for her own parents.
He used to visit his parents often in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, when he lived in nearby Osaka for a job assignment.
He now lives apart from his parents and often calls them to check their physical and living conditions and provide necessary information to their caregivers on a daily basis.
The experience has helped Takahashi understand the situation of his subordinates taking care of their parents.
Takahashi used to have nothing other than to tell them, "Well, you're doing well."
"But now I can engage in deeper discussion with them," he said.
A 44-year-old female employee, who is looking after her father in need of long-term daily care, appreciated Takahashi as an "understanding boss." He has "allowed me to use a variety of programs such as stay-home work," she said.
With some 100,000 people quitting their jobs each year to take care of their parents, 70 percent of companies surveyed expected an increase in employees retiring from work for the same reason.
Major staffing agency Pasona Inc., parent company of Pasona Lifecare, carried out a project last year for managerial and other employees on the assumption that they need to visit their homeland to care for their parents.
The project has "made me ready when necessary," a participant said.
"The question of managerial workers caring for their parents has come to the surface over the past few years against the backdrop of extended lifespan of people," said Masashi Fukabori, a consultant at Work Life Balance Co. in Tokyo, which offers consultation services for a favorable work-life balance.
"Work will become chaotic if nothing is done," Fukabori said. "But a smooth transfer of authority (from managerial workers) will contribute to the growth of subordinates and sharing of information between them. Company-wide backup is necessary to address the issue."