My parents are against getting the COVID-19 vaccine.
Before 2020, I never heard them say anything about conspiracies or anything close to being fanatical. Then in the early months of the pandemic, my mom or dad began to show me random Facebook posts with captions like “Covid is a hoax!” alongside a crude illustration of whatever government figure the anti-vaxxers were blaming the “hoax” on at the time.
Over the past two years my parents’ anti-vax stance escalated, creating a massive divide between them and my older sister and me, since both of us believe in getting vaccinated. Every conversation we had with them, whether it was during dinner or even out in public, inevitably turned into an argument (which then often turned into a rant from my mom, who easily got offended if we opposed her). That usually turned into angry silence and division that lasted for as short as an hour, but sometimes went on for days.
My Dad Refused Vaccination and It Cost Him His Job
My dad was a teacher at a New York City public school, surrounded by intelligent people in a blue state where a majority of adults are vaccinated. He is usually progressive on most issues, too. That is partly why his anti-vax stance was such a shock. He has since been “put on pause” from working at his school—not exactly fired, but not exactly employed—because he refuses to get vaccinated, defying a city mandate.
I remember when I first heard the news of him being out of work. It didn’t even come directly from him, and this made me angry. I’ve tried to convince myself that maybe he kept it from us initially because a part of him, deep down, understood how absurd he was being.
I was out with friends at a house party on a Friday night, and a girl who I hardly knew came up to me. Visibly tipsy, she exclaimed; “Oh my god, I’m so sad your dad is leaving! Ugh, he was my fave!”
This news would have been hard to digest coming from him, let alone a girl I hardly knew. He had left his job to avoid getting vaccinated and didn’t even have the decency to tell his own kids. I couldn’t believe that he and my mom had become so delusional in the depths of Facebook wormhole conspiracies that they believed it was worth my father losing his job over. He had been a teacher for several decades and he loved his work.
I felt betrayed and deceived. I have tried talking to him about it, but the conversations have not been constructive. One time on the phone, I asked him if money was becoming tighter.
“Dad, is it really worth all of this?”
He replied angrily. “Are you serious? You’re still questioning us?” This pissed him off and was accompanied with a few minutes of ranting and then an abrupt hang up.
My Sister and Dad Test Positive for COVID
Things got worse when a few months ago, my younger sister tested positive for COVID. She had mostly cold-like symptoms, but upon directions from me and my older sister who is 19, she isolated in her room.
My mom wasn’t always respectful of that boundary, sometimes trying to break my sister’s self-imposed quarantine to see her. That bothered me and my sisters, since my youngest could still pass the disease on to my mother and worse, to my sick and elderly grandma, who was also living with us. Finally, my older sister made everyone in our household get tested. I was relieved my parents complied and didn’t make a big fuss over this at least.
The only other person in my family who tested positive was my dad. The morning after testing positive, my father drove upstate where we have a weekend house. He agreed to do this since my sisters and I had already taken a stand by getting us all tested and voicing our concerns about my grandma’s health.
Although he had no symptoms at first, about a week later he told our mom he was having trouble breathing and felt weak. One day, he fainted in the bathroom and woke up on the floor the next morning.
After that, my mom had to drop her duty of taking care of her mother to go upstate and keep my dad from possibly dying.
For over a month, my sisters and I were on our own and taking care of my grandmother, who was barely able to walk without assistance, and was in frequent need of medical attention. She had cancer a few years ago and still receives oxygen through a tube called a nasal cannula. We had to call an ambulance for her three times.
My mom barely gave us updates on my dad’s health, even though we begged almost every day. To make matters worse, we didn’t know how to properly aid my grandmother, who felt miserable because her health was deteriorating. She also wasn’t shy in letting us know that she wanted our mom back to care for her. My sisters and I felt so stressed, the uncertainty of my dad’s health weighing heaviest.
Praying for My Dad’s Life
My family had never been very religious, but one night after not hearing from her for a few days, my mom sent the family group chat a vague, but ominous text: “Pray so deeply and strongly for Dad girls… he has been experiencing very strong symptoms of this flu and he needs all your energies and prayers my Loves.”
We started to break down and immediately called my mom. She said he was in really bad condition—she didn’t know if she should find him a ventilator, but we didn’t know how she’d even do this. Then she said that she still wouldn’t take him to the hospital because they were worried the doctors would force vaccination on him (not even knowing that vaccinations aren’t recommended while someone is infected.)
“This could be avoided by going to the hospital!” I said.
“No guys, we’re not going to the hospital!” she adamantly replied.
I responded even more dramatically. “If something happens, I’m never going to forgive you!”
It took about a month but my dad eventually recovered and stopped showing symptoms. But the fear I experienced that night hasn’t left my mind. I’m still angry about it. I thought my dad was going to die because of my parents’ delusions.
How I Think About My Parents Now
I love my parents. But lately it’s been difficult to separate them, as the people I know and care about, from their destructive beliefs and actions.
Having two relatives get Covid and the way my parents handled it has taken a toll on my relationship with them. It has made me question the people that I idolized growing up. The people that I believed, in my childhood innocence, could do no wrong. My dad’s incredible intelligence in all things literary and creative, and my mom’s constant and unconditional empathy and cheerfulness are just some examples of things I’d always admired them for.
My dad introduced me to philosophical writings like Tao Te Ching, an ancient Chinese text, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s inspiring work. My mom woke me up every morning in what I thought was the most gentle and kind way humanly possible, with a coffee and a treat to start off my day on the right foot. Those memories are still there; they’re just clouded by my resentments for the series of events caused by my parents’ choices regarding COVID-19.
Part of me questions how they could let all of this unfold, if they truly care about me and my sisters, all because of a mere shot that is meant to help.
How could they leave us helpless for so long? How could my dad be completely fine with losing his job, our source of income, while he still has three daughters under his roof? How could they be so irresponsible?
We’re still very much in the dark about our finances. I know that money is tight, but I don’t know how tight. I also don’t know how long we can sustain ourselves with my dad unemployed, since my mom doesn’t work either.
Strength With My Sisters
This experience has taught me a lot about the complexities of humans. It’s hard to accept that we can be good people and still go down the wrong paths. That things aren’t always simply black and white, though it’d be easier if they were.
I thought I was alone in my struggles with my parents, and I felt super isolated. But when I decided to open up about these issues with a friend, to my complete surprise, she related. She told me her mom doesn’t believe in abortions or a woman’s right to choose. This often creates a hostile environment in her home and makes her feel uncomfortable toward her mom.
We discussed how odd it felt to have such differing views from your parents. By the end of the conversation, we both felt better about what we were going home to. And much less like we needed to keep it to ourselves and deal with it on our own.
This experience has definitely, with force, taught me to become a more independent person and thinker, and less reliant on those around me. It’s a difficult thing to do, to disagree with your parents, the people who have guided you through life as long as you’ve been alive.
But I’ve learned other people can provide guidance when your parents can’t. Aside from friends, I found a comforting outlet in my siblings. I’m extremely grateful to my sisters, and for the unity we’ve formed through this. We’ve been put in tough situations, and although they’ve been devastating at times, I think we’ve all come out smarter, stronger, and closer.
1. How did the writer’s parents’ choice of not getting vaccinated affect their family?
2. The writer’s parents receive most of their information about vaccines through Facebook. Although social media can be an important avenue for gaining information, what are other ways you can gain accurate information on polarizing topics like vaccines?
3. Who does the writer go to for support after struggling with their parents’ viewpoints on vaccination? What lesson does the writer learn after reaching out for support?