“I forbid you to go.”
That was my father’s initial reaction when I told him back in the spring of 1993 that I had accepted a job in south Arkansas.
The money wasn’t great ($250 a week) and the distance from home WAS great. Generations of Pedersons have lived within a 30-mile radius of my western Wisconsin hometown for nearly 200 years.
But I was 22 years old. An adult. A college graduate. Too old to be forbidden. And besides, after three months of applying for jobs in journalism all over the country, I had only this one offer.
“Dad, you can’t keep me from going. I already accepted the job. I leave in 10 days.”
And for the next seven days, nothing more was said.
I didn’t know it, but Mom was working on Dad behind the scenes. She was trying to convince him that his oldest son was going to leave with or without his blessing. And it was going to be hard either way. But Dad’s blessing would make leaving a little easier, if not for him then at least for his son.
Dad gave me his blessing two days before I left. We tried to say our goodbyes before my 1985 Pontiac Parisienne backed out of the driveway and set sail for El Dorado, but we were all crying uncontrollably. It was a really hard goodbye.
Another hard goodbye recently seemed imminent, and this time it was the son’s job to do some work behind the scenes.
The thought crosses the minds of adult children from time to time: I wonder who will live longer, Mom or Dad? It certainly crossed my mind as I stood outside of my mother’s hospital room in freezing temperatures and talked to her via cellphone.
For the first eight months of the pandemic, nobody close to me contracted COVID-19. Then Dad got it. Mom didn’t avoid Dad or do anything special to protect herself. She figured if he had it, she would get it too. And she did. But while Dad recovered quickly, Mom was hospitalized several times and seemed to lack the energy and desire to get better. Things got so dire that I made an emergency trip back home to see her … even if it would be only through a window. I said, through tears, everything I wanted to say and everything she needed to hear. Then I left, doubtful I would ever see her again.
Dad’s quick recovery surprised no one. He’s tougher than a one-eared alley cat.
On Halloween Day in 2019, Dad fell from a ladder, shattering his pelvis. The x-ray looked like a jigsaw puzzle. He had a spring vacation booked for Arkansas and made no changes. At age 74, he was determined to defy any doctor’s predictions and exceed any physical therapist’s expectations.
He was golfing in Hot Springs Village in April. He shot a 38 on his hometown course in June. Amazing!
If only he could transfer that determination and willpower to his wife of 53 years.
When Mom had COVID-19, she didn’t want to eat. She didn’t want to drink. She didn’t want to move around much. Just sleep. Or at least rest. She looked weak. She sounded weak. And Dad was frustrated. He was angry. It seemed that another departure was coming to which he had no control.
It was hard to accept his son changing states; it was impossible to accept his life partner changing realms.
I asked Dad on that recent visit if he remembered forbidding me to move to Arkansas. Not exactly, he said, although he did remember thinking the money was too low and the new location too far away. I reminded him about how he gave me his blessing and told him how much that meant to me before I left.
“Dad, I am praying Mom makes a full recovery. That is what I want to happen. But if that isn’t happening, and it becomes obvious that Mom is ready to move on … please give her your blessing.”
“I don’t know how to do that.”
“I know. I know it seems like you are giving her a green light to give up, and you don’t want her to give up. You want her to fight. But she doesn’t need your anger and frustration. She needs to know you will be OK without her. She needs to know you love her enough to let her go and give her your permission to leave. She doesn’t need your blessing. She will leave either way when she’s ready. Just like I did.”
“Well, I believe she is going to pull out of this. She just needs to work at it.”
Dad has that strong Midwestern work ethic: no excuses, no quitting, no questions, no complaints. It has served him well his entire life, both as an employee and as a small business owner. But it wasn’t working as the caregiver of an uncooperative patient.
It took several more weeks, but Mom did recover. It appears likely I will be able to see her again and hug her again. When we visit on the phone every Sunday night, as we have for years, the strength of her voice has returned. So has her dry wit.
But if you asked me, based on their COVID-19 experience as well as some other factors, who I think will outlive the other … I would have to say Dad.
And if the day ever comes when Mom is ill and ready to go, will Dad be able to let her go? Will she get his blessing?
I pray so.
She’s too old, too stubborn and too cherished to be forbidden.
For two decades, Jason Pederson served as KATV-Channel 7’s “Seven-On-Your-Side” reporter. Now on the other “side” of his award-winning time on the news, he leads the Office of the Ombudsman for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. His perspective-filled and thought-provoking column, “This Side of Seven,” publishes exclusively in AY About You magazine monthly.