Car accidents, illnesses, falls, and temper tantrums—that’s what author Valinda Johnson was facing when she decided to become her elderly father’s caregiver. In My Father’s House Again shares an honest portrait of the situation facing so many baby boomers today. Valinda wondered if her dad should be in a nursing home, but he really wasn’t ready. At ninety-four, he was able to dance and drive, but there was little else that interested him. But would he agree to come to live with her and her husband, Robert? After weighing all of the options, she and Robert came to the difficult conclusion that she must go to live with her father to care for him. It was a life change not only for her but also for her husband, who stayed behind until he was able to retire. It was only nine months, but it seemed like a lifetime. When she relocated 700 miles from everything that was familiar to her, she had no idea how difficult it would be to manage without Robert. Her dad had no intention of making anything easy for her, either. If she was to help him, it would be on his terms.
Introduction Returning to Iowa after 45 years to help Dad became a challenge as well as a pleasant adventure. I had not anticipated Dad would be moody and demanding. I heard many stories about the problems others my age had in dealing with their parents’ aging problems but I was sure my Dad would not be so difficult. Dad was much too active physically and mentally for a nursing home, too independent for assisted living and an apartment was out of the question. What would he do with all he had accumulated in 94 years? I took over household chores like washing, cleaning, and cooking. Robert was looking forward to taking over the numerous tasks of maintaining the buildings and grounds making it possible for Dad to stay in his home as long as we were able to care for him. My husband’s retirement was nine months away and he could then join my granddaughter and me. Dad’s best friend and classmate had a hard time with her children. They did not think it was safe for her to continue living by herself. She was moved to an apartment against her wishes and then the children thought it also necessary to take control of her finances. As his friend went through her difficulties, he feared I would do the same things to him. My Southern-born and raised husband loved Iowa. After visiting in Iowa a few times he told me he wanted to live there when he retired. I was not so eager to return and told him he could go if he wanted—without me. It took years to be comfortable with who I was. My husband and friends did not realize the emotional conflicts I suffered or contributions they made to help me understand the past was unimportant and that it was okay to be myself. Before I could face the challenges of helping Dad, I had to deal with the ghosts of my past and resolve those issues.
Valinda Johnson was born in a small town in southern Iowa. She graduated from a business school in Omaha, Nebraska. She raised an adopted son and is currently enjoying raising his daughter. Now retired, she and her husband, Robert, live in Iowa.