You Can Go Home Again

For Glen Hendricks, seeds of change were planted in the summer of 1996 when the extended family gathered to celebrate his parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

What made the reunion even more special was that two golden anniversaries were honored that weekend. Glen's mother and father were married alongside her twin sister and his brother in a double ceremony on June 4, 1946.

"We had a fabulous time with the family," Glen says, "and it got me thinking: Wouldn't it be nice to move closer to my parents in Michigan?"

Glen had a dream job as the Colorado Springs Christian School's middle school principal. But a few months after the reunion, the school's first Grandparents Day convinced him that his instincts were correct. As Glen welcomed dozens of beaming grandfathers and grandmothers to the day-long event, he was reminded again and again that his three children did not have Grandpa and Grandma with them that day.

Later that night, Glen told his wife, Tara, "Our children are not getting to know their grandparents, and I think we should consider moving back to Michigan."

Glen put out job feelers in the Grand Rapids area, and six months later he accepted the position of principal at a Christian school in Byron Center, a 20-minute drive from Glen's parents, Bill and Martha Hendricks.

Bill and Martha love to watch their grandkids race up and down a soccer field or play their instruments in school band concerts. In addition, two of Glen's sisters and their families live within 10 miles. The move east also placed the Hendricks closer to Tara's parents, who live on Long Island, N.Y.

"To restore and build relationships with our family has been our greatest joy," Glen says. "We've been able to spend a lot of time with my family holidays, birthdays, even stopping in for a cup of coffee with my folks. Byron Center Christian School has Grandparents Day as well, and having my parents in the audience was a great experience for me and for them."

Scattered families

A generation or two ago, families generally stayed close to hearth and home because life was easier that way. A young man growing up in an Appalachian coal-mining town or an Oregon fishing village knew he was destined to have a jackhammer or fishing rod thrust into his hands; for young women, their aspirations were marrying good men in the area.

However, sweeping societal changes in the last 30 years increased availability of college, women in the workplace, new jobs in response to technological advances fractured families from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore. And this increasingly mobile society allows young men and women the chance to pursue well-paying jobs in other states.

That's why Judy Wiggin left Maine in the early 60s to teach elementary school in Lexington, Mass. Yet when her widowed mother, Jeannette, began experiencing Alzheimer's disease and could no longer care for herself, Judy took early retirement at age 57 and moved back into her childhood home in Sanford, Maine. "This isn't what I pictured retirement would be," she says, "but Mom needs me to take care of her, and I will be here for her."

Bill Taaffe, who left The New York Times to head up Focus on the Family's periodicals division several years ago, returned to the Times in 1996 to be closer to his 85-year-old mother, Vera. Within months of his return, the nursing home called and said Vera's health had suddenly failed. Bill, who lived 10 miles away, sped to the nursing home and arrived at 1 p.m. He held her hands, prayed with her and watched his mother pass away at 2 o'clock. "It was such a blessing to be there," Bill says. "It gave me a sense of completeness and a feeling that I was where I was supposed to be."

Bill is just one of a growing number who have left prominent positions to be closer to their aging parents. Consider Dick Staub, who hosted the nationally syndicated radio program "The Dick Staub Show" for eight years out of Chicago. A year ago, he chatted off the air with Jan Moskowitz, director of Jews for Jesus in Chicago. The subject turned to their aging parents.

"I've been talking to you as your Christian brother, but now let me talk to you as your rabbi," Jan had said over coffee. "When I hear the phrase, Honor your father and mother,' what I hear is honorarium. The honorarium you pay your parents in their last years of life will be the honorarium your children will pay you. Believe me: Your children are watching to see what you do with your parents."

The revelation stunned Dick. Throughout his working life he had always put his career first, moving up the ladder rung by rung: San Francisco, Boston, Chicago. His parents lived in Spokane, Wash., and his wife, Kathy, had a mother in Seattle who had just learned she had inoperable cancer.

Dick couldn't move his talk show to Seattle, but as he considered his future, he saw that God was leading him toward a new venture: starting the Center for Faith and Culture, an organization that will help the church interpret and interact with the popular culture through seminars, a Web site and an interactive radio show.

Since the Center for Faith and Culture was a media organization that essentially could be based anywhere, Dick and Kathy relocated to Seattle in July 1999.

"We moved with our eyes open," Dick says. "My mother-in-law has been given less than a year to live, and Kathy's 90-year-old grandmother also lives in Seattle. At the same time, my parents are aging. Dad has lost feeling in his hands and fingers, and in time he and Mom won't be physically able to care for themselves. I also have a 41-year-old brother who was born with brain damage. That's why we're planning to have him and my parents move from Spokane to Seattle, where we will be able to care for them. For a long time I have been feeling that I am supposed to be part of their lives. Now I have a chance to be there for them, and that's what I intend to do."

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