After 30 years on the air, long-time and award-winning investigative journalist Tom Lyden is stepping away from news to become a full-time caregiver for his elderly mother in California. His last day with FOX 9 is Thursday.
By 2030, more than one in five older adults in Minnesota will need increasing levels of care, which often falls on the shoulders of family. While emotional, Lyden said on Morning Edition with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer, that it’s been a wonderful transition.
“Originally, I just wanted to sneak out the back door,” Lyden said. “And then a couple of colleagues said, ‘you don’t want to do that to yourself, you’ve had a pretty good career’ … So I kind of said, alright, I’ll go through this kind of journey of emotional tumult. And it’ll be worth it.”
The idea to leave began when Lyden’s father died a year-and-a-half ago from a heart attack following lung cancer. Lyden and his husband Fred’s backup plan was to rely on Lyden’s aunt to help care for his mom, but she passed away six months later, also from cancer.
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“So all of a sudden, our backup plan for my mother disappeared,” Lyden said.
Lyden’s mother suffers from profound hearing impairment. The connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline was a concern.
“And we made the decision last year to move out there to sell our house,” Lyden said. “I came back [to Minnesota] about a year and a half ago, ready to leave my job.”
However, Lyden said his bosses at FOX 9 were flexible, allowing him to do investigate work almost entirely remotely — that model lasted one year. But he recognized the need to instead be “fully present” as a caregiver. Now his mom is simultaneously thrilled and overwhelmed.
“I think this is always a tough area to navigate to even for the person who the caretaker is taking care of, too, because there can be all sorts of guilt,” he explained. “I've had people say, ‘Oh, I would never do that to my child,’ … And I think I've heard my mom say that once upon a time. I think it's different when you're sitting in it; it becomes a different situation … And I just think this is a really good decision for our life.”
While Lyden said FOX 9 was supportive, he acknowledged employers are in a tough spot with more and more caregiving becoming necessary, along with the social adjustments required by everyone in a post-pandemic world.
“I think we have to decide what are the allowances that we need to make available … none of this is new,” Lyden said. “It definitely feels like it's it's a little bit of a changing landscape in terms of employment.”
From the outset, Lyden didn’t consider himself an investigative reporter.
“I think all good reporting is investigative reporting at some level,” he said.
Work can quickly become your identity, especially for broadcasters, which Lyden said he’s struggled with a bit.
“In the big sense, I know who I am in that way. I'm a son. I'm a husband. But my own kind of personal identity has been very attached to being Tom Lyden at FOX 9.”
He said he’s looking forward to figuring out his new identity away from the camera. Lyden does say that he’s a “little bit young to retire,” so he’ll likely find something journalism-orientated in the meantime. But he’s unsure what exactly that will look like while being a caregiver.
“I’ve struggled with how you end stories, and I struggled a little bit with how I end my own here.”