From Journalist to Caregiver
A conversation with NBC News anchor Richard Lui
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One Thing Leads to Another…
I am constantly torn between doing what’s good enough and what’s right. This goes for just about everything- producing television, interviewing guests, and home improvement projects.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen some pictures from my latest project. The image above is how it looked on Friday, but I’ve made some significant progress since then. Believe it or not, this torn up bathroom started with one simple task: changing out a faucet. Yep.
My mother-in-law’s bathroom has been dated since she moved in. It’s last major renovation was in the 1970s, and it had always been on my list, but I never really had the time to do much with it.
Her old faucet finally stopped working and she asked me to change it out for a new one. I did that a few weeks ago, but the base of her vanity was particle board that began to disintegrate when I was working under there.
I also noticed that the bottom of the avocado green sink had begun to rust. The vanity cabinet had been built in place years ago, and as I looked at it, it seemed like something I could improve upon- functionally, aesthetically, and quality-wise.
So I decided to make a new vanity cabinet. Since she needed a new sink, I might as well also build a new countertop too. If I’m pulling all of that out, the old mirror was pretty gross. And if I’m going to all that effort, I might as well paint the room. Oh, and change the toilet. (I am really resisting the temptation to redo the floor. Maybe that will happen before the summer is over).
Of course, just changing the faucet was all that was required, but sometimes I can’t stop myself. It can be empowering and gratifying when you see an entire room transformed over the course of a weekend or two. It can also be debilitating when I find it hard to take action because if I start one thing, I feel the intense need to do everything else, so I sit on the sidelines until I can do it all.
My mother-in-law has referred to this project as “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” (like the children’s book where the mouse can’t stop at just the cookie, because then it wants a glass of milk…). That descriptor applies to a lot of my thinking I guess.
This project has been a nice way to keep my hands and mind busy over the last few weeks, and I’m really looking forward to seeing it all completed!
On Thursday, I had a really great conversation with anchor and reporter for NBC News and MSNBC, Richard Lui. Richard’s new book Enough About Me looks at his decision to become a long distance caregiver to his father when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
Richard described to me why it was important for him to be there for his father:
“As soon as I knew he was diagnosed, I decided I’ve got to make a decision because I know my dad’s going to need help at a certain point. I didn’t want him to go through this journey alone. My goal was to try to do right by him because, as a kid, he always stood up for me.”
However, becoming a caregiver was a complicated decision. Richard had a thriving career at NBC in New York and his family all lived in San Francisco. I understood Richard’s desire to help his family, but he is one of four children and his mother is still alive. Trying to balance work and family on opposite coasts felt like a big challenge, and I wanted to know why Richard felt such a strong desire to be there for his dad when there were so many others that lived closer:
“This is not necessarily about just getting the job done, it’s also what do I want to do? What is it that I will feel right in my decision making and that’s why I did it.”
Of course, there are news outlets in San Francisco and even large national bureaus in Los Angeles, which would’ve allowed Richard to be much closer to his father. He explained to me why he made the decision to stay at NBC in 30 Rock working on a reduced schedule:
“It was easier as an anchor that would correspond occasionally that I would stay here, because everyone knew my situation, they were supportive of my situation, I could still contribute to the organization as well by moving to Friday, Saturday, Sunday. I also enjoy the topics of politics and national and international news. So it all kind of fit well together that we would implement this way.”
Over the past year, Richard had to reduce his visits from three to four times per month to just three visits the entire year because of COVID and travel restrictions. He was able to visit his father last month and shared how he’s doing:
“The guy is the healthiest, most wrinkle free person around right now. Doesn’t have a worry in the world. We always laugh at him because he just looks so peaceful. He can’t walk or talk or eat orally anymore and he’s bedridden, but they sit him up at the care community and he engages with you with his eyes. He looks great, he’s a a tank.”
Richard has covered breaking news at CNN prior to joining NBC and MSNBC, so he’s no stranger to the challenges of reporting live on the air when facts may still be scarce. In a strange way, he saw his training as a journalist being the perfect conditioning for the difficult work of caregiving:
“Journalism in it’s small way equips us not to compartmentalize, but to work hard towards something in emotional and difficult times. An example of that is breaking news for me. In breaking news, you can be very human and react to how horrible that particular piece of news is. Journalism does prepare us for these situations. Not because we don’t care, but because we can live very intense feelings simultaneously.”
He continued the thread about the parallels of caretaking and journalism by sharing some advice he had received from one of his mentors at NBC:
“When the breaking news happens, consider going slower not faster. Consider that you are talking to that person just like you and I are talking now and you’re putting your hand on their shoulder saying this is what is happening, we’re getting the facts, and we’re going to get it done and we’re going to get it right for you. Take your time. Get it right. Be calm and deliberate. That was one of the things that was helpful to the caregiving piece.”
Richard was one of only a handful of employees that was required to report to 30 Rock during the pandemic because he anchors breaking news coverage. However, in-person headcount was reduced to less than 5% of the building. We talked a lot about the effect of the pandemic on work culture, but I liked this insight about how whole industries may be in the process of reforming because of changes brought on by the pandemic:
“I do believe, not only in the broadcast industry or the news industry, that that idea of a selfless business has already begun because that was a requirement. We have not seen the business courses or the business books or the business cases out of Harvard or Ross School of Business yet, but I know they’re being ‘written’ right now. I hope we just don’t forget about the lessons we’ve learned about having a very selfless business culture.”
On Thursday, I will be talking with HGTV stars Jon Pierre and Mary Tjon-Joe-Pin. They are a married couple in Houston that have a new show beginning this month called Two Steps Home. We chat about house flipping in Texas, shooting a renovation show during the pandemic, and working with Ben and Erin Napier on Home Town Takeover. I hope you’ll tune in- they are really fun!
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