“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
Not since the microwave has there been an invention rivaling the Post-It note®.
These odd combinations of square note pad and sticky stuff have successfully wormed their way into every campus classroom, business or home office I’ve ever known. Wonderful little blank pieces of yellow paper just waiting for me to convert them into a YTC flag (“Yet to Complete”) I can plant on just about anything that comes across my desk.
Like me, they are simple, no fuss and without a single microchip! And just like the famous potato chips, who can use just one? For that matter, who would buy just one? It just makes sense that they come together in pads…like families. Now while you may not have seen that one coming, bear with me:
- Like the Post-It kids, family resemblances between members (or generations) can be stunning. Who hasn’t heard, “You’re the spitting image of your …”. Mother Post-It must be part penguin the way she can tell her thousands of sticky little children apart. Impressive when, to me anyway, they all look pretty much the same.
- Even one family, by its very definition, comes with multiples. Like Post-It’s, families are usually at their best when they come together.
- And though nearly identical in many respects, kids come blank, each waiting to be written on, looking to fulfill their true purpose – each to their own path.
If you’ll recall from last week, my carefully constructed plan for the holiday break was ‘quiet time’ within which to devour a good book and vast quantities of home-made cinnamon rolls.
Instead, the week held more family noise than I ever heard coming. Not part of my plan to be sure, but on the up-side, the baked goods were delicious (past tense ;-D). I knew my precious week was not going to go according to plan when, instead of reading a book, I started writing one (but more on that later). So much for careful planning.
My Christmas week was filled with all kinds of noisy contact with members of my partner’s side of the family – a cousin, a niece, one of my nephews, my partner’s dad…and the phone kept ringing. Very cool.
All the family ‘noise’ coming from Rick’s side is not unusual. By definition, they’re a raucous noisy bunch of life lovers. But for whatever reason, I had a different perspective on them this year. My vantage point almost felt like I were looking in from the outside while ever mindful of how deeply ‘inside’ I am in this extended band of outlaws I call ‘family’. For all their comings and goings, we, as a family are filled with flaws, baggage and dumb choices scattered across each of us along the way.
This extended family is also adding members…there are new little kids everywhere. I live uniquely informed by a long and ‘first person’ history of life lived along side each of those in my generation. It’s excellent to have actually been there ‘back in the day’ when the family stories now being told as legend, were actually happening. If you’ve ever wondered why no one tells the embarrassing insider stories about you until someone new is in the room, now you know. The embarrassment factor in telling tales on my peer-relatives and their now-adult kids is priceless. Seeing the red race up their cheeks is yet another perk of being the ‘grown-up’. Hearing my niece Farah moaning how all her little son, AJ, wants to do is say “NO” made me laugh so hard I nearly…well, never mind. Point is, you gotta love the cosmic boomerang of Life when Farah’s complaint is coming from (now) a woman who, at the age of four REFUSED to say anything but “NO” – for months. I love it…and I love them – each and every one.
Being spread all over the country, all the tribal cell phone story-telling inevitably led to exchange of the most recent photos by way of EM. The pic swaps, in turn, led me to do some cruising through the land of Facebook. With a borrowed sign-on, I spent quite a little bit of time stopping off at one or another of the relatives’ photo pages. It sort of felt like peeking in a window, seeing who had ‘friended’ whom, following each new trail of links wherever it led me. In the process, all manners of unrelated trivia began to come together in a collectively painted and refreshed landscape of who was what; where they had been and now, where they were and who they were with. For all my bemoaning of social media, it was fun.
In contrast, the week passed without hearing one decibel from my side (genetically speaking). My mother? Nothing. My son? Nothing. My siblings? Nothing. What’s surprising about that?
With my exhilarating climb up the first family tree fueling an adrenalin rush, I wondered what I’d find if I turned my Facebook focus to the people I’d been born to.
The sound of the void I discovered was deafening.
My son’s page had photos and lots of friends. But he’s been told that a relationship with me is an act of betrayal to his mom and mine (Grandma). After all these years, it’s tragic and empty how something as simple as the act of friending still comes with that kind of price tag. I saw his step-dad’s page, but any sign of the former Mrs. Dan4Kent had seemed to have oddly vanished. My son’s step-sister is now all grown-up while his little step-brother (now in college) carries a different last name than any of them. Uh?
My immediate family showed even less. My mother’s page shows nothing – all private – as featureless as the back side of the moon on a dark night. Same thing with several of my siblings – smooth, featureless, devoid of detail and – each private. I felt more than a little disappointment that the sibling I was closest to growing up (my sister, 2-years behind me) had no presence at all… even on the pages of folks I knew to be mutual friends. Why all the secrecy? I miss them. Were they happy?
But it only took a little while before acrid images of what went along with growing up in such an uptight evangelical family started flashing in front of my heart’s face. I remember the rigid lock-step required to be in my family growing up. I remember understanding how it was verboten to speak of what went on inside our family with anyone on the outside.
I remember each and every manufactured boogeyman created to keep us in fear back then. I also remember, as an adult, Rick and I standing alone against all of them arrayed to insure my parental rights were terminated when my son was still a little boy. When I asked him about any memories he may have had of that day in a Kansas courthouse, he said he’d been told I was trying to keep him from having a new dad (my ex’s fiance’). To this day, I fail at trying to describe the way his eyebrows scrunched closer together as he came to grips with idea that the opposite was true.
I remembered, years later, sitting in a Holiday Inn lobby, even then still trying to hammer out some kind of functional relationship with my mother and father, much less my siblings. After listening to their long drawn out rationale as to why they shunned me (me being gay), Rick asked them if we invited them to dinner at our house, would they accept? Always in charge from behind the scenes, my mother gave a four or five minute response. When she was done, Rick turned to me and asked, “What did she say?”. Being fluent in all forms of non-specific double-talk, I looked at them and then I looked at him. “She said ‘No’”.
With veins popping out of their heads, my mother looked at my dad to say something. Clearly uncomfortable out of his skin, the best he could come up with was “We’re here to talk about you. Our lives are not up for discussion.” With that, they both stood and made their way out of my life – again. That day was one of the last times I ever saw my dad. It was years later while surfing Google at work when I stumbled across his obituary.
I was knocked to my knees because through all that time (and to this very day), I had taken great care to make sure each and every member of my immediate family had my latest contact information against the outside hope one of them would use it. No one ever did. No one called to tell me Dad was sick. No one ever told me it was stomach cancer. No one called to say he was dead. Google did that.
Since then, I’ve talked with several who were there at his funeral. Every one of them indicated thinking (at the time) something felt weird. My siblings were apparently not all that convincing in their effort to tow the party line, each of them mumbling something about not being able to find me; and if they could have, it would have been too traumatic for my mother. I can barely fathom the agony of the conflict inside of them as each one went through their prescribed paces. More sadness to know that even though the real secret has long been out, they insist (to this day) on retelling the charade as if repetition will somehow convert the lie into something true.
I wish it weren’t like this. I weep that it is. For all the bull s**#, I still love them.
But there came a point where I had to accept that this was simply the hand I’d been dealt. So I took lemons and made lemonade, forging a new family for me to belong to.
If you are a parent of a child you think might be gay, don’t judge them or get all uptight. Same thing goes for others in your life. Keep an open mind. If there is ever a time when a kid needs a family, it’s when they are coming to grips with who they truly are… and how that fits into the tribe they’re in. If it doesn’t fit, you may lose them forever. This life is way too short. It really does boil down to what each of us does in between the parenthesis. Please, find a way. Love your children. Love your family. Don’t turn your back on them. We all need each other – together.
PS: I’m grateful to report that it’s true when they say, “When you know better, you do better”. I have. I am. My wish for some of you this new year is success in doing the same in a way that works for you. Let me leave you listening to the words of the incredible Ms. Stevie Nicks in this 2011 live Chicago performance of Landslide:
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