The Cool Thing Is That When It’s Time To Grow Up, Your Family Doesn’t Define You – You Define Your Family.
I believe it has been three years since I last saw my dad.
I can surmise this because it’s been three years since I wrote about traveling to Minnesota to see him, and I don’t believe we met anywhere else in the interim.
I don’t have any digital photos of the two of us together, and from our short conversations every three to four months, I know more about the weather where he lives than… well… much of anything else about his life.
It’s not that I have “daddy issues” per se, but it’s more like a mutual lack of motivation to try. When one member of a nuclear family decides to emotionally check out, it’s only natural for the rest to eventually follow suit. Trenches are dug on opposing sides in accordance with bloodlines and the ones who are left in the middle — the kids whose blood, unfortunately for them, is a blend of both forces — are left to wander No Man’s Land and hope they don’t get shot.
You probably already know this because broken families are all the rage these days, but all those words they throw back and forth? Those can be some nasty bullets.
And the people standing in No Man’s Land are usually the ones who catch them.
Easy targets, you see.
It’s hard not to tatter when you feel their cold sting but with time, if you’re lucky, comes denial and a clean slate. (Only the very lucky get actual closure, it seems.) And that’s kind of where we are, my dad and I, at that place where we pretend nothing ever happened. And while it’s nice to get back to a world where we can laugh and tell stories and learn from each other again, it’s also sad to lose all of that past. Fuzzy, fading memories of stories at bedtime and my sister and I each falling asleep on a knee while riding a bus — or was it a ferry? — on our big family trip to Florida.
There was the time he almost blew himself up while fixing the furnace and he singed off his eyebrows and smelled like burned marshmallows.
I’d watch him play basketball with his friends and there was a strap that held his thick glasses to his face and his mustache dripped sweat and still he was the coolest dad in all the 80’s. It’s because of him I knew the abridged classics like Treasure Island and Heidi and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Because of him I tried any kind of sport and thought I might actually be good.
Because of him I know that life never has to be just the way life is and if I want something to change, it’s in my power to change it.
Enough time has passed that I’m okay now accepting the new clean slate and the mustache and glasses that, while they’ve been gone for 10 years, still shock me with their absence. Justin and I are heading back to the Cold North this week for a visit that’s well-overdue. We’ll eat new kinds of food that he makes with someone else and sleep in a guest bed that he bought with someone else and we’ll laugh and tell stories and learn from each other again.
I’m not going to say it’s not weird. Even after all this time.
Especially after all these bullets.
But here’s the thing: There is nothing in this world short of grief and regret that will age you like anger. And since long-held anger has a way of turning to grief and regret as time wears it thin, I refuse to give years of my life to its ill-gotten cause.
I don’t know if you know this, but I plan on staying young forever.
This week I will probably learn about homemade dumplings and stir-fry. I will see cousins and aunts and uncles I haven’t seen in far too long, and my grandmas.
I miss my grandmas.
And I’ll get to see them, too.
I miss the old slate sometimes. I do. But this new one, the more I explore and the less personally I take it, has good parts, too. And I can choose to embrace and accept and to love, or I can let it fester and rot and wrinkle my face in all the wrong places.
To me, it’s a no-brainer.
How is it to you?
Update: My mom just sent me a picture. Her email says, It was the tender you take from the ship to shore.
Rather than gush all over this post, which I’m trying hard not to do, let me say this: people with storied family histories would be hard-pressed to deny the simple elegance of this article. It truly does come down to wanting to keep fear, frustration and anger as part of your familial baggage or not. People who claim not to be able to let go of that stuff simply cannot see that nobody but their own ego is making them hang on to all of that negativity. Letting go may seem difficult, like being asked to carve a new home out of the side of a granite mountain, but it is the simplest thing in the world to do. You simply have to want to do it.
Thanks for this. Between this, Rise of the Guardians and some inner turmoil brewing over my own past, I’m going to need eye-diapers.
Wow, you managed to paraphrase my entire point in one awesome paragraph. And you’re spot-on. :)
P.S. I loved Rise of the Guardians!
P.P.S. Check out the “update” I added to the end.
That pic. So. Freakin’. ADORABLE.
P.S. Rise of the Guardians made me forget to be a “grown-up”…which I know isn’t hard, but still. I had to tell Achebeyo several times not to ruin it for me with her adultness.
I pretty much kept watching it because Jack Frost was hot.
Is that weird?
You are such a good writer, not to mention a fabulous thinker, and thank you for sharing those precious thoughts. I am the youngest in my family and never felt that I was taken seriously until I lost both of my parents at which time I felt grown up enough to continue to bring us together for an annual family reunion. Every September I swear and pull out my hair and say no more, never again, and a few weeks later I’m into planning next years event.
You can choose your bank, you can register to vote in your favorite party, you can select the theatre for your movie to see, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your family. Regret is a poison you take and wait for the other person to die. No bueno!
Aww, thanks!! And as much as I’m sure they drive you insane year after year, I bet your family really appreciates the efforts you make for those reunions. It’s such a special thing to do – especially after losing your parents. I’m so sorry. :(
Ah, family. The books one could write. I’m all about the letting it go to move on plan. The other way, well, there only lies bitterness. It’s a hard way to live.
So true – and definitely a good call. :)
Sometimes easier said than done though. Especially when forgiveness of one feels like disloyalty to another.
EXCELLENT point. Though I finally learned that the “disloyalty” I was feeling was really more a manipulation. And in letting myself fall for it, I was being very disloyal to my own moral ground. :)
that picture is CLASSIC.
well written, katie.
I have MISSED your blog posts. Come back soon. :)
Have an incredible trip darling! LOVE that photo of the three of you!!
Thank you! I will!!
You have a wonderful attitude, Katie! We should all live by your words on this article. So well written!
Thank you!! It’s definitely easier said than done sometimes. :)
This is motivating for those of us who also have complicated relationships with family members. I think it’s great that you’re looking for the positive and focusing on yourself and the actions you can take to make it a good experience
Thanks, Mary! Sometimes it’s easier to say than to do, but we just have to keep trying, you know? :)
[…] I laughed, too. I had to. After thirty-one years, my dad, goobery as my grandpa before him, still makes me laugh. Despite all of the hard stuff. […]