Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Talking to Mom and Dad

I just read a post at a fellow blogger's digs that set me to thinking about my own relationship with my parents and family.

All of my parental figures have long since shuffled off their respective mortal coils - the last to shuffle, my mother, died in 1999 aged 92. I've written of my relationships with my parents before at my other blog site. But the post I mentioned above started other thoughts and memories bouncing around in my vacuous little mind.

We all have unique relationships with our parents. Some are great, some awful. Most, I'm guessing share at least a little of both good and bad. Really communicating with parents seems to be perhaps the single biggest bugaboo that many experience. Most of us don't care to be judged, and that seems to be the natural proclivity of many parents. So, we tend to clam up. We feel, and often rightly, that our parents don't understand us or the lives we lead.

That's due partly at least, to the fact that today's world changes so quickly and dramatically. In times past people's lives, the social order in which they lived, changed little from generation to generation. The rules were the rules. But, in looking back over the past century or so change has become the norm, not the exception. The "rules" are far more difficult to define. What was good for the goose is not necessarily good for the goslings.

When challenged by parents, it is often difficult to explain just how things have changed, and how those changes have affected the rules. In order to live in the contemporary world, it is often necessary - and likely desirable - to reject the old ways that just no longer work for us. Therein lay the rift, the chasm that becomes too wide to leap across.

The same may be true with other family members - with grandparents, of course, aunts and uncles, perhaps, but also at times with siblings as well. My eldest brother was 18 years my senior, my other brother 4 years older. Each of us came of age in rather different times.

My eldest brother graduated high school in 1947, in a country freshly over the scourge of war, and on the winning side (Yay!) My middle brother graduated in 1960, the age of button down "Ivy League" collars, narrow ties, Dobie Gillis and Maynard Krebs. Both of my brothers rode their lives down a more or less straight and narrow path. I graduated in 1964 and could have followed suit, but owing to some nefarious alliances, I sauntered down the road to rack and ruin with the youth culture of the day. I inhaled.

More than that though, I have always been the reflective one in my family. I wasn't much of an academic in my youth, but I've always had a kind of personal dialogue going on in my head (the very thing that Carlos Castaneda's Don Juan warned against engaging in) that tended to remove me from the action as it were. I may have done that at least in part in self-defense. My father and both of my brothers did not get along well. They were often and openly confrontational with each other. As far as I know, it never became physical, but, nevertheless, it seemed a harsh and dangerous place to be in the middle of. I ducked. I generally avoided such confrontations.

What I would do, is talk my way through mythical battles with my dad, my mom, or perhaps with one of my brothers in my head. Actual confrontations rarely materialized. On those occasions when they did, they never seemed to go as I had rehearsed. My watertight arguments generally dissipated in the wind.

But, I suppose the above is not central to what I started out to say. That my parents and my oldest brother are gone saddens me. But, I imagine that if any or all of them were still around, I would still not "get into" anything substantive with them. The limiting parameters of our long established relationships would still apply. Reticence would rule the day. My surviving brother and I don't mix it up much. We stay in safe, innocuous territory. Our conversations rarely become contentious. We talk about movies or TV shows, or dinners we had at restaurants, or something else having few, if any, sharp edges.

For me, the shoe is also on the other foot. My two sons are adults. How we communicate has evolved over the years. There is territory which we generally avoid. Both of them communicate more fully and easily with their mother. Both Jo and I try our best not to be judgmental. Doubtless, though, at least some seeps through in our conversations.

There is a qualitative difference though, or at least I think so. Both of my sons are very smart and creative people. I suppose the younger of the two tends to be more contempletive than his older brother, but they both are thoughtful and reflective. They see and understand things about people and relationships, that neither my parents, my brothers, nor even I ever considered. What is so clearly black and white to many is viewed through a far broader spectrum by my kids. I think that is as it should be.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Life Cut Short

My wife and I had to make a visit to a funeral home this afternoon. It was a rough one. A former school mate of both of my kids fell off a 5 story building a few days ago. This is the 2nd of their school mates to have died (that I know of) since my sons left high school in '97 and '99.

A few years ago a girl, who was my older son's friend and classmate, was killed in an auto accident. The girl's parents attempted to get custody of their baby granddaughter. The father fought against them and lost. Before they could get the little girl back he killed both himself and the granddaughter. Nice story, huh?

This fellow we went for today was a teacher who was very popular with his students as well as a large number of friends, former school mates and of course, his family. The visitation began at 3PM. We arrived at around 3:30. The line was out the door. We waited for a good 45 minutes until we made our way to the small receiving line consisting of the young man's mother, father and wife.

The father seemed to be holding up reasonably well as did the wife. For the mother, though, it was apparent that this was more than she could handle. Her eyes were red and hollow, her face tear stained and pale. She appeared dazed, disbelieving. We spoke with them briefly, offered our condolences, lame as they may have been, stood before the casket a short while, observing the young man's obviously broken body, noting a small scratch just below his temple. We turned away and toured the room taking in the flowers and several photos recounting his life and work. We then wound our way back through those still waiting, nodding to a few whom we recognized, and finally out the door.

As parents of 2 boys of essentially the same age as this young man, I can't imagine what it is his parents are going through. One of our sons is in Germany, the other in New York City. We only get to see them a couple of times a year. We haven't been together with both of them for over 2 years. Yet we remain in constant touch with them via phone, email and occasional cards and letters.

We obviously have little control over either of their lives. My wife and I have a strong faith in them as reasonably mature adults. Yet, it is hard not to worry. It's what parents do, I guess. Neither of us, I think, are obsessive about their daily safety and welfare, but it's something that's always there, couched in the recesses of our minds. If we thought about it often, it would likely drive us to distraction.

As far as I know, the young man we saw today was a good person. He was married, had a good job and a loving family. Perhaps it's fortunate that he had no children. Nevertheless, I feel deeply for his wife, his parents, siblings, students and his friends. It's just too sad.


Autumn In Indiana

These are some pics I took down in Brown County, Indiana within the last couple of weeks. My blog friend Bloomer has posted some really great pics taken right in her back yard. Mine don't rival hers, but they aren't bad. I like them at any rate. (Click on each pic to enlarge it. Click the back arrow to return.)
Sometimes you just stop and look about you, and suddenly realize the wonder.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Yay! Obama Wins! What Next?

I am quite happy with the election results. While I was generally cautious with my predictions prior to election day, I had a sense or a feeling that it could turn into a landslide. In the end it did and yet, it didn't. Certainly, the electoral results were stunning. But, while the popular vote results were definitive, McCain still managed 46% of it in a year when one might have expected a clean sweep by the Democrats. (It is interesting that there are now no GOP members of Congress from any of the northeastern states.) Credit must be given to McCain, in spite of his tortured and fractured organization and the ghastly legacy of the Bush years from which he could not wholly separate himself.

Certainly, race was an issue for some voters considering that some of McCain's strongest showings were in the old south. Happily, this was partly broken by the results in Virginia - the home of the Confederacy, North Carolina and Florida.

All of us who have relished the last couple of days should now get over our giddyness and settle in to see how our new president carries out his duties. The proof will ultimately be in the pudding. What will the pundits in the media or even bloggers here on the net be saying in 6 months; in a year?

Of course there are those who hate Obama simply because he's drawing breath. Nothing he could do short of proving beyond a doubt that he is the 'second coming' could assuage those feelings.

I am in hopes, and actually, I believe that Obama will surprise many. Many right wingers believe that Obama will attempt to govern from the far left, that we will all be obliged to read Mao's Red Book and wear gray pajamas to go work in the "collective" in the coming months.

I don't. I believe that Obama will do much as Clinton did and govern much closer to the center. That is, IMO, the only manner in which he can hope to govern. Such a move will disappoint, even anger some with a more leftist agenda who expect Obama to carry their interests to Washington. I don't expect him to abandon the left altogether, but he will prove to be far from the Marxist many have warned about.

I believe Obama will be far superior to Clinton owing to his personal discipline, his ability to focus, to demand and receive respect and loyalty. I truly doubt that Obama will fall victim to any of the, uh, distractions in which Clinton indulged himself.

Perhaps much to the chagrin of those who continually lambasted Obama regarding his lack of "executive" experience, he will in fact prove to be an excellent and adroit chief executive - certainly superior to Ms. Palin, who I understand is even now making plans to visit the "country" of Africa.

But again. This is all yet to be seen. Undoubtedly, Obama will not live up to all (or perhaps even most) of the expectations many have for him. He will disappoint. He will anger. He will at times screw up. Just how badly, and to what effect we are yet to witness. But, on balance, I expect him to perform at a high level. All I can say is, that I'm glad it's him and not me, and NOT John McCain.

In the mean time, life goes on.