I Can’t Be What You Expect…Let’s Just Both Be Who We Are

One of the things I’ve come to believe through my experiences in my life is to accept others for who they are rather than condemn them for what I want them to be. In day to day living, I believe this to be important. For a marriage and as a parents, it’s absolutely crucial. If I don’t want others telling me how to live my life, who am I to impose my expectations on others? I believe there is a balance in our relating to others, where we need to express ourselves on our own terms and strive to accommodate others in the expression of themselves (on their own terms). The trick is to find a way in which these two balance out. It’s easy when these “expressions,” assumptions and expectations are similar. The challenge comes when these clash with others.

Compromise is not a dirty word. Compromise is not the strategy of weakness – contrary to what seems to be the growing populace trends in my country and (seemingly) the wider world today. I strive to respect others for who they are, and so I try to be accommodating as accommodating as I can. With my family, I allow myself to bend a bit more in their favor. This is not only because of the fact that that I love them, but I know that they allow themselves to bend a bit more in my favor as well. I don’t have contact with my parents or their families. The reason for this is that there are expectations within that dynamic and everyone is assigned roles which are imposed by the whole family. I have never been who and what they wanted me to be. I have not been able to truly express who I am without condemnation and ridicule. Though I fought with them for years in trying to get them to accept me for who I am, there came a time when I found it necessary to reduce (and later completely eliminate) any contact with them. I’m sure this sounds very odd and reprehensible to some folks in different countries and cultures. I understand how awful this may sound. Trust me, it was not an easy decision to make and even more difficult to follow through with.

Consider this, however. I’m willing to go along with almost anything, so long as the focus is on what is best for everyone. I’m willing to sacrifice all for my wife and son, because I know that they are just as devoted to me. I don’t always get along with my wife’s family, but I go along with a lot of things I don’t want to because of the fact that I know they love me and accept me for who I am. This isn’t a matter of getting my own way or who’s “right.” It’s not a matter of those American traits of “self expression” and “self reliance.” It’s about building and maintaining relationships with the most important people in my life. It’s about their having your back just as much as you have their’s. It’s about being respected as a meaningful, integral part of the family rather than being treated like a lackey, a gopher or nothing more than the fulfillment of the expectations of others.

To be honest, this is one of the reasons why I gave up my career and other goals to be an “at home dad.” When my son was born, my wife and I both had careers. We both had goals and expectations about what we wanted to accomplish in our lives and where we wanted to go. However, we both believed that someone needed to be home for the sake of our son and to ensure that the home was taken care of. I think it would have been great if I had worked my way up to be some vice president by this time or (even better) started some company which I could utilize to ensure employment for others and engage in social assistance and outreach. But we had a child and we both believed in the primacy of that life above all other personal considerations. Do I wonder what path my life would have taken if I hadn’t stayed home? Sure. Do I have any regrets? Are you kidding me! Of course not. My wife and I talked about this as equals, and we both agreed that the best thing was for her to continue working and for me to stay home.

My worth and value comes from who I am rather than my any job title or ultimate career accomplishments. Meaning in my life comes from the substance of the relationships I develop and the sort of family I’ve been a part of creating. In the end, life is all about people and the relationships we build with them. A woman I may meet on the street may not be my mother, wife or daughter, but she’s someones daughter, (or perhaps) wife or mother. The same with men that I pass. Any one of them is someone’s son, perhaps someones father or husband. Every child is someones child – and because of that, no matter who they may be, they are just as precious as my own. It’s not about titles, “accomplishments” or position “in the pack.” It’s all about blending all that I am with all which others have become…for the benefit of all.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)



P.S. Here’s a song that popped into my head while I was writing this. Note I’m not personally getting any money for this link:

“James”, by Billy Joel, (Album “Turnstiles”)

The World As It Can Be (And As It Will Be)

When I pulled into my parking space at the town-home complex I live in, I saw our next door neighbors mother coming out to get the mail. I gave her a smile and a friendly wave as I always do, because I genuinely like all of our neighbors and let them know it. Though she did wave, she had a very distrustful suspicious look on her face as she walked by my car. When I saw this, my heart sank. It saddens me to see others viewing me with distrust and suspicion, but I understand that there is a reason for this. It’s a basic survival instinct of humanity. If you’ve been burned by a fire or abused by another person (persons) in some way, it’s an automatic response to think about the signals or clues involved with those incidents so that you can protect yourself from further harm. I am a middle aged white male from Philadelphia’s “Main Line.” I look and sound the part, from the cloths that I wear, the the way that I sound, down to the way I carry myself. Though I’m certainly not typical for the area and society I grew up in, I match the signals and clues enough to evoke suspicion, wariness and even anger from some folks. Though this saddens me, I understand the reasons for it, if not actually familiar with the personal experiences which have created it.

I no longer live in the “comfortable,” secluded realm in which I grew up and my son will never know that world. While there are certain aspects of that life which I would like for him to have grown up with (I wish everyone could have). I have to say that I much prefer where we live now. The larger world is so much different than the one I grew up in. The little sphere of my own world is profoundly different. In our complex there are people of all different faiths (those who are Muslim and Hindu are the most interesting and unfamiliar to me). There are folks who span the entire spectrum of the rainbow. From peach shaded English decedents such as myself, through the lovely Italian olive hue of my son and wife, to the beautiful ebony tones of an African immigrant and his family. Recently, a wonderful Arabic family moved into the town-home across from our porch while their children attend several Universities in our area. My son got his first job taking the trash out to the curb for them.

I remember that in the middle school my son attended, he was actually a part of the “minority.” The cool thing I found about it was that assumed this was perfectly normal for him to go to school with young people of many different backgrounds and ancestry. It’s exciting to see the world changing that close up. We always enjoyed meeting his classmates and their parents at “parent / teacher conferences.” We all shared in the desire for our children to succeed. We all had a bond in wanting a better life for them than whatever we’d been able to achieve for ourselves. We all swapped similar amusing stories and frustrations about being parents, the idiosyncrasies of our spouses and marriages and the dreams and expectations of our lives moving forward. As with my neighborhood, my wife and I have found (not surprisingly) that we all have more in common with everyone than not. Parents want whats best for their children. Our partners at times drive us crazy, but we love them in spite of ourselves. We want work which interests and challenges us. We enjoy vacations and wonder what retirement will be like. We have plans for the weekend and look forward to friends, family and holidays.

My son has grown up in a world where everyone is included. He lives in a world where we all share the same neighborhood and schools. We shop at the same stores and come outside in the spring and summer to walk our pets and share in the glory of evening sunsets. My son has no assumptions or preconceptions about folks other than his direct experience with everyone he sees on a daily basis. Yes, there are differences. Yes there are cultural and familial traditions which seem odd (even perplexing) to us. Yes, there can be misunderstandings and common, normal, neighborly issues. But, ultimately, we all want pretty much the same things; A decent life; better opportunities for our children; the ability to pay the mortgage and bills; enough money to go on vacations in the summer and indulge ourselves a bit every now and then. The foundations of who we are, are the same. We share a common substance called humanity. We all have joys an sorrows, triumphs and tragedies, dreams and hopes which reach into the depths of the core of our being. Parents are parents. Partners are partners. Children are children. Life is meant to be lived.

I don’t know the experiences or reasons why my neighbor scowled at me as she did. I don’t know what it is about me which triggers such a response from her. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s valid. But I know that my son and her grandchild are on friendly terms (our neighbors grandchild is so much younger than my son). They wave and talk pleasantries to each other as my wife and I do with our other neighbors. These boys are unaffected by the invisible barriers which separate their elders. The world is changing. And I like what I see of the next generation.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

The Reason Why Teachers Are…Well, AWESOME!

I have to say that I don’t believe teachers get the credit or respect that they deserve. One of the catch phrases which got passed around a lot when my generation was younger (I’m fifty now) was “those who can do, do. Those who can’t teach.” That never sounded right to me. It’s up there with one of the catch phrases of today: “If ya ain’t cheatin’, ya ain’t trying.” I’ve heard that teachers are teated with respect and are appreciated in Europe and I don’t know about other parts of the world. But here, the profession of teaching seems to be only one or two steps above being an “at home dad.”

Teaching is a skill. It requires patience, insight, flexibility and more. It also requires the combined talents of performer, social worker, counselor, confidant, referee, elder statesman, diplomat…should I go on? Anyone can stand in front of a class room and just drone on about what’s already in a text book or hand out worksheets. Perhaps this is the assumption which most people (around my area at least) seem to have about teaching. For myself, my life was deeply impacted, in very positive ways, by the vast majority of the teachers I had. The teachers I had entered the profession because they had a passion for helping children and wanted to have a positive impact on the next generation. When I was in primary school, all the teachers were part of the 1960’s generation. They were passionate about civil rights, the war on poverty, mental health reform, environmental concerns, equality for womens rights and yes opposition to war. The teachers I had brought these things into the classroom in ways which were subtle and had real world, day to day living implications.

Times may have changed from my generation, but I feel no less confident and grateful for the teachers who’ve essentially helped my wife and I raise our son. Think of it. Over the course of his life, he’s spent eight or more hours a day in the care of these folks. They’ve taught him how to read; they’ve helped him develop self confidence and responsibility; they’ve challenged him when they believed he was capable of more and they pulled back when they thought he was not yet able to do something. They’ve counseled him when he had personal issues he didn’t feel comfortable discussing with my wife and I. They’ve helped him learn how to engage with and navigate the social world. My son would not have achieved what he has and would not be the young man that he is today without the teachers whom have been a part of his life for the last eleven years.

It’s been rare that my wife and I have argued with a teacher or the administration. But even then, the vast majority of these conflicts have been due to miscommunication. Once that was cleared up, everything was fine. This was easy because we’ve always trusted our son’s teachers and have always known that they have his best interests in mind. There have been times when I’ve gone along with the recommendations of the teachers even when I didn’t like or agree with them. But they’ve always proven that they could be trusted and wanted our child to succeed.

I suppose part of the reason why I have such respect for teachers is that we share the same goals and passions. I stayed at home to raise our child. One of the reasons I did this was because I take my responsibility for raising another human being very seriously. For me, children are more than an inconvenience or a way to pass on a family name. It meant a lot to me to know that my mother was always home and always available and I’m glad to pass that experience on to my son. In my experience, teachers don’t see what they do as a job, but as a way of life. They believe in the next generation and want to be a part of helping them to find their way. They do a lot of the things with my son at school, which I try to do for him when he’s home. For that I’m most grateful. I rank teachers higher than any sports star, billion dollar CEO or inspiring politician. It’s not that these and other fields aren’t important. But children are the future. Children are an affirmation that the world should go on. How we raise and care for children is a reflection and judgment of who and what we really are. It is they who inherit the world we build for them and a big part of all which is built and created is how one generation raises and treats the next, upcoming one.

I didn’t grow up with cell phones or computers. Didn’t need them, but I did need the teachers I had. I didn’t grow up with cable or social networks. Didn’t need them, but I did need the teachers I had. There are innumerable things which exist now, but didn’t when I was growing up. These things may make life more convenient in certain ways, but I’ve never needed any of them. My life went on just the same before they existed and if it all dissapered, my life would still hum along fine. But it’s the teachers, the mentors and caring adults in my life which have made all the difference and had the biggest impact. Those folks, I don’t want to live without.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

Jealousy, Avarice…And Popsicles

Many years ago when my son was a toddler, there was a community center that we often used to go to. It was a pleasant place with all the regular amenities that you would think of. Pool, soccer field, track and a rather nice playground. My son and I spent many happy afternoons there, enjoying the swings and playing in the sand box. I’m not sure how many action figures we lost in the sand, but I think it was a rather substantial number. I would push him on the swings and we would climb around together around the bars, slides and jungle-gyms that were all over. But one of my son’s favorite things was when the ice cream truck would pull in and slowly approach, with the kind of happy, chiming music which reminded me of my own childhood.

Of course, all the children would run up to this mobile ice cream stand as it would ease to a halt. All the young people would stare eagerly at the menu of Popsicles, ice cream sandwiches and other treats which were available. I remember their faces were as excited and eager as mine had been when I was that age. But there’s one afternoon I remember above all others. More so than any other I spent with my son. More so than any I remember from my youth.

My wife and I have never really denied our child anything. Our reasoning for this was that we never wanted him to grow up with a mindset of lack. I suppose another reason for it was that he was rather ill as a child. Perhaps we were trying to compensate for the challenges he faced back then. Now I know there are some who believe that it’s wrong to do such a thing and “spoil” their child. But my wife and I have known many people who grew up with a “lack” of many things and who have grown into adults for whom nothing is ever enough: Growing up with “lack” seemed to have given them a hoarders mentality; More money; bigger houses; better jobs (than you); more expensive cars, cloths and jewelery; more grandiose vacations. This growing up with “lack” certainly gave them ambition and drive, but also led to a warped perspective on what having things mean. To be honest, we also knew people who grew up with “too much,” and this also warped their perspective on what having things means. These other folks also ended up with the perspective that more is not enough. These folks feel that they deserve all of it. All of anything and everything they want. The problem with the folks we know who have grown up with too little or too much is that none of them seem to understand the concept of having enough. The people I’m referring to are the exception to the rule, but there are some who haven’t found that healthy medium and don’t understand the concept of…having enough.

On this day that I’ve referred to, my son wanted two lime Popsicles (he likes the color green). Perhaps we’re just fortunate. Perhaps this is just the way our son is. But he’s never been interested in buying more than he wants, isn’t interested in gorging himself with more than he needs and has never had the inclination to buy more just to parade it all in front of others. On this day, he simply wanted two lime Popsicles and I was glad to buy them for him. As we made our way back to the playground, we passed another child who was swinging. As we did so, she looked contemptuously at my son and blurted out “you greedy.” My son was busy enjoying his treat, but I have to admit I was angry.

I wasn’t angry with this other child specifically, but with the perspective. Children have a reasoning of their own and I understand the perspectives associated with the different stages of development. However, I know that my son would have offered her one of his Popsicles if he had heard her. I know for a fact that he would even have offered to buy her something else if she wanted it (because I’ve seen him do it since that day). That’s just the way he is – that’s the way my wife and I have raised him. If he has two of something and you don’t have any, he would joyously be sure that you got one of his. If you didn’t have enough and he had more than he needs, he would offer enough to you without giving it a second thought.

The problem with this other child was perspective and assumption. Whether she experienced “lack” or “abundance” in her life I don’t know. But her whole focus was on the fact that my son had something that she didn’t. She only assumed from her own projections and “wants.” She knew nothing about my son. She didn’t know about his compassion or generosity. She knew nothing about how happily he would have offered one of his own possessions to her. She didn’t know that he would have gladly bought her anything from the ice cream truck that she wanted. Her only thought was an assumption that my son was “greedy” and “selfish” because he happened to have something that she wanted…and so she judged and labeled him unjustly without knowing anything about her own motivations or my son’s true character.

I realize that I’m writing about children. But children grow into adults and I’ve seen worse examples of avarice and jealousy in many adults that I’ve come across (of both privileged and modest means). There are times when my son gets all of what he wants. There are other times when he gets nothing of what he wants. But my wife and I always are sure to give him everything that he needs and that has nothing to do with money or material possessions. My son isn’t disturbed about whether he gets two Popsicles or none. My son doesn’t even notice what others have in comparison to what he has. My son is content. My son understands the concept of having “enough.” My son is even willing to sacrifice for the benefit of others with nothing but pleasure and joy in his heart. He’s grown into a young man that I’m very proud of.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

Different Flavors…But It’s All Ice Cream

I was driving around doing some errands and I heard an interview on the radio about the reactions and assumptions many folks have when around others who are ill or disabled. I suppose we all project assumptions as we go about the business of interacting with others. I’ve never really understood much of the assumptions and reactions. I do know that I change my demeanor, behavior and speech depending on the situation I find myself in and perhaps that part of it. I’m different when I’m at work as opposed to being home. I present myself differently with my family depending on whether we’re in public or by ourselves. I even am different depending on whether it’s just my wife and I or my son is in the room with us. Because of this, I suppose this is a normal thing.

It must be challenging for folks who have some obvious illness or condition. I’ve seen many different reactions which ill people have to contend with and I always go out of my way to interact with such folks in as “normal” a way as possible. When you get down to it. People are people and deserve to be treated that way. One of my mantras is that “I strive to see that part of you in me which reminds me of that part of me in you.” I cringe when I hear adults talk you young people in a certain tone which sounds to me like their not being taken seriously. It’s the same odd tone which I’ve heard people speak to very elderly people – as if the entirety of their life experience has been negated and their relegated back to some child like state. I cringe when I hear the challenges and illnesses being flippantly dismissed with platitudes or the perspective to just “suck it up.” I cringe when I overhear well meaning platitudes and catch phrases offered with the best of intentions, but hurtful results. I cringe when I see people staring at others who are “different” in various ways or who struggle with obvious physical challenges.

I’ve always taught my son to see the person and humanity within rather than reacting to unfamiliar physical or mental differences. If I catch him staring or acting in a different way towards others, I’ll either pull him aside and remind him not to stare. In other cases I will extend myself to the other person and treat them with the humanity they deserve rather than as an object of my own projections and assumptions. In the end, it doesn’t matter what I say, but it’s all about what I do and the example I set for him. People are people. The humanity within us all means there is more – and more important things – which unite us than separate us. I teach my son to focus on that shared, inner, humanity and not the externals or superficialities.

There are other “markers” as well; men look different than women; different people have different shades of skin color; language; dress; the appearance of affluence or modest means; the demeanor of how different folks present themselves. There are many (almost innumerable) ways that people differentiate themselves from others. But, again, I strive to see the light, the Divine presence within all, rather than the shell or “mortal coil.” When my son was younger, I explained it to him this way: Yes, there are many flavors, but in the end, it’s still all ice cream.

I teach my son that all people are worthy of dignity and respect. I do what I can to help him savor and enjoy all the “flavors” (of people) he encounters (while still knowing about the ice cream). If someones legs don’t work, what does that have to do with their hearts or dreams or passions? If someone looks different or talks different, what does that have to do with the shared humanity which lays within? I strive to teach my son empathy – to focus on the ways in which we’re similar rather than be distracted by other things. I strive to teach him that there is a Divine presence which connects us all. I strive to be an example to my son and talk in age appropriate ways. I always try to relate to people as they are (and what is within) rather than as they might appear.

My wife and I are fortunate in that my son has a loving, compassionate heart. We’ve never had difficulty with him because of the fact that he seems to innately posses a spirit of empathy and enthusiasm among all whom he meets. Perhaps there are ways in which my wife and I have contributed, but, as he is, our child has a pure and gentle heart. We’re not the perfect family. Things don’t always go smooth and blissfully. But it’s in appreciating our differences and faults that we’ve learned how to live and love each other. If we can do that within the walls of our home, we can extend that outside the walls into the wider world. In respecting my son for all that lay within him, he has learned to respect others. In loving him as best as I can, he has learned how to experience and express love for others. In accepting him as he is, he has learned to accept others as they are.

There are innumerably different flavors, but the humanity is all the same.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

For “Better Or For Worse” And Everything In Between

“I, take thee to be my wedded husband/wife,
to have and to hold from this day forward,
for better or for worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health,
to love and to cherish, till death do us partner”

This, of course, is a rendition of the traditional wedding vows. Even though my wife and I followed the trend in writing our own, the spirit of the traditional vows was included. To be honest, it seems to me that the above seem to be just words to most folks. I have to admit that I myself never really thought about them or what they meant until my wife and I were planning our wedding. Even when I did think about the meaning, I didn’t fully understand it until some of the phrases came to pass:

…for better or for worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health…

We’ve been together for almost twenty-five years. Within that span, things have been “better” and they’ve been “worse” beyond anything we imagined in the beginning. We’ve been “richer” and “poorer.” We’ve had serious illness and also stretches of health. It’s been an interesting ride (as anyone who’s been married for any extended period of time can tell you). Not only has the bad stuff (worse, poorer and sickness) brought challenges that we’ve had to contend with, but the good stuff has, surprisingly, at times brought just as many problems and issues. Our experiences have profoundly changed what we both think of ourselves and of each other. We’ve learned things about ourselves and each other which we had no concept of when we first started dating. We’re also very different people, both individually and as a couple, than we were all those years ago at the beginning.

At the beginning, we did all the things that lovers do; held hands; giggled about almost anything; created pet names for each other, as well as, our own secret codes and language. On and on and on. We fell asleep each night facing each other, our limbs intertwined in a slumbering embrace. I greatly enjoyed all those things and greatly admire couples who’ve been together for forty, fifty, even sixty years or more, who have been able to maintain that kind of tenderness and intimacy. My wife and I don’t do much of that anymore. We still love one another dearly and are completely devoted to one another. But the situations those wedding vows describe have deeply changed our relationship to our selves and as a couple. There’s been death, sickness and financial difficulties which have definitely made “for worse” times.

My point isn’t to go into details of our experiences, but I do want to say that those experiences have shaped our relationship and day to day living. I’d love to go back to the holding hands “snuggle bunny” thing. I’m glad to see that others experience it and are even able to maintain it. My wife and I have had to climb some mountains and these travels have left their scars. Sometimes the scars are one’s we’ve inflicted on each other in trying to individually make sense of and made our own peace with all that’s happened. For the most part, we’ve worked together, held up and supported each other along this path. But over the course of twenty-five years, things have been done and said. Wounds can heal with love and compassion (and an honest effort to make peace and make amends)…but wounds do leave scars.

I love my wife and am fanatically devoted to her, just as she is to me. Yet our relationship has changed. I don’t want to say “matured” in the sense that we’ve moved away from what some would disparagingly call “puppy love.” What I would say is that we have built a life together – in spite of…We’ve learned to love and be tender with one another – despite the fact…We have grown together and had to drop a lot of things along the way in order to make our marriage work and our love for each other grow. We don’t do many of the things anymore which new lovers often do. But my wife still stirs my soul. She still makes my spirit soar just by being in the same room with me. She’s still my best friend and the one person (along with my son) that I most want to do anything with. I still want to – I’m still excited by the prospect of – spending the rest of my life with her…

…for better or for worse,
for richer or poorer,
in sickness and in health…

and all which lay in between.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

Keeping The Family Together (Independent Lives Traveling Together)

My wife, son and I went out to the movies the other night. It was nice because as the years have gone on, we don’t spend as much time together as we used to. When my wife and I first met, we spent every available moment together and did everything together. When my son was born, we were an inseparable trio. Everything revolved around our child and I went from (the band) Genesis, focusing on my career and and being plugged into the current pop culture to “Thomas The Tank Engine,” changing diapers and playing with blocks and legos.

There were many years the entirety of our world was focused exclusively within the walls of our home. Family was family and the wider world seemed to be nothing more than short bits and commercials we occasionally came in contact with. As the years have gone on, things have changed. My wife and I have evolved a routine of efficiency in running the household and our son, now a senior in high school, has grown into more of an individual who doesn’t rely or necessarily want us to be as much of a day to day presence in his life. This is a good thing. For him to become an adult, he needs to develop a life of his own which is separate from that of my wife’s and mine.

This is a bit odd for us, because we’ve invested so much of our lives into his and I suppose this is why some parents experience what is called the “empty nest” syndrome. My partner and I have developed a well oiled machine in the daily running of our house. But now, we’re finding that we need to change the process of our daily lives to account for the changes. Everything in life changes, even on a moment to moment basis. It’s only after long stretches of time where we can look back and comprehend how very different things are from a year, five years and even ten or more years ago. Life is a process which constantly evolves and it’s all about which direction we shift our weight and momentum to.

So this movie was a bit of a stretch for all of us. My wife really wanted us to enjoy a night out together as a family. My son really just wanted to be in his room and do his own thing. Actually, I was working before the movie and really just wanted to come home and zone out for the rest of the evening. The movie didn’t even start until 9:30 PM, which is late for us and meant that we wouldn’t even get home until 12 AM or so. There was a time when I was getting ready to go out at ten or eleven. But I’m not twenty anymore and at this point, nine or ten is a good time to go to bed. Forget about going out, just give me a warm glass of milk and a nice pillow.

But it was important for us to make the effort to do something together. It’s easy for our paths to diverge from those we love and be seduced by the distant markers we see off in the distance of our own directions. It’s easy to travel together with others when our roads parallel each other. The test comes when they begin to diverge and we are tempted to steer another way. With my son, it makes sense. He’s finding his own way. With my wife and I, it’s a bit more of a challenge. I don’t know about other partners, but for myself, I’ve found it challenging to keep fiery passions burning and the romance and intimacy flourishing in the day to day operations of running a home, earning a living and raising a child. When I was in my twenty’s and younger, the relationship always took center stage: all other considerations were secondary. But after settling into a marriage – and especially after the arrival of children – things change. There’s more to consider than what restaurant we’ll eat at on a given night, what interesting things we want to do over the weekend and where we’d meet up with all of our friends at a given trendy spot. Marriage and parenthood changes the focus of things.

I can’t honestly say that setting up a “date night” or “family night” ensures harmony and closeness of a marriage or family. To be honest, my wife has told me that the simple act of doing the dishes is one way that she feels that I can show that I love her. There are times when making a change in my schedule so that my son can stop off at some store and look for something he wants means more to him than when I try to sit him down and have serious talks about the wider issues of life. Family is about the various nuances in the ways we treat each other. Success seems (to me) to figuring out what those nuances are and how to tap into them. Certainly, the “big” issues are important, but no issue is too large to be worked out between people who love each other. It’s actually the attention to those smaller, less obvious, things which really make love and relationships work. The “small” things set up the ability to work through the (supposedly) larger issues. If those whom you love know that you don’t sweat that smaller stuff, everything else is workable.

Anyway, we all went out the the movies the other night because my wife felt the need for all of us to just hang out. It was a great idea which pulled both my son and I out of the slumber of routine and reminded us of a similar craving. It was a very nice night and I think we all enjoyed the banter and conversation going to and from the movie-house more than the actual film itself. It was a good movie which we all enjoyed, but there was more to the evening than that.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

Intergenerational Redux

Many years ago, when my grandpop died, my grandmom didn’t want to leave the apartment they were living in. My parents, aunts and uncles discussed the matter intensely and really wanted her to move into an assisted living community. No one really considered taking her in to their own homes and this was in contrast to my grandparents generation and hundreds of generations before them. All my relations were scattered all over the country and everyone had “busy” lives. Still, the fact that no one even considered welcoming her into their home still bothers me to this day.

There could have been any number of reasons why she wanted to stay in her apartment, but the one which has always stuck with me was that she said she could still feel his presence in their home. At times (she said) she could almost see him down the hallway, shuffling into one of the rooms. At the time, I was too young to really have a say and had no financial resources to help her. Looking back, I wish I had done something different or been able to allow her to stay where she was. She passed away about a year after grandpop did. She had managed to stay in the apartment, but she was very sad and very alone.

I don’t have any answers about topics like this. My father passed away about ten years ago. But I have to be honest and say that I don’t know that I’d be that crazy about having my own mother move in with us if she needed to. For various reasons, we’ve been estranged for many years. However, odd as it may sound, I wouldn’t mind if my mother-in-law had to move in with us (my father-in-law passed away a number of years ago as well). She’s a feisty, stubborn Sicilian and she drives me nuts. But she has a gentle, loving heart and is a lioness when it comes to protecting and caring for her family. In the few times when she and I have had a disagreement about family issues, this shrinking, stout woman (who’s about a foot and a half shorter than I am) has stood toe to to with me, both of us growling menacingly at each other. We’ve always been able to work it out and even though I don’t always agree with her, I love and respect the fierceness of her loyalty in pushing for what she thinks is best for my wife, son and I.

I certainly can’t criticize anyone else when I’m not willing to take my own mother in (if need be). But it is an intriguing question. I often think of my grandmother. I believe that she would have found a certain sense of peace and contentment if she would have lived with us at my parents house (or at one of my aunts or uncles homes). She may have been happier to be in the mix of a bustling family, with grandchildren going to collage and starting their own lives. She may well have lived longer and would (I believe) certainly been happier to see the comings and goings of the next generations.

I believe there is a place for and importance of intergenerational homes. When my son was born, my mother-in-law stayed with us for a few months. The family dynamics were a bit challenging, but I don’t regret a single day she was with us in our home. Apart from the fact that it was very helpful to have an extra set of hands to help, I’ve rarely seen the light in anyone’s eyes like those of my wife’s mother as she cood and cradled our son during those months. She filled our home with warmth and love and shared in the daily living of a newborn child. It was an amazing thing to see and I’ve often used her as a reference in stepping back and just reveling in what is “our family.”

As I write, I’m thinking that I’d be willing to take anyone in, so long as it didn’t harm my son or wife. They are (and always have to be) the prime focus in my life. There have been times when my wife and I have helped others in need. Some not even “family.” There have also been times when we’ve needed help and have been generously assisted by others (some not even “family”). I don’t have a definitive answer on this one. My wife and I do the best we can, with what we have, for all whom we know. We take things on a case by case basis with the primary focus always being on our child. I’d sacrifice everything for the sake of my wife and son. She would do the same for him and I. Beyond that, I really just don’t know…

…but I so wish I could have made more of a difference in my grandmothers last months on earth. I feel as if I failed her.

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)

I Can Keep On Knocking, But I Can’t Come In

One of the things I really hated when I was a child was that my parents would always walk right into my room. Sometimes they would knock, but they would never ask if they could come in. They would just barge into my room for whatever reason. I’ve never done this to my son. It may seem like a small thing, but I remember how intrusive it felt to me, so I always knock and wait for him to open the door for me.

I suppose it’s a matter of having one’s own space. A space to be alone with one’s thoughts and have some privacy. Additionally, I think there’s an aspect of respect as well. I respect my son and I respect his privacy. I’ve always tried to treat him with an age appropriate level of consideration and attention rather than dismissing what he might say or do as simply childish. I believe that, because of this, he has risen to expectations and become a responsible, dutiful young man. I’ve never felt the need to impose rules and restrictions in order to “teach” him what to do and say. My wife and I have expectations, but we’ve always discussed the reasons for them in an age appropriate way and usually give him several chooses to pick from. We don’t tell him what to do, we discuss the “Why’s” of things. The result of this is he thinks things through before doing things. He plans ahead. He’s proactive without the need for my wife or I to push him along.

Not barging into his room is a part of all this and I believe that he’s aware of and appreciates this. It makes it easier to have discussions with him and to have a greater effect on the choices he makes in his life. He doesn’t feel that he has to hide anything or do things while my wife and I aren’t watching. This means that we can work together as a family rather than against each other. To be honest, it’s also made parenting a lot easier. Certainly, it takes more time and effort in the beginning. But as time has progressed, this perspective has led to his becoming responsible and self sufficient. At this point, my wife and I don’t really engage with him about his teachers or school work. So far this year we’ve been in touch with his teachers maybe twice. His grades are fine. His teachers are good. If there’s any issue, he discusses it with them and resolves it before I even find out what happened.

I believe in my child. I respect him and do all I can to get out of his way so that he can rise to all occasions. Certainly, there are times when I advise or even insist on certain things, but I don’t need to direct or impose anything on him. All I have to do is allow him to be who and what he is. He does all the rest.

Be Well, My Friends
Papa (Bill)

Who Stays Home In The “Battle Of The Sexes?”

When I was young, back in the 1970’s, my mother wanted to get a job. She didn’t want to be an entrepreneur or a CEO, she just wanted to get some kind of job to achieve a sense of personal fulfillment beyond cleaning the house and getting dinner ready for us. This was a big issue with my father and their relatives in general. I don’t know how many of you remember things about the previous century, but, back then, this was something which just wasn’t done. Back then, a woman who worked was waiting to find a husband, a young teacher waiting to find a husband, lived in a home of modest financial means or was pegged as being a future old maid living with twenty feral cats.

Times have certainly changed and there are some moments when I chuckle to myself at the fact that I’m the homemaker and my wife is the bread winner. I have to be honest. I don’t understand the conflict between men and women. I don’t understand the anger, the conflict or the intense vitriol of the “battle of the sexes which seems to be raging. I’ve worked for women and have had women working for me. Before my son was born, my wife and I were equal partners and had separate careers, but after his birth, for various reasons, it made sense for me to stay home and she continued on with her career. I don’t see why women can’t have interests and a rich fulfilling life outside of the domestic sphere. I don’t mind working with women or for women. I just want a quiet, peaceful life, with a happy, contented family and a child who has more opportunities than I did.

But I also understand my father’s and relatives consternation. As much as my mother wanted to spread her wings and experience life outside of the home, my father wanted to prove that he was a good man and a capable provider. It wasn’t about trying to keep her down and be subservient, it was about his desire to give her all the things which encompassed the “good life.” My father loved my mother passionately. He didn’t want her to have to trudge through a working day while they were both trying to raise a family. He wanted her to be safe and warm and live a contented, even pampered life in the suburbs. That was the thinking at the time. But he wasn’t able to understand things from my mothers perspective.

One of my sisters is an “at-home-mom.” That is the life she chose and that’s the only thing she’s ever wanted. I’m an “at-home-day” and while I would have preferred to have a higher income, but that pales in the balance of giving our child what he needs as he grows into a man. My mother, on the other hand, wanted a different challenge than just vacuuming the floor and doing the laundry. It’s not that her husband and children didn’t meant anything to her, she just craved something in addition to the home. She wanted to challenge herself and achieve something in the working world. She wanted to, as the psychologist Abraham Maslow would say, strive for “self actualization.”

The challenge for my parents was that neither of them understood what the other was striving for. I watched this misunderstanding grow into hurt and resentment as I grew older. From that, I better understand the need for balance and supporting my partner in a way which benefits all. Certainly I flinch when I see the condescending smiles of those who hear I’m an “at-home-dad.” But those times also help me understand what it would have been for my wife if she had given up her career and stayed at home. It helps me understand why my mother had such a passion for extending her life beyond that of a homemaker. In the larger scheme, it doesn’t matter. My child and wife are happy and that’s really the only thing I care about or have ever truly wanted.

I don’t need a career to define who I am. I already know who I am and I’ve deliberately chosen the life that I lead. I’m not interested in conquering the world. I want to leave it a better place than I found it and this path goes directly through my son. I’ve become a part of tomorrow in raising a member of the next generation these past few years and this is something I take great pride and fulfillment in. As my son starts college I’m sure I’ll find a job. Work is work and that’s fine. I’ve had the opportunity to be intimately involved in the process of a child growing into an adult. It’s the ultimate tutelage in the existential questions of life. Not a bad deal!

Be Well, My Friends,
Papa (Bill)