Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Who am I?

I can’t always tell you for sure, because I keep changing.

But yesterday, I noticed that I pretty much operated as a dad.

Who am I?

I am a dad.

Yesterday, I ate lunch with one of my daughters at the Chi Thai Kitchen in San Diego. It’s near her home and a favorite eatery of hers. We both had the Red Curry with Chicken — her recommendation, and a delicious one — then we went back to her house and played with her cats and sat on the couch and confabulated twicely.

She was super-vulnerable with me — as she always is — and I was super-open with her, as I always am, listening to her carefully and respectfully, affirming her thoughts and emotions as valid. I prayed with her before we parted company, her head on my chest, much like when she was little, but different because she isn’t anymore. She is an adult, and I treat her like one. She prayed for me too.

Because we had discussed her career options, I told her, “Listen, you don’t have to be any certain thing to win my love. I love you completely and totally, and I always will. You don’t have to choose a particular career to win my approval —  like teaching at the University. You already have all of my approval. Do what you want. I love you. I will never stop loving you.” I have told my girls that all their lives.

Later that evening my daughter who I had lunch with came over to my house, and she and my other daughter and my wife and I ate dinner together, then we played Mille Bornes, a French card game, then Catch Phrase, a wild, fun guessing game. We laughed and hooted and helped each other and didn’t, as when we threw nasty cards on each other’s “Go” pile — like flat tires and speed limits — or when we helped each other guess the desired catch phrase, even across the teams.

There were some touching moments in the evening, as when one daughter helped the other daughter read the catch phrases. This was done because one can’t read. We make no big deal about this in our family, because in our family brain damage is something we live with, always have. We know we are all a bit brain damaged so it’s normal for us to help each other.

All day yesterday, I was a dad, eating with my daughters, talking with daughters, playing games with daughters. At the end of the day we all sat on the couch together and watched the end of a baseball game. We like team sports; we are a team.

Being a dad is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I love it. It’s easy for me — really it always has been. It has been one of the most natural things in my life. Being a dad is simply being there for another human being, well one that came out of you, which is kind of wonderfully weird. Really, it’s a great thing, a noble thing, a supreme thing. Having a child ennobles us. Being there for a child, any child, ennobles us — you didn’t have to have had the child for it to ennoble you. Caring for a child, any child, or any adult for that matter, is the best way I know to get free from being overly occupied with yourself, which is also easy to do, and not entirely good.

What does it mean to be a good dad?

Being a good dad is simply wanting someone else’s good and acting on that — lovingly and consistently. It is holding on tight! And it is letting go! And it is doing both these things at the same time! It is doing what needs doing and saying what needs saying when it needs saying or doing. It is praising one daughter for being accomplished, another for being loving and fun. It is eating lunch with one, going to a ballgame with another. It is doing something that is needed — with no strings attached.

I was a dad yesterday, and again today.

Of all the things I have been, this is me at my best.

This weekend one of my brother’s asked me an interesting question, “How do you think pain was handled in the family we grew up in?”


After we threw this around for 45 minutes — my brother, his wife, my daughter, me — I can note a couple of things.

Siblings don’t grow up in the same family.

Each child has a unique experience of their family, based on the child’s own personality, based on what is going on in the family during the most vulnerable years, based on difference in how the parents relate to the children.

I had wonderful parents. They were loving, godly, present, good. But I didn’t always get what I needed when it came to processing pain. I needed more processing than I got. I needed for us to sit down and talk about the pain, the psychological pain, particularly how we experiencing it, what it was doing to us, how we felt about it. I think that I needed this because I am a very verbal processor and because I am sensitive to emotions. I am a thinker, but I am also a feeler.

When my mom got breast cancer, I was 15 or 16 years old. I remember sitting by her bed, in her bedroom, holding her hand, worrying about her — mom and I alone in a dark room. I never remember any helpful conversations about her cancer, with my dad, with her or with my brothers. My mom had a mastectomy. My dad worked, my brothers and I went to school, my mom recovered. We we’re a product of our times. We were workers, doers, not emotional processors, but even if we had wanted to talk, I would say that we didn’t even have the language we needed to talk about all this.

Only later in life did my mom tell me how emotionally painful the surgery was for her, how she felt horribly disfigured by it, how she suffered over that through the years. Only later in life did I realize how alone she was in that, and how alone I was during those years. My mom has always been a classy woman, always beautifully dressed, very conscious of her appearance, but she became a cancer survivor, a mastectomy survivor — with a hidden wound —  and her experience shaped my experience.

After finishing my undergrad, I fell in love with Linda, the woman I married, the love of my life. We started off talking, and we kept on talking. We talked, and talked and talked, about everything, always —  we still do. Talking is at the core of our relationship. We process life, it’s events, our emotions, our two daughter’s emotions with talk. Perhaps we over-process things, but talk, talk, talk — we go for the talking cure.

My kids aren’t perfect. They too didn’t get everything they needed from the family my wife and I created. Looking back, even with our penchant toward processing, some things in the family didn’t get adequately processed. At times, we simply didn’t know what the girls were feeling, or thinking or what they needed.

I love the family I grew up in. My parents are beautiful people. They absolutely did the best they could.  I love the family I created for myself. We too did the best we could. I come from good stock. Throughout my extended family, we have handled pain well enough to stay together, to have successful lives, to avoid addiction, to avoid separation. But I would say this, from my own, limited, needy perspective.

People need to talk.

More than we even know.

Talking helps.

Listening helps.

Talking and listening — this helps relieve pain.

I really like talking with my family.

I like the way our talking tastes, savory, like pizza;  I like the way our communication smells, strong, like night blooming jasmine.

Tonight my younger daughter and I Facetimed on our iPads. We like to see each other when we talk.  I reassured her about a concern. She comforted me about a stress. Her cat sat on the screen. We laughed. We are totally open with each other. We adore each other and tell each other so.

I like the way open family communication feels, soft like my fluffy cat Megan — but from time-to-time sharp, like a surgeon’s knife, the good knife that heals.

I like one-on-one conversations with my people — the safety and honesty. I like my wife, a lot, and this is partly because we are able to be very honest with each other, everyday. She is safe to me. This morning we sat with our coffee — as we often do — and shared ideas about the future. We had the same ideas. We are like-minded about our plans.

We agree on most things: politics, religion, the uses of money, the value of morality, kids, cats, green vegetables, exercise, traveling, books and dark chocolate (all the important things) and thus the relationship is so easy and super fun. She is my best friend. I completely adore her. We almost think as one — except about avocados, French roast and my behavior.

Tomorrow I’ll drive my oldest daughter to her program. In the car we’ll talk. Although she has learning difficulties, she is exquisitely  verbal. She says the most fascinating things. Our whole family quotes her — her neologisms, syntaxtoblemes and her occasional charmitudes.

After dropping off my daughter,  I am going to drive on to Los Angles to have coffee with with my dad and spend some time with my older brother. My dad told me on the phone tonight — in anticipation of seeing me tomorrow — that he wrote out about 20 questions on 3×5 cards that he wants to ask me.  I can tell from this that he cares about me. He always asks me lots of questions. I come by talking genetically.

Tomorrow I’ll see my older brother. He has cancer. I care deeply for him. We are close. We talk a lot on the phone. I think the cancer has brought us closer. We share the same career, and we support each other by candidly discussing our career challenges.

I love my family. We are a talking family. We are an honest and safe talking family.

I feel so fortunate to have a family who talks — openly, emotionally, lovingly; it has made me who I am.

I am one of the talking beasts.


We happened on a haberdashery while walking home, just after stopping for hand-made chocolate truffles on Columbia Street.

It was an upscale hat shop in North Beach, and we stood amid a crowd of fashionistas, trying on high-quality head ware.

I looked good in the fedora, my daughter Laurel in the brown felt cloche with the light brown polkadot band.

I bought it for her for $70 — for Christmas. How could I not? She looked all 1920’s and 30’s in it — coy and gorgeous.

I could not have been more smitten.

It was that kind of day.

It began with a cafe latte, purchased by walking just down the street from our Genoa Place apartment to Cafe Trieste — and a bear claw found just around that corner at Stella’s.

Later my wife and daughters and I walked across the Golden Gate bridge, that huge orange-over-blue suspension of belief and rode the bus back to the waterfront.

For lunch I ate killer clam chowder and sour dough bread with my daughter Rosalind at the wharf. Later the family had ice creams. We walked home from there.

That night I had a slice of world class pizza taken from Tony’s, purchased two blocks for our apartment, a Firestone IPA from Trader Joes just down the hill, and some chocolate covered popcorn from a neighborhood shop.

I ate my dinner sitting in the bay window of our apartment, over looking Union Street, the city lights glowing in the big buildings, a crescent moon overhead, traffic down below.

What heals?

Love, pizza, bridges, chocolates, lattes, a wife, walking together, bread, daughters, hats and beauty — all collected within walking distance of where you sleep.

What heals me is San Francisco with the women I adore.

Every person is a network; every new relationship is a World Wide Web.

We are all social systems; only our pets come with no leashes. People are always tethered to other friends and family.

When we get a boyfriend, we inherit his cousin. When we make a new friend we get to meet their friends. When we marry a wife, we marry her father.

Arranged marriages in India bank on this reality. One family courts, woos, shops another. They know what they are getting into –a lot. More than the adored one at hand. They are merging clans.

When I married my wife, I got her mother. It was a little rough, then better, then downright family. I went from flinching to hugging. I helped her buy a car, a condo and a new son — me.

For this very reason we should choose well, and choose often and choose with our hearts and eyes open. Life is best lived as a collector — of people. Everyone we add adds others to us. I just picked a new dentist. Now I’m getting to know and have fun with her whole staff.

Teresa is one of my many new friends from church. With Teresa I get her beautiful children. Summer is my colleague and friend at work. With her, I get her amazingly insightful husband Will. Laurel is my awesome, super-accomplished daughter. Through her I get a relationship with her cool boyfriend Justin.

This is the summum bonum within the crystalline sphere of the primum mobile.

Relate; inherit supreme good — more precious people.

I glanced down at the end table next to his soft chair which sat under a light in the corner. He picked up his magnifying glass from the top of the end table. I noticed a black cylinder lying there.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“That’s my light,” he said. “I use it to see the clock,” and he pointed to the wall clock across the room.

With his magnifying glass he was now going through a stack of three by five note cards.

“Here it is,” he said, and handed me a laminated card. On it was written a quote, in his crabbed penmanship that I knew so well. He had given me cards like this when I was little, with verses penned on them, to memorize.

I kept them for years, until my car was stolen. The cards were in the glovebox.

I looked over at him; he wobbled just a bit, and then steadied himself by reaching out and touching the back of the chair. I glanced again at the end table. He had told me just this morning that he usually got up about 4 am, sat in this chair, went through his cards, mulling them over, memorizing the quotations written on them.

I could easily imagine him there with the dark all around him, sitting under his one light, his magnifying glass in one hand, his notecards in the other, peering into the words he had copied down, trying to take something from them.

This corner, this devotional bay, this small end table, the black satellite radio there on it, the stack of books, the cards, pens, notebooks, flashlight — this was his holy alcove, these his sainted relics, and he himself the living statuary within it.

I looked down at the card and read it.

“Lord, before the mystery of your dying I am silent dumb, I do not know what to say or do. All I can do is adore silently, without words, without even emotion. And yet Lord, I want to understand more deeply and love more fully. But somehow I am empty and drained of feeling. Accept then my dumb adoration and silent offering of my self for this is all I have to give.”

I looked back up to him.

There he was, my father — eighty-six years old, stricken with the shingles, missing his natural teeth, in need of a new pacemaker, tottering on the edge of the end, drained almost to the last dumb drop but doing what he has always done when he has been silent before the divine — he was reaching out and steadying himself upon a phrase.


When I was little I never had a store boughten dress,” my mother said, “but my dresses were prettier than all the other little girls. My mother made all the dresses for my sisters and me, and she added little embroidered flowers, ruffles, gatherings and special touches to them all.”

My mom paused, and as if peering through the soft haze of many years, went on, “Your grandma had a hard childhood. Her dad died while she was an infant; her mom died when she was twelve years old. She was sent to live with an aunt but she was molested there and moved to another relative’s home. When she married my dad, he was thirty-six and she was eighteen. His wife had died and he had three little girls. That must have been a challenge for such a young mom.”

I looked at my mom. She was bent over her iron, eighty-six years old, beautifully dressed, at her work, making order, making beauty.

“Your grandma was a petite woman. She was very artistic,” mom said. ” She loved my sisters and brothers and me as children.” She paused and then looked over at me. “She was very artistic, you know.”

I looked at her and smiled, then at the wall where mom’s own paintings decorated her room.  I looked back at my mom, ironing there in her beautifully furnished and decorated room, making her clothing, and my dad’s, into perfectly flat surfaces.

“I like my clothes ironed,” she said. “No wrinkles.”

I glanced behind her, into her walk-in closet. There was her perfectly arranged wardrobe —  the fourteen purses on one shelf, the thirty pairs of shoes in cubicles, the fifty or more nit tops stacked neatly by season, the rows and rows of hanging jackets and pants and tops rich in color and lavish in texture.

“My mom loved her children,” mom went on. “She took really good care of all of us.” She stopped.

“Oh your dad tore his pants,” she said, and fussed over her work. “There is a little hole here,” and she pushed at it with her finger. Then she folded the pants along the seams and laid them in a drawer.

Driving home I from Los Angles that afternoon, I mused about my mom, Lois Hasper, a lovely woman. She learned some things from her mom, and she passed those on to her children, my brothers and I, and we passed them on to our children, and some of them are now passing these things on to their children. There is a photo in my mom’s room that caught my eye today. It is a picture of a great grandchild; she is in a pretty dress.

My mom tells me she is really old now, every time I see her, several times, “Your dad and I are really feeling our age now.”

She is old, but she is not done yet, and though she is tired, and ready to be done, she is even better in some ways now than ever before.  I think she has softened in the last few years. Always gentle, she has become more gentle, and sometimes, with her short-term memory loss — which she told me again today, “is so frustrating” — she seems to me again a precious little girl, in a pretty dress, loved by her mom and her sisters, with rows and rows of beautiful dresses in the closet behind her.

What is it?

There on the ironing board, here in this quickly-passing lovely-fading world — there is a line, running through our family, a line passing from my grandma to my mother to me and to my brothers, a continuous seam upon which we have all folded our lives, a colorful edge, a loving row of stitches, a doubled fabric, ironed smooth.

It is love. 

Marriage has four stages:

1. “I’m going to change her!”

2. “She’s not going to change!”

3. “My God, she changed!”

4. “What I just said, sounded exactly like her!”

That’s how it goes, and that’s how it lasts, as I’ve lived and seen it over thirty-three years of it.

For me, there are reasons to stay married.

The foods gets better — other things too.

Staying together is the only hope of driving away the kids.

I stay warm at night.

And I desparately need vowed, ringed, committed and unconditional love.

In fact, we all need and crave crazy-devoted love, die-hard love, romantic, gift-giving, promise-making, always-there love.

We want someone who won’t leave the house after we fight, who will be first to the hospital room when it all goes wrong and who will be still sitting beside us holding our hand when we are old and wrinkled and done.

And most of us can have that, or some of that,  if we will.

And if we can’t — we should get a cat, or a dog.

Animals are God’s antidote for an overdose of humans.

My other thoughts on marriage may be found at “The Modern Thought Proverbs of Randy Hasper,”  Click on the category “Marriage.”

It’s happened before.

People are missing.

Murdered, kidnapped, AWOL or gone to the store — I’m missing them.

When I was in Nicaragua recently, I found that my wife was missing.

I had to return home to find her. There she was, at home, saying, “You’re always the one who gets to go off on adventures, and I’m stuck home, waiting for you. I feel like I spend my whole life waiting for you!”

I know what she means — kind of.

In Nicaragua I was waiting for her too, waiting to get back to her, to be with her again, my soul mate, my true love.

She is my lady in waiting.

What is it about missing people? This summer my daughter has gone missing. She’ll be home next week after two months on the road — camps, kids, a worship band, her job.

So, next week I’ll be more complete; I’ll get back to my number of completion. The number is 4.

Perhaps there is a kind of idiosyncratic number of completion that each of us internalize and use to measure completeness. I’ve heard people say that the Biblical number of completion is 7. God created the heaven and the earth, finished the work in 6 days, and rested on the seventh day. Creation was complete at 7.

One could go on and on about 7 in Jewish and Christian history — 7 days for the feast of unleavened bread, 7 days of consecration, the seventh month of atonement, 7 cities of refuge, 7 eyes, 7 horns, 7 candlesticks, 7 churches, 7 stars …

It’s enough. I’m good with it, even if I don’t entirely understand it.

I’m a bit of a man in waiting when it comes to numbers anyway. I wait for them to make sense when they don’t.

Whatever our proclivity with numbers, I think most of us get the general concept of a number that represents a sense of completion.

“Three scoops of ice cream please.”

We like our realities in certain numbers — packaged, bundled, just the right amount.

I especially get this, the completion thing, regarding my family. In my family, my wife, my two daughters and me make 4. When all 4 are present, a very peaceful, familiar, satisfying completion settles on us.

But I don’t think this is the same for when it comes to how many other people I might be willing to talk to know, to help, to befriend, or to love.

In all cultures there are some prescribed limits on a semse of social completion. A friend of mine who just got back from South Central China told me that he found that people there were reluctant to help a stranger. There you help family and friends, you’d do anything for them, but with ones you don’t know, you are careful, because if you were to help them, then you would be including them within your close circle, and thus obligating yourself to help them always.

Interesting. We set numerical, social limits, resource limits. It the same here in the United States, but perhaps a bit more lose. Here, one can help a person once, and never help them again, and it’s okay. In fact we like that, the hit and run charity thing, but I don’t really like it.

I like hit and hug and stay charity.

I get the number of completion in a family thing, the biological deal, the same DNA bundled, but what about when that number changes, when somebody dies, and what about when you want to change that number by adopting someone, or treating them as family or taking them into your home, an aging mom or dad, to be very close extended family?

Then after a time, that may feel normal, and the number of completion is then something you have changed. I like that. I don’t like a fixed number, always and forever the same by holy writ, or cultural mandate, although that’s fine to for some purposes and ever so practical too.

But I like it when numbers flit around a bit, change shapes, become larger — numbers on fragile, hopeful, surprisingly human terms.

I’ll always want the same 4, my girls, but I think I’ll also want more because what is alive grows, changes, morphs, expands. I want to be able to open my tent to a grand-daughter someday or a grandson or someone else’s daughter or son for whatever is needed or I need to do or they need.

I think it’s a spiritual thing to think of the number of completion as a changing number. I think, but what a heretic I am, that God is interested in more than 7! Way more!

What more might He or we package up, given a little time and a little love.

Who more might end up in my bundle?

What number might feel like completion for me in the future that I can’t even imagine now?

It’s worth considering. People are missing.

In fact, I think that I’m missing people who I haven’t even met yet.

They are my people in waiting, and I’m waiting for them to get to me.

4 is good. So is 8, 16 32 or today’s count, 7,057,020,330.

Yesterday I watched Henry II re-imprison his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine in the tower. It was Christmas of 1183.

It is interesting, Henry’s decision. You can see it too by watching the movie, The Lion In Winter.

Eleanor, Henry’s queen, played by Katharine Hepburn is brilliant. When Henry II, knife in hand, threatens to kill their three sons, she eloquently rants:

Of course he has a knife, he always has a knife, we all have knives! It’s 1183 and we’re barbarians! How clear we make it. Oh, my piglets, we are the origins of war: not history’s forces, nor the times, nor justice, nor the lack of it, nor causes, nor religions, nor ideas, nor kinds of government, nor any other thing. We are the killers. We breed wars. We carry it like syphilis inside. Dead bodies rot in field and stream because the living ones are rotten. For the love of God, can’t we love one another just a little – that’s how peace begins.

For the love of God, can’t we love each other just a little? Good question for the family?

While it is noble of the queen to take responsibility for the problems, the truth is that she and Henry and their sons were very much products of their times. The succession of power deal was something they inherited, and it mucked with the softer family values of kindness and gentleness. They might have been a nice family, Henry, Eleanor, John, Richard and Geoffrey, like TV’s Addams family, but they had the dilemma of deciding who ruled next. In other words, they had to figure out who to hate, band against, betray,  bash, banish, imprison or kill, and who to crown the next worthy ruler of England. It was the ongoing problem of the English monarchy – who do we love, who do we murder? Think Henry the VIII and his six wives.

The kings of England were only relieved of this complexity when Charles I was beheaded on Tuesday, 30 January 1649, and the English Parliament took over the job of loving and murdering.

It got me to thinking – what creates the rules for a family’s use of knives and of towers?  Power struggles for royal succession don’t help. Favoritism either. Towers not much. Violence not much at all.  I know a girl who grew up with a bigoted mother. This girl is an amazingly open and accepting woman. She overcame the family knife. A family legacy is partially a choice.

I think about my own family.

When we were in grade school, my little brother and I played baseball with a golf ball one day in the field in front of the house, the field with the fire flies and cow paddies. What a cool idea. A golf ball hit with a wooden bat travels fast and far. I remember one of my drives to deep center. “It’s deep, way back, way back – gone. A home run.” I also remember another clothesline drive back to the pitcher’s mound. I swung, the ball sprung off my bat on a straight line, the pitcher, my little brother Lars, was down. I ran towards him. He was holding his mouth. We were in the car. We were back at home. He was lying on the couch with a blanket over him. His face was swollen; his teeth were broken; his jaw was wired closed. It was a moment.

I’ve told this story before. I’ve used it as a prop, an item in a series giving evidence of growing up crazy with my two brothers. It fit into the line, “I grew up tough. I shot my big brother. I clubbed my grandma unconscious in the laundry room, and I broke my little brother’s jaw with golf ball.” It’s gotten a few laughs.

But the golf ball incident isn’t really funny, and it remains for me as somewhat ambiguous. “We all have knives,” remarked Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. The golf ball was one of my knives.  It was an accident, of course. But by it I harmed my brother. It was stupid to play baseball with a golf ball. My brother and I made a decision to play together, but I was older. And yet, I never imagined that he would be struck, and I didn’t want him to get hurt. I loved my little brother then, I still do now.

In the family, we make choices. Stuff happens. People crumple. They hold themselves. We hold them. It doesn’t change what happened. Every family has a history of violence or harm or disruption and every family must travel forward with a legacy both good and bad. But interpretation and re-interpretation is an important in dealing with our narratives.

What if the golf ball had carried a little higher? I have never really thought of this before, but perhaps I didn’t want to. We don’t think much of “what if …”, and we don’t unpack our family stories that often. For many of us, these stories remain largely unexamined, left in the semi-rational closets of our minds, un-actualized and un-interpreted. Could the result have been worse? Yes, it might have been worse if the ball had hit him square between the eyes, or square in one eye?  I am very grateful to God that this didn’t happen.

But the incident doesn’t stand alone in my childhood. We did so many foolish things growing up. We also played baseball with rocks. We jumped off a high bridge into the river, flying down through the air, plunging into the fast brown water. And we did lots of fast driving in cars, over this bridge and around the country, and some drinking and driving.  We could have killed ourselves. A number of young people in my high school did so, destroying themselves and their friends in alcohol related accidents.

Life isn’t safe, but we who survive into adulthood with our siblings have much to be grateful for. I think the family, even broken, is something to be grateful for. I think the family, even with a negative narrative, has something to be thankful for. My little brother and I survived. But we had so many good moments growing up together. We swam together, road bikes together, played ping pong for hours on end together, ate together, water skied together. How many times did we laugh together? I’m not sure but it was enough that the good thoughts outweigh the bad. My brother called me last week to ask for my advice on what telescope to buy. I enjoyed sharing my expertise with him. Family is precious.

I remember shooting little spring load guns at each other in the hall, firing little round silver balls down the hall into each other. We shot each other, we laughed when we took a hit between the eyes; we fired and laughed again. It’s family, both the hits between the eyes and the laughing.

I re-watched The Godfather again the other night. It’s a superb movie! Scenes stick with you: the famous scene where Michael Corleone is present at his nephew’s baptism juxtaposed with the scenes of his gangsters carrying his orders to murder his rivals. The camera is stationary, coldly objective, with short close ups and mid-shots — the water running down the fragile baby’s soft head, the bullets ripping into the soft bodies of the rivals. Michael renounces Satan as he murders the families of others. Coppola edits for us the holy and unholy in one person. We see that violent cruelty and tender love can exist in the same man at the same moment. It is an interpretive stroke of genius. It is life as we know it in the family.

I spoke with a twelve year old girl last week. She has to make adult-like decisions about her family. Why? Perhaps, she is the most responsible, mature person in her family. I’m not certain. She was wondering something fairly significant for a young girl —  where to live. It was an honor to witness her wise sensibilities concerning her family. But what was this — twelve and parenting herself? This is not unusual. There are an estimated 10 million children in sub-Saharan Africa orphaned by AIDS. They have no biological parents. They remain. And what shall they make of this? And we?

What do we each one do with what has happened to us in our families and in our communities?

I believe that every community has a tower, and every family has a knife. Every family has a sense of succession, an inheritance, even if only social and psychological. Each family is in danger of being put in a tower by other families living nearby them, and they are in danger of  locking some of their own family members in a tower. To understand this, we must choose to see this, and we must think more about this. And we must process the destructive past; we must move away from it and move toward it again. We must go exploring.

I grew up white in the Midwest in the sixties. I was an inheritor of the dominant narrative of America. Succession to the throne was a given. We never questioned our right to go anywhere we wanted, to eat anywhere we chose, to become anything we desired. My parents were actually poor, but I didn’t know it. Their Christian work didn’t pay well, but there were perks, free housing, free food and some vehicles provided for us by the Christian campground my parents ran.  I had as much or more stuff than the farm kids that lived near me, and so I didn’t have much of a sense of class consciousness.

One thing sat in the back of my mind that discriminated. We were from Southern California living in Missouri. My parents had a past with avocadoes and tacos. They had lived in Los Angeles. They were more cosmopolitan than rural, more aware of diversity than uniformity. They were displaced persons. They tried to join the local Southern Baptist Church. They were told that they would have to be re-baptized. Their Presbyterian baptisms wouldn’t work. They decided not to join. We were outsiders. I never forgot that. And I think as a result I have never had much of a stomach for intolerance, for narrow-mindedness, or sectarianism. But I love church. I love the church. I believe that the church is part of how God shows himself to us. It can be made into a tower, to lock people in, and to lock people out, but when it is at its best it is an open family, open to more and more siblings, able to absorb and adopt and love all different kinds of people.

I believe that we were meant to live kind, tolerant lives, accepting  differences in the church and in our families. But we must not get too sappy about this. Jesus said that he came to bring a sword to the family, that family member would rise against family member, in conflict over Jesus. And this has happened. The conservatives should not claim Jesus as the poster boy for family values. Jesus disrupted the family. He said that his family wasn’t simply made up out of his nuclear family but out of anyone who would follow him. But he loved his family too. He made provision for his mother to be taken care of after he died.

It’s something to try to understand. I’m sorting it out. Whatever conflicts and wounds occur in our families, I believe strongly that we must take responsibility for our choices. I am a devotee of Soren Kierkegaard. He believed that, “Wherever there is a crowd there is untruth.” He believed that in the end we are individually responsible for what we chose. We will stand alone in heaven to answer for what we have done. I believe that too. I believe that we are responsible for how we treat family, and how we interpret our families once all is said and done. It can get rough.

Once my father was asked which of his sons was better at public speaking. He quickly indicated that it was my older brother. I will never forget this. I was standing within hearing distance when he said it, but he didn’t know I was there. It stabbed me, unexpectedly and hard. I make my living by writing, teaching and speaking. It is my identity. The same is true for my older brother. The same for my dad too, at one time. “And the award goes to, the older brother!” For me it was, in part, a kind of succession. It felt a bit like the law of primogenitor or the divine right of kings. The older recieved the nod, the blessing, the oratorical crown. It was competition, and it was preference. It was Henry II and it was Eleanor. It was a knife, and it was none of these things but merely a poorly thought out response on the part of my dad.

I spoke to my dad about this later. He too was wounded by what he had done. He apologized to me. It was a very painful moment for both of us. I forgave him. I still think of it sometimes. It still wounds me a little. But I am largely over it. I forgive him, as he must forgive me for the mistakes I made growing up. We are good, different not prefect in unity, but good. I choose to love my father. He is a good man, and he was a good dad to me.

My daughter Laurel is very smart; my daughter Rosalind is smart too, but in  a different way. Rosalind has brain damage, and she can’t read very well, but she is smart with her heart. Rosalind has a good life, but it is painful, her limits, and yet it is beautiful, her uniqueness.  Our family has space for the differences. As a father, I have made a conscious choice, along with my wife and my daughter Laurel to do no violence to the close juxtaposition of contrasts in our family. A family is a place where significant difference should be able to exist without judgment. A family is, I believe, a place where certain comparisons simply should not be made.

My daughter Laurel is studying in London this semester. She visited the holocaust museum there. This week she sent me a poem that she had written.  It’s a poem about her sister.

The Unforgotten Crime

Honey Nut Cheerios

tumble into my older sister’s bowl,

twinkling round O’s matching her big blue eyes.

We laugh loud and I pour her milk,

insurance against the chance of an embarrassing spill.


I am her prevention policy against frustration;

I spoon her sour cream, set minutes on the microwave,

and towel- dry the glass dishes;

a dropped plate

often results in crystal shards and tears.


My own eyes well up as I trudge through the breathing rooms,

still with their secrets.

I pass Hitler,

and the smell of burning books wafts to my mind as

faded yellow Stars of David on blue breast pockets droop

behind smudgy glass panes.


I glance to my right, and a gleaming white table

rests haughtily on its haunches,

taunting me, sinister

and slick,

clean white metal hiding dirty black deeds.


The dark room propels me forward,

betraying me,

forcing me to stumble unwillingly towards my foe.

I stand before this thing, and –

I read it.


“Mental retardation…genocide rehearsal…unfit for society…sterilization…experiment… T-4…



The words blur together and I turn

to the table,

its dead red eyes reflecting

children’s screams and their naked

exposure to white-coated probing,


flashing cameras and sharp instruments,

scientists taking detached notes and

emotionlessly practicing their

cruel sciences under the guise of research and –

I see my sister’s face in the scared eyes of the littlest ones.


Sobbing, I sit on a bench in the darkness and grieve,

while those sterile and sightless scientists

sit next door, still and silent in their frames,

the horror of their actions forever frozen.


Would you have thought differently, I ask them,

if you poured her cheerios every morning?

Laurel read me this poem the other day as we were talking with each other on Skype. At the last line the eye wiping began and didn’t stop for a few minutes. I couldn’t really say anything for a short time. Hitler was so messed up. He knew not a thing about my daughter Rosalind.

They wouldn’t have done what they did, the murderers, they wouldn’t have done those experiments on our family members, they wouln’t  have laid precious ones onto cold tables and into unmarked graves, they wouldn’t have done any horrible thing they did if the differently abled ones had  been their sons and daughters and they had poured their Cherrios and they had had the courage to even begin to understand what being a human family really means.

What is a family? I am still trying to figure that out myself.  I confess and grieve that my family and all of our families are places where the sacred and the profane exist side-by-side. In me and my kin, the holy and the unholy co-exist. The character of Michael Corleone is not an abberation, although he is an extreme. There is a bit of Henry II and Eleanor in all of us.

But I am beginning to believe that the family can choose to be a place that moves away from violence in every one of its twisted and damaging forms. And I believe that it can be a place that allows for differences to exist side-by-side without judgment. And I believe that it is wisdom to chose to forgive what should never have happened. Think Rwanda and Burundi — some families there have forgiven the unthinkable in their neighbors.

“For the love of God,” cries Eleanor with anguish over her family,  “can’t we love each other just a little?”

I believe that we can.