Inviting “Rebellious” relatives to the Holidays

The following is from the first story in my book;

I came home with long hair in 1966. … I was told to not show my face at church, or at any family gatherings. My mother had a large family, all in California, who all gathered regularly every Thanksgiving and Christmas. I never saw my grandparents again, nor most of my aunts and uncles, nor many of the friends I had grown up with.


And my parents were good people. Family gatherings were very important to them. They just didn’t want me spoiling things.
– You have rejected everything we stand for!
That’s what my long hair meant to my mother. But it wasn’t true, I hadn’t changed. I would still play with the younger cousins getting them “all worked up” as my mother would say. I would still go out front and play catch with whatever cousin got a new baseball or football for Christmas. And I would still go to the Christmas Eve service with them. But the long hair meant that my mother would have to answer to her siblings.  And she would have to answer to the other ladies at church who perhaps were even more judgmental than her family.  She couldn’t face trying to explain me to her peers, family or friends.  In any case, she was sure that my presence would spoil the holidays for everyone.

—–
My eldest daughter took a chance on me and my wife one Thanksgiving.  She invited us to a Thanksgiving meal at her “co-op” house in Jamaica Plain, Boston. At least I though of it as Thanksgiving, but soon came to learn that my tradition was laced with immoral implications if not down right unethical ones.  I think there were thirteen people living at the house.  I know one of them lived in a closet.  I was a bit uneasy going in.  Most of the young men had beards and wore overalls and had a shy manner, either inarticulate of deferential, I wasn’t sure which.  In the kitchen there were lots of old dirty dishes, one with oatmeal stuck to the side of a pan.
My daughter had to wonder if our presence might spoil the festivities.  Would we be too judgmental.  I had to hold it in.  I thought: Is this who she is now? Is she one of these unemployed, marginalized youth with no real goals and seeming to celebrate whatever holiday from whatever tradition she happened to come across that was different from mine?

At dinner I was seated next to an elderly man that didn’t talk. I soon came to understand that he had a mental infirmity.  The meal was fine but it seemed a bit disorganized.  Dishes were done at different times.  In my youth I had been at such gatherings.  It had never really been my scene, but I had always felt more comfortable with the marginal than with the well established.  I guess my daughter was counting on that.  But was this really my daughter’s community? Was this how she chose to live? I had real concerns.
After the meal I asked about the man sitting next to me. Anna told me that he had been an activist in the Jamaica Plain community and many of the young men at the house had worked with him.  But now he had Alzheimer’s disease so these young men took turns in eight hours shifts, twenty-four hours each day, seven days a week, taking care of him. They had been doing this for a year and would continue for as long as he lived.
I don’t think I’ve ever met people who have taken on such responsibility on their own before.
 I was absolutely humbled. One of the young men is now my son-in-law, and I feel truly blessed to welcome him into our family.
——–
My other daughter married her high-school sweetheart, although by the time they were dating my daughter had dropped out of high-school.  She let us know that she was not being “home schooled,” but she was going to “self educate.” And she did a damn fine job of it.  She got into the honors program at U.Mass Boston with a scholarship, and got a full scholarship for her masters in Library Science at the University of Pittsburgh.
But the story I wanted to tell is about the time her husband, Jake, invited me to a meeting. I said, sure, but I’d be a bit late. Then I found out it was the annual meeting of the New England Society of Anarchist/Communists. Once again I had my reservations, but I’m sure he had his as well.  But he took a chance on me.  When I entered, he was near the door and helped me find a place around the table and at the appropriate time introduced me to others in the room and made me feel welcome.
I was given the agenda. I realized that my son-in-law had taken all of the emails written in the weeks leading up to the meeting by all of the participants, and had separated out from each email what each person had said regarding the various topics to be discussed. It was an incredible amount of work, and it made the meeting run very smoothly. I was very impressed with the civility, the intelligence, and general self awareness in the group of how they fit with the society at large.
I joined their book club and enjoyed it very much. Last year Jake published a book,
Nine Years of Anarchist Agitation by Jake Carman.
Once again, I was humbled. I couldn’t ask for two nicer sons-in-law, both now wonderful fathers as well as wonderful husbands. And best of all we have wonderful family gatherings at the holidays.
Last year I was asked by the worship committee at my church if my family would light the candles at the Christmas Eve service.  Although neither son-in-law comes from a tradition that includes church, they both brought their whole families and as I said a few words, my Jewish wife, my two daughters and their daughters and their un-churched husbands came down the aisle and lit the Christ candle. It meant a lot to me to have them included in a community that is so important to me.

This would not have happened had they not first included me in their communities, taking it on faith that I would not be judgmental.  I heartily recommend that all “Rebels” be invited to all family and community holidays.  You and they will be blessed for countless years to come.

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About Newell Hendricks

I have lived a good life. Maybe a counterculture life, maybe a normal life. I have written operas, built houses, been involved with cross-cultural education between Latin America and the U.S, and hardly ever had a job I have helped raise two wonderful children with my amazing wife. It's been a good ride. And I go to church. I've just finished a book of stories from my life, I am still connected to an organization in Nicaragua that promotes sister relationships between communities, faith communities, or schoold, and to the extent that my cancer doesn't pull me down, am attempting to share some of what I have learned, or at least tried out. Welcome, and let's share.
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7 Responses to Inviting “Rebellious” relatives to the Holidays

  1. I only have a few minutes left on this-here library computer, but I want to HIGHLY RECOMMEND Newell’s perspectives on the ‘calabash’ lifestyles we’ve experienced over the passed 50-60 years in America…! Valuable insights.

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  2. Thanks Newell for sharing. Although you might not be aware of it, I feel that I have learned so much over the years from you. Both when I still lived in Boston, but also later on through many of the stories you shared on the COTC list serve, Covenant news and on facebook. This is yet another one of those moments that I am grateful that we met. I, too, can be pretty judgmental. Your writing reminds me of how important it is to let go of my preconceptions as often as possible, especially around my children.

    I would have loved to hear a bit more about what it meant to you that you never saw your grandparents and other relatives ever again. Didn’t they ask about you or try to get in touch one way or another? Was respecting your parents wish more important to you than the relationship with your grandparents? How do you feel looking back?

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    • Sonya, Thanks for your comment. I am flattered. My grandparents died shortly after 1966 and there were no more central family gatherings. I was “away” at college and soon moved to the east coast. I reconnected with my parents when my brother had a heart opperation and my father and I helped finish building his house, so my parents and siblings have stayed a family unit, and recently (after 50 years) I have seen a few coulsins. But there was a time when I felt very isolated, moving to the east coast and not having much of a family connection to ground me. I am posting a new blog on this subject. It has some of what I would say to your questions.

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  3. rachel lee says:

    this is….amazing. it was enough to make me cry.

    my parents are learning how to “handle” me right now. I’m a Jesus-lover that rejected fundamentalism. I’m a blogger than writes about things that make them uncomfortable. we’ve had four arguments in the past two weeks about things I’ve written. my mother tells me I have an ax to grind against the Church. I don’t. I love them, I love Jesus. the holidays are, thus far, unaffected, as they are still having me and my husband to celebrate with them. they still have me in their life, but there is tension, they are struggling to see me the same way they used to. they’ve said it, I can feel it.

    what you are doing, have done, for your daughter….it’s amazing. please don’t stop doing it…you have no idea how much she appreciates it, even if she hasn’t said anything yet.

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    • My daughters are very appreciative. Each has a daughter of her own and we care for each one day each week. Anna is a farmer, dance teacher and activist, Clara is a Librarian, mother and sings in her husband’s band “Jake and the Infernal Machine.” Clara is editing my book. “Normal: Stories from my life: A Normal Person in an Abnormal Society.”

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    • Rachel,

      I am looking back at comments from the year to remember conversations. I hope you have had a good year and that this year you parents have grown to accept you and your faith.

      Newell

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  4. I hope and pray that over time your parents will accept you as a full member of the body of Christ. At some point we have to become the adults and forgive our parents. That’s a hard transition.

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