So many of the posts this month tell personal stories of how we affirm or avoid affirming those who are different. One of my earliest attempts to write on my blog was a personal story of this sort, so I think I’ll repost it here. It is a stroy of how my parents were affraid to include me in their larger family or church because I looked different. Bu by children did the opposite; they took a chance and included my wife and me in their circles even though we were different.
“Inviting ‘Rebellious’ relatives to the holidays”.
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 did the opposite. She 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.
Sometimes we of the older generation can learn from our children what it means to affirm humanity in all people.