Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Astonishingly Dissimilar

They spoke to me of people, and of humanity
But I’ve never seen people, or humanity.
I’ve seen various people, each astonishingly dissimilar,
Each separate from the next by an unpeopled space.

-Fernando Pessoa

Tonight was a meeting of the men’s group that has been meeting these past 28 years. We re-told the stories of our fathers, the ones we told 28 years ago, and it reminded me of this poem. Just substitute fathers for “people” and families for “humanity” and there you have it. 9 different stories were told and no two even close to alike.

In fact, almost every one astonishing—and astonishingly dissimilar— and worthy of a great play, novel or movie. Confidentiality forbids me from sharing, but it was truly extraordinary the drama of each family that was as far away from the Leave It to Beaver Ward and June model as you could imagine. And yet we cling to some fantasy of the norm fed to us by the sitcoms and feel like something is wrong if our story doesn’t match up. But what if that sitcom story is the aberration and all the weird possibilities of our actual families the norm? How would that change our perception of our childhood?

Maybe I’ll ask permission of the men to share their skeleton stories to give you the full flavor of what I mean here. But until then, the common truths that emerged were as follows:

1)   We could choose to follow the good examples in our own upbringing and/ or vow to break the hurtful and harmful patterns we endured as children.

2)   No matter our vows, there are so many other variables in raising a family that despite our best intentions, we often fell short of the parents we wanted to be. Things like the dynamics of our relationship with our partner, the balance of work and family life, the pressures of paying a mortgage.

3)   Despite all our failures, our kids are doing okay. And they will make their own choices of what to emulate from us and what to reject.

4)   Our best parenting is our work now as grandparents.

5)   Hooray for being “astonishingly dissimilar!”

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