Parenthood, pt 1: Love multiplies

Parenthood, pt 1: Love multiplies


Submitted by admin on Sat, 11/12/2011 – 17:56

The first in a series of essays on lessons in parenting from my dad, Hartley Anderson

Over sandwiches a few weeks ago, a colleague and I got talking about how much we appreciated our parents and I couldn’t help but say, “I think my dad should be a legend in fatherhood.” Sure, I may be partial, but in this realm maybe a daughter’s opinion counts. This got me thinking about how he went about it. So on what would have been his 81st birthday I started to write this first essay in a series of lessons I learned from him, a regular guy and extraordinary father. Here goes.

Growing up, I think I sensed that I was lucky to have him, but a Facebook exchange with my second cousin Guynella reinforced that my dad really did have a gift. She told me that when she was a little girl, she did not have a dad around. Whenever she made stuff in school meant for fathers, she would save the projects up and then present them to him when he visited. I can just picture him beaming, like they were the best gifts he had ever received. In those moments, they probably were.

I cried when I read that. He was my full-time dad, but he had so much capacity to love and I always felt a swell of pride when he included other people. “He’s mine, and he can be yours too.”

Guynella’s grandmother and mine were sisters, making Hartley and her mom first cousins. They remained important in each other’s lives, even though we lived in Utah and they in Southern California. My folks traveled a lot for business, and whenever we got within 100 miles, usually two or three times a year, we made a visit. I also think my dad had a special place in his heart for them and wanted to make sure they were okay. They lived in a violent neighborhood and before they moved in the late 1980s, I remember graphic stories about gang wars. I was terrified when I heard that the kids had walked to school around the body of a guy with his guts shot out, twice in a single month. So my cousins weren’t always attending school and there was a lot of coming and going in their house. I have an image of Guynella as a very tough 14-year old girl, fighting with my dad when he came to pick up the two younger kids who would spend a school year with us in Utah. He had hoped giving them a little time away from that environment would help. That’s how it was in our family. No matter how strapped for cash we were or how crowded the house with seven of their own kids and a business in our basement, more were welcome. So I shared my room with a cousin for a school year and her brother was in my same grade. I’d never had family in my same school and I loved it. I can’t pretend to know how they felt about it, but I remember having great adventures with them in the snow that winter.

Well, Guynella’s mother passed away a few years before my dad, and we’ve reconnected as family again. About a week ago she posted a photo montage in honor of my father and that’s what got us chatting about it. After all these years, it meant so much that she would post a tribute to my father.

It wasn’t just with my cousins, either. I can’t tell you how many people lived with us at one time or another. My brother’s troubled buddy who got kicked out in high school, a Navajo teenager who lived with us for a summer, and Thao our informally adopted Vietnamese brother who fled during the war. I was always allowed to bring a friend or two on camping trips. The examples go on and on, but you get the idea.

I bet every kid who spent time in our home felt special to him. They should, because they were.

There was another thing too. Hartley had a rule about parties: invite everyone in the neighborhood your age. No exceptions. It didn’t matter if someone was your mortal enemy. She got an invitation. If there was a snotty-nosed little sister who would be hurt, she was invited too. “Nobody gets left out on my watch.” God bless my parents, sometimes this meant suffering through a dozen shrieking 11-year olds trying to stay up all night. Then he woke up all chipper to make us hot cakes. That man had better have some kind of grade-A heaven now for the slumber parties alone.

In truth, if my parents didn’t have the, “hey what’s one more?” attitude, I wouldn’t be here. I wasn’t in the plan. The story goes that my parents were sooooo done having kids when I came whispering in my mom’s ear. She was 41 and Dad was 45 when I was born. There’s a big gap between Val and I, and another gap between Val and Bruce. They already had six kids. They had earned their stripes. There was no money for another baby. They were exhausted with a fledgling business. Still, my mom says that somehow in heaven I harassed her until they agreed to have me. They might have easily said, “Sorry, we can only invite six to this party,” but maybe I knew they couldn’t turn away a kid who needed a home.

I’ve heard people argue that it’s irresponsible to have a big family because there isn’t enough attention to go around. I imagine it probably is hard, but I know unequivocally that the world would be very different if everyone grew up with as much love and attention as we all got. We all thought we were the favorite child and I suspect we all probably were.

Love has a funny kind of math. There is no subtraction or division, only addition and multiplication. My parents lived the idea that as soon as you try giving some away, it comes back to you bigger. Love doesn’t divide, it multiplies.

Legendary Parenthood Part 2: For us, not in spite of.

Legendary Parenthood Part 2: For us, not in spite of.


Submitted by admin on Sun, 11/20/2011 – 16:41

Steven Covey says that, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” How can I possibly be grateful enough to have a dad for whom the main thing was family?

That didn’t mean giving up passionate causes or ambitions. A deeply patriotic man, he ran for public office, spoke out when he saw injustice, and he was devoted to God. Business got his juices going. It’s just that he fulfilled his dreams within the context of us. He once told someone who criticized him for having his children around the business all the time, “You don’t get it. I’m growing my kids through the business, not the other way around.”

He probably made thousands of choices to put us first, and one of the biggest—very early on—was to give up security in favor of a family business. This one decision allowed us to know each other with more depth than could ever have been possible if we only spent time on weekends. The business gave us freedom with our time and a common cause. You just can’t underestimate the power in that. Working side-by-side gave us a sense of accomplishment, and the wins belonged to all of us, not just to mom and dad.

We also got to learn from each other. I do not know if he consciously walked around each day looking for ways teach us life lessons or if he just instinctively took the moments that mundane days presented. Probably some of both.

We had these opportunities because all facets of life in our household blurred together. I’ve had a love/hate relationship with this messiness at times, but I wouldn’t trade the experience. The truth is I long for it in the family I am creating now. American life has a tidier compartmentalization with work separate from home responsibilities, hobbies with friends separate from activities with the kids and ambition separate from spirituality. I want a family hub like the one I grew up in where our priorities extended like spokes and we moved forward together.

Sure my parents had friends apart from us—they made them wherever they went—but we got first dibs on their time. If Dad wanted to take a fishing trip, his buddies and their families could camp with us. Close associates from our industry might get an invitation to join the deer hunt with Dad and the boys. Our business trips doubled as family vacations and we played board games around the kitchen table. Instead of having guys’ night out, he taught his sons to play poker. Political involvement meant supporting his adult children as candidates.

We argued too, sometimes hurting each other in ways only family can. Oh boy could six boys fight. They beat on each other, broke the tension and then acted like nothing happened. The key, I think, was not giving up on each other. Even today as complicated rifts occur today, we keep patching things up. Yes, my parents had their moments too, but Hartley Anderson spent 55 years working and playing alongside my mother, nearly 24-7. What a marriage. He once told me, “If I had to choose, I wouldn’t give up one married month for all my single years combined.” They gave each other and then us their very best energy, not the leftover crumbs.

It is also a fact that we never had any money. In retrospect, I realize that stuff we might have enjoyed would only have broken and been forgotten. Our parents did, however, purchase time to buy experiences that would become part of us and our forever memories. Ask any kid what she got at her last birthday party and chances are she won’t remember. Then ask about her favorite memories from the last family vacation. She’ll light up and tell you all about the butterflies and hikes and even the catastrophes that are the stuff of family legend.

In the end, we will only take two things with us: the person we each become, and our relationships. In modern society we have so much more than we need. This blessing can become a curse of comfort, luring us into a belief that that we need our creature comforts for happiness. Rather, we would all do well to remember that the most important things aren’t things. Acquisition and hobbies are counterfeits for relationships and memories.

The older I get, the more I realize that the family life my parents created for didn’t just happen. They set it up that way because our shared accomplishments were more important than prestige. Our unity was more important than each of us doing our own thing. They gave up having a steady paycheck, but I now see that a strong family provided me more security than all the cash in Vegas. The kind of house that survives an onslaught of outside pressures is built choice-upon-choice. We accumulate these choices daily: Should I take the job that extracts long hours or a less prestigious one that gives flexibility? Should we put the kids in daycare or sacrifice to be home when they are? Should I sign up for an individual sport or buy gear to use as a family? Should I bring my child on this business trip or save the money and go alone? Will I relax in front of FaceBook or in face time? I’m guilty. I’ve been self-absorbed and caught up in how important my own stuff is. I just hope when I face these choices I will picture my dad grinning and saying, “I know, let’s duck out early and go fishing.”

Parenthood Part 3 – Do Something, Even if it’s Wrong!

Parenthood Part 3 – Do Something, Even if it’s Wrong!


Submitted by admin on Sun, 12/04/2011 – 20:50

It’s 1986 and I hand my mom a crumpled permission slip for the fifth grade maturation assembly. A week later all the girls are squirming and giggling next to our mothers. Turns out it’s kind of a letdown. Had I known the assembly was really only a pretext for opening The Talk, I probably would have lost the form.

Too late. In an hour Mom and I are home flipping through the booklet. She pauses and asks, “Do you already know how babies are made?” I’ve always had the feeling that my mother was comfortable with her sexuality but this conversation is awkward and we both want permission to skip this part.

“Yeah, I know all that,” and I did, mostly from calling my older brothers names. “Do you even know what that means?” They would follow up with enlightening, if not always genteel explanations.

She elaborates on male/female plumbing and in a rehearsed voice leads into, “Sex is a loving act between a husband and wife.” Uh huh. Then her voice shifts. I sit up. She is leaving the script.

“I hope you will wait until marriage. But Rhonda, I want you to know something. If you ever got pregnant or anything, I would always love you. I would never want you to be afraid to tell me. We could get through anything.”

Maybe it didn’t need to be said, but then again maybe it did. Maybe it was the most important thing a daughter could ever hear. I packed that conversation away like a parachute, ready to deploy in case I ever messed up big. And prayed I wouldn’t.

Six years later my dad and I are having a driving lesson in my new ‘79 rust bucket, just bought with eighteen months of after-school earnings. Before the exhilarating promise of freedom, though, I have to learn a manual transmission. So I’m trying to memorize his primer on how the gears work. Clutch in. Shift to first. Ease gas. Let clutch out gently. Gently! We lurch and I hesitate for a long time. He teases, “For cryin’ out loud, do something, even if it’s wrong.” Classic Hartley.

I get the hang of it and he has me slow to a stop, “Now crank the wheel right.”

I grimace, muscling it without power steering.

“Now drive ahead and straighten the wheel. Easy peazy, right? So tell me, is it harder to steer while stopped or moving?”

“Stopped,” I say in a “duh, Dad” voice.

He smiles. “I’m not talking about driving now, Rhonda. You’re almost grown, and you will be on your own in a blink. I just want you to know that you can correct for anything if you have enough faith to keep moving.”

His words hang in the air and he says, “Now drive us to Burger Bar. We’ve earned a shake.”

In another seven years I’m a young general manager in the company my parents founded, agonizing over a very difficult decision. I’m paralyzed with fear and I want their advice.

They listen and Dad says, “It’s a pickle, but remember that doing nothing is in itself a choice with consequences, but not of your choosing. Don’t lose by default.”

“But how do I know what to do?”

“You’ve thought about every angle so make your decision. Then talk to God. If it is right you will feel peace. Trust yourself and you will know what to do. Then have the guts to do it.”

As I stand up, his eyes twinkle. “Remember. He who hesitates is lost.”

I take action, make some mistakes and keep moving until six years later I have to deploy the parachute. I land in a crumpled heap on their doorstep in an imploded marriage, feeling humiliated, afraid and indicted. The voices in my head are merciless. “You are so stupid. Selfish. Weak. You knew better, but you just had to push it, didn’t you?” I fear everyone’s judgment and disappointing my parents. But I see no traces of these things in their eyes, only compassion and love for a wounded child. “You can rest here as long as you need. It doesn’t feel like it right now, but you will be okay.” I do not know whether their restraint comes easily or from practiced will, but they do not press me for explanations or push advice.

Another seven years later, I’m in a better place and have come to believe this is how God loves His children. I once thought He was like Santa making a list of the good and bad kids, preparing sermons about how we deserve our consequences for flaunting the rules. But a good parent, the best parents give us a parachute, a place to land and the courage to fix any mistake if we just keep moving.

Parenthood, Part 4: The Secret to a Long Marriage

Parenthood, Part 4: The Secret to a Long Marriage


Submitted by admin on Sun, 12/18/2011 – 17:58

Parenthood Part 4 – The secret to a long marriage

An interviewer asked a celebrity wife with a long but not always smooth marriage, “What’s the secret of staying married?” The answer. “Don’t get a divorce.” Glib, but it stuck with me so I’ve been mulling it over, and this seemed a fitting topic in honor of my parents’ wedding anniversary last Monday. They spent over 20,000 days and nights together and on every one—the hard days, the great days, the ones in between—they chose to stand by each other.

I wonder. What if just deciding never to give up on each other is the difference in making it work with the people we care so much about? Well, that still doesn’t make it easier to live. I mean, it’s ridiculous that getting along is often the hardest thing we do each day, but it is. Sure we say that if we still have each other we’ll be alright, and of course that’s true. I have also come to believe that, “as long as we have each other, we will never run out of problems.” (Thanks, Despair Inc., for that nugget.) So if there are two people left in the world, there will be relationship issues. Add more humans with our endless variety (in an office, for example), and conflicts multiply in infinite ways.

Maybe because it is so hard, we skirt around our untidy relationships by telling ourselves that we are here to check off a list of deeds that we hope will add up to heaven’s admission price. But here’s an unsettling notion. What if all that busyness is just backdrop for the real story, the one in which we learn to love one another? I have come to believe that our real test is not how much we get done in this life, but how fully we love. That does not mean the breathless exhilaration of new relationships, but by how we react when our loved ones have stumbled, head down, chin first, tumbling from perfection.

I know my parents had plenty of doe-eyed moments. They had a great marriage; they laughed, their core values aligned, they turned each other on, and were absolute best friends. They also had glaring flaws. I adored my dad and thrived on the passion he threw at everything. That same passion meant he sometimes plowed right over my mom when she worried about how his big ideas would touch earth. The man couldn’t pick up a dirty sock to save his life or operate a twist tie. Likewise, I love and appreciate my mother more than I can say, but her honey-do list was endless and she could get uptight. Finances were an ever present strain and I remember them both getting into it when we traveled, she wielding a map and he missing their exits.

Only they and God know how hard it really got at times. Once my mother sat on the front porch and wept resentful tears after he left on a business trip and wondered if she had the strength to still be there when he got back. I don’t think we kids ever had any idea. How lucky we were that our parents made it. My own first marriage did not and maybe that is why I admire them so much. Now I want—more than anything in the world—to get this one right. So how did they do it? Yes, compatibility mattered in that they found their own groove, but one element seems universal. No matter what they ran into, they made the choice to forever stand by each other.

This gave them the time to grow together until they were hardly separate beings. When they finally parted after 55 years, my mom buried part of herself. Then we realized something remarkable, the beautiful fact that part of Hartley still lives on. Through her.

(P.S. Disclaimer: when I say no matter what, I’m not talking about abusive relationships or other catastrophic breaches).

Parenthood Part 5: Expecting Little, Delighting in More

Parenthood Part 5: Expecting Little, Delighting in More


Submitted by admin on Sun, 12/25/2011 – 18:02

In the deep of the Great Depression a four-year-old Hartley (my dad) padded from his chilly bedroom on Christmas morning to get toasty by the coal stove. Santa left one present for each child and Hartley was exuberant over a glossy ten-pin set: a wooden ball and ten painted bowling pins. “We about wore out the rug knocking ‘em down over and over. I thought I had the world by the tail.”

Two or three years later he told Santa he wished for some Banty chickens, a small brood of good backyard layers. He could hardly close his eyes in hopes that Santa remembered to pack hens and a rooster. At about four in the morning he sprang up in bed as a cock crowed into the cold clear night. Those chickens and subsequent generations provide years of breakfast eggs and dumpling soups for the Anderson table. He once gave a hen some duck eggs to sit on and when they hatched those tiny ducklings followed in a line like her own. “She liked to’ve gone crazy when those little guys made a beeline into the pond.”

When Gaye was a girl during the war, her father and his brothers had a grocery store in Tremonton. She would help him by sitting on the floor to count and recount ration cards that people saved for staples like sugar and butter. A pair of nylon stockings was more than a woman could hope for, but what everyone wanted most was for their husbands, sons, and brothers to come home from the War. Some did but were never the same, and others came home draped in flags.

I wonder what this country will be like when all those who remember harder times have passed. Can we still feel in our guts how fortunate we are when we come to believe that iPods, internet and all our gadgets are necessities? My grandmother made her own soap, baked bread every morning, and spent an entire day each week on laundry.

I am grateful for parents born in the depression, who had to work hard for everything they had. Even at 77 years old my mom still goes into the office. They taught us to earn our own way and to never take Christmas abundance for granted. December was always slow in our business and I don’t remember a year when mom didn’t give us a heads up, “Things are really tight right now so Santa can’t bring everything you want.” It was not an act; they always struggled, yet my parents never failed to pull it off.
One particularly rough year when I was about seven I wanted a dollhouse but worried that it was out of reach. When Santa brought me the most well-appointed wooden house I had ever seen I told my brother, “Santa just has to be real because mom and dad couldn’t buy this.” I did not know that Bruce had made it for me in shop class, replete with custom wood furniture and wallpaper. I fell asleep mid-morning with my head resting on the bottom floor’s plush carpets. Thirty years later that dollhouse is still well loved and used.

My heart overflows this Christmas Day for so much more than I need: a good husband by my side, a cozy house and gorgeous food. I make my living in satisfying work, free from the bone-tiring labor required after the Depression took my grandparents’ farm. How can I ever thank my parents enough for teaching me how to earn, and the subsequent pleasure of spending it on the ones I love? They taught us to expect little and then delighted us with a just a little more.

Parenthood Part 6: In Loss, We Understand Worth

Parenthood Part 6: In Loss, We Understand Worth


Submitted by admin on Sun, 01/01/2012 – 19:46

Vincent Van Gogh peered at the night sky through a small window inside an institution to which he was consigned, and he painted Starry Night.(1) For years he had wanted to paint the eve of Christ’s birth but somehow could not get it right. Now here, where he could scarcely view it, the evening heavens took on an intensity he had not known before. It was as if in longing for what was just out of reach, he felt its full beauty. In scarcity and loss we learn how precious this life and its simple blessings are.

Four years ago last week, I lost my dad. We knew it was coming and so we drank in the moments that remained. When the day arrived it brought a peaceful, bittersweet time of remembering and also in knowing that nothing had been left unsaid, no important tasks undone. His life was complete through his children and somehow even more through his grandchildren. He left this existence as eager for the next adventure as when he left the womb, embracing death as the next phase and not an unnatural enemy. I think he sensed that on the other side, it is a celebration when one of God’s children comes home and not a tragedy. I hope to be blessed with such peace when my day comes.

In the 32 years I had with my dad, he and my mom taught me so much, really all that I would need to navigate my way. So it came as a lovely final gift when, in his death I learned one final truth. That is, through loss we fully understand just how dear our loved ones are. We all intellectually know that death is a part of life. Viktor E. Frankel (author of Man’s Search for Meaning) says the end of life is like the last movie frame in which we finally realize the whole story’s meaning.

In this same way, we do not quite grasp how precious our loved ones are until we contemplate their lives through the gap they leave in us. In our grief and longing, the good times become sweeter and the hard times worth it. Their strengths teach us and their flaws blur like a soft-focus portrait. We are meant to lose the ones we love to fully comprehend their worth.

I miss him so much. I wish I could still ask his advice, hear his earthy language that is fading in clarity and that new generations will never replace. Oh what I would give to hear him singing in the kitchen while flipping hot cakes, just one more time.

It hurts, and yet I would not will it to sting less, because in that feeling I am reminded what he meant to me. I would never wish to diminish that. I embrace that empty space in my heart and let it remind me to hug my husband a little tighter, have lunch with my mom more often, and tell people how grateful I am for their friendship.

The time will come for every one of us to part, whether you go first or I do, it is my deepest desire that love between friends, family and even colleagues will fully bloom in the present. Then when death comes, our hearts can swell with both grief and memories, but never regret.

Footnote (1): Van Gogh: The Life, 11/03/11, Doug Fabrizio (interviewer), Gregory White Smith (author, Van Gogh: The Life), Radio West, (Podcast,

Parenthood Part 6: Don’t let school get in the way of your education

Parenthood Part 6: Don’t let school get in the way of your education


Submitted by admin on Sun, 01/15/2012 – 16:19

I had two parallel childhoods, one in everyday home life and the other one when I tagged along on my parents’ business trips. Their conventions were an incense-scented world where guys made portraits of customers in their former lives and where folks walked the exhibit hall wearing pyramid hats. I learned the finer points of colonics, healing crystals and carob cookies. What an education.

As this this bookish, slightly chubby kid I would plow through homework in an hour or so each day while we drove cross country. Then I would get lost in a library stack and every so often my dad would say, “Look around once in a while. It’s fine that books take you places, but don’t miss where you are.” I would put my book down and by doing so I absorbed great swaths of America. On these trips, I learned to love architecture and history, rolling fields and the glittering pulse of big cities.

At our health food conventions, I took on another persona, that of shop kid. Aside from the fringe element, most of the other booth proprietors were families like ours with the American Dream drawing them into the emerging natural health movement. Buying a 10 x 10 booth draped in royal blue tricot felt like claiming a homestead out west. These trade shows were like the village market in a tight-knit community, a place I would always be from, no matter where else my life led.

My parents had a neat-o light bulb demonstration to show how minerals conduct the body’s electrical impulses, which became a trademark of sorts. When I was 10, they pulled out a packing crate, told me to stand on it and handed me the demonstration kit. “You’ve been watching this your whole life. You are ready to step up.” I was terrified and exhilarated while my Dad gathered a crowd so I just broke into a toothy smile and went for it. Show time.

They taught me how to set up a booth and sell product for nine hours straight, about entrepreneurship and public relations in the most basic form. I discovered how much I love people in all their variety, and to bask in the end-of-day sales tally. They also taught me that in seeking truth and knowledge, one must ask questions, even of those in authority.

When my brother Val and I were 21 and 16 respectively, our parents thought we had absorbed enough to cover an event on our own. They signed up for a show then had a conflict so they asked us to cover Boston. We loved the idea of a convention on our own in a new city but I hesitated because of my class load, especially AP American History and AP Prep English. I wasn’t sure if I could pull it off but dad said, “Rhonda, don’t let school get in the way of your education.”

So we went. We worked the booth then took a few days to see New England. We spent Thanksgiving morning at Plymouth Rock and had our feast in a bar because that was all that remained open. We saw Lexington and Concord, the Salem witch trials site, and drove up the coast to into Maine. My English and history classes had just covered early America so when I saw where Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter, and where the Revolutionary War unfolded, my textbooks came alive.

My six brothers all have basically the same story, just with their own particulars. Mom and dad presented the country as our playground. They pulled us out of school a week at a time, and when we barely had our driver’s licenses they divided the company into nine equal shares with us. They made anything seem possible, gave us a sense of responsibility and this made us want to learn all we could. We were a different kind of family and sometimes in school I felt awkward and out of place. “That comes with the territory,” they would say. “Institutions shape you to somebody else’s idea of success. People with degrees thought we were crazy.” So even with my desire to fit in I would not have traded my experiences, not for all the cute clothes in the world.

My parents were non-conformers so maybe I rebelled by being conservative. I went on for a conventional education and now work at a college. Yet, I like myself best when I am grounded by knowing that a piece of paper does not make me smart. I am happiest when I am learning in new ways. I feel most hopeful when my eyes are wide like that little girl gazing out at America.

Part 10: Life is Complete through Grandchildren

Part 10: Life is Complete through Grandchildren


Submitted by admin on Sat, 02/18/2012 – 16:44

Today I cleaned out my 1980s version of a train case, called a Caboodle. It was given by my grandma Laub as a birthday present and there is certainly no object I have used more than this, nearly every day for 20 years plus. I think she would like that, not only for the functionality but because she was a high-heel, red-lipstick, train-case kind of woman. Like I want to be. That’s not where our bond ends. She loved heaps of garden flowers, elegant table settings, and multi-layered cakes on crystal pedestals. We share my mother and our love for her is the link between us. From her husband, Grandpa Laub, I got an affinity for ledgers—oh how I love spreadsheets—and I inherited my other grandparents’ sunny outlook. Grandma Anderson taught me to make Chicken Dumpling Soup (capitalized like the name of a family member), and they contributed another gardening gene.

I am sure my mom wanted all those things, but with seven children and a growing business she just didn’t have time, not until she retired anyway. Add to it that my dad couldn’t have cared less for all that superfluous stuff. If you could not eat it he would not bother; esthetics were a non-priority. Probably because he snubbed this stuff, I wanted it.

It makes me think how all of us are rebellious against our parents to an extent, wanting to leave on our mark on the world. Was there any teenager who did not shrink in embarrassment at mom and dad at one time or another? Being a parent is such a hard job with the irony that teenagers crave unconditional approval while outwardly rejecting their folks. We love our parents beyond words, but still try to be separate from them. I can imagine how my mom and dad wondered if any of what they wanted to teach their kids would stick. There is no doubt in my mind that it did. Their amazing grandchildren are the proof.

Parents can know the job is complete—indeed, that life is complete—through their grandchildren. Kids rebel against their parents and in so doing look for an ally in Grandma or Grandpa. Golden ribbons run through families, weaving under the fabric in the second generation and shining on top again in the third. Grandparents adore us and we want to be just like them. We do learn from our parents, though, especially how to parent. So even as we rebel, we pass their best stuff to our children. Perhaps it is too soon to measure our lives through our kids; we must wait to see how grandchildren pick up the beautiful threads.

This posterity may be the greatest testament of any human.

Parenthood Part 9: A Valentine for Every Uneventful Day

Parenthood Part 9: A Valentine for Every Uneventful Day


Submitted by admin on Tue, 02/14/2012 – 08:31

If Dad were here today, what kind of Valentine would he give my mother? Well, first off, let’s just get to the truth that he was never great at flowers and chocolates. If her happiness was caught up in these frilly details she’d be disappointed. He might pick up a card on the way home, he might not. I think though, that if he could come back for one more day, he would surprise her with what she never expected because he was deep down a hopeless romantic, crazy about her until the end. He said in an interview, “Gaye was the spark that started the fire. Without her, I’m zero.” You could see it when his gold-flecked eyes sparkled as they caught hers, the way he would pat her backside in passing or kiss her neck, even in their 70s. He saw in her the world’s most beautiful women. When we watched the movie “The Mask of Zorro” with Catherin Zeta-Jones he said, “That is my kind of woman. Like your mother.”

He described that when they met he thought she might be out of his league. She was from town while he was a farm kid. In elementary school she had been the tallest in her class and he was the shortest. He was skinny and she had curves in all the right places. There was also the fact that she was waiting for somebody else, but he was just competitive enough to go for it. Her dad took a liking to him and so my grandfather gave some man-to-man advice. “Hartley, if you want her, you fight for her.” He fought and he won.

On all accounts they had a good marriage. I remember as they approached their 60s we went backpacking. Val and I were in high school and found their contraceptives in our tent. Most kids are grossed out by the thought but we were all high fives. “Awesome! I hope we inherit that mojo at their age!” When he was ill right before the end he saw a Viagra commercial and he sort of chuckled, “The stuff doesn’t work for me. One thing about it, no less willing. Just less able.” (I am sure mom is dying to read this now).

When I was a young adult wringing my hands about whether I should get married my dad and I had breakfast one morning. He offered his two cents. “Rhonda, if you love him go for it. I wouldn’t trade all my single days combined for any ordinary married one.”

As life drew to a close, he would shut his eyes and remember so many days before. “It goes by so fast. I don’t feel one bit different inside than when I was that skinny kid. You don’t realize while you are hungrily turning the pages of your story that the last chapter comes before you know it.”

I think if he could give Gaye a Valentine, he would tell her that. He would say, “Holidays were nice and we had some first-rate adventures, but every uneventful day was a gift.” I think he would tell her once more how much the simplest pleasures meant: sharing meals, watching their children grow and best of all, drifting to sleep with her warm body snuggled into his.

When is Prime Time?

When is Prime Time?


Submitted by admin on Wed, 05/15/2013 – 08:12

When is prime time?
When people who are turning 40 or 50 tell me they are getting so old, I hesitate because what I want to say is “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” That’s how my dad would have put it.

Having parents who started with me at 41 and 45 probably colors how I look at age. They didn’t seem old to me until they were well into their 70s, when my dad started spending time in hospitals. By this time their bodies began giving out in earnest, but even then mom was still energetic and dad had a boyish mischief about him.

A while back I had two friends in their 60s say to me in different conversations, that the most golden time in their lives was when their children were little–and neither one of them realized it at the time. That sounded like a warning: don’t miss your own life. Another colleague told me about a co-worker who kept putting off retirement. Right after she finally gave notice, her husband suffered a major illness and they lost the opportunity to do all that they had planned, all that they had put off. Another warning, don’t wait to live.

All this made me wonder when the best time was in my parents’ life. If I had to guess, the picture attached to this essay came to mind. I love this one because they both seemed in their prime then. I remember them vibrant and full of plans. I asked my mom when she thought their best years were, not really knowing if she would pick this phase or if she would choose another, perhaps when they were young and before I was even born. Her answer surprised even me.

She said that each phase in their lives was the best up to that point culminating with the last few months before my dad passed away. Even though he was quite sick, this time was one of closeness and love. The last two weeks of their life together ranked as one of the fondest periods in their whole marriage. This followed a high-energy two decades during their sixties and seventies when they enjoyed grandchildren, work, and new adventures. Clichéd as it might sound, these were the golden years.

A friend told me a few years ago that the difference between old people and young people, is that the young keep making memories while the old only live in them. My folks never stopped making memories.

I think it’s worth repeating: it isn’t that the time when their family was young was not the best time up to that point. It was. My dad said he wouldn’t trade one single married day for all of his single days combined. It’s just that their marriage grew stronger and they fell in love with their work more with each year. Of course it wasn’t all singing and chocolate cake (or carob cake if my mom baked it) but they always had something that got them out of bed, something to do together. I have to think too, that part of it was gratitude, of being grateful for whatever life brings.

So with this reflection on my parents’ life, I want to internalize what they had to teach me. So last weekend I posed the question in my own mind: what has been my best time thus far? I didn’t hesitate; the answer was clear and resounding. “It is right now,” I told Milan this over poached eggs. There is nothing in the whole world I truly want that I don’t have in this moment. There could always be more money, more of oh, I don’t know what. But when it comes to being happy, I have everything I need right now.

I am also practicing–and forgetting, and practicing again–the discipline of being present and appreciating exactly what life is in the moment, whatever that might be. My new goal, my ultimate goal in life is this. It is to be like my parents who looked back and said that even in trials and difficulties, the phase of life they were in was better than the last. Because really, if you ask what the best phase in life is, shouldn’t the answer always be, “right now?” When would my life be anything but the present? Now is the ONLY phase of my life. Always will be. So today, I think I will be in a good mood, realizing that I am in my prime.