Saturday, May 6, 2017

Families, Relationships and Transactions

When I was a young kid of about 8 years old, my mother shamed me, and I never forgot it. She didn’t shame me in public. It was a small moment, between the two of us, and she probably doesn’t remember it. But I did. I still do. Vividly.

We were on a road trip… driving across the country to a new home in the state of Washington. We didn’t have a lot of money, so we were camping along the way.  At one campground (some KOA hell-hole in South Dakota, I believe) there was a laundry room, and there were some video games in the laundry room.  I had my eye on those video games… back in the day, video games were only "Arcade" games. You could only play video games if you had quarters. You could only play video games at corner stores and arcades, and not in the privacy of your own home, for free (The Atari 2600 had not yet been released). So those arcade games in the laundry room called out to the young me… seductively.

I had no money of course. And being out on the road meant I was away from my grandparents who would usually give me aracde money on the weekends. So I was jonesing for a fix, so-to-speak. And my mother asked me to carry one of the bags of laundry to the laundry room on the other side of the camp ground.  Visions of video games filled my young head and I said “I’ll do it for a quarter.”

She looked at me with a mixture of shock and anger and said icily “We don’t pay each other to do things in this family. We help each other because we are family, and we don’t expect to be paid for it.” That was it. But the tone of voice. The look. She shamed me with a quiet voice and common sense, and I never forgot it.

Several years later, my mother had a new baby, and we had just moved into a new home in San Diego, and I was starting a new school. Eighth grade. The last year of Middle school. My mom and dad were juggling working hours and commutes and child care, and mom asked me, “When you get out of school, can you watch your sister? Pick her up from daycare, and watch her until one of us can get home?  We’ll pay you babysitting money.”

At this point, I was a young teenage boy desperately trying to figure out how to become a man. And I knew instinctively that this was an opportunity. I told her quietly, yet gravely. “Of course I’ll watch my sister. But I won’t let you pay me for it.” I don’t know if my mother ever connected these two things, but when the eighth-grade me answered that question, and insisted on not being paid, he was thinking explicitly of his eight year old self, and that morning in the campground.

Many years later, at a family gathering with my sister, who was by then an adult, my mother recounted that stressful year, when she was working full time, going to grad school, and had just had a new baby. And she recounted how helpful I had been, taking care of my sister every day after school. This hadn’t been make-work for me. This hadn’t been a test. It had been something the family needed to get by.

You help your family because you want to, and you do it selflessly without expectation -- Or you shouldn’t do it at all. If you value a relationship, don't make it transactional  This is true of ANY relationship, and not just a familial one.  Thank you, Mom.  For your common sense and wisdom, and for a lesson never forgotten.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Reaons Why

While my wife Liza was pregnant with our second daughter, Ryan, I had an urge to start writing down family stories. Mostly this urge came from the knowledge that I was going to be the father of two girls, in a world that is often hostile towards women.  I want my daughters to have strong role models, and to grow up expecting to be treated equal. I want them to be outraged and spitting mad when they are not. And when they engage in the long fight that is life, I want them to have role models and inspirations that help them get through the dark times.

I was lucky, and had many strong women in my life growing up.  And I had many good role models for what it means to be a man. Many of them have died. And as more and more of them age and pass away, I am painfully aware that my daughters will never know them.  Unless I pass those memories on.

Some of the role models and important people in my life, like Nana and Grandpa,  are still around. But without a little bit of context and history, I don't think my daughters would realize just how heroic and incredible their grandparents were.

So that's what this blog is for... stories for my daughters. Family history, and whatever else I think they should know.  Because if I don't share these stories, these people that were so important to me truly will fade away and be gone. If I tell these stories well, hopefully they will live on... In my daughters imaginations.