My father has been on my mind this weekend.  He’s always on my mind, truth be told, but in particular this weekend.  For two discrete reasons.

The first is George Strait’s song “Love Without End, Amen.”  I have been listening to a new playlist of music and this is on it.  The song reminds me powerfully of my dad.  Not because he listened to country.  He didn’t (his tastes ran to sea shanties and Kings College Choir Christmas carols).  But because of the line about a father’s love being a love without end.  Amen.  And I feel so overwhelmingly grateful to have been parented by a father so steadfast, so loyal.  A father whose love was truly without end.  The part that is remarkable is that my father’s own parenting was, I think it’s fair to say, iffy.  And he was one of four boys who grew up in a deeply masculine environment.  My grandparents weren’t sexist at all – in fact my grandmother was one of the original feminist influences on me – but they were traditional. And Dad turned it around.  He raised two girls to be anything they wanted to be, with the firm conviction they could.  The only time I remember him doubting me, ever, is when I said I wanted to be on the Supreme Court but thought I might skip law school.  He looked at me with a bemused expression and averred that “that one might be tricky.”

I also keep thinking about something I have heard – I can’t recall the source or the exact attribution, but the gist is the same – that an adult woman’s self esteem has a lot to do with her father.  If that’s true, then damn my sister and I were lucky to have had this man at our back.  He had high expectations – recall his first words to me upon learning I graduated magna cum laude: “what happened to summa?” – but man, he was there.

The second reason is a quote I read on Instagram from Roald Dahl.  “The more risks you allow your children to take, the better they learn to look after themselves.”  The quote is by Roald Dahl and it was Alexandra Purdy who shared it.  The story this quote makes me think about is one I know I’ve told before.  In sixth grade, I had to bring in a note from home saying I did not need to wear a helmet when the class went ice skating.   Mum was busy so I had to ask Dad to write the note.  He looked at me with a gleam in his eye and proceeded to uncap the fountain pen he always used.  “Recognizing that risk is an inherent part of life …” the note began.  He refused to write me a regular permission note.  I was horrified for weeks.  And now the adult me thinks about that moment all the time.

I have the sense that sometimes people think we are a little comfortable with and honest about risk with our children.  I’ll never forget the other parents who told me I was wrong when, holding a 4 year old Whit on my lap to have blood drawn, I said “yes” when he asked me if it was going to hurt.  I know there were some who could not believe we took Grace and Whit to Israel (and to Palestine) when they were 8 and 10.  Others who thought it was insane that 2 days after getting his driver’s license, we let Whit drive to the Cape.  The story with my Dad that I recall is hoisting Whit up the mast on our sailboat to fix a broken masthead light.  I remember that Whit was nervous, and asked me if this would be scary.  I looked him right in the eye and said, “Yes.  But I’ll be right here and you’re safe.”

I told someone recently that the most instrumental influence on the way I parent is my father’s belief that the whole enterprise is 95% nature.  I could not agree more.  But reading Dahl’s quote made me feel comforted, and seen.  In closing, a picture of Dad at 18 in which I see so much of Whit.  Fitting that both of the photos of him are driving sailboats, which is where he was happiest.


Lost & Found

It’s been a long time since I wrote down so many passages from a book, underlined so aggressively, nodded and shared quotes and blinked away tears.  Thank you Brettne for suggesting that I read Lost & Found by Kathryn Schulz.  I have never read a book that captures as precisely and articulately what the experience of mourning a larger-than-life father was.  The book is structured in three parts: “lost,” which talks about the death of her father, “found,” which talks about her finding love shortly before her father’s death, and “and,” which talks about how both losing and finding animate the rest of her life.  I loved all three parts, but the first and last most.  The first section moved me often to tears, as Schulz put words around what my experience was like in the weeks, months, and years after Dad’s death.

The last section did what great literature does for me: made me feel less alone in the world.  Schulz describes the interplay between grief and gratitude that defines my every single day, and argues compellingly that awareness of each augments and enriches the other.  I could not believe this more.  In so many ways Dad’s death made me a more deeply feeling and more keenly aware person, more attuned to life’s beauty and pain, both.

Lately I have found this everyday remarkableness almost overwhelming. As I said, I’ve never been much for stoicism, but these last few years, I have been even more susceptible than usual to emotion—or, rather, to one emotion in particular. As far as I know, it has no name in our language, although it is close to what the Portuguese call saudade and the Japanese call mono no aware. It is the feeling of registering, on the basis of some slight exposure, our existential condition: how lovely life is, and how fragile, and how fleeting. Although this feeling is partly a response to our place in the universe, it is not quite the same as awe, because it has too much of the everyday in it, and too much sorrow, too. For the same reason, it is also not the feeling the Romantics identified as the sublime—a mingling of admiration and dread, evoked by the vast impersonal grandeur of the physical world. This feeling I am talking about has none of that splendor or terror in it. It is made up, instead, of gratitude, longing, and a note I can only call anticipatory grief. Among English words, its nearest kin might be “bittersweet.”

…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing

Been thinking about my father lately.  Even more than usual.  Been listening to Chris Stapleton’s Starting Over, where this line jumps out …

…the hard roads are the ones worth choosing
Some day we’ll look back and smile
And know it was worth every mile.

These lines remind me so much of Dad.  He felt firmly that value was correlated with difficulty.  I remember a conversation with him about this and I made the argument that just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it’s the best.  He looked at me quizzically and clearly disagreed.  I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately because I think in my heart of hearts I do agree with him.

Just thinking about Dad, and hearing those words, and remembering this beautiful view from my wonderful visit with Grace this weekend.


Thank you

I have had THANK YOU on my mind the last few weeks.

If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.

-Meister Eckhart

This line was in our holiday card several years ago and I think of it every single day.

I feel overcome with gratitude lately, for the road that led me here and for all the complex realities of life right now.  Maybe that’s what midlife is: a sturdy awareness of our gifts even in the midst of days that are dark or challenging.  I’m thankful for so much.  For the snow.  For my young adult children, who make me laugh and make me proud and make me excited to see what’s coming next.  For my husband, who has been by my side for so many years.  For our dog, whose presence has been an unmitigated joy even though she barks too much.  For walks with friends.  For my wonderful, incredible colleagues that it’s a privilege to work with every day.  For my dearly beloved closest friends, the true native speakers who know who they are.  For the many, many years of family dinners, and the routine and familiarity of sitting down together most nights.  For pink and red M&M chocolate chip cookies.  For our Peleton.  For my sister and mother, whose steadfast presence in my life means the world.  For my father, who I miss daily.  For the lengthening days.  For the heartache and challenge that helped me appreciate all that is beautiful here.

My maternal grandmother was my first grandparent to die, in 1997.  She was the only grandparent not at our wedding, and I wore her wedding ring. Her husband, my grandfather, was with her when she died and his last words to her were “thank you.”

I cannot think of a better thing to hear at the end of one’s life.


Around here lately

Phew!  It’s already February.  Wow.  January 2022 was kind of a blur.

We all got COVID.  Kids were asymptomatic (but both had to miss school for between 5-10 days depending on individual school rules).  Matt had a mild cold for 2 days.  I had a real cough for 2 weeks but was otherwise fine, never had to miss work or anything.  I’ve had worse colds.  I’m grateful we all have antibodies now!

Whit turned 17.  We celebrated with … dinner the three of us, based on the update above.  He is a great sport.  The evening of Whit’s birth remains among the most sacred hours of my life.  I labored mostly alone with him and it was absolutely holy.  Feels like yesterday, but also like a different life.

All my amarylises bloomed.  Also my paperwhites.

It snowed a lot.  We got about 18 inches I’d guess but due to winds and blowing there were some drifts way deeper than that.  Matt and Whit were in Vermont skiing so I did a lot of shoveling.  The photo above is our back stairs.  I’d shoveled them less than 2 hours before this photo.  It came down fast.  I like a storm though I’m ready to be able to walk Phoebe in sneakers again so it can melt now anytime.

The day are much longer now – it’s light at 5pm which feels like a huge blessing and positive sign.

How are things in your world?