Family tree


Pops, indicating the height of the trees when his dad planted them 70 years ago.

In my recent, breezy, Twitter-length series of As to some Qs about lesbian fatherhood, I wrote: “My dad is one of the beacons of love in my life.”  True story.  One of his most oft-repeated definitions of family is this line from the sympathetic speaker Mary in Robert Frost’s poem, “The Death of the Hired Man”:

Home is the place where, when you have to go there,  They have to take you in.

One of the clearest and warmest youthful memories I have of my dad, besides standing next to him singing as he played Broadway show tunes on the piano, or playing frisbee with him in the back yard, or walking the streets of San Francisco en route to an “old timey movie,”  is how he tucked my sister and me in at night.  I can’t vouch for what he might have said with my sister in her room, but I suspect it was fairly similar to what he said to me.  We would wax philosophic — mostly at first, he would, and I gradually joined in as the years wore on — pondering life’s big imponderables.  Then as he’d turn out the light and linger in the doorway, he’d say, “It’s a good world.”

He said it enough times that I pretty much came to believe him.

He’s not always kept a firm grip on this belief.  In the first years following his first grandson’s cancer death — five years ago, now, later this month — he framed it as a question rather than a statement.  At times he simply admitted that he felt it couldn’t be true. I’d try and reflect as much truth back that I could.  “It’s a heck of a world, Pops. It’s a big one, a stupefying one, with capriciousness side by side next to grace.  No more good than bad, maybe even.  Surely beyond my ken.”

Still, we agreed that capricious or no, we ought to love as many as possible, as well as possible, as frequently as possible.  I like the “possible” part there, since it cuts a hard working person a little break.  We may not always be successful, but the point is to try.

In the photograph above, taken last fall, my dad is posing in front of some conifers his father planted in the early 1940s. It was on a patch of land overlooking the Monterey Bay, a place to build a home, the first and last my grandparents had owned.  There were few trees on that meadow at the time, and my grandfather thought that, on general principle, there ought to be some. Since these trees were saplings, our family has seen marriages, divorces, births, and deaths.  Triumph and tragedy and every mundane thing in between.  The stuff of life.  Meanwhile the trees kept growing, paying our comings and goings and squabbles no mind.  One eventually caught a disease that denuded it.  Still, it stands tall, awaiting storm winds strong enough to topple it.

The land and what’s on it are now another family’s.  They, like our family has three times now, are fighting cancer.  We all hope they have better luck than we’ve had.  Whether or no, it gave us a good deal of comfort that this place — its home, its trees — would now shelter a family  drawn there by, among other things, a sense that it might make a good place to heal.

5 thoughts on “Family tree”

  1. Beautiful post…and beautiful place. The Monterey area is gorgeous. I was lucky enough to go to high school there and run cross country under trees like that….

  2. It can be a darn tough world, with a lot of pain and hurt in it. But the trick is to find joy in every moment. “Joy” doesn’t have to be that bubbly euphoric sense of delight, but the knowledge that everything is still okay, and that there is kindness and love and smiles still in the world.

    I remember riding in the car with my partner and little boy after our second son died, feeling… well, feeling nothing at that time. He had been born premature, and after 20 days in the hospital, our dreams of a family of four were over. It had been such an emotional time that I was just done in.

    But I looked out the window of the car and saw the most beautiful sunset I had ever seen, with a flock of birds flying high and carefree over the houses and cars below. In spite of my pain, my partner’s pain, my living son’s pain, it reminded me that the world is still beautiful. It was that moment of joy.

    It is still hard, even after eight years. But finding those moments of joy lightens the load.

    I just love reading your blog – it also brings moments of joy to so many people!

    • Oh, here’s to load-lightening. Whatever else can we all do? And thank you so much, dragon_mom, for sharing your own moment. That rich visual image is likely to stay in my head now, for good. In every sense of that phrase.

  3. Once again I find myself with wet eyes and a tight throat. Thanks for your beautiful writing & perspective. You too, dragon_mom.

    My nose is to the grindstone (a self-imposed position) so much that I forget to look up and see those trees and those birds. I feel inspired to deepen my good night rituals ala lesbian dad pere.

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