My vulnerability and why I’m thankful for it.

Dad and I shooting pool. We both won.

Two years ago, I wrote this last-minute Thanksgiving blog about my mom’s recent heart surgery, and my gratitude that she survived.

This year, she’s gone.

I lost my best girlfriend, but I gained a surprising new confidante–my dad.

What’s important is our current connectedness.

When I was sixteen, I never could have imagined sitting on the couch next to my dad with my legs up on his lap, discussing our dreams and fears late into the night. I never could have imagined us side-by-side, holding hands, sharing our deepest feelings. Not that long ago, if you had told me a day would come when no one in my family would understand me as well as my dad, I’d have suspected you of imbibing a little too much holiday sauce.

Yet, it has all come to pass.

When I was younger, my dad and I didn’t relate well to each other. He was an involved father with all six of us kids–changing diapers, building a backyard ice rink, attending games and performances–whatever was needed. He said, “I love you,” regularly, and I knew he meant it. But we just didn’t bond emotionally. I closed my heart to him. The complicated dynamics of our previous relationship don’t really matter–what’s important is our current connectedness.

I’m trying to pinpoint when this new relationship with my dad started, but it was less a point and more an evolution.

Since 2016, when my declining health forced me to leave my job, Dad has never neglected to ask me how I’m feeling. And in spite of the embarrassing symptoms, humiliating symptom-management, and undignified procedures I’d endured, nothing was ever TMI for him. His only concern was for me. The more I shared my distress, the more love he gave.

Vulnerability is an opening for love.

Vulnerability was not a state or characteristic I’d have associated with my dad in the past. He was used to being the family provider, his rock-hard Catholic faith buoying him through stressful times. But as my mother’s health declined, and she became more and more in need of care, my father wondered what the future held, and for how long. His faith wobbled.

Dad felt unmoored, perhaps for the first time. And I felt deep compassion for him, perhaps for the first time. His floundering to find his footing opened a place in my heart that had often been closed to him. It was an opening for love.

We’re often afraid to share our angst, our fears, our unsettledness. It’s risky. Others may think poorly of us or act unkindly. They may use our weakness against us. It’s wise to be cautious.

But sometimes a risk pays off. It did for Dad and me. I’m glad we’re flawed human beings because it is our shared vulnerability that brought us together.

This Thanksgiving, you may have an opening to share your vulnerabilities. Dare you take it? If you do, please let me know!

Regardless, I wish you a day filled with deliciousness of every variety.

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Sharing our stories.

Now that my memoir is becoming more of a reality, with sections of my manuscript getting closer and closer to completion, it’s provided opportunities for our family to talk about what happened two decades ago in ways that we couldn’t back then, as we stumbled through it.

Matt was eleven when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Steve was six.

Now they’re adults, 31 and 26, respectively, and our family is exploring parts of our mutual story that are just now coming to light. My writing, and Matt’s, have been the catalyst.

This past Easter weekend, both sons were hanging out in our living room during some down time before we went out to dinner. Steve slouched in the faux leather club chair, his leg slung over the high arm (my favorite position as well.) Matt sat on the red couch in front of the window.

Matt had asked me to look over some of his recent writing, so I sat next to him on the couch to share the laptop screen. He had written about some of the most difficult aspects of his recovery. I knew some of it, from a mother’s perspective, but I didn’t know how he experienced it.

Wow. Not only is Matt’s writing powerful, but I am even more in awe of his fortitude and determination to get to where he is today.

Steve didn’t say much. When he was a kid, we tried to protect him from the drama as much as possible, and I guess we were successful, as he didn’t know anything about the scene in question. “Holy shit,” he must have been thinking.

Matt isn’t ready to share his recent writing, but if you haven’t seen his previous essay about his diagnosis day, you can read it here. 

I believe as a family, we’re learning to appreciate each other more as we share our stories of those many, many difficult days.

And I appreciate the simple gift of sitting in the living room with my guys, all of us present, all of us healthy, enjoying an ordinary day. What a blessing.

Breathtaking lessons from a family vacation.

 An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent's condo. An honest-to-goodness sunset on the beach near my parent’s condo.

I had planned a relaxing family Christmas vacation visiting my parents on the west coast.  Since my Mom and Dad moved out there several years ago, my east coast clan of four have had precious little time with them, and this was our chance to catch up.   All three of my guys – my husband and two sons – were able to take time off from work.  My parents, in their eighties, are in relatively good health, but who knows how long that will continue?

I was looking forward to a great trip, maybe the last that the six of us would havetogether.

Then I found out that my sister from Chicago would be visiting as well.  And my brother from Pittsburgh.  And another brother and his family from Charlotte.  Thank goodness my youngest brother, quasi-famous and famously generous, lent us all the use of his house nearby while he vacationed abroad.

Gone were my fantasies of relaxation.  In my lap was the challenge to enjoy the unexpected.  Here’s what I found:

  • It does, in fact, rain in southern California and when it pours, MAN it pours.  Although I resented that nature chose my vacation to tackle the drought, the storms did clear away the typical fog, leaving an exceptional clarity to the air.
  • The hot tub at my brother’s house overlooking the Pacific is even more soothing when the air is chilly.
  • The two mile walk along the beach from my parents’ condo to my brother’s house beats Uber hands down.
  • If you happen to be inside when a coral and purple and tangerine sky peeks through the window, it’s totally worth it to drop what you’re doing and run down to the beach to witness it fully.
  • My best family moments were the simple ones – companionable dinners with my guys and my parents, going with my Mom to her bookclub, playing cards with my brothers on New Years Eve, brainstorming blog ideas with my sister at the kitchen table.

I also realized that I’m not as keen on large family vacations as I used to be.  In past years, it was a blast vacationing with my extended family.  But as our family grows, there are more personalities to accommodate, more needs to negotiate, and more bodies to feed and bed.  And let’s not even get into food sensitivities and dietary requirements. There’s a constant flux of arrangements, itineraries, and trips to Trader Joe’s.

My family seems to thrive on this intensity.  Not me – I wilt.  After three weeks, which was probably two weeks too long, in spite of the beauty, comforts, and love surrounding me, I was numb.

There’s a lesson here, too, which is how great it is to be home.  My house has no ocean view, but I can see the little league field over the hill, the stone wall that I helped heave into place, and the concrete-block garage that I painted to look like brick.  There’s no tangerine sunsets on the beach, but I can see the stalks of hydrangeas and picture their summer blooms in shades of blue and mauve.  We have no hot tub, but our cozy fireplace and old-house charm wraps us in comfort.  The nearest ocean beach is a couple hundred miles away and we’re in the middle of a dreary, icy New York winter.   I’ve never loved my life so much.  It’s breathtaking.