Birthday Dad

IMG_4701I was born on July 13th, a day that also happens to be my dad’s birthday. This incidental event has created a small but special bond between my dad and I, and it is reinforced every year. Dad isn’t one for nicknames but he calls me “birthday girl” (which I absolutely love) and in return, I usually make a bad joke about how I didn’t get him anything because how could I possibly outdo the best gift he’s ever received?

Even before I was born, my dad and I had a special connection, according to family lore. When mom first got pregnant, she and dad decided not to find out the gender of the baby in advance so they had to come up with two sets of names. It was easy to agree on a choice for a boy– Danny– but they couldn’t settle on what to name the baby if it was a little girl. Finally, they turned to the most reliable of arbiters and flipped a coin toss. Mom won. The baby came, it was a girl and my older sister was named Jessica. When the coin landed, the story goes, Dad said “I hope we have another girl so I can name her Michele!” This story is a family favorite in the “Careful What you Wish For” category, since my parents now have a total of five daughters, but in my view, the most important part of the story is that my dad picked my name, that I was special to him even before my birth, and especially so when I entered the world on his birthday.

Continue reading “Birthday Dad”

Family Recipe

IMG_4948All across America today, as families and friends gather over heaping plates of food, they are arguing or disagreeing or pushing down their feelings about the offensive things being said across the table. Everyone seems to have a grandma or an uncle or a brother-in-law who thinks outrageous things and finds in a holiday meal an excellent platform to talk about them. So often the dessert hasn’t been served by the time the conversation devolves into a full on argument or seething frustration.

Why does it have to be so hard?

Because families contains a variety of ingredients to make them what they are and family gatherings bring out a rare combination of diversity and intimacy. At a minimum, each family contains a difference in age. We are all products of our surroundings and it is fundamentally impossible for two people from different generations to come ready-made with the same ideas about everything. Throw that into the pot.

For another thing, families actual create their own diversity. Even if one child follows his mother or father’s footsteps exactly, he will be different from the other parent, and the other siblings will be different from him. Kids find their identities by cleaving off of their siblings, and even if the rest of the world would find them similar, amongst themselves they are a special sort of unique. Family dynamics require different roles and characters, so even people who are otherwise alike might fall into roles dictated by their age, rank and gender. Throw that in too.

The most seasoning comes from the influences of the outside world. Every family has someone who is unemployed or underemployed or somehow not “living up to their full potential.” Every family has someone else who is still single and shouldn’t be or who chose the wrong mate or is otherwise making grave decisions that the family could correct quite easily if only the person would listen. Usually there are differences in political or religious beliefs that have a way of making themselves known around the dinner table. If two people find something to agree on, the longer they talk, the more likely they are to uncover something that someone else disagrees with. That’s just how it goes.

Some people avoid the situation altogether because can’t stand to be surrounded by such ignorance and closed-mindedness. But this is a huge mistake.

Growing up means often means moving out, and moving out exposes people to experiences that aren’t shared with their family members. Over time, the relocation has the combined effect of changing a person’s opinions and collecting them with other like-minded people. When people have deep conversations about their beliefs and opinions, they tend to be talking to people who already more or less agree with them. It can become easy to believe that everyone thinks and feels the same you do.

Family gatherings bring together people who have been spiced by individual life experiences into a shared space. These are rare opportunities to think beyond ourselves, to relate to other people, to gain a new perspective through the forced unifier of common experience. If, at a minimum, we asked ourselves “how can they actually believe that?” every time there was a disagreement, we might really learn something. That your idiot uncle might teach you something can be a tough prospect to swallow for someone who is already as enlightened as we all secretly think we are, but it’s more valuable than all the agreeing and better for you than pumpkin pie.



I’d like to feel about Christmas the same way that I feel about Halloween. In other words, I’d like to just enjoy it and have fun. I grew up celebrating both holidays with unqualified joy. Each year through my childhood my family would pick out pumpkins for carving, and, a month later scout for a Christmas tree. But as an adult I can’t bring that same sense of celebration to both because they are just not the same. The difference is that one holiday is religious and one is not, and, as a non-religious person, I’m not sure that I can celebrate Christmas without committing some sort of moral perjury. Continue reading “Christm-ish”

Dear Family

When I told you that I was still sick,
and that I was going to get help,
we hugged and cried and you gave your support.

And while I was in treatment,
you sometimes inquired,
responding to my positive updates.

But after I left that place,
we never talked about it again.
You assumed the best and I let you

See, this problem thrives in darkness,
I hardly confront it with myself,
and even less with others.

I know it’s not that you didn’t care,
but the fact that you never asked,
really hurts.

If you had asked me straight
I might have lied,
but at least then you could say you tried.

There’s never time to ask the question
with one right answer,
the one that that you won’t hear.

And so it continued,
with you cloaked in wishful thinking,
and me hidden in my shame.

Until, once again, I intervened
tearing open that inner door
shining light on the destruction.

Its like I’ve always known,
that even with all the support in the world
this problem is mine alone to solve.