While we're on the subject of dads...
I was raised in a close and loving family. Dysfunctional, yes, but I never had any doubt that I was loved. My dad came from a family that was loving and supportive without all the crazy-making things that I experienced after the extended family grew away from each other geographically. But then, I lived through 9 years of the 1950s, a decade that was dysfunctional at its core.
There were two factions in our immediate family tree. My mother's family was cold, unsupportive and distant, with no displays of emotion, just cold disregard. I think I met them all of three times throughout my life, so when I think of them, I see in my mind one of those Victorian family photographs in which the subjects sit straight and rigid, like they have a pole up their backsides, wearing stern, unhappy faces. When I think of my dad's family on the other hand, I see a raucous bunch of musicians sitting in the back yard at a picnic table. Everyone's laughing, drinking beer, smoking, sharing jokes and stories, and singing, with kids and dogs running around. No wonder my mom, who was affectionate by nature, spent more time at the Waller house when she was a kid, than she did at her own. No wonder she did everything in her power to "snag" my dad when she was only 15. Her own mother died from suicide brought on by suffering with TB the year before and Mom listened while her family argued about who was going get stuck with taking care of her. No one wanted her, so the Wallers took her in. They were a family that I would have wanted to get in with too, had I been in her place.
Ft. Leonardwood during WWII. My brother was born in their house. After the war the entire family packed up the '48 Plymouth and moved to California, where my dad hoped to work in radio as an entertainer along the lines of Red Skelton. The family moved together in order to help him with that dream. Within a year the family was living on two acres of land in three houses they'd built for each other in an area outside of Oxnard, known as Nyeland Acres, which was a safe, semi-rural area in those days. Sadly, today it is considered little better than a suburban slum.
Our house was next door to my grandparents' house. The two houses were separated by a white picket fence with a gate. My Aunt Pat and Uncle Don were newlyweds living in a bungalow at the top of the driveway. Other family members were my Uncle Bob and Aunt Rena, also newlyweds, my Uncle Wes, who was an unofficially adopted member of the family and lived with my grandparents, and Aunt Rena's family, who were from Finland. These included my godparents Mr. and Mrs. Tillman. Soon, the next generation started being born. I came first, followed by a multitude of cousins.
And all this time we lived on the same piece of land together, spending Sundays in the yard at potluck picnics and always helping each other with the struggles of day-to-day life. There was no sense of anyone being pushed out of the nest, no hint of the modern philosophy of "You're on your own now" or, "You're 18, now get the hell out!" No one would ever be on their own because each family member was backed up by a clan of people who loved them and wanted to help them make their way in life. There was no pressure to move out, but when you did, you were encouraged and supported--you never even had to buy furniture or houseware items because everyone was all too happy to give your their old stuff. When my parents had a little trouble with money, someone always came in with a bag of groceries, "Just a few things I picked up while I was at the grocery store." When Grand-dad's Willys jeep broke down, the men spent their Saturday afternoon fixing it. When a babysitter was needed, someone volunteered. When a newlywed aunt and uncle needed help with a utility bill, the family paid it for them. There were never loans, or demands for payment in our family; it all came back around eventually because everyone worked and pulled together.
These are the ethics I grew up with, ethics that I just naturally like to live by even when we can't afford it. What's hard for me now is that, outside of my sons (and my cousins who have scattered to the four winds), there's no longer a blood clan. When our finances are as bad as they presently are, there's no one to help, to buy a bag of groceries, or even give encouragement. I feel abandoned and alone much of the time, and as I head into my "golden years" I find myself wishing it were different. But I'm blessed with having our immediate family close at hand and we pull together as best we can when times are hard. We're a family and if my dad were here to see it, he'd recognize that his own family's values are still thriving. Perhaps some things are different (Nettl and I are a same sex couple after all), but he wouldn't care. All he'd care about is that we're loving, supportive and happy as a family unit.
The values I was taught by observance are the reason I willingly put my life on hold for 13 years to take care of Dad and Mom at the end of their lives. They are the reason my sons live with us while getting on their feet, and they are the reason we took Nettl's kids from their father when he wasn't acting in their best interests. We couldn't afford any of it, but we had faith that "what goes around comes around" and that it will come back to us, eventuall.
If my dad were here, and I said to him, "Dad, I'm so sorry for the heartache and expense I caused for you and Mom", I know what his reply would be: "Oh Hon, don't worry about it. That's the point of family."