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Posts Tagged ‘Stepfamily’

How Many Communities Do You Belong To?

In behavior, blogging, books, domestic life, family, life, love, men, sports, urban life, US, women, work on June 25, 2011 at 12:13 pm
1987 GE Softball Team

Go team! Loving the camaraderie...Image by Bitman via Flickr

I loved a recent post by a young Canadian man teaching English in Korea, about his belated discovery of belonging to a trivia team and its pleasures.

I grew up in a family of, if not lone wolves, non-joiners.

Team spirit? Not so much.

My father, mother and stepmother were all freelance creatives: film, television, magazine journalism, almost always done working from home, sitting at a desk piled with papers, an ashtray overflowing (step-mom), a cold cup of milky coffee defining our “office.”

No one ever worked for The Man, or could count on paid vacation and sick days or a pension.

No one went to church or synagogue or played a team sport or joined a club or organization. My two brothers and I have all been nationally ranked athletes and super-competitive jocks, but usually in individual sports (riding, rally car racing, skateboarding, fencing.)

So it’s been an eye-opener to see what pleasures lie within community, not defined geographically — as it classically is for most of us — but through interests. After my divorce in 1994, alone in the ‘burbs with little cash and no pets or kids to pull me into those groups naturally, I started racing on sailboats of all sizes as a crew member, and did that for about five fun years.

My communities, now, include:

– the board, and 1,400 membership of, the American Society of Journalists and Authors

– the board of the Writers Emergency Assistance Fund, a body that grants up to $5,000 quickly to writers in desperate financial straits

– a co-ed softball team that includes a literary agent, a pastry chef for a Big New York restaurant, high school teachers, a medical editor, a retired ironworker, an orthopedic surgeon and a cantor. We’ve played Softball Lite for more than eight years right until the ground freezes and the snow flies, and I love them dearly. Here’s my love letter to them that ran in The New York Times.

– my Episcopal church, an uneasy fit  for me and my sweetie (both career journos) in that most of its members are wealthy, conservative and work in finance, law or high-level corporate jobs. But I’ve been there since 1998 and have made a few good friends. St. B’s and its pastors and assistant ministers has seen me through some major crises

I never really thought about “community” in this way until I read the obit of the sister of a dear friend of mine. When I called him to offer my condolences, he said, “I never knew how many communities she had.” It made me realize how many we enjoy, far beyond our traditional and individual roles of friend, daughter/son, wife/husband, partner, employee/boss.


Being a member of a community, de facto, shapes you. Every group has its own character, standards, acceptable (and not) forms of behavior, interaction and address, how to handle conflict or disagreement.

In Softball Lite, for example, we all know (and love) that cell phones are verboten and no one is allowed to freak out or berate a fellow player for a bobble or error. The operative word — in hyper-competitive New York where we are all so hungry for a friendly break — is Lite.

What communities have you joined?

What do you get — and give — as a result?

Has it changed you?

Getting To Know Dad

In men, parenting on October 25, 2009 at 11:48 am
A father and daughter walk

Image by Solmaz Zohdi via Flickr

There were years, plural, we simply didn’t speak to one another, locked by anger and hurt into our comforting cages. I still remember, and wish I didn’t, a screaming fight in an outdoor parking lot in Antibes at midnight when I was 19. An argument on a crowded public street in Toronto. My college graduation neither parent attended as I tried to dance around their mutual rancor.

Many times over the decades I’ve come to the very precipice of walking away for good from my father, a complicated, proud man with more talent, energy and creativity than a dozen men combined. An award-winning filmmaker, he wears me out with his energy, at 80. We went to an antiques fair this week and reveled in handling objects, like the 6,000-year-old oil lamp in the shape of a dog or a fine piece of Georgian silver, chatting to the dealers and reminiscing fondly about the Egyptian basalt fragment of a lion’s head we saw at the last show we attended here in 1996. That’s typical of us, both obsessive about beauty and history.

“Your Dad’s a hard act to follow,” my late step-mother once said, and it was true. It took me many years to find a partner who offered my Dad’s best qualities (insatiable curiosity about the world, a well-worn passport and the desire to use it frequently, work he’s passionate about and does well that combines ideas and advocacy, a roaring laugh, stylish elegance) without his tougher bits.

We’ve just put put him in his car, a black Jag, and hugged goodbye as he drives to his home from ours, north from New York to Toronto, about 10 hours. This morning we took a gorgeous photo of him and posted it, with his headline and profile, on match.com, hoping to help him find a good woman to enjoy life with.

My sweetie lost his father when he was only 26 so he enjoys borrowing my Dad whenever he can. They’re very different people in some ways, so it’s sometimes lovely and sometimes I need a stiff drink to cope with their misunderstandings and clashes. They’re both strong-minded guys with specific worldviews, so it’s bound to happen. We really need this time to get to know Dad, because the past few years were an ugly and terrifying marathon that began, in March 2005, when his wife was diagnosed with lung cancer; she died two years ago on my sweetie’s birthday, which we celebrated this week.

When your Dad is 80, even in blessedly robust health, you might still have decades or you might have days. I’m lucky to have whatever time we’ve got.

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