A daughter grows up

I am always a bit leery to write about my family members. I am afraid that I will say something in my blog that will inadvertently hurt them. Therefore, when I do write about my family I am circumspect. Still, they are my family so they cannot help but loom large in my thoughts. So occasionally, I will invite the reader to get some insight into my family. Today, I give you a picture of my daughter on the cusp of adulthood.

In fact, on occasion, I have said things in my blog about my daughter Rosie, but little of it was meaningful. I described her as a polysexual (a word I think that I coined) a couple years back. She was just fourteen when she announced to my wife and I in a matter of fact tone that she was attracted to both genders. I also once pondered mistakes I made parenting her. Other than these instances, I have written little in my blog that gives you a sense of the wonderful young woman that is my daughter.

Now Rosie is sixteen and a junior in high school. She is taller than her mother. Prior to adolescence, she struck her two introverted parents as inexplicably popular. Her many girlfriends were a constant presence in our lives. It seemed like almost every other weekend she was at a sleepover at some girl’s house. She rarely needed or bothered to call up her friends. They sought her out. She was not popular in the traditional sense of the word. There are no yearbooks in grade school, but if there were, I doubt her class would have been voted her most popular. Rosie is the antithesis of perky. For whatever reason though, she effortlessly attracted a devoted group of followers. Without intending to be the leader, she became one to her friends. She carried with her both imagination and an intangible energy. Girls who wanted more of these traits in themselves were drawn to her like moths to a flame.

Adolescence found Rosie getting in touch with her introvert. She still has good friends, but they are a smaller and more eclectic set. They meet mostly online now. Her friends include a few really unusual, somewhat bizarre, quite skewed (but not dysfunctional) harmless young men. You might say they are the out crowd at school. She still claims to be a bisexual, but seems to be in no hurry to try sex, drugs, cigarettes or, for that matter, heavy romantic relationships. She is comfortable with whom she is, and who she is does not resemble many of her peers.

I still think she attracts a certain kind of person who is also turned off by peer pressure, but not as comfortable in openly expressing it. When they see her, they see something of a model on how they would like to be: a genuine and unapologetic non-conformanist. She has her own tastes in clothes and music and they rarely intersect with those of her peers. She likes some popular music, but her favorite music tends to be rather obscure stuff she found on the Internet. She is comfortable with less trendy forms of music, including musicals, folk, jazz and classical music.

There are times I think she might be a Goth, since she is usually dressed in black. However, she is not the type to dye her hair jet black. She wears no makeup. She makes sporadic efforts to clear up her acne, but usually she is indifferent to it. Adolescence is usually a time of pulling a way. Yet at this stage in her life, she seems comfortable emulating her geeky parents. For both my wife and I are comfortable in our own non-conformanist skins. For her a pleasant day is spent in the sanctuary of her bedroom. Half of the time, she is chatting online with friends. The other half of the time, she is writing. For like her mother and I, she seems to have the gift of words. For now, she writes mostly fan fiction. She even has her own web site full of fan fiction that she has written. Her friends are some of her more enthusiastic readers. They participate by providing artwork for her web site, and hang on her latest chapters.

For most of her life, academics have been her biggest challenge. It was not that she was stupid. At every conference we had with her teachers she was singled out as one of the smartest and most interesting children in the class. Rather, her challenges were organization and being able to focus. We tried every approach we could think of and nothing worked. For a while there I had regular nightmares of her spending her adult years placing smiley face stickers on customers entering the local Wal-Mart.

Now, at long last, she is cruising academically. We are not entirely sure what did the trick. It could be that she finally realized that independent living was right around the corner. We do know that things started improving shortly after we found Peggy, her life coach. Perhaps parental guidance can be counterproductive at a certain age. Her coach works as a partner, rather than as an authority. Just last week we reached a welcome milestone. Her latest report card arrived with all A’s and B’s on it. I used to dread the arrival of her report card. Now it is almost a happy experience.

At sixteen, it is too much to expect her to figure out what she wants to do with her adult life. She is definitely thinking about it though. For now, her goal is to study overseas. Since she is one of the top French students in her school, she would prefer to study in France. To help her discover if this is something she really wants to do, we are planning to take a trip to Paris this summer. One thing is for sure: she is not terribly enamored with her own country. She talks about giving up her American citizenship for French citizenship. I have to remind her that things are not that wonderful in France. Young adults have been rioting in the streets. Youth unemployment hovers around 20%. Then there are the sectarian problems with Muslims and other immigrants who live what amounts to permanent second-class citizenship. Nor, if truth were told, would I be that happy to have her across the pond permanently. She is after all our only child. We know she has to leave home sometime. We are hoping if she must go to college in a foreign country that she will pick Canada. Quebec might be a more pragmatic (and less expensive) place for her to get a degree.

She has a hazy idea of a career in translation. She wants to see the world, and being multilingual might provide the opportunities she wants. Her choice strikes me as reasonable. Moreover, it is likely to pay much better than being a Wal-Mart greeter. Still, I wonder. I suspect that her real calling will be in the arts. Someone who can write so beautifully at age sixteen is likely to want to continue it as a passion into adulthood too. She has done her share of Community Theater, and has sung in a few chorales. For much of her life, I heard more singing from her than I heard from most birds. It is hard to imagine that side of her will disappear in adulthood.

I expect that she will experience some significant potholes as she transitions to adulthood. Her remaining time with us is now rather short. There is still so much to teach her. She needs many more driving lessons. I need to teach her money management skills, so she does not spend her adulthood in debt like so many these days. She needs a job beyond babysitting to see how the world of employment actually works. In addition, she needs to have some understanding of how expensive it is to live in our modern world. Perhaps this will encourage her to pick a profession that pays more than a bare living wage.

She enters her adulthood in a vastly more complex world than the one I knew at her age. There are so many more choices and as a consequence, many more potential pitfalls. If she has floundered in some ways until recently, it was probably simply because it is so tough to master all the necessary skills to succeed. She is now making sound choices. Now she carries a pervasive sense of inner confidence. Moreover, she seems to be a genuinely happy young woman. Rather than being rebellious, she is sweet and affectionate. She may be happy holed up in her room, but when she is out of it, she talks to us freely about her life. She remains as affectionate as a young woman as she was as a child. We can still hug each other freely. She radiates honesty and projects a sense of inner harmony.

She will still need some guidance, and she still is a bit nervous holding the tiller of her own life. She is nearing the edge of the harbor where she has spent her life. She has navigated in the shoals long enough. She is almost ready to handle the breakers.

My Daughter the Vampire

It is 4 a.m. Do you know where your teenager is? Thankfully I do. My fifteen-year-old daughter is at home where she should be. However, that does not necessarily mean that she is asleep. During summer vacation, she can become a vampire. Therefore, at 4 a.m. she could still very well be awake, quietly in her room doing stuff. I do not know exactly what stuff she is doing. I have a feeling I probably do not want to know. She is likely on line, along with many of her friends, with a half dozen chat windows going. This seems to be her main use of her computer when she is awake, so most likely she is doing the same thing after hours.

Maybe this is a modern form of peer pressure. There must be some new requirement that during summer vacation and on weekends trendy teenagers must stay up past midnight, preferably until at least three a.m. I am betting that they are on line sending instant messages to each other specifically to encourage each other to stay awake. After all, dawn is only a few hours away.

I know I should not let it bother me. Since we are on the third summer of this peculiar behavior for the most part it does not bother me. Yet I still find it weird. It seems unnatural. When it is dark outside my melatonin levels naturally rise. It is unusual for me to stay awake past midnight. Generally, I am in bed by ten o’clock on weeknights, and eleven o’clock on weekends. Similarly, when it is light outside I tend to be awake. I find that sleeping in past eight a.m. is difficult. Because I sometimes need more sleep than I get, I compensate by wearing blinders in the morning. While it helps, I still sense the daylight. Invariably I am the first one to bed and the first one awake.

My wife has night owl tendencies. Since she is no longer tethered to a 9 to 5 job she is often to bed between midnight and 1 a.m. By this time, I have been asleep for hours. I usually do not even register her coming to bed. For my daughter, midnight can be more like the dinner hour. In fact, she will sometimes tip toe downstairs for a midnight snack. I find her evidence in the morning.

Last summer I was the parent on call to get my daughter to the doctor for a 3 p.m. appointment. I, the good dutiful father, left her a note on our kitchen table reminding her that I would be home around 2:30 p.m. so please be ready. I arrived at home to find the house deathly quiet. Where was my daughter? I called for her several times and got no answer. I figured she had gone to a friend’s house and did not bother to tell us, a serious offense. I started to look up the phone numbers of her favorite friends in the neighborhood. Then I noticed that her door was closed. I knocked on her door. The blinds were drawn. She was still deeply asleep.

I understand that this kind of behavior with teens is not unusual. My wife does not give it a second’s thought. “She’s a teenager,” she says, as if that is the answer to all questions about my daughter. Teenagers are supposed to do things that weird their parents out, and this was a minor thing. She could be smoking dope or having premarital sex. Conclusion: I should count my blessings.

Yeah, yeah, maybe so. I realize that she is fifteen. I realize at her age micromanagement is counterproductive. I realize we need to set flexible boundaries. However, isn’t there a reasonable limit? Can we not insist that even during summer vacations there is a bedtime? Isn’t midnight a reasonable bedtime during the summer? Can I not demand that ten a.m. is late enough for anyone her to sleep in? To me her behavior not only seems unnatural, it seems bizarre.

I also realize that it is dangerous to project my habits on other people. Some people are naturally night owls. My daughter may be one of these creatures. However, it was not always this way. For much of her childhood she happily went to bed on time. Things changed subtly during her middle school years. By the time high school arrived, her body had morphed. When opportunity arose, she became a vampire.

In June, it reached the absurd stage. She said she had insomnia; she had tried to go to sleep but could not. I tried to shuffle her off to school anyhow. “But I didn’t get any sleep,” she whined. “If I go to school I will just sleep at my desk.” She informed me that she could not function at school. Since there was less than two weeks of school left, I cut her some slack. Nevertheless, I suspected that if she had not been up until 2 or 3 a.m. the night before she would not have had insomnia in the first place.

In a way, I am happy that she has elected to go to summer school. As a consequence she must be up around 6 a.m. For a while, it is impossible for her to maintain her weird summer sleep schedule. Now during the week she is more likely to be asleep between 11 p.m. and midnight. Alas, summer school does not last forever. It is only four weeks long. So I can anticipate more weeks of vampire mode ahead.

Twin Sons of Different Mothers

When we parted in 1973 I was sixteen. Since fourth grade we had been best friends. But in 1972 my family moved to Florida. So we were reduced to sending each other occasional letters. In truth it was a bit traumatic for me to leave Tom and my life in upstate New York behind. But it was also a pleasure to get Tom down to Florida for a week or so in the summer of 1973 and let him check out my new subtropical digs. As I sent him back home on the Greyhound bus for a long journey back to the Triple Cities I wondered if I would ever see him again. He was my one remaining tenuous thread to that part of my past.

My fear was well founded. In those pre-Internet days it was easy for friends to lose touch. We were both rapidly turning into adults and being catapulted into a dubious future. I sent him a couple letters when he was in college but then he disappeared. After college I moved to the Washington area (where I still reside) and I effectively disappeared. But always in the back of my mind was the question “Where’s Tom?” Where was the guy who filled my youth with such creativity, enthusiasm and adventure? Would I ever see him again? The prospects looked bleak. On occasion I searched for him. When I went on business trips I looked for his name in the phone books. Once I spent a couple hours in the Martin Luther King Library in Washington D.C. going through their stacks of phone books from various cities looking for his name. No luck.

The situation finally changed in the mid 1990s when the World Wide Web emerged. Through the web I found online telephone listings. To my surprise I found his name in our home city of Binghamton, New York. The name turned out to be his father. Fortunately his father forwarded my letter to him.

We traded emails warily and sporadically. It was clear that the adult Tom was not quite the same teen I once knew. Nor was I quite the same person either. While we had a great youthful friendship, there were some unhealed and tender spots in our relationship. There were issues to be worked out between us. We groped our way through them, sometimes opening old wounds. Fortunately we did not lose touch with each other altogether. Over the course of many years and many emails we reconnected and worked through our issues. Despite the years we still appeared to have a lot in common.

Still 32 years is a very long time. When life finally took me to Portland, Oregon where he lived I knew that we could at last reconnect. But for me it was still an open question whether after so many years we could renew a friendship that was so rich during our youth. We are both middle aged now, with families, burdens and aging parents. I approached our reunion with both excitement and nervousness.

Tom’s flaming red hair is now white. My hair is peppered with gray. We are both not quite the skinny things we were in our teens. Life had scarred us and challenged us. Our youthful faces now have middle aged cares and concerns. I did not even recognize his voice on the phone. Who was this person? When we met in the lobby of my hotel I did a bit of a double take. I suspect he did the same thing with me. We both wear glasses now. Our hair is now shorter. But his infectious laugh and the lines around his eyes – those were instantly familiar.

The changes age had wreaked on us turned out to be superficial. Like two tuning forks struck at the same time we had spent 32 years apart on our own life adventures yet we were still remarkably similar people. Life challenged us in different ways. Yet here we were 32 years later with amazingly congruent interests, opinions and philosophies. One would expect that someone who spent his career living in the challenging and unforgiving advertising domain might naturally be a Republican. But Tom is not. Like me he is a flaming liberal. When we weren’t talking about times and people past, we were dallying in the present political situation. Once more I felt the harmony. We were still synchronized.

And we are both married with children. My daughter is older than his boys. (The older informed me over and over again he was “six and three quarters.”) His house in the burbs is comparable to mine. He drives a Toyota Prius. I drive a Honda Civic Hybrid. He expresses his creativity in art. I express mine in writing. We compared family histories. His family had their significant challenges as had mine. Our passion for the space program though remains undiminished. Even our taste in music is similar.

But most remarkable of all is that we connected on a new emotional level too. My wife sometimes remarks that I have few male friends. I say that is because so few of them are people of any depth. I have little patience for men whose conversation revolves largely around booze, broads and sports. Tom is a man deeply in touch with his feelings and who, like me, has learned to deeply care about other people. He knows how to express genuine empathy and warmth. Perhaps this is because we have so much history together or had shared some of our painful stories via email. But we know each other on a very deep level and could connect on that level too. It is a wonderful intimacy.

When tempted to generalize, which I do often, I see three general tracks in life for people. People either overcome adversity, are overcome by it, or float through life in a steady state, arguably alive but not growing in any meaningful direction, except possibly from side to side. Arguably both Tom and I had a lot of adversity to overcome, although I suspect Tom had more of it to deal with than I did. He has seen members of his own family unable to surmount (so far anyhow) their life challenges, as I have mine. To me it is quite remarkable when someone is dealt a tough hand in life yet manages to excel anyhow. Unquestionably though Tom has succeeded. As the pieces of Tom’s unique story fell into place I was filled with a sense of awe that he surmounted it all. And now here he is at midlife, incredibly busy and challenged but living a purpose driven life. The wonderful zoo of his life includes a lovely wife and two boys under age seven. Where many would have fallen into a lifelong depression or have given up, he managed to move through life’s landmines. Occasionally he stepped on them yet he survived his minefield scarred but ultimately triumphant. The result is a man who is a joy to know as an adult: full of complexity, richness, ideas, creativity, passion and eloquence. He is a privilege to know as an adult.

It still strikes me as odd that though thirty years and three thousand miles separate us we are still so alike. We truly are two tuning forks putting out nearly identical pitches after all these years. We both feel better for reconnecting. I think we both look forward to renewing a rich friendship that will hopefully carry us through the rest of our lives.

Is too much freedom unhealthy?

Perhaps it is the recent death of Pope John Paul and his firm, never varying approach to morality that has me thinking. Or perhaps it is that our daughter, failing in a number of classes in school, is now getting the service of a life coach to try to get her life organized in a way so she can actually succeed. But I’m beginning to wonder if too much freedom for an adolescent is a bad thing.

That’s not to suggest that our 15-year-old daughter can do whatever she wants. We have rules and she largely abides by them. It is true that we often get a load of snarkiness in return. But she is definitely not doing drugs, tobacco, alcohol or sex. She is not in trouble with the law. Like me she is wary of pretty much anything that might cause her to lose control of herself. At the moment her only crucial problem is her schoolwork. Bringing home consistent D’s and F’s in subjects she doesn’t care about (currently Algebra, Chemistry and World History) — and largely because she can’t/won’t remember to either do/turn-in her homework — is her problem. It is one that we’ve been trying to solve since at least fourth grade. I won’t get into all the details of how we’ve tried and failed over and over again. (And yes, she’s been tested for ADD.) Let’s just say that busy public school teachers often don’t help in solving the problem. Our daughter is one of many they manage. They don’t usually have time to work with us week to week while we try to track assignments. It’s like trying to pin the tail on a donkey when you are in the other room. Now in high school her teachers are more inclined to laugh at us as we try to hold her accountable for their assignments than anything else. She was supposed to master that phase in Junior High. And yes we acknowledge our share of fault. We’ve tried lots of different strategies with little success but after all we are her parents.

So our daughter often says she has done her homework when in fact she hasn’t and it is often impossible to know for sure. What I do know is that she can find plenty of far more interesting things to do than homework and studying. Principally, like many teens, her social life is now online. Most of her online friends are also people she knows from school. IMing and downloading music seem to be favorite activities.

Things were simpler when I was growing up. I know instinctively that if a tool like the Internet had been available to me I probably would have been lured by it in deference to doing boring things like studying for an upcoming exam. Particularly if I found things on the Internet I really liked my grades would have suffered.

Even back in the 1960s though my parents had some pretty old-fashioned ideas. These are ideas that now in hindsight seem pretty smart. For example, they limited our TV watching to one hour a night if we had school the next day. Oh, how we hollered! But on the other hand with our list of choices tightly constrained it was a lot easier to spend our free time reading books than watching Star Trek.

But there was a downside to all that discipline. We felt very much under their thumbs and chafed at it. Probably most teenagers would do the same regardless of the degree of discipline imposed. But it seemed pretty heavy handed to us at the time because naturally all our friends got to watch all the TV they wanted. We were considered freaks and our parents just didn’t care!

On the other hand, our family really succeeded. I didn’t do a scientific study of where all our friends are today. But I will note in a family with eight children we have three with PhDs and three with Masters degrees.

But we are told that freedom is a virtue. George W. Bush unilaterally invaded a foreign country to liberate people. If freedom is good then by implication choice is good too. And how can people know what they want in life if they don’t have the freedom to try various things and see what fits?

So that is sort of the philosophy that we brought to our own parenting experience. Admittedly I am more inclined toward limiting freedom with my daughter than is my wife. Her experience growing up was a lot different. Her mother was a hands off mother. My wife was naturally intelligent. She never worked very hard at her studies but she consistently brought home A’s. So over time we groped toward a spot in the middle of our philosophies. It became something like this: if our daughter’s homework was done then she was free to spend as much time as she wanted pursuing her interests, providing they were neither dangerous nor illegal.

I would like to think that our mixed experience was one of a kind. But talking with fellow parents who are using similar tactics I find that their experiences are quite similar. Of course there are some children who naturally embrace learning. But there are also lots of children like my daughter who are intensely interested in those subjects they like, but cannot find the wherewithal to pay attention and excel in those subjects they don’t care about.

In my spare time I teach a course in Web Page Design at a local community college. Maybe it is just community college students, or maybe it is a pervasive trend, but my younger students in general just don’t seem willing to invest the time and energy it takes to succeed in the class either. The odds improve for those who are foreign born. Orientals and Indians in particular seem to have the educational ethic. But about a third of the class will withdraw or switch to audit when they discover the class requires real study. Others will skip lots of classes. Like my daughter they will be scattershot about turning in homework, even though they get credit for turning it in. When it comes time for exams, it is clear that about half the class never bothered to study. Since I always review for exams you would think they would at least take notes during the review. But mostly they sit there without taking notes. Some of them zone me out.

It takes discipline to focus on that which doesn’t particularly interest you. I am afraid we’ve filled up the lives of our children with too many potential distractions. The aggregate seems to be a sort of addiction. From their perspective instant gratification online is a powerful allure. Things can always be put off until tomorrow.

And yet we also live in a frighteningly more complex world. Some of the skills that children learn today, such as multitasking, may be very valuable in the 21st century workforce. But these skills are only as good as their ability to maintain focus on a task. I don’t see a lot of that happening in today’s youth. I think my daughter is a case in point.

Perhaps that’s why I shudder when I imagine my daughter in the real world. To her life is a la carte.

I wonder if I should have sent her to parochial school. Maybe she would have gotten a heaping portion of Catholic guilt like I got. But likely she would be better prepared to survive in the real world than she is now. There is still time to learn these lessons before the real world delivers them unwelcome on her doorstep. Will she, like so many of my students, just get by? Or will she find the right stuff within her at last to compete effectively in the world?

Right now I don’t want to know the answer.

The Stranger in the Mirror and the Unexpected Adult on the Stretcher

The times they are a changing.

A couple weeks back I got one of these really unwanted calls from school that you know you will get once or twice in a lifetime. There is a rule that they cannot arrive until you are frantically busy with a deadline. Our 14-year-old daughter Rosie was injured during gym class at school. Some jock hit her not once, but twice with a basketball. The first blow landed on the back of her spine. She apparently didn’t think it was enough to bother moving off her bench. The second hit the back of her head. This one made her feel dizzy and nauseous. Since these were signs of a concussion the school clinic called 911 and us. I frantically dialed my wife who was resting at home in her easy chair recovering from abdominal surgery the week before. We made plans to rush to her high school. But before we could a subsequent call said Rosie was in an ambulance on her way to Fair Oaks Hospital. Despite her condition Terri managed to drive the van and pick me up at work (I had taken the bike) and we hurried to the hospital. We ended up beating her there by a couple minutes.

I hate hospitals and I particularly hate emergency rooms. I hate the gnawing feeling in my gut when someone I love is in danger. Fortunately when we saw her on the stretcher we breathed a sigh of relief. She looked fine. In case she had a spinal or head injury she was wholly immobilized. She had to be checked out by the ER doctor who ordered multiple X-rays. We knew that she was going to be fine. But it was an odd feeling to see her there on a stretcher in her gym clothes. She was uncomfortable because she was strapped in very tightly on a very hard immobilizer board. She wanted out immediately but we couldn’t let her off.

Perhaps most striking in the couple hours she lay there was to see the adult woman I apparently had raised. This couldn’t be. This was my daughter, the same girl I had bottle fed, read to, potty trained and played endless tedious games of Barbie with. But except for the acne she looked very much like a woman. She is already taller than her mother. She is likely to add a few more inches before she stops growing. I held her hand when she would let me but that stage seemed very much over. I offered empathy and found her a snack from a vending machine in the lobby. That’s about all the nurturing we dads are allowed to do for fourteen-year-old daughters. Our role at this age is pretty cut and dry. We show up when they appear in plays or recitals. We give lectures about grades and completing homework. We ferry them from party to party and sleepover to sleepover. We try not to give too much offense and give them plenty of personal space.

Still it took my breath away to think that in so short a time, a mere fourteen years or so she had gone from a fertilized egg to someone nearly as large as I am and on the cusp of independent living. As Tevye laments in Fiddler on the Roof: “When did she get to be a beauty? When did he grow to be so tall? I don’t remember growing older. When did they?” After several hours she was released. We retrieved her stuff from school. At home she made herself an overdue PBJ. She seemed back to her old self, but I she was no longer the child in my mind’s eye. She was an adult. And I felt very much like I was in a time warp.

It was a week later at a hotel in North Carolina. I woke up alone and staggered toward the sink for a glass of water. I needed it to drown out the acrid taste of dead bacteria in my mouth. I happened to look into the mirror and I was shocked. My father was staring back at me. But it couldn’t have been him … that person somehow must be me! Overnight I had arrived at middle age. And I was looking so much like my father, sans the gray hair perhaps. But mostly I saw him, right down to the long bony English nose. I was depressed for the rest of the day. Eventually after a long day at my conference, a long run, a hair wash and a fresh set of clothes I gingerly approached the mirror again to see if my father was still there. And he was still there. But I was also there too.

I don’t remember becoming middle aged. Someone threw the switch overnight. I realized I was different too, at least to myself. I no longer saw myself as youthful or virile. Unless I became Bill Clinton interns wouldn’t be chasing after my body. It was time to throw out those occasional foolish fantasies that dared to cross my mind. The reality was that someone other than my wife would never give me a second glance. I was yet another invisible middle-aged male.

Yet I rebelled but didn’t know what to do. Eventually I said no to a high caloric fern bar dinner. I bought a large Chicken Caesar Salad at a Schlotzsky’s Deli. I ate it quietly in my room and tried to accept my new reality. I don’t know if it will ever fully sink in. I suspect when I am in my eighties, just like my mother, that I will still ask just who is that stranger in the mirror.

Scrooge is alive: Wal-Mart is evil

Can a company be evil? I think so. Wal-Mart is an evil company.

I have decided I will have nothing to do with Wal-Mart. Granted I was not exactly one of their major customers. I bought some paint there once, only because it got a Consumer Reports recommendation. And I purchased a set of prescription glasses there a few years back. I might have bought a couple other things over the years but that’s about it. That’s all it’s going to be unless Wal-Mart reforms its ways. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. See, first Wal-Mart has to get a conscience. It has none. Tolkien’s evil Lord Sauron looks good in comparison.

Admittedly I find its stores to be incredibly easy to hate. I hate the phony Wal-Mart greeter at the door. I hate the narrow aisles with products stuffed to the ceilings. I hate not being able to find anything quickly in the store. I hate the hugeness of the place. I don’t hate its customers, but they don’t appeal to me a whole lot. They make me itchy. I know I paint with a wide brush here (and I’m certainly not saying that all their customers are this way) but they seem to me to be a lot of overweight and over-hassled looking people. They seem to disproportionately represent the lower middle class. I don’t hold it against them for shopping there. If I were living from paycheck to paycheck I might be shopping there too.

I don’t hate its employees either because I was like them once. For about two years in my early 20s I worked as a wage slave for the now defunct Montgomery Ward corporation. It had a lot of the same attributes of Wal-Mart, but it just wasn’t as successful. What can I say: the economy was bad in 1979, even worse than it was today. I was a newly minted college graduate with a liberal arts degree and no place to use it. I worked at Wards to survive. I survived most of the time at or a little above the minimum wage (then in the $3-$4 an hour range). I did earn a commission of sorts for every lawn and garden sale I made, but all of it was against a draw. Lots of times I couldn’t earn my draw (i.e. earn the minimum wage based on my sales). (This wasn’t from lack of effort, just lack of customers.) I still got the minimum wage in these cases, but they were forever threatening to fire me and hire someone else if I couldn’t “earn” my draw.

Surviving was tough. I was fortunate to be young and in good health. Wards did offer some sort of health insurance plan but I couldn’t begin to afford it. Imagine trying to live on $4 an hour. If you can find a place to flop and put food in your mouth you are doing okay at those wages, even in 1979. I couldn’t afford a car — the one I brought from Florida gave out and I had no money to fix it. Purchase health insurance on my salary? The idea was laughable. The same is true with current Wal-Mart workers, which, like Wards, does actually offer something they call “health insurance”. Those of us who have real health insurance wouldn’t recognize it. The Wal-Mart basic health insurance plan costs $10 a week but is limited to paying out no more than $1000 a year in benefits! In my family we spend three or four times that a year on prescription drugs alone! Wal-Mart health insurance is, in short, mostly a waste of money, which is probably why so few Wal-Mart employees bother to get it in the first place.

McDonalds (another evil corporation) calls its jobs “opportunities”. I doubt Wal-Mart workers really believe their dead end jobs are opportunities. Here in Northern Virginia the local Wal-Mart seems to hire a lot of people who must have just recently gotten their green cards. Most don’t appear to be American citizens. I see lots of people who appear to be part time workers of Indian or Pakistani descent. When I was working for Wards I could afford (barely) to share a cheap apartment with another guy. I doubt they can manage even this. I imagine their Wal-Mart job is probably a second, third or fourth job and whatever miserly income they make helps support an extended family living in densities greater than their local housing officials would approve.

Scrooge lives folks, but he is now incorporated and he runs Wal-Mart. This Scrooge though squeezes everyone: suppliers and employees alike. He is ruthless in increasing profits and driving the competition out of business. If that means doubling imports from China and putting Americans out of work, it’s not a problem. This Scrooge is not immoral; he is amoral. He simply doesn’t care if his actions put Americans out of work, or results in depressed wages across the country. He doesn’t care if his store is tended to by legions of Bob Crachits. Scrooge begrudged giving Crachit Christmas Day off, but at least he did it out of some feeling of shame. Wal-Mart employees, as has been amply documented in the media, often are forced to book unpaid overtime. Its cleaning contractors hire illegal aliens at rates below the minimum wage that at least in some cases never get a day off. Scrooge grins and looks the other ways. The stockholders are pleased, as long as it doesn’t go public. Oops.

People like me with consciences need to know which companies treat their employees fairly and provide them with decent benefits. We need to know so we can patronize these companies. I wish there were more people like me. But Republicanism apparently has turned us into an amoral nation. We simply don’t give a damn about Wal-Mart workers and all the companies like Wal-Mart. All we care about is low prices and reckless consumerism. We don’t care if these people get sick. We can’t even see the connection when they show up at emergency rooms and their costs are passed on to us in the form of higher premiums. Skeptical? Believe it! Health insurance costs don’t go up twenty to thirty percent a year for years on end solely because new miracle drugs come on the market. They go up also because Wal-Mart workers and workers like them can’t get preventive medicine and instead get “free” but transitory treatment at our public emergency rooms at your expense.

I won’t patronize companies like Wal-Mart anymore. We need to grade corporations on how well they treat their employees and their business partners. They need score cards that are released with their quarterly balance sheets. We need to know who these corporate Scrooges are. We need to change our laws to ensure the lowest paid workers in this country are still paid decently and can actually survive on their wages. Until then those of us with consciences must just say no and refuse to patronize these places. Wal-Mart is the easy target. But if we can get Wal-Mart to cave in, the rest might too. Then perhaps there will be fewer stories in the paper like this one.

Continue reading “Scrooge is alive: Wal-Mart is evil”

A Neighbor in Hell, Part Three

I have written three entries (here, here and here) about a neighbor down the street and her personal hell. I haven’t written about her situation since March. I wish I could report that she is at least ascending into a higher level of Dante’s Hell, but that is not the case. Things have gone from really, really bad to even worse. After last night I feel I simply must write about it again, hopefully to purge it from my system. I hope no one in the neighborhood reads this weblog because it will be pretty obvious who I am writing about.

When last we left C and her daughter B, B was in and out of psychiatric institutions and making sporadic efforts to return to her middle school. After months of work C managed to get her daughter admitted to a full time mental health facility and boarding school for emotionally disturbed children near Leesburg, Virginia. She detailed this whole journey for us a few months back when we invited her over for dinner. Needless to say everyone in the approval process went out of their way to keep this child, who desperately needed help, from getting it. C’s husband D has been unemployed for over a year so they are living off her income but apparently it was too much for her to get public mental health services, even though of course they were exhausting savings and 401-K’s right and left. Keeping up their house payments seemed increasingly doubtful. Anyhow, B finally got admitted and has been in this institution for more than six months now. It is only recently that she has been allowed to come home for a few hours for very well chaperoned visits. How much longer she will stay in this institution is unknown, but thank goodness she is getting full time psychiatric care at last. B is making progress.

Little details about B’s life keep leaking out from time to time. As you may recall C’s husband D is a drunk. I should not have been surprised to learn that B had been hitting Daddy’s hooch. I never had a clue, but I’ve heard that alcoholics are really good at hiding their habit. B told our daughter Rosie that she recently had been clean and sober for a whole year. This is also good news. I hope she can always be that way. This makes me wonder what other bad stuff she had been getting into. We have heard rumors that she had been using marijuana, but now I’m wondering if she got to harder stuff. Perhaps I will find out in time.

No, the real problem is no longer B but husband D. Since his unemployment it has been all downhill. To start off with, he’s had knee surgery to correct some major problems. Apparently he had a lot of pain from it and he’s been on pain killers. Somehow, and I doubt it was something given to him in the hospital, he found a doctor to write him prescriptions for Oxycontin. So he’s been mainlining Oxycontin, along with of course continuing to drink almost all the time. The doctor, we learned, had no idea he was also an alcoholic, although how he could miss it we don’t understand. The rest of us could tell he was a drunk from a hundred paces.

D of course remains in denial about his drinking. C eventually figured out that she had to get him out of the house. He and his drinking gave B opportunities for her steady and disastrous decline. Apparently if two people are married one can’t force the other to get out of the house and he wasn’t leaving. He had no place to go and no money to live anywhere anyhow. He lived off C’s salary. That left C with few alternatives. One was to find an apartment and move there with her son E. The other was to find D an apartment and convince him to move there.

She eventually succeeded in the latter and found him an apartment with a six month lease a few miles away. (Naturally, she has to pay his rent.) Of course D didn’t seem to like the new situation and petitioned to get back in to the house. And C, for reasons I don’t understand, didn’t bother to change the locks.

So a few weeks ago B came home for a supervised visit and there was her drunk father, who she should not see. C talks him into going into the basement, but it isn’t long before reputedly he is cussing up a blue streak at her daughter and blaming her for all of his problems. But there is more. For weeks the man is growing more and more psychotic. He’s had my wife come over to check his computer because he believes that agents are breaking into his computer. Later, it’s not just agents; it’s none other than al Qaeda itself! Yes, Osama bin Laden apparently is targeting D’s computer! Terri, of course, finds nothing wrong with his computer. She should know; she does this stuff for a living but D is not convinced.

We go as a family to see a movie and were to run Rosie by B’s house for a brief visit afterwards before B had to go back to the institution. Rosie and my wife Terri knock on their door. No one answers, but B should not have left yet and the light is on in her bedroom. My wife calls from their driveway using her cell phone. D picks up the phone and goes into a rambling and high pitched dialog about people trying to get him and then the phone goes dead. She tries again; the phone is picked up but there is no answer.

She comes back to our house and we call the police. They come by and ask us questions. We try to reach B’s institution to find out if she arrived back there early. They can’t tell us. We try to reach C but don’t have her cell phone number. Eventually the police go to his house and knock on the door. We don’t know what happened but a little while later an ambulance quietly goes down our street and silently exits some time later.

Much later in the evening we get a call from C. Thankfully B was safe and C had taken her back earlier than we expected. But there is no one at home, the police won’t tell us what happened and C has no idea where her husband is. Later in the week we learn that D was taken to Fairfax Hospital. Apparently he had a massive infection in his knees. He’s been in the hospital since that time. Two weeks of intravenous antibiotics seem to have finally brought the infection under control. We learn that the infection was very advanced and that D was actually pretty close to death. My wife’s concern and our calling the police may well have saved his life!

Now apparently D is close to being released from the hospital. Why we’re not sure, because he still thinks al Qaeda is out to get him. But of course he wants to return home, not go back to his apartment. C, of course, does not want him home. D says there is no bed in his apartment. C decides she will move the futon into his apartment so he can’t use that excuse. I volunteer to help her.

So last night we struggle to get the thing into her minivan and I, and her son E (who is in fourth grade) go to his apartment to deliver it. C brings cleaning supplies with her because the management is upset about the condition of the place.

We enter but can barely get in the door because of all the crap all over the place. I have never seen such a god-awful mess, and believe me I’ve seen a few. I can only begin to describe it. Furniture is tipped over. Birdseed is all over the place. The refrigerator is open and unplugged. The burners on the stove have been removed. The washing machine and dryer have been pulled out. Aluminum foil is strung out everywhere and taped across walls (to confuse al Qaeda apparently). I find a whole mess of pills in the pantry of unknown type and lots of alcohol swabs in the bathroom. How long had he been in the apartment? Only two weeks! Oh. My. God.

We eventually clear a path so we can bring in the futon and we furiously begin picking up crap, vacuuming, sweeping and cleaning counters and floors. Eventually though I have to leave C to finish, but I take her son E back to our place, help him with his homework and let him zone out on video games. C keeps cleaning and doesn’t come by until nearly 11 PM. She had no choice. She has to get the management to get the heat back on tomorrow in case D comes home, and they won’t do it until the place is cleaned.

D has family in New Mexico who sound like they can be arm twisted to let him “come home”. C is hoping that will happen soon. Then perhaps she can get that divorce and reorder her life. Her daughter B would be more than enough of a problem for any parent. Just managing her, if she can get rid of hubby, will be an enormous relief.

We’ll see. I hope this is their nadir as a family, but so far every time I think things can’t possibly get worse they do. To whatever God or gods are out their directing their fate: enough! No one deserves his level of hell. It’s time for this family to heal and move on.

In trying to build a more perfect child, some mistakes were made

This parenting business is turning out a lot differently than I expected.

I thought I had an enlightened approach. I recognized what I thought were critical mistakes my parents made raising me, and tried to mitigate those mistakes in raising my own daughter. I also acknowledged the things my parents did right with me, and tried to emulate those. The result, I thought, would be a better human being: kinder, gentler, more grounded, lacking most of the fears and foibles I experiences growing up.

I was naive. I think I set my expectations a bit too high.

This is not to say that my 14 year old daughter Rosie doesn’t knock the socks off of me. She continues to wow me, impress me, and at times infuriate me. But what scares me is just how much she is like her mother and I.

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. I took, I thought, very reasonable steps to make sure this outcome didn’t happen. In my parents’ universe the perfect child would have been very devoutly Catholic, devoted, loving, intelligent, made their way successfully in the world, and confidently overcame obstacles. (Of course their answer may be different; I am projecting here.) Mainly we succeeded, except in the Catholic part. My goal was to let my daughter Rosie come to her own judgments and decisions and to be her own unique person, and certainly not a clone of either my wife Terri or I. To some extent I would measure my success by how much she wasn’t like me.

Maybe I should have raised her Catholic. Instead I raised her as a Unitarian Universalist. I felt around 1997 that she needed to be in touch with a religious community. UUs were about as far away from Catholicism as I could get and it was a religion that spoke to me. Rosie fussed about the Sunday school but over time she grew to really like that particular church experience, made friends inside the church, sang in the choir, and even participated in some plays put on by the church. By exposing her at a tender age to somewhat controversial things, like our minister who happened to be a lesbian, I hoped to broaden her perspective a bit.

One of my complaints about the way I was raised was the near complete lack of sexual education that I received. The little we got was, of course, filtered through the bizarre thinking of the Catholic Church. I grew up somewhat relationship impaired. I hadn’t a clue about human sexuality and was too scared and shy to do much to change the situation. What sex education I got was from the public library (goodness, I would have never had the audacity to bring those books home!) But that was hardly a substitute for understanding the intricacies of close, intimate human relationships. Reading a driver’s manual is no substitute for driving experience. So I enrolled my daughter in the UU’s “Our Whole Lives” sexual education course, which filled in all the gaps missing in my sex education and, for that matter, the highly sanitized version served up by our politically correct public school system. Yes, she got to explore feelings about sexuality, discuss relationship issues, look at condoms, learn about homosexuals, bisexuals and transgender people. I wanted her to be sexually enlightened.

I was of course projecting my adolescent experiences upon her. As a result some things happened that I did not expect. One is that I may have thrown too much complexity about the world at her too soon. As a consequence I suspect she wanted to dawdle in childhood and disclaim a lot of the responsibilities that come with age. But mostly I didn’t want her to have the same fears and phobias my wife and I had growing up. I wanted her to be different.

But in so many ways she strikes me as the perfect union between my wife and me, carrying forward both the best parts of us and (gulp) the worst parts too. It’s like her emotional radar subconsciously picked up a lot of our worst stuff and brought it forward into her life as things to work on.

One thing I’ve noticed is that my daughter is very much of an internalizer. If she were a poker player she’d be one of these types who keeps their cards very close to their chest, and waits until the optimal moment to reveal her hand. Unquestionably I am that way and I’ve been working hard to change that aspect of myself. But I sure didn’t want her to be that way. But I guess I must have been projecting that aspect of myself all along, and she picked it up. I guess we can’t really hide our fundamental selves, and the subconscious sifts through the facade and gloms onto it.

Both my wife and I are intelligent and creative types, so it is not surprising that she is also very intelligent and creative. She sings, she writes incredible prose for her age, she acts (she has a part in the local production of “Scrooge” next month), she even has a lot of talent as an illustrator.

I have from time to time discussed my feelings about life, about our country, about politics and she seems to have picked it all up, wrapped her core values around them, and now is convinced that anything foreign is good and anything American is bad. She wants to study and live overseas. She thinks Virginia is a backward state full of bigots and people who can’t see beyond their noses. Okay she may be right there, but the reason is because she picked it up from me, not because she independently arrived there by her own reasoning process. At least that’s what I suspect. So she was listening to me and taking me serious all along. What a surprise!

Neither my wife nor I are the most organized people in the world. I tend to be the more organized of us and get the bills paid on time and remember to put money away for her college education. But I still have problems confronting many of the things that need to be confronted. Hedges go untrimmed too long. I tend to let small problems become big problems before I tackle them. My wife strikes me a lot more disorganized than I am. But to be fair, she’s not nearly as bad as some people I’ve met. Our house is reasonably clean and there is not usually a stack of dirty dishes in the sink. But she is very much the one day at a time sort of person. She rarely looks or worries too much beyond next week. Rosie seems to have picked up that side of my wife. Homework done at the last minute, even if it is of poor quality, is perfectly acceptable in Rosie’s universe. I have tried to get her to see that in four years, if she can pull good grades, she has the privilege of going to college. It is only now that she understands this reality. But trying to engage her gears to actually make it happen is a difficult process that she is still working on.

I project my desire to see her in a career that she loves, and hopefully not living from pay check to pay check or homeless on the street. This comes from having lived the Bohemian life for a few years in the late 70s and early 80s. It wasn’t any fun. The national unemployment rate hovered above 8 percent and there were few jobs for recent college graduates, particularly for us liberal arts majors. It was a stressful way to greet adulthood. I’d like her to avoid all that.

But I also know that the most meaningful lessons often come from adversity and failure. So I have to steel myself and let her fail from time to time, so she can learn those lessons too. And I also know that if I make things too comfortable for her then she is likely to be dysfunctional as an adult; and won’t be able to cope with real life when real adversity does strike.

I’m certainly not declaring failure. Overall Rosie is doing quite well and I am pleased with her, and love her more than works can express. Rosie will I am sure in time make her own unique way in the world, and her mother and I will have a few moments, or perhaps a few years, of nervousness and heartache in the process. I certainly had good intentions to try to keep her from enduring unnecessarily misery. I often wonder if because her life is so well provided for by us, if that is in itself some sort of handicap.

She is an adult in the making, but at this instant she seems more like a weird conglomeration of my wife and me, both the good and the bad aspects, than some sort of 21st century model citizen I was hoping for. Perhaps I need to give her another 14 years. In some ways she is an improvement. She doesn’t seem to have that innate shyness that her mother and I have, although she has picked up quite a bit of our introversion.

But I feel somewhat chagrined that my master plan for her seems in such tatters. I can take pride in knowing that she has successfully avoided many of the major pitfalls in life that trip up kids her age, such as smoking, drugs and (I hope) sex. I just hope I haven’t made life too confusing a morass for her. It’s a complicated business and getting more complex every day. I’ll try not to judge my value by how well my daughter does, but some part of me wishes I could turn back the clock and try a few different strategies. But I have to deal with who she is now, and much of her personality and character was formed long ago. I now need to hold my breath, project confidence in her ability to navigate through life, and wait to see what pops out of the oven.

Welcome to the new world of Polysexuality

Polysexuality. That’s what I’m calling it. I claim ownership to the word, even though someone else may have used it before me. I created it because I don’t know what else to call it. I call it loosely “whatever my daughter is going through” in defining her own sexual orientation. I’m still scratching my head over the whole thing. I’m sure she will figure it out in time but I don’t think she will ever fit into any neat category. But a clue as to what’s going on occurred today when we ventured all the way into Bethesda to see the film Camp.

“Camp” is a movie about a bunch of kids who are outcasts in their regular life who come to Camp Ovation during the summer for two months of theater work. It’s based on a real camp that apparently has been a gateway for many talented performers who subsequently developed successful acting and singing careers.

As a movie it has some nice moments but it suffers from rather poor directing and sloppy cinematography. Its total budget appears to be not that much higher than The Blair Witch Project: on a large screen it seems grainy, which makes me wonder if it was shot in 16mm film. The actors are all complete unknowns and it is pretty obvious because although many can sing real well the acting isn’t all that great, due perhaps to the poor directing. The young actors often seem like they are trying too hard to really act.

It was a very good film in the eyes of my daughter Rosie, who sees herself as outside of the mainstream in her school. Her life is full of similar people from her own school. She lives in this universe, so she thought it was a great film. If you are a teenager like her then you will probably strongly identify with the characters in the movie: so go see it.

The movie centers on the character Vlad, a really cute and buff guy, as best this heterosexual man can tell. At Camp Ovation though he is the odd man out because it seems he is the only straight guy in the whole camp. Naturally he bunks with a gay guy who clearly has the hots for him, but can’t do anything about it. This is the same gay guy who we see early in the film going to his Junior Prom dressed as a drag queen. Naturally that doesn’t go over well at his high school and he gets beat up.

This is just one of many complex polysexual relationships the film flits with. I felt really out of my element in this movie. I am still trying to understand why someone who is gay would dress up as a drag queen in the first place. I realize not all gay men do this but enough of them do it to make me feel very perplexed. If I were gay I think I would be into the manly aspects of masculinity and I’d be looking buff and dressing buff. I doubt I would be dressing like a drag queen and showing the world that I have a feminine side.

But of course lots of homosexual men can have feminine sides. They happen to be not just gay but they are also sensitive, and women get to exhibit a sensitive side in this culture, not men as a rule. So perhaps that explains why so many gay men are dressing up in women’s clothes. And if this were the end of it I wouldn’t be writing.

But there are other more complex relationships in the movie, not all of which are sexual. There is the girl who acts as a personal slave to another girl, and at some point gets cruelly spurned. Since Vlad is the hot guy there is another girl after his form, but Vlad seems to be having some ambiguous feelings with the gay guy Mike that culminates near the end of the movie when it appears they might go skinny-dipping. It’s good to see a deep and meaningful relation between a gay guy and a straight guy depicted in the movie. I’m not sure how many of those happen in real life, but my guess is not very often. But of course Vlad is heterosexual so that doesn’t go anywhere, although it appears it might. And the gay guy Mike ends up bedding another woman in the camp because, we learn later, he thinks it might be a way to make him feel closer to Vlad.

And there are other characters: a washed up song and musical writer who spends most of the movie drunk, a black older brother/younger brother duo that seems strange but just is (I thought “Young Michael Jackson” when the young boy does his dance number), a fat girl with body image problems, and a timid black girl who has to find her voice and her courage to bring forth her talent. As I say it is full of interesting characters and certainly gave me a lot to think about, even if the acting was inconsistent and sloppy at times. Some of the musical numbers were quite well done.

My daughter is charting her own path. As I mentioned in a previous entry I don’t care too much how she pops out. If she is heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian I will still love her regardless. And there is nothing I can do about it anyhow. Each person has to decide for themselves their sexual orientation. It’s hard for me to believe that she will end up a lesbian. She would be the funkiest lesbian I will ever meet because she certainly doesn’t seem to hold any of the stereotypes. But more and more I don’t think any of those words are useful anymore to describe her or people like her. Even transgender seems inappropriate. She doesn’t seem like a man trapped in a woman’s body. She is more than anything else right now just a kid charting her own path and trying to make sense out of sexuality. But I suspect when she figures out what or who she is it will be none of the above. The word doesn’t exist yet, which is why I coined the term “polysexual”. Perhaps like some of the characters in “Camp” she is male, female, transgender, heterosexual, bisexual and lesbian all at once and all at the same time.

An empath is someone who can experience the same feelings as those they come in contact with. Perhaps a polysexual is something of a sexual empath. They don’t have to necessarily have sex but they intuitively understand on a gut level all aspects of human sexuality and can move easily from one universe to the other.

It’s way to early to say for sure, but I might have a polysexual for an offspring. And if “Camp” is any guide, she is by no means alone.

Will my daughter be gay? And does it matter?

My daughter Rosie is a very unique child. I guess parents could say that about every child; every person has a unique set of chromosomes. But she is still very unique and to some extent I plead guilty (as does her mother) for encouraging these influences. Neither of us are homophobes even though I can’t claim to have known a whole lot of openly gay and lesbian people. Since age 7 or so she’s been going to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston and met a number of gay and bisexual people there, including our last minister, Gretchen Woods, who is lesbian and has a life partner. Some of her girlfriends appear to be bisexual or lesbians, although at age 13-14 one must take such assertions with a grain of salt. She often seems more comfortable around the GLBTG (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender) crowd than the future mothers and fathers of America crowd, which is most of her middle school. She isn’t in high school yet but she has already joined the Westfield High School Gay-Straight Alliance. That’s my girl!

Rosie is 13 and claims she doesn’t know if she is heterosexual, bisexual or lesbian. That is a sensible approach I guess: keeping her options open. Her mother seems heterosexual enough, although over the last few years Terri has hung out rather heavily among a crowd of women who are largely gay or bisexual as part of her adventures into the Slash Fan Fiction universe. Through her Rosie has come in contact with many an adult role model, and many a dysfunctional adult from this community.

It must be tough to sort it out but I image by the time she is off to college she’ll have figured out exactly where she fits on the Kinsey scale. I have never believed that one can become gay through environmental influences. It is possible that environmental influences are stimulating thoughts in that area that might not be stimulated, or might occur later in life.

Lately though I’ve been wondering if I might have a gay or bisexual child on my hands and if so how I would react to it.

Unquestionably I love Rosie and would support any healthy relationships she forms. Most likely at her age she is likely to have a healthier relationship with her own gender than with a boy anyhow. I’m not that anxious to have her start dating boys and she seems to be in no hurry either. Her one “boy” friend that I have met is a geeky, awkward young lad about her age who seems as much in a club of one as Rosie. I am completely comfortable around Eric, perhaps because he reminds me so much of myself at that age: a bit brazen and unorthodox but generally not the most popular guy on campus.

Intellectually if she were to announce tomorrow “Mom and Dad, I’m a lesbian” I don’t think I would have a problem with it. I would know that there is nothing I can do about it; I might as well argue that her hair color isn’t brown. I know and respect the person she is and sexual orientation is such a minor part of the whole person.

Emotionally though I would have some issues to work through. Trying to understand myself, I think it has something to do with genetics. The notion of someday having a grandchild bouncing on my lap seems appealing. But also there is the notion of dynasty: I’d like some part of me to be passed on to future generations. I realize of course that in a genetic sense Rosie is only half me, so the whole notion is somewhat fallacious and outdated. Some of my siblings have chosen not to have children, and they seem comfortable with it. I would probably grow comfortable with never being a grandparent in time too.

It may be pointless and selfish to wish for things like this. Having gone through the child rearing experience I know it is a difficult road in the best of circumstances. Rosie might well turn out to be heterosexual, choose to get married and still choose not to have children. It might also be possible, given the rapid advances in human reproductive technologies, that she could have a genetic offspring even if she married another woman.

I’m not sure where these phantom worries come from. Frankly I didn’t give them hardly any thought at all until a few weeks ago. And I’d like to put them way into the background where they belong. But they have come out of the closet, so to speak. And it appears I will have to wrestle with them even though really there is nothing I can do to change Rosie from the person she will be. I will have to deal with my feelings regardless.

And regardless I will always love Rosie from the depth of my soul and appreciate the full human being she is, and the unique adult she will soon become. If I’m enjoying her this much as a teenager I will enjoy her even more as an independent adult.