Posts Tagged family

The Fondness of a Father: a Tribute to Jane Austen and Mr. Bennet

I stood in my closet, hands on hips, tapping my foot as I surveyed my wardrobe. The floor around me was a tangle of jeans, sweaters, and black leggings.
“Woman of substance. Inner poise,” I repeated. “You can do this. It’s just a work holiday party.”
“No, it’s not,” said the small voice of insecurity that generally likes to make its opinions heard when I’m least interested in hearing them. “It’s a holiday party with your new sweetie. The first holiday party you’ve ever attended with a date in your nearly 30 years on this planet.”
“Shut up!” I hissed. “That’s classified information.”
“It’s blog fodder,” said the voice.
“That too,” I conceded. “Now, if you’ve finished lowering my self-esteem, I’ve got a party to go to.”

After much deliberation (and quite possibly the first game of eeny-meeny-miny-moe I’ve played since grade school) I’d selected what I hoped would be the perfect outfit and was debating the merits of comfortable and sensible versus sexy and stylish in the footwear department, when my phone rang.
“So, what are you wearing to the party tonight?” (It was my dad.).
“I don’t know,” I answered, contemplating the potential danger of blind woman and high-heeled shoe versus hard wood floor.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know? You’re going to a holiday party with your new beau. This is an essential detail.”
“Thanks, Dad,” I said, endeavoring to calm my breathing that had quickened through a combination of nerves, frustration, and tight pants.
“So what are you wearing?” he continued. “You want to look nice. Something that straddles the line between ‘professional’ and ‘slut.'”
“I-what?” Christopher Columbus! I wasn’t having this conversation with my father. I have a very short list of things that I never want to hear in my lifetime; it includes cats caught in a garbage disposal and Colin Firth’s American accent. Now we’ll just add to that any conversation with my father that includes or in any way references the topic of sex or sexuality.
“I, um, Dad, I don’t…want to have this conversation.”
“Well, whatever you wear, just don’t look too sexy, and behave yourself.”
No, not the “Remember-your-catholic-morals” conversation. Please. I mean, if the fact that I’m not dating a catholic already means I’m shopping for a condo in Hell, we might as well just move in together and have done with it.
“Dad, I’m going to be late,” I hissed into the phone.
“OK, but just one more thing.”
I sighed. “Yes?”
“Have a good time. I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

With what relatively little experience I’ve had playing the dating game, my father’s involvement can probably be best described as something between Steve Martin (think Father of the Bride here) and the Godfather. The thing is, my dad understands my taste in men about as much as he understands my taste in pineapple pizza. That being said, I have a long-cherished fantasy about the moment when I will some day announce my engagement to my father—a fantasy that is scripted along the lines of this conversation between Lizzie Bennet and her father about Mr. Darcy.

“Lizzie,” said her father, “I have given him my consent…I now give it to you, if you are resolved on having him. But let me advise you to think better of it. I know your disposition, Lizzie. I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable unless you truly esteemed your husband…Your lively talents would place you in the greatest danger in an unequal marriage…My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life.”

Elizabeth, Still more affected, was earnest and solemn in her reply; and at length, by repeated assurances that Mr. Darcy was really the object of her choice…and enumerating with energy all his good qualities, she did conquer her father’s incredulity and reconcile him to the match.

“Well, my dear,” said he when she had ceased speaking, “I have no more to say. If this be the case, he deserves you. I could not have parted with you, my Lizzie, to anyone less worthy.”

This passage echoed in my mind as, with one deep breath, I checked my purse for emergency cosmetics and headed out the door, and—literary geek that I am—I can’t help noting that I’m typing this on Jane Austen’s birthday; perhaps I’ve somehow managed to channel her spirit. I should try writing a historical novel set during Regency England, though I’ll leave out the zombies and seamonsters, thanks.
I might blame Jane Austen for enabling my romantic notions, but amidst the Darcy dreams, she taught me a valuable lesson: boyfriends come and go, but the fondness of a father is forever.

Happy 237th Birthday, Miss Austen.


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To Leap is to Live!: Reflections on 2/29

“She’s a butterfly, pretty as the crimson sky. Nothin’s ever gonna bring her down. And everywhere she goes, everybody knows, she’s just glad to be alive. She’s a butterfly.”- Martina McBride

I was 5 years-old, standing at the edge of the community pool, watching as plumes of spray rose around the other children as they splashed and swam. Across the pool, a girl performed an effortless swan-dive into the water from the diving board. Oh, how I wanted that—to leap, to fly, to feel momentarily weightless before the pull of gravity took its hold. I glanced down at the water below, squinting at the arc of sunlight bouncing off its surface into my eyes. Without my glasses, I could barely see the point where the concrete ended and the water began, but I could see the outline of my father’s shoulders against the glare of sun and sky reflecting off the water.
“Jump. I’ll catch you,” he encouraged. I gulped, envisioning broken bones and blood-splattered bricks.
“It’s safe. I promise.” (Sure, dad, and the Easter Bunny is real. Whatever).
“Nothing is going to happen to you.” (Really? I seem to recall a story about an overly ambitious pig with the desire to fly who wound up with a pair of melted wings and a squashed-in face. Moral of the story: creatures without wings are not meant to become airborne).
“You can do it. There’s no reason to be scared.” I swallowed hard, squeezed my eyes shut (because the view wouldn’t have been much different with my eyes open) and jumped…straight into the water and into my father’s arms.

As children, we believe in the miracle of flying—that all it takes is a superman cape and a rooftop to send us soaring into the sky. As adults, reality is the gravity that drags us down; we heed the caveat to “look before you leap,” fearing that, like the little pig who got his wings, we might fall prey to the failure of our fanciful, flighty dreams. Today, I am thankful that I learned to leap, for to leap is to live. Sometimes, I land on my feet with feline agility; more often than not, I cradle a bruised elbow (or ego), for with every leap there comes a lesson.

Nearly a year ago, I took a leap into a relationship (albeit a wonderful one, in many ways) that forced me to think I could have benefited from a few emotional skydiving lessons. There’s a reason why they tell you to tuck and roll when you hit the ground—part of learning to fly is learning to fall. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. And yet the only way to love is freely, without inhibitions, and with the bruised egos and broken bones comes the strength of survival.

“And you know,” my best friend said to me when we were discussing it recently, “one of the things about you that’s really amazing, and maybe a little intimidating, is that in spite of everything you’ve been through, you can still love so easily.” And this is why, when the opportunity to love comes again, I will leap at the chance, because to love is to leap, and to leap is to live.

Question: How did you celebrate Leap Day? Who taught you to leap—in either a literal or figurative sense?

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The Price of Everything and the Value of Nothing: or, Valentine’s Day and the Commoditization of Love?

“Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”- Oscar Wilde, the Picture of Dorian Gray.

This quotation has been marinating in my brain for the last several days as I’ve been rereading the novel from which it is taken, and I found myself reflecting upon it last night as I entered the grocery store with a friend and was immediately in danger of being sucked into a vortex of Valentine’s Day merchandise: cards, candies, flowers, cupcakes, cookies, balloons, and teddy bears offered fragrant, fluffy, and fatty reminders of the approaching Hallmark holiday. Now, I am in no way averse to the celebrating of Valentine’s Day, but I do think that it’s gotten increasingly like the commercialization of Christmas in the marketing campaigns associated with it.

When I was growing up, my father would come home from work on Valentine’s Day each year with a bouquet of flowers and a box of chocolates each for my mother and me. When I was in high school, the student counsel sold roses and balloons each Valentine’s Day, and my father (who taught at my school) would send me a rose and a balloon each year, anonymously of course, and he still won’t admit to having done it because there was, and possibly still is, the chance that some boy too socially aware of his reputation to openly like the blind girl might secretly have wanted me to know he was out there, somewhere. Forming an alliance with me might be “regarded as a highly reprehensible connection” by the rest of the school, but I was no less worthy all the same. My dad did what he did for the simple joy of watching me participate in the day with my peers.

The past two years, I’ve received a package from my mother with several dozen chocolate muffins from Vitalicious. Nothing says “I love you” quite like a box of fiber-infused, shit-your-brains-out chocolate chip muffins. More importantly, they’re practical, like my mother. These guilt-free, tasty treats are a weekend ritual for me—a hardy helping of indulgence on a Saturday morning. They are, however, rather pricy on a fixed income, and bank account, heart, and waistline appreciate the gesture.

Such sweet simplicity offers a stark contrast to the advertisement from that appeared in my inbox a few weeks ago: a special deal on the new Kindle Fire, an exclusive Valentine’s Day offer! As gadgets and gizmos replace candy and cuddly animals as tokens of our affection, is the price tag on love getting bigger and its value getting smaller? Perhaps, though we might argue that jewelry store sales have been indicating as much for years. Truthfully though, whether you show your love with candy or a Kindle, what matters most is that your heart is in the right place.

St. Valentine’s name is taken from the Latin word “valens,” meaning strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile, according to This day isn’t simply about chocolate, cards, and conversation hearts; it’s about cultivating strong, powerful, healthy, and worthwhile relationships, with yourself as well as with others.

So: love to all, not just today, but each day. Remember that you are worthy of love and are loved in ways you probably aren’t always aware of. Most importantly, remember that love, the most priceless gift we have to share, is also the freest. (Restrictions do not apply. Offer good year-round).
Happy Valentine’s Day!

P.S: Thanks to Yearstruicken over at Year-Struck for providing some inspiration for today’s post. Check out her post: Love in the Time of Garlic, because everyone deserves a bit of bloggy love, especially on Valentine’s day!

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Playing with Fire, Scorched by Flame: Ellen Hopkins’ Burned

I’ve had this novel in my “TBR” pile for several months, and in the humdrum of returning to work after the holiday, I decided to pick it up, thinking that some good young adult fiction would help me forget, at least temporarily, the stress of life. (Obviously I was new to Ellen Hopkins). I found, instead of the trials and tribulations of teen angst, a compelling story of love and hate, of faith and doubt, of feud and forgiveness.

Pattyn Von Stratten is a good Mormon girl: completing her chores, caring for her six younger siblings, dutifully attending sacrament meetings and seminary, tacitly tolerating her father’s alcoholism and abuse and her mother’s submissiveness to his domineering ways. But then a secret relationship with a “real boy”—a non-Mormon boy—incurs her father’s wrath and triggers a chain of drama that results in Pattyn’s “exile” to spend the summer with an estranged aunt in Nevada.

Banished from her home to be punished, Pattyn finds comfort in the arms of “Aunt J”. Battered and broken, she learns about the healing power of love. After years of attending sacrament meetings and adhering to church elders who rarely practice what they preach, Pattyn finds God in the thunder that rolls across the mountain range, in the rhythmic rocking of a horse’s canter, in the eyes of a boy who loves her. So long crouched in cold darkness, she blooms in the wild of the Nevada desert. But in these vast, wide open spaces where her heart is free to fly, is there a shelter in which she can escape her demons?

Burned is a story about the choice to love and the consequences of that choice—that with great gifts come great responsibility, and that even God, in his infinite wisdom, deals doses of tough love. Ellen Hopkins’ simple yet elegant pros at once touches and twists the heart of the reader, and Pattyn’s story is one that gives voice to any young girl forced to grow up in a narrow-sheltered world where questions are forbidden by adults who have no answers.

Note: not being entirely familiar with the Mormon faith, I cannot attest to the accuracy of the portrayal, but this is a story whose power is not bound by cast and creed; Pattyn’s family could just as easily be a Protestant family, A catholic family, a rich family or a poor one. It is a story that will resonate with anyone who struggles in a world where being lost seems far easier than finding oneself.

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A Grammatically Correct Grudge: Arguing with an English Teacher

Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays, except when your charming and elegantly-behaved guidedog decides that regurgitating his breakfast on a brand-new carpet is a good way to impress your parents with his impressive houseguest manners. (When I have children, I sincerely hope God decides to take pity on me and give me the colic-free model, because I think I’ve done my time, and then some).

Needless to say, Dad was not amused, and I felt somewhat unnecessarily guilty. I say somewhat unnecessarily, for while dogs are no more capable of controlling their gag reflex than humans, he’s still my dog and my responsibility. (Not that I can control his gag reflex any more than I can control my own, but I’ve been genetically programmed for guilt, like all good Catholics). After I’d finished apologizing profusely, my father insisted, “I’m angry, but I’m not angry with you.”
“That’s right, you’re not angry *with* me,” I thought as I walked away from the situation in an attempt to let it diffuse before I said something I’d regret for eternity. “The use of that particular preposition implies that you and I are angry together. I am not angry, therefore you cannot be angry with me. You are angry, and that anger is directed at me, or at the situation in which my dog and I have been implicated. In sum: you are angry at me, not with me.”

Count on an English teacher to demand that any grudge held against her be grammatically correct.

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Give me Coffee or give me Death: a Chapter in the Life of a Caffeine Addict

Regular readers of my blog are familiar with my tendency to wax rhapsodic about the joys of caffeine. Coffee is to me what cocaine is to Sherlock Holmes; the cure for mental stagnation and the elixir of life (and, fortunately for me, the entirely legal and socially appropriate addiction for an academic).

That said, I find it miraculous that I can type in complete, grammatically-correct sentences right now. I have spent the past three days battling with headaches, excessive sarcasm (even for me) and the occasional twitch. Why, you ask? Simple: I’m currently visiting my parents, who, for the last few years, have been subjecting themselves, and occasionally me, to the muddy mess called half-caff coffee. Since Thursday, I have been walking around in a withdrawal-induced haze with approximately 50 % less caffeine circulating through my bloodstream than my body is usually accustom to receiving. Admittedly there is a legitimate, medical reason for this switch on my parents’ part to the abomination of beverages. Caffeine is technically not supposed to be part of my father’s diet. In fact, he was “strongly urged” by his cardiologist to remove coffee, chocolate, and red wine from his diet. Coffee, chocolate, and wine: shit, double shit, and triple shit. The above are my personal trinity. The removal of any or all will more than likely spell my demise. Dad says it keeps him alive. I say: give me coffee or give me death. Cut off my caffeine supply, and I’m about as pleasant as a premenstrual lioness.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make contact with a chemical engineer about that long-anticipated 24-hour caffeine drip I’ve been dreaming of.

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Squabbles and Gobbles: a good-natured Turkeyday tussle

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! First and foremost, thanks to all who stuck with me throughout my thankful blogging project.

I’m reporting live from the leather couch in my parents’ familyroom, listening to the intermingled sounds of cooking and the Macy’s Thanksgiving-Day parade. I have much to be thankful for on this blessed, sunny, South Florida day, most important of which is the endless entertainment brought to me free-of-charge by my family. This year’s gem: the kitchen chronicles.

My parents have recently undertaken a major home re-modeling project, focused largely in their kitchen. In addition to a new set of granite-topped counters and cabinets, they’ve also acquired new kitchen appliances. When I arrived last night, mom dutifully gave me a tour of the kitchen; there’s nothing more disorienting to a blind person than having the house she grew up in entirely rearranged. Fortunately, with the exception of some cabinet items being relocated, much was the same as always…or so I thought.

This morning, I wandered into the kitchen, popped a muffin into the microwave, raised my hand to set the temperature, and paused; where once there had been braille stickers labeling each button, my fingers not brushed against a smooth, clean, and virtually unintelligible surface. Undaunted by this dilemma, I mock-stalked into the office, where my dad sat checking his e-mail.
“Excuse me,” I said, hands-on-hips, manufacturing an expression of severe disapproval while trying not to laugh. “I’d like to voice a complaint with this establishment. Your kitchen is inaccessible; it fails to comply with ADA standards.”
“Yes,” replied dad, not missing a beat. “And we intend to keep it that way.” Aha! At last! Beneath this kitchen re-modeling project lies an underhanded plot to discourage my visitation. I have found it out at last! (Disclaimer: I’m no longer in residence here, and this is my first visit since the new kitchen’s completion. If we deem it necessary, certainly I’ll be permitted to make the appliances accessible next time I visit. I don’t want anyone walking away with the impression that my family is unaccommodating).

Meanwhile, back in the kitchen, I sipped at my coffee and tried to construct a persuasive argument for bringing this kitchen up to code.

“I have a proposition for you,” I announced to my father. “If you want to settle this out-of-court, here’s the deal. I won’t file a complaint with management if you grant me unlimited access to the back bedroom, formerly known as my bedroom and now remodeled as a “guestroom”. Our negotiations have reached a stalemate; Dad refuses to budge, but I think a few white Russians and a turkey coma might make him see reason.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and a joyful and blessed Christmas season!

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