June 2023 . . . .


We are different. We have differences. So what?

I think about this. Probably more of late because differences of all sizes and sorts seem to be the center of most conversations.

I am different from you, my oldest daughter tells me, over coffee. We sit outside in the spring sunshine. She is working on a freelance project, and I am just sitting in the sun. I have my books with me, but it is nice just sitting here, talking when she feels like talking.

She has determined this difference between us at a young age — she just turned twenty-four. It took me much longer than that to realize how much like my own parents I am. I always assumed that sameness was something to avoid. She, wisely, has measured same and different and found them not to be exclusive positions.

It’s privilege she sees clearly, and explains it to me. She admits that there was a certain type of privilege to growing up the child of a stay-at-home dad. One who reads and writes and likes cartoons going to the zoo and playing in the park and fishing and many other childish things. That she is different from me, is only one point she is trying to make. She is also different from many of her . . . well they can’t be peers, per se, can they? Contemporaries? Yes, let’s go with that for now.

Her privilege, she explains, is that she has always been listened to, by her mother and me. Her thoughts have always had merit, her considerations consistently worthy of moments of focus. And, she tells me, this is not normal.

I ask her if this is a good thing. To be different. To be privileged in this manner.

Most of the time, she says, answering the first point — different from me, and then amends her claim. No, probably all of the time, answering the second (more important?) point — how different and fortunate she is from those like her, as she witnesses the . . . demographic.

Did you enjoy growing up? I want to ask but don’t, because if she sees this question coming she will wave it off. She knows that I know the answer already, and I would only be posing it to make myself feel good. Fishing for compliments.

I don’t need them. The compliments. I have a fair amount of confidence that things went well. My mom feels much the same way, that despite my whining about there not being enough cookies around when I was young (there never are enough cookies. How can there be?) that I had a healthy childhood, and by and large a happy time.

What my eldest child sees, is how many people at or around her age are already tarnished, scraped, scarred, and troubled by the things they have been told by the people in their life. Unhappiness is more than the weight of all of the things we hear in the news, are fed in our streams. We also pass on bad / sad / mad information out of the blue sky. Maybe some of that information is useful. Some is not so useful. Not necessarily lies, but grim, unsolicited observations about life that have been handed down to them, because that is something we as a species do. You’re unhappy? Too bad. I’m unhappy too. Why bother to do that, nothing will come of it. I don’t like your attitude. This is okay, I guess, but it’s up to you. You’re just asking to be hurt. Why bother? You don’t have a chance in hell of making it doing that. And this kind of bile creeps into the smallest, most mundane things. You have the same mousy hair as I do, there’s nothing you can do about it. Maybe if you didn’t eat so many doughnuts, you wouldn’t be out of breath walking up a flight of stairs.

Because, she says, what happens a lot is that people pass on their negativity like seeds to an heirloom garden. They share, unfiltered. They weren’t listened to, so they don’t listen. They were saturated with criticism in their own lives — in the form of supposedly well-intentioned correction and carrot / stick child-rearing mechanisms — and told what they were doing wrong, wearing it wrong, look silly, smell funny, sound stupid, did it poorly, as a matter of course — so they continue that blockchain with their own children. Poison flows along the most worn path.

She tells me she knows life is going to be hard. Complicated. Full of work. And her mom and I have prepared her for this. And don’t get me wrong — she grouses about the future, like we all do. But she thanks us for not making her feel that work and complication and difficulty are misery. More like . . . challenge. Find a way to get things done and still be happy. Or at least satisfied that you accomplished something.

I cannot admit to having any credentials whatsoever for getting it right. Rather, I seem to have stumbled into a happy childhood and satisfying youth for my own kids. How did this happen? My own childhood was good, fraught with hurdles I stumbled over, but mostly . . . fun. And societal circumstances (and my own folks) were indeed forgiving. But for reasons I can only just now see, because they are clearest upon reflection, my parents did not choose to mess me up (in the parlance of that time). And coincidentally, my girls are happy, healthy.

I am different from you, she tells me. And the same.

I could fill pages with anecdotal evidence of her point: my daughters were, are, good students — different. Curious about art, literature, music, nature, and philosophy — same. Stubborn — same. Attentive — different. Hospitable and welcoming — same. Not easy to give in to anger and frustration — different. Surely some of these traits are part of the package deal of my wife and I — we, too, are similar and different. But because I was the home caregiver, I was the parent my girls saw more, heard more from, learned actively and passively from.

I enjoy seeing the results of their growing up. I appreciate our differences. They teach me a lot of things. And they are artists, gardeners, philosophers, readers. Like to cook. Try new recipes. Read recreationally. I love this, because I have heard a statistic that most people never read a book again after they get out of school. And what is up with that?