Tag Archives: Family

ghost

My dad’s ghost came to visit on Saturday, in the form of his younger brother.

We live in the Louisville, KY area. If you aren’t from around here, your town probably doesn’t celebrate the Kentucky Derby as if it were a two-week national holiday, but we do. As part of the festivities, vast numbers of people who don’t choose to fight the madness at Churchill Downs hold Derby parties, instead. For as long as I can remember, a household from my church has held a Derby party and welcomed any and all of the congregation who want to socialize, eat a lot of good food, watch the races on TV, and place $1 bets.

Also for as long as I can remember, until he died in 1999, my dad was the Official Taker of Bets at the church Derby party. He always arrived at the hosts’ house before the first race on the first Saturday in May (usually around 10:00 a.m.) and stayed until after the end of the last race in the evening. Equipped with business-card-size betting tickets on which he wrote the race and horse numbers, he accepted dollar bills and divided up winnings throughout the day. Being a betting man and a lover of most sorts of gambling, he also placed his own bets and generally did well. He was A Fixture at the party.

Some number of years ago (I wish I could remember how many), the party needed to find a new home base, and we took over the role of hosts. Every first Saturday in May, we open our house to any and all church friends who want to come. My husband is now the Official Taker of Bets. It’s a fun, laid-back day.

Saturday morning, as we were getting the house ready for guests, we got the news that my uncle and aunt would be coming to the party. No big deal, right? Except that they live in Minneapolis and we haven’t seen them for at least 3 years. She’s a flight attendant, and he’s semi-retired; so when she was asked to work a flight to Louisville that had open seats, she suggested that he come along. Only when they were on their way to the airport and he was on the phone to my mom with the news did they realize that it was Derby Day. (The Twin Cities are clearly outside the borders of the Land of Derby Madness.) It was a little surreal for me to anticipate this completely unexpected visit from some of my favorite relatives when my mind was so firmly entrenched in the normal rhythms of Derby.

They arrived in mid afternoon. And my dad came with them.

My dad was 16 years older than this, his youngest brother. They didn’t look terribly alike, although they shared a body type and a fair skin tone. My dad’s voice was a little lower, and after years in southern Indiana he had lost his Wisconsin-born accent. But when you were in the room with them both, you knew immediately that they were brothers — they shared an indefinable essence of Miller Guy.

And so, on Saturday, when my uncle greeted me, I heard my dad. Not his voice, no, but the same pattern of speech, the slight clipping of words. I found myself watching my uncle closely when he spoke, because in the movements of his face — the planes of his cheeks, the shape of his mouth when he smiles, the way he opens his mouth only as far as absolutely necessary to release the words — I saw my father. Their eyes were very alike, and so were their gestures and their general body language. They’re not what I think of as big men, but when a Miller Guy is in the room, he is A Presence. You’ll hear him talking and laughing, and he’ll come over to get to know you.

When it came time for Derby bets, my uncle (who had already cashed a ticket for several earlier races) decided to buy tickets only on the 4 or 5 horses that were 50-to-1 long shots. My mother, following her standard practice to guarantee a win, bought a ticket for each of the 19 horses in the race. I chose 3 horses based on their history of running on a muddy track; and, because my mother had mentioned a couple of times that a jockey named Calvin Borel was winning pretty much every time he sat on a horse — and she is an extremely lucky woman when it comes to winning things and picking horses — I threw in a dollar on Mine That Bird.

The race was the most exciting I can remember, with the jockey threading his horse at afterburner speed along the rail and out to a 6-3/4 length victory. The horse was Mine That Bird — a name I hadn’t thought of or heard mentioned at any point during the race call, because he began in last place and charged to the win in the last quarter mile. When the caller announced the winner, I cheered — and then realized that I wasn’t hearing any cries of “I won!” from the crowd of people in the other room. Out on the deck, on the other hand, I saw my uncle and my mother celebrating. We were the only 3 people with winning tickets.

The total pot was $129, so we each won $43 for a $1 bet. Most years, even when we’re dividing the pot among 10 or 20 winners, our payout beats the payout at the track; but this year the odds were so massive against Mine That Bird that Churchill Downs paid out $103 for every $2. It was nonetheless the largest win at our church party for a great many years — we think no one has won so much since Gato del Sol made a surprise winning run in 1982 and only 2 people split the pot.

This year, we kept the winning in the family. We hugged a lot, and I thanked my mother for her outstanding tip, and we talked endlessly about the amazing, the unbelievable, the astounding race we’d just witnessed. We took pictures of us with our fistfuls of dollar bills. And we agreed that my dad would have been ecstatic to have been there and watched Mike Miller, Anne Miller, and Tiffany Miller Taylor claim the prize.

I don’t believe in ghosts, or an afterlife, or angels. But I do believe that my dad was here on Saturday. My uncle and aunt brought him along and made him alive again. Some days it’s hard for me to remember much beyond the very hard time at the end of my dad’s life; but seeing and talking with his brother brought back bits and pieces of happy memories that had been hiding.

My dad was here with me, two days ago. And thanks to that, I have a much stronger, better sense of him with me now.

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a wish for a safe world

My son is gay. 8th-grade boys who are happily and comfortably out of the closet are pretty rare, so he serves as a sort of unofficial model for the kids at school, demonstrating for them daily by his mere existence that being gay is just another way of being human and nothing to get upset or angry about.

In large part because of my son’s openness at school and the (relative) lack of negativity he’s received from kids or adults, a friend of his (let’s call him C) decided it would be safe for him to come out, too.¬† One huge difference between them is the fact that C’s dad is extremely homophobic; but he figured his dad would be angry at first and then get over it.

So, C came out, at school and at home.

And his dad left.

I don’t mean he left the room — he left the house. He left his marriage. He left his family.

When this happened, C tried to “fix” the situation by recanting on his admission. No, he said, I’m not gay after all. I don’t know what came over me.

And his dad came back.

But it didn’t last long. C had tasted the freedom of being his authentic self. Of being able to talk freely to my son and his other friends about who he is and who he likes and what he wants from life. After a few days, C came back out at home.

And his dad left.

Apparently his dad isn’t planning to return to his home as long as he has a gay son living there. Of course, I don’t know what the parents’ marital status was before this; maybe it was shaky anyway, and he was looking for an excuse to leave. But I can’t pull together the words to describe how tragic I consider this situation.

A bright, handsome, talented young man will carry with him the rest of his life the conviction that he caused the breakup of his family.

A husband and father is so overwhelmed by hatred and disgust for something that he won’t even try to understand, that he rejects his own son and, by association, his wife and other children.

The other family members must try to cope and sort out their own thoughts and emotions, as they’re pulled in opposite directions by people they love.

I do not — cannot — understand the father’s actions. I want to go to the mother and beg her to support her son and love him no matter what. I want to offer the boy refuge.

I want the world to be safe for my son, and for C, and for the countless GBLT boys and girls who are sitting in middle school (or high school, or college) today and concentrating not on their classes, but on how to tell their families and friends their most private secret so they can finally, finally be themselves.

wow

Today I watched an ultrasound of my son’s heart. (It was a follow-up standard thing as part of making a decision about surgery on his sternum to correct his combination pectus excavatum and pectus carinatum.)

The last time I was in a room with an ultrasound machine, I was pregnant with the boy who was now lying on the table, watching his tiny  heart beat inside him, inside me. Now that heart pumps blood for a 6-foot-tall almost-man, who is still and will always be my baby.

The doctor pointed out valves, chambers, and blood flow. It was all very cool — and also, for me, not exactly a spiritual moment, but … a “wow” moment. My boy. His actual heart. Right there on the screen. Valves rhythmically opening and closing, blood flowing in and being pumped out, a chunk of untiring muscle that keeps alive one of the people I love best in the world.

Wow.

an abundance of unkindness

Last night at dinner, my kids were talking about school and some of their teachers. My son said, “Mr. Jock [not his real name] keeps doing something really annoying.”

And what might that be?

“When two guys are wrestling around in the hall or something, Mr. Jock will ask them if they’re going out. Or he’ll call them girls — like, ‘Girls, are you coming to class?'”

Mr. Jock apparently makes such comments fairly often. Homophobic words litter his everyday speech.

His — and a lot of other people’s.

Teenagers have taken to using the word “gay” as slang for something stupid or ridiculous. Don’t like a movie? “It was really gay!” Think a kid at school is doing something goofy? “He’s so gay!”

I can fix that behavior within the confines of my house. My daughter’s ex-boyfriend learned to eliminate the negative “gay” figure of speech pretty quickly. Now we’re working on the new boyfriend.

But I can’t fix the behavior of my son’s teachers, and the other students, and all the people he’ll encounter for the rest of his life, who will speak and behave in ways that are bigoted and hurtful. Many of them will do so unconsciously, reflecting the way they were raised and taught. Others will do so very much on purpose.

And we live in relatively enlightened times! I’m frightened enough for my son as he faces the rest of his teen years and then adulthood. What must it have been like for parents of GBLT youth 20 years ago, or 50? It gives me some slight inkling of what it must be like to parent a child who’s a member of racial minority, even today. How did mothers and fathers bear to let their children leave the house in the days before Civil Rights brought at least partial sanity to our society?

For our gay youth, there is still very little sanity in the United States. Hate speech of the kind that is no longer tolerated when it refers to skin color is commonplace when it refers to sexuality. GBLT people can’t talk openly about their relationships or hold hands with their partners on public streets without risking verbal or physical violence. Prop 8 and similar laws around the country remind them that regardless of the strength of their love, many people consider their relationships “wrong” and unworthy of cementing with a marital bond (unless, like some dear friends of ours plan to do over Christmas, they travel to one of the few enlightened places that allow gays and lesbians to wed).

I love my son more than I can possibly express. I want to be able to ensure that his every moment is filled with happiness, love, and sunshine. But I can’t. I’m helpless even to ensure him a hate-free environment at school — we decided that it’s better not to try to address Mr. Jock’s behavior, lest fallout come back on my son; and my daughter has warned her brother that although the high school he’ll attend next year is a relatively GBLT-friendly environment, he’ll face plenty of unthinking insensitivity there, too.

All parents want their children to experience the very best that life has to offer. In the United States, all parents want to tell their children that they live in the land of equality and freedom. But some of us have to tell our children that as much as we love them, and as great as our country is, life for them will not be equal and free; instead they’ll encounter venom and hatred and disgust, not because of who they are but because of who they love.

No mother should have to say that to her son. It isn’t fair to either of us. And it makes me very, very angry.

Obama field trip

On Wednesday, we’re going to hear Barack Obama speak at the Change We Need rally in Indianapolis. Yes, that’s right: the capital of Indiana, a traditionally Red state that this year is wavering toward going Blue. A wavering so distinct that the Democratic candidate is coming here less than a month before the election. Who would ever have thought it possible?

We’re taking our daughter (a high-school senior) out of school to come with us; her boyfriend’s family has also agreed that he can go. What better civics/government lesson could they receive than watching our great American democratic system in action?

I Am Excited to see and hear Obama in person.

shameless parental bragging

My daughter got her ACT score today. She’s planning to go to Indiana University (she’s only applying to one school). Today’s ACT score, combined with her GPA and her class rank, automatically qualify her for an Indiana Excellence Scholarship and admission into the Hutton Honors College.

Doug and I are indescribably proud. (And who knew, when we painted our kitchen red 12 years ago, that having a cream and crimson color scheme would be so appropriate?)

Way to go, sweetheart; you rock!

I love Home Depot

Our generator is almost but not quite exactly like this one.

Our generator is almost but not quite exactly like this one.

So I was driving home this afternoon and spotted a big hand-painted sign by the road outside our local Home Depot: “Do you want a generator? Come inside!”

Nah, I thought, too good to be true. But when I called, they said yes, they had lots of generators for sale right at the front of the store. A little while later I headed down to check them out. They had received a shipment of about 200 this morning, and thanks to the sign and radio announcements, they had about 30 left by 3:00 p.m. As I stood talking to the clerk, people bought another 5.

Doug made a couple of phone calls and learned that they hadn’t jacked up the price. A little while later, after some discussion, we became the proud owners of a 5,000-watt generator.

It’s running now, safely tucked away behind the house, well out of range of windows and doors. We have hot water. A cold refrigerator. A working computer (and working internet — I’m still not sure how the cable is functioning, but who am I to argue?). A working lamp. We’ve been made incredibly happy by these comparatively small things.

Even if we only use it for one day, it’s worth it, because of the peace of mind we’ll have during future power outages. (And living in a wooded area like we do, there will be future power outages.)

Thanks, Home Depot, for making my week.