Archive for the ‘fathers’ Category

Stories about adult children following in their parents’ footsteps have taken on special meaning for me, now that I realize that both my daughters have, in a way, gone into our own family business, too, of journalism and writing.    So I was especially intrigued by the article in today’s New York Times about Andrew Cuomo, the attorney general of New York, and his career in politics, the family business begun by his father Mario, New York’s former governor.  “Political Test May Loom for the Cuomos’ Bond,” reads the headline.  Imagine that — competition and jealousy rearing their un-pretty heads in a father-son relationship lived out in the spotlight.

Times reporters Michael Powell and Raymond Hernandez had to cobble their story together from secondary sources, since both father and son declined to be interviewed.  (Mario had at first agreed, but when Andrew refused to talk, Mario backed out.)  But they managed to find people who would talk, mostly anonymously, about the fierce, intense, loving, competitive relationship that Andrew, aged 52, has with his 78-year-old father.  And it was the father, someone I’ve long admired for his oratory skills, who summed up the relationship perfectly.

As to their changing relationship, father and son express frustration with the endless literary allusions and amateur psychoanalysis. To the elder Cuomo, the Shakespeare this and the Freudian that is silliness. Yes, he is a strong-willed and loving father, and, yes, he has a strong-willed and loving son.

“People say, ‘Oh, they have such a complicated relationship,’ ” Mario Cuomo said. “Do you know any father who doesn’t have a complicated relationship with his son?”

He paused, and added, “Incidentally, it doesn’t get less complicated as it goes on.”

Oh my goodness, it doesn’t?  Ur-Momma had always uttered the refrain “it never ends” whenever I expressed any worry about Nutmeg or Meta as they were growing up.  But I’d always hoped that she was wrong, that the worry DOES in fact end, or at least changes significantly, when the kids become adults and are living their own exuberant, rocky lives.  And now here’s Mario — erudite, thoughtful Mario — telling me that not only does it never ends, it only gets more complicated.  Maybe Ur-Momma was smarter than I realized.


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I read a lovely account this morning in the April Conde Nast Traveler of a father (aged 56) on a four-day trek in Joshua Tree National Park with his daughter (aged 19).  It’s called “Eliza Grace, the Mojave, and Me.”  As I read the details of the experience, I was confirmed in my city-girl belief that a backcountry camping trip is pretty much my personal vision of Hell.  But it ended with the kind of epiphany that really speaks to someone who’s been thinking about what it means to be the parent of adult children.  Here’s how the author, Guy Martin, describes his feelings at the end of the trip, when his daughter Eliza tells him she’d like to do it again next year.

It seems to me then that our trek wasn’t really about Eliza encountering the backcountry. We did a few good hard things. We moved some bad luggage over a lot of really rough ground. We lived in the wind, we lived with some squirrels and rats and snakes, we met the horned toad. We slept with the coyote and with the mourning dove.

But in fact the deeper education was mine. As we age, it’s too easy to live with our children as we think they are, and much harder to embrace—in the shifting present—the adults they’ve become. This may be a function of velocity; their lives speed up as inexorably and as radically as ours slow down.

But. In the ancient matrix of the wilderness from which we have just stepped, nature knows better than to apply the possessive to the offspring for long. Eliza Grace is of me but not mine. The girl belongs to herself.

So, from Eliza’s gracious invitation to join her in the Mojave, I take the lesson that I will never match the velocity of her being and becoming. In fact, she’s telling me that that’s not my job. Rather, my job is to be the father of a constant surprise.

That’s our job, isn’t it, as parents of adult children.  Not to keep up with them, not to “match the velocity,” but just to witness, share, and enjoy the “constant surprise.”  When we’re lucky, as Guy Martin is, as I am, our children take us along for the amazing ride.

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