Thursday, February 12, 2009

Cousins Redux

I just realized that I wrote this blog a couple of weeks ago but never posted it. So, here are my musings about my most recent "cousin reunion." (My first blog about a cousin reunion earlier this year can be found here.)

I’m glad I took a few days to digest this second reunion with a cousin before I really blogged about it, because something unexpected clicked into place in my brain during the wee hours of this morning.

Sarah and I are the daughters of two men who were brothers – I am Ed’s daughter and Sarah is Bob’s daughter. Our dads hardly spoke to each other for most of their adult lives -- indeed, these two brothers hardly had anything to do with each other at all; not so much out of hostility as, we surmise, out of antipathy. They simply seemed to have nothing to say to each other and could see no reason to stay in touch.

But the thing that really struck me in my conversation with Sarah was that her experience growing up with her dad seemed very much like my experience of my dad; i.e. rather distant. We both felt as though our relationships with these men had stayed at a somewhat superficial level. Thus, when I lost my Dad, the major part of my grief had to do with what “should” have been. Something had been missing between us and, as children usually do, I blamed myself for the problem. I must have been either too [fill in the blank] or not enough [fill in the blank] or I reminded him of [fill in the blank].

So, what clicked for me at o’dark-thirty this morning was that it wasn’t me. My conversation with my cousin revealed that the problem wasn’t confined just to Dad and me. Apparently, this is how the sons of Ed and Elsie Schanck are, because both of these men were rather distant fathers to their daughters. And the knowledge that they shared this characteristic suddenly brings something new to me: my dad really did love me, just as Bob really did love Sarah. Shining the spotlight of his brother’s life onto my own father’s life has brought a whole new sensibility to the situation.

Relief? You bet! The enigma of my father is now several puzzle pieces clearer than it was before, and that’s HUGE.

And I’m glad to find a kindred spirit in my cousin, Sarah, and see the similarities in our lives. Because it feels so much like home!

And now let me tell you about Sarah.

Hee Sun Park, born in Seoul, South Korea, arrived in our family in the Fall of 1969. My aunt and uncle named her Sarah after our paternal great-grandmother. I was 11 years old, she was 5 months old, and she was the only female first cousin I would ever have. My parents and brother and I traveled to visit her for the first time on the occasion of her christening, when she was 7 months old. I remember being very excited about this event – not only did I finally have a girl first cousin, but I was going to be among those who stood up with the family when little Sarah was christened.

I tell you this because of the thread that continued on from Sarah’s advent into the Schanck family. That thread went deeply into my own life because had there been no Sarah, there would have been no Abbi – my own cherished daughter, adopted from Korea when she was 3 months old.

I’ve blogged about adoption before. It is a real relationship that is in no way “second best” to a blood relationship. I know this. Abbi knows this. Sarah knows this. We have the empirical evidence that it isn’t just DNA that makes a family. And, in a backward way, that is proved again by my father and Sarah’s father. Brothers by blood, but, for most of their lives, hardly brothers at all.

For various reasons, Sarah and I went 19 years without contact. But, as our parents’ generation passes away, we cousins are all we have left. I don’t think we’ll ever go another 19 days, let alone 19 years, without at least a hello between us. That will be a better record than our fathers’.

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