15 June 2008

Father's Day 2008

I awoke (at my own pace with a purring cat beside me) this morning to a glorious brunch, buttermilk pancakes, bacon, berries with fresh whipped cream, honeydew melon, orange juice (not from concentrate) and a latte with fresh whipped cream. My children presented me with three cards each, in English, in Spanish (which my wife translated for me), and with bird houses that they presented to me (a delightful product of last night's baby sitting), as well as a fairy garden. The day's paper awaited me at my place and, for once, no one had thrown out one of the two comics sections by mistake.

A call to my brother revealed the details of his recent ascension to fatherhood. A call to my dad cleared up the details of our summer plans, doled out the latest updated on his active life (he's finally cleaning up the study which a childhood friend of mine described as looking like a newspaper stand exploded in it), caught me up on the affairs of my extended family, and provided details more a musical piece based upon the Sermon on the Mount which he commissioned in honor of my late mother.

I'm a lucky dad. My children are well behaved in public, not spoiled, healthy, bright and have not yet developed that serious attitude that apparently often appears in the teen and tween years. Their childhood has been extraordinarily stable. We have lived in the same place for all of their lives that they can remember and have gone to the same school, which is within walking distance of our home, for all of their elementary school years. I work at the edge of walking distance from my home (although I rarely walk), with other people from my neighborhood or close and many clients from my neighborhood as well. We live in many ways a small town life, not unlike the one I grew up in, despite living in a central city in a reasonably large metropolitan area.

It isn't always easy to keep up. They have many interests like quilting, knitting, woodwork, golf, tennis, skiing, gardening, Pokemon and football, that I am ill qualified to supervise or understand (and many of these interests are beyond my wife's experience as well).

I'm not totally clueless. I can put them through the paces of soccer, chess and camping well enough. They can related to Star Wars. The "generation gap" is small enough. We don't have the huge differences in musical tastes or values that prevailed when the term "generation gap" gained currency.

One thing I've pondered a bit recently is "heritage." Our family lives a life tremendously different from the life of my grandparents and that of my wife's grandparents.

My grandparents were rural farmers and lumberjacks who didn't go to college, in immigrant Swede-Finn and German communities respectively. We struggle to make a few potted plants thrive, have almost given up on planting flowers after years of failure, have seen two of the trees present when we moved in to our home die (not necessarily from poor care, but we haven't replaced them) and I am mowing the lawn myself this year for the first time in a decade. Their sense of what rural life involves comes more from Little House on the Prairie than the life their ancestors lived. Not much in our life is distinctively Scandinavian or German. I fully expect that my children will go to college. My wife, I, and each of my children's grandparents earned graduate degrees.

My wife's grandparents grew up in pre-Korean War Korea. A Korean word or phrase is spoken in our house now and then, and we rotate a few Korean dishes in without our otherwise 21st century American diet now and then. But honestly, there is more Spanish spoken in our home than Korean (I think my wife and the kids get a kick out sharing a secret language that I doesn't understand), and we probably eat more Mexican or Mexican derived food than we do Korean food (ironic because my wife's parents are no fans of Mexican food at all, despite living closer to the Mexican border than we do). Many children adopted from Korea by people with no links to Korea at all probably know more about Korean culture than my own children do. My sister in law, in heavily Asian-American Seattle, has kept up the ties and traditions far more than we have, although we have not entirely ignored them. Our children do have Korean names as well as American ones, for example.

Both my parents and my wife's have been reasonably devout Christians and my wife and I were both raised that way. Now, my wife and kids go to a Unitarian church a few times a year, at best. I'm dragged along every couple of years or so. And, what of the pre-Christian traditions on my wife's family, celebrated when one of her paternal grandparents died? What is my children's religious heritage?

Does your children's heritage include things that you haven't absorbed from your own parents? It isn't just my wife and I that are at fault. Both my generation and that of our parents have changed their lives dramatically from rhythms of life that were long standing in their ancestors. The cumulative effects of two generations of break neck cultural change have brought our children a world away from their roots. Culture isn't in your blood. So, why should the traditions of your distant ancestors be paret of your heritage if it hasn't been passed down from each generation to the next?

The work my father commissioned in honor of my late mother will be sung between the reading of the Gospel upon which it is based, and the Sermon at his Lutheran church. This is the way that Bach's Cantatas were sung in a 16th century Protestant liturgical innovation, an innovation that everyone had forgotten until my dad came across it in a college lecture on Bach. Is the reinstatement of that ancient tradition, long since abandoned, an innovation or part of his heritage? Does it matter?

Right now, for the children, these questions are beyond them. Their culture is what they live, period, without doubts and curiosity about what else it could have been. But will that change as they reach their teens and twenties? Will they go to high school or college and suddenly seek to reclaim a heritage that their parents and grandparents, taken together, failed to pass on? Or, will they follow two generations of family tradition and strike out in new directions of their own, something that they are already starting to do in their hobbies and interests? Will they look forward, back or both? Only time will tell.

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