Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Loving Kids-In-Law Isn’t Automatic

My daughter and her boyfriend got formally engaged last weekend. That’s her ring (and hand!) in the picture. This is a first for me--and her, BTW! ;-)

This is something I’ve been looking forward to for a couple of reasons.

First, and most important, because I love and am impressed with my daughter and future son-in-law. I also love the great partnership the two of them have. It will come to no surprise to learn than my daughter (like her sister) is pretty special and remarkable—and thus deserves a great life partner. (Most dads and stepdads I know feel the same way about their daughters—and a good thing too!) So I’m very happy for the two of them separately and for the pair they are (and will be) together.

My second reason is one of heritage. I was blessed with two grandparents, Frank Barnes and Catherine Hughes, who I always loved greatly. As a child and young man, Bepa and Cacky (as we kids called them) taught me the importance of honesty, compassion, justice, tolerance, forgiveness, and family.

But it wasn’t until my own children were older that I realized another important—and difficult--lesson they taught me.

My mother was their oldest child and the first to marry. For a number of reasons (some quite defensible), they were not thrilled with her choice of husband, my dad. But they found their way to loving him. Even with his imperfections, they saw that Dad was a good man at heart. And, during my lifetime, they embraced him as their own child. They did the same with the other people who married into their family: my Uncle Matt, Aunt Mickey and Aunt Ruth.

As a result, I was very close to my aunts, uncles and many cousins. I loved this extended family with all its chaos and affection and celebrations. But I took that gift for granted—not even recognizing how this family was Cacky and Bepa’s gift to us.

When my daughter and her fiancé got serious with each other, I suddenly realized that a good relationship between me and this good young man was not automatic. I needed to get to know him, include him in my life and take the risk of growing close to him (and growing close to them as a couple). For the first time, I saw that my grandparents’ embrace of their children-in-law was not automatic, either—even though it always looked automatic to me.

No, Cacky and Bepa had to take risks, too. And they took them even when (as with my father) they had more reason to hesitate than I’ll ever have with my future son-in-law.

Now, many years after their death, I began to understand the level of spiritual strength and capacity of love this required. To my eyes and experience, Bepa & Cacky did not discriminate between their biological children and the people their biological children married. They loved them all, period. Same for all their grandchildren.

What a wonderful and powerful example they set for their children and us grandchildren. It’s an example lived out in my generation and our parents’ generation. And it’s the example I try to follow with and for my soon-to-be-son-in-law and my daughters.

Thanks, Cacky & Bepa, for that gift and heritage. Your great-grandchildren don’t know you the way we grandkids knew you—but they do know you nonetheless.

Congratulations to you—and to my daughter and soon son—for nurturing such spiritual strength and capacity of love.