Be sure to check out my first post, Roots, before reading this follow up piece
Twenty years. Such an anniversary typically deserves a big celebration.
But today marks 20 years since my father’s suicide.
Grief has taken me down a long road of anger, sadness, detachment, and denial. Some years, I’ve predictably cried. Some I’ve refused to acknowledge his life or death out of resentment. Others have left me feeling neutral.
But this year, I choose to celebrate – not his death, but what we have achieved as a family despite it.
We made it to the other side, and thanks to the roots my mother gave us, we have all found our wings.
My sister has worked for the same company for 14 years, and drug abuse is but a distant memory. Pregnant at 18, she found sobriety and stepped into the role of mother, proving that age does not determine your strength, or your ability to love and care for a child.
Today, she’s the “cool mom” you see in movies. She openly discusses taboo topics like sex, drugs, and alcohol with her kids, but doesn’t lecture or threaten. Kristen uses her stories to not only teach the consequences of risky behavior, but to reassure her children that everyone makes mistakes, and that if they are ever in trouble, she will pass no judgement while racing to help. As a single mom, she may do things a little differently, but you won’t find a family with more love than hers.
Then there’s my brother, who now lives with us here in Hawaii. Trying to respect that he’s a very private person, I haven’t shared much about him or his reaction to my father’s death (I got permission from my sister before sharing her story in Roots). But I don’t think he would mind me sharing that he is patient, laid back, never complains, and contributes more than he takes. Our boys adore him, and so do we.
My mom is now a family law attorney, using her own life experiences and incredible acumen to help men, women and children navigate the turbid waters of divorce, child custody and adoption. She began law school about a year after my dad died, and while raising three children alone, she graduated Summa Cum Laude and started her own law practice. Seriously – she’s a wickedly smart badass.
And then there’s me, using my wings to lay down fresh roots.
There’s no such thing as an ideal childhood, just as there’s no such thing as a perfect parent. Everyone’s interpretation is different. Moving to Hawaii meant being incredibly far from both of our families – but it also meant giving our kids the ultimate childhood.
They challenge their physical limitations while hiking trails, climbing huge lava rocks, and swimming in the ocean. Their childhood is filled with an endless supply of magic, physical exertion and achievement.
As a mother, I’m physically and mentally engaged with them in a way that I wasn’t before. I no longer stand on the sidelines, waiting for the day to pass because I’m bored watching them run around our basement.
Now I put the boys on the front of my paddle board or kayak, and together we ride waves and explore the island. We hike trails and grow stronger together. Nature provides a beautiful common bond that has alleviated my worry over having things in common with the boys as they become adults.
Living here isn’t for everyone, and it’s also not a financial possibility for many. But for our family, this is the ultimate place for our children to grow up. With that in mind, we bought a house and are officially here to stay.
Life for my family, both immediate and extended, still includes the day-to-day struggles of paying bills and raising kids. But we are doing alright.
Though today is the 20th anniversary of an event that once shredded our family, we are celebrating. I like to think that if my dad had a do-over, like William in “This is Us,” he would tell us the same thing he said to Randall about finding happiness.
“You deserve it.”