Here in America, our family lives present a strange paradox. We often wish that our families would function in an emotionally healthy way and look something like the family on Leave It to Beaver. Yet it’s normal for a family to be dysfunctional and fractured. There’s our ideal of family, and then there’s the reality.
When my son Michael died suddenly at age 38, he left a pregnant wife and an infant. At the funeral I told those who crowded the cemetery that I had been there—when I lost my wife suddenly after a car accident. I said that I knew that as time passes people move on and fade away. I pleaded with family and friends to stay with Michael’s widow and children for years to come.
Screenwriters love structure: it gives them something to focus on as they plow ahead in their storytelling or to retreat to if they get off track. Familiar structures include the road movie (looking for answers), the journey film (home to Ithaca) and the sit-by-the-fireplace flashback (“Let me tell you about Heathcliffe”).
We had a new bunk bed delivered recently, and our sons spent a happy afternoon—albeit a dangerous one—wielding socket wrenches and screwdrivers as we put it together. Buying this bunk bed allowed us finally to move the youngest out of our bed, where he has happily parked for the last three years, to his older brothers’ room.
Last summer I was invited by a hospice chaplain to accompany him on a visit to the family of Maria Durand de Perez, a Mexican woman who had died a few weeks earlier in the border town of San Ysidro, California, at the astonishing age of 111.
This spring HBO debuted a television series, Big Love, that features a likable polygamous family in Utah. An article in a March issue of Newsweek, headlined “Polygamists Unite!” quotes a polygamy activist saying, “Polygamy is the next civil rights battle.” He argues, “If Heather can have two mommies, she should also be able to have two mommies and a daddy.” That weekend on the Today Show, hosts Lester Holt and Campbell Brown gave a sympathetic interview to a polygamous family.
In terms of commercial activity, Mother’s Day is the third-biggest holiday in the U.S., with 140 million greeting cards sold and $7 billion spent on presents and meals—and 60 million roses. Robert Fulghum assembled this information for his book It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It two decades ago, and I rediscovered it in my “Mother” file.
Advocacy groups say plans of cable television companies to offer family-friendly programming packages are flawed and designed to thwart consumers from getting what they really want: à la carte sales, in which subscribers pick and choose their channels.