Today the parents-in-law get their new computer and network installed. To ease their initiation into the digital etherspace, I promised that I would be present when the Geek Squad arrives this morning (sometime — the appointment is between 8:00 and noon) to help with questions or concerns the pair might have. And to get them actively online with at least one e-mail address and an awareness (I hope) of what a browser is.
Since retirement began, I have visited them on my own a couple of times, generally to help with something or to get their help (like acquiring their used lawn mower last spring). And those two are the only parents of any kind that I have on earth these days (fortunately, they’re the kind of spouse’s parents who accept their sons-in-law and daughter-in-law and actually seem like another set of parents). But it’s still kind of odd visiting with one’s in-laws, no matter how much the mutual appreciation. For instance, I adore Janet’s sister, Diane, but when she visits I do realize that the two women spend long, unwearying hours together while I generally read or something for parts of the weekend, leaving them on their own, sometimes for hours.
That was not my pattern last weekend when my sister, Margaret, came to visit. She and I were talking (not as nonstop as Janet and Diane, but then our family is far from as social as theirs) from Friday afternoon until noon on Sunday. And although Janet made herself much more present than I tend to do (notice that comment about Wakdjunkaga’s family sociability index above), she was the one being silent for long stretches and on Saturday night retiring two hours earlier than the siblings.
The Lovely One has let me know that perhaps not everyone is enchanted with my political insights (and I don’t mean wisdom, but everything that all-too-easy internet research has made terrifyingly visible to me over the past year or so — it is a very scary Dextreme out there, selfRighteous and wrongheaded religiously and lunatic politically), nor amused by incessant discussion of science fiction and fantasy or childhood recollections or my various analyses of Homer’s Odyssey (about which I really should write, having been reminded of those arguable theses in debate with my sister), nor enthralled with theological discussions (Margaret taught me about “adoptionism” and about a half dozen or more contemporary theologians and Biblical scholars, Saturday night). Clearly role reversal, for sure, dependent on which family is visiting.
One’s own family is the one that one knows and that knows one the best. (Like that? The objective third person derives from helping sophomores with their persuasive essays for the last month — their real teacher doesn’t appreciate writers using first and second person, so utterly unlike this blog, for instance…) That profundity reminds me of another, critical literary observation I used to impose on certain classes: about Antigone — so obsessively infatuated with death, purity and finality — choosing her original family into which she was born over the potential and future family she might have made for herself (electing to bury her dead and dishonored brother instead of marrying her espoused cousin, who himself, on another hand, elects to die with/for her, his unrealized bride, against his father).
And oneʼs own family alters, blooms and grows wider in compass. Margaretʼs husband, Brian, was one of the best goads and inspirations in my life, brimming with wisdom, learning and wit (his spirit surely supervised and stimulated our sibling conversation this past Saturday night). Yet so many think of in-laws as pests or problems somehow… Dianeʼs husband, Steve, is, I think, no actual nameable relation to me (is oneʼs sister-in-lawʼs husband considered to be related to one?), but he is an important part of my family, right along with his son, one of my two nephews (a named relationship interestingly, although the two nephews — one on Janetʼs side and one from mine — arenʼt themselves related. Are they?). And my brotherʼs son is going to get married this summer…
Oneʼs family is a living entity, not a narrowly predefined cold case.
Antigone and contemporary zealots are wrong. Real families grow and change, sharing the love, as the anonymous They like to say (some time). And unlike the “views” of mindlessly vanderplaatzed Tighty Righty radicals selfsnared in their rigid, irrational Dextremity, real “family values” accept and embrace those innumerable, questionable and uncertain strangers who bring the future — surprising and disorienting, breathing life and renewal, embodied as their neoteric present and beloved selves.