As I finished Thanksgiving dinner with my daughter’s in-laws, I reflected on all that made me smile. Certainly being with grandchildren is a blessing beyond belief; certainly having good health, good friends and positive options in life is more than one might expect. All the clichés of gratitude came to mind, but as I write this column I am struck by how fortunate I am to have known many good men in my life. Recently, I wrote about the qualities of my dearest women friends, and lest you think I dislike the male gender, I should let you know what I believe.
I am not noting here the often tumultuous relationships around love and marriage, although I have managed to keep as friends some good men from those experiences. Instead, I’d like to share an account of those who have influenced my character and who always restore my confidence in the innate decency of people.
I was adopted into one of the most gregarious and affectionate families imaginable. Childhood was a time for lots of hugs, comfortable laps, roaring laughter and rocking piano, with a dad who was so funny and friendly that even my boyfriends hesitated about leaving my living room with him for a date with me!
He never wavered in his support, attending my school sporting events, every performance or ceremony I celebrated and, to his dying day, speaking of “light at the end of the tunnel,” a sign of the optimism which he always had in spite of failures and tragedies and a life that had been filled with pain from the many surgeries he experienced as a boy with severely deformed club feet. I seldom saw anger, often heard laughter. If he were my blood father he could not have given me any DNA more appropriate than this rosy view of life. When I stood at Cypress Lawn and heard the eulogy over his grave, I felt the horrible loss of this buoyant Teddy bear.
My parents’ best friend, Uncle Doc, was an equally present influence. Never hesitating to pick me up if I had car trouble or an urgent mission, he also was the intellectual who asked me to read my essays to him for feedback and paid most of my way through college. What an uncle he was!
Recently, my daughters lost their father, Marty, and even though divorced, we respected each other; he never forgot the sense of his role as a father and as my friend. The world is odd without him, but I am blessed that he remained a source of comfort and inspiration to me all these years. How fortunate I was to know this man and have his whimsy, intelligence, athleticism and honor passed on to his children.
And as I sat with my dynamic new in-law family, I saw again how two especially wonderful men have graced my life. My younger daughter is married to a young man who grew up with the model of a most loving and honorable father. His values, if instilled in his son as I am sure they are, will insure that my daughter will experience the long-range security of living with a good man. Incidentally, all the men I cherish have wonderful senses of humor. My elder daughter married a man who inspired me to say, upon their engagement, that I couldn’t think of anyone who would be more fitting and good for her. So there you are! Naturally, their relationship is characterized by laughter and honest exchange.
Thus, I am lucky. And, to boot, I went to a movie in San Francisco last week with my best friend, Jola, and her husband, John, and reminded them of the several decades that I have been the third wheel in the back of their car, from the early days of their marriage when I joined them in Switzerland to all of our times over the years as we shared stories and experiences with our children and friends. I think of John as my brother.
One other person is like a brother to me, and that is my cousin Tom, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. My early years near him and my other Johanson cousins were marked by the love and laughter of the uncles we shared. Memories of that time are meant to be savored, echoes of the delightful men who have given me my sense of humor, security and love. No girl could want more. Thanks to them all.