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09/10/2007

Would have wanted

The day before my dad's accident, I wrote that we'd been offered a donor match, but weren't sure whether we'd accept it:

And I'm awfully sorry to leave you with this cliffhanger of sorts, but since my parents come tomorrow, along with my brother, his wife, and their three children, I won't have time to post again for several days.  Which is really all right because I want to present the profile to my family and give them all ample opportunity to weigh in on whether they truly believe that this path, and more specifically this donor, is the right choice for us.

Some of you knew I was joking, while some of you took me at face value.  And I guess I can sort of see why; involving the family in such a momentous decision isn't the most far-fetched idea.  I imagine there are families where that degree of openness is routine, where the children earnestly seek the advice of their parents before making major life choices.  I'm just not in one.

Oh, I had every intention of telling my parents.  I just wasn't sure how or when — perhaps only after achieving a sustainable pregnancy, when the die had been cast and the fait accompli, when the focus would have been about a baby instead of some nameless stranger's cells.  When objections were irrelevant.

I think my father would have been aghast.  He was rather conservative, implacably so, to the point that we did not discuss politics, religion, feminism, equal rights, or our obligations to our fellow man and how they should best be realized.  (I am equally steadfast but in every way opposed.)  I don't know for sure what he would have thought, but after thirty-six years of daughterhood, I can make a pretty good guess.

The last time I visited my parents, my dad took me out for lunch.  Every time I visited, he made a point to take me out alone, and we'd talk about the things that mattered to him — what he'd learned, what he hoped we'd learned, and family.  This time he contrasted my brothers and me, somewhat to my detriment.  "P.," he said, referring to my older brother, the straight arrow, the good son, "often asks for advice.  T." — younger brother — "sometimes does, but generally doesn't take it."  (This said with a roll of the eyes.)  "You, on the other hand, never ask.  You just sort of do what you want to do."

He said it in a tone of frustration, as if he found my autonomy bizarre and unfathomable.  At the time I thought he was hurt.  But aside from any question of wounded fatherly pride, he absolutely told the truth: I do just do what I want to do.  That tendency weighed on him, enough that that day at lunch, more than a decade after the fact, he told me how strongly he'd disapproved of my moving in with Paul without benefit of clergy.  (Eleven years, one wedding, and a two-year-old under the bridge, Dad, I thought but did not say.)

Since Snickollet wrote it, I've returned again and again to her post about what her husband would have wanted.  "To be happy," she wrote, "that's what he wants for me and the twins."  If I try, I can tell myself that in the end, in a way, eventually, my father might have approved — not because he wanted me to be happy, although I know he certainly did, but because he was true to himself, and raised us to be the same.

I can think of a dozen different choices I made that I know he disapproved of.  I know because he told me — he was never reluctant to say so — but it never really mattered.  Every time, he said what he needed to say, and I did what I needed to do.  That's the only thing I can do now, just like always: decide what's right for me, and be happy.

And to do so suspecting he'd be appalled.  And to feel pretty much okay about that.  Many people experience a punishing regret when a loved one dies: If only I'd... I wish we had... I am lucky; even though our last substantive conversation was difficult, even though I know my choices often baffled and dismayed him, I don't feel that kind of regret.  He was exactly who he was, and I think he knew I was, too.

I would like to know how others have handled the expectations of your families when you've strayed off the beaten reproductive path.  Any perspectives?

 

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