Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/11/2011 (2038 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I felt like I was being followed this week. Stalked by a subject I'm not very good with.
Every time I got in the car and dialed my two favourite stations on XM Satellite Radio, that same theme kept popping up, like a smartphone message that wouldn't stop beeping.
Why it's important to try to make family life better, even if you don't like your family. Especially if you don't like your family.
On one program the lesson came from Texas's death row, as told by a world-renowned German-born filmmaker. The others were less dramatic offerings from academics who have written books that also include a related topic.
The pursuit of happiness.
And, since I often feel an inner emptiness and sadness when it comes to family, I listened.
Starting with a discussion about the collective wisdom of older Americans, who could have been Canadians, given what they said.
The guest on the National Public Radio program Tell Me More was Karl Pillemer, the Cornell University professor who spent 25 years amassing the wisdom of elders in the Legacy Project, which has been distilled in a book 30 Lessons for Living.
"One of the most important lessons," he said, "is to avoid the kind of brutal, lasting rifts which occur between parents and children. And that was a term that people used: 'Avoid the rift.' "
Which, if I may interject, can be challenging after the ultimate "rift"; a divorce where the molten anger never seems to cool, and the volcanic ash never stops falling on the family.
But the professor had the floor.
"And they also argue," Pillemer said of the elders, "that people should say things now."
Pillemer said that's one of the regrets many older people have.
"Not having said something that should have been said."
"The unhappiest elders I spoke with are people who had had a permanent rupture with a child. And for whom that child was no longer a part of their life."
And that brings us to death row and another NPR program.
Filmmaker Walter Herzog was speaking with Brian Lehrer about his new documentary: Into the Abyss. A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life.
It centres on the story of Michael Perry, who was a teenager a decade ago when he and another boy were involved in the theft of a sports car that led to the killing of three people in a Texas gated neighbourhood. Lehrer went on to play a clip from the documentary where Perry's father recalled his own plea to the jury that convicted his son, who ultimately was executed.
"I asked the jury... please don't kill my son. He never had a chance. He didn't have a father. I told them that I was never there. And his mother was, you know, a single mother with four children, and she had handicaps. She's was on disability. They lived off food stamps... and he really... he really had a real poor life growing up. I just asked them not to kill my son. It wasn't his fault."
When that heartbreaking clip ended, Herzog added this: "Whenever you speak to inmates who are doing serious time, or death row inmates, and you ask them, 'How should we conduct our lives? What values should we look after? How should we raise our children?' It's very, very astonishing that it always comes back to small family values."
It's as if they were expressing a last wish that can never be granted.
It was late Thursday night, as I was driving home after a long day of work, that I chanced to dial in to what I thought would be the last word on the subject. The author of The How of Happiness was on the radio. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a psychology professor from the University of California, Riverside, was talking about the importance of being grateful.
The host asked her what most people are most grateful for. That was easy.
Lyubomirsky said she often asks people to write down five things they're grateful for.
"By far the No. 1 response is 'Mom'... And 'Dad' is No. 2."
-- -- --
The message seems obvious, even to me. The pursuit of happiness is the hope of a closer family.
But the last words on all of this go to a Free Press colleague who was leaving the office Friday as I was finishing the column. Earlier he had told me that he had taken his mother to hospital Thursday night and, after she was admitted, he couldn't sleep waiting for the test results.
He came to work anyway -- his mother is OK -- and now as he left, I called him back.
"Thanks for being a good son," I said.
He just shrugged and smiled.
"It's all we got," he said.