Today’s Family Values

December 9, 2009

Has anyone missed me on the Freethinking blog ?   John Shook politely told me that he had.   After being gone from CFI Indiana for ten days on the CFI Cruise , I came home to plunge into planning and helping conduct the first training session for the new CFI Secular Celebrant program .   Now with that behind me and the holidays approaching, I wanted to post an essay written by Sheila Kennedy (with her permission of course).  Her essay follows: 

My Traditional Family

Like so many Americans, my family has developed a number of holiday traditions. We always have Thanksgiving at my house, with children, grandchildren, step-children and “adoptees”—friends without their own families nearby. The day after, we put up the Kennedy Christmas Tree, ornamenting it with a few dreidles, a small replica of the Bill of Rights, and the usual assortment of baubles. We top our tree with a fancy yarmulke from one of the boys’ bar mitzvahs.

This Thanksgiving, as I looked around our steadily-lengthening table, I saw what I believe will increasingly be the truly “traditional” American family.

My sister and brother-in-law are Jewish, as are their two sons, both gay. My older nephew’s partner of eleven years is Philippine, although this year we celebrated his new status as an American citizen. My husband of thirty years is a non-practicing Christian (unless you count buying Christmas presents as religious). I’m a non-practicing Jew (at least, until I encounter an anti-Semite). We’re a blended family, and each of us brought a disabled child (now a disabled adult) into our marriage. Of our other three children, our daughter married an immigrant who has never applied for citizenship, although—being English—he’s almost never confronted anti-immigrant bias. They are Episcopalian. Our oldest granddaughter is gay, in college in Wales and in what appears to be a good relationship. Her brother, our oldest grandson, is twenty; he has been seriously involved with his African-American girlfriend since they were sophomores in high school.

Our middle son was home this Thanksgiving from New York, where he currently lives. (He thinks it’s really funny that when he goes to one of our local gay bars, so many people he meets know his mother). His younger brother was absent for the first time in memory—he and his wife and two small children were with my daughter-in-law’s family this year. My daughter-in-law was raised as a nondenominational Christian, but she and my non-practicing, non-religious son are raising the children Jewish. All the women at our Thanksgiving table have careers; the older among us, careers of long duration.

In addition to the family, we included once again this year an informally “adopted” family member (white, gay) whose mother is in a nursing home in southern Indiana. It occurs to me as I type this that—despite a friendship of nearly two decades—I have no idea what his religion is or was. (I do know his politics!)

So there we all were—gay, straight, black, white, Asian, Episcopalian, Jewish, agnostic. But we were—we are—a family, in every way that counts. We share political attitudes (no Bush defenders in this bunch, I’m happy to report). We laugh—a lot. We love each other, and I think I can honestly say that affection has never been based upon bloodlines or genetic relationships. (My youngest son knows perfectly well that if he ever split from his wife, I’d go with her.)

When I hear the folks on the Christian Right pontificating about the importance of the “traditional” family, I know they aren’t talking about my family. They are talking about the white, Anglo-Saxon (preferably blond), heterosexual, middle-class and middle-brow people pictured by Norman Rockwell on old Saturday Evening Post covers. That family was “normal” and predictable: One dad, who works. One mom, who stays home and bakes apple pies and takes care of the two tousled, freckled children (one male, one female) and the obligatory dog.

I may finally have found something that the Christian Right and I agree upon: the Norman Rockwell family is on its way out. The difference is, while they bemoan its demise, I look around my Thanksgiving table, and give thanks for the vibrant, interesting, self-aware, self-accepting and all-around wonderful human beings who’ve replaced those cardboard cut-outs.

Happy holidays!

I met Sheila several years ago through progressive organizations in Indianapolis and was gratified to learn how much we shared in background and worldview.  Since then we have stayed in touch and we have hosted a book signing for her at CFI Indiana .   Sheila is a Professor at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis , teaching Law and Public Policy.  She was Executive Director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union (now ACLU of Indiana ) from 1992-1998.   She is a regular columnist for the Indianapolis Star .

Her most recent book (published by Prometheus) is Distrust American Style: Diversity and the Crisis of Public Confidence (Prometheus).  Among her other books are God and Country: America in Red and Blue (Baylor) and What’s a Nice Republican Girl Like Me Doing at the ACLU? (Prometheus).

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