My son Ed with his new daughter

My son Joel and grandson Cameron

My students have been studying Clint Eastwood’s remarkable 2008 film, Gran Torino. We’ve been talking a lot about its themes. One is, of course, that “real” family is wherever you find it. The protagonist Walt is profoundly disappointed with his sons and families, and they don’t care much for him either. But, despite his long-standing prejudices, Walt becomes close to his young immigrant neighbors, Sue and Thao. They are worth dying for: they are his family of choice.

The theme of creating our own intentional family has permeated my own work. We all need loving and caring connections in our lives, and when they’re missing on the home front, life is hard and painful. The reality is, too, that sometimes, there is plenty of love, but love isn’t enough when emotional, mental, or substance abuse problems interfere.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about broken relationships in families. In the last few weeks, I’ve encountered several folks who’ve shared that their children barely speak to them. Some have been on the losing end of a child taking the other parent’s side in a bitter divorce. Others have children who blame them for a multitude of sins while they were growing up, and have held on to their list of grievances for decades. The pain of these parents is palpable.

It has reminded me of just how lucky I am that this has not been my experience with my adult children. Last night, my older son called just to talk, and today my younger son phoned on his lunch break. They’re both good about staying in touch, despite their busy lives as dads and husbands who work long hours. I love them with all my heart, and they seem to think I’m not so bad either.

I know it’s not like this for every parent. I am so incredibly grateful.