Barn's burnt down
I can see the Moon.
~ Mizuta Masahide

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

#CommunityWealth Generation and #Socent News Beyond the V/Alley Highlights

While the Silicon Valley in California and the Silicon Alley in NYC are well regarded as hot spots for innovation, including in social enterprise, I have begun tracking developments in social enterprise and community wealth generation beyond those two focal communities. To that end, I created a, Beyond the V/Alley.

While there are many notable articles and videos in this week's edition, I'd like to particularly draw attention to:

I do not generally think of "Goldman Sachs" and "positive social impact" as complimentary realities. However, the summary process map of how their social impact bonds function in public/private partnerships strikes me as particularly useful. Too often would-be high impact social programs can be sidelined by program mismanagement and/or mission creep. This process map succinctly lays out the importance of division of labor (e.g. the project manager, service provider, and evaluator are different entities) can help a project proceed smoothly and insure that the vital outcomes for the key community, institutional and investor stakeholders are met.
Granted, I think care should be taken to insure that the investors have not been complicit in creating the social ills that the bonds seek to redress (e.g. banks that shamelessly red-lined neighborhoods should not then be able to structure social impact bonds for blight-busting in such a way as to maximize their payouts). But that is a conversation for a much bigger process map.

Written by LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) Director of Research Chris Walker, this report highlights early-stage results from LISC’s Building Sustainable Communities initiative. The report demonstrates how a comprehensive community development approach that targets investments in affordable housing, economic development, edu­cation, health, and safety can significantly raise incomes and decrease unemployment in low-income neighborhoods. Also included are case studies in Providence, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and Chicago.

This is a short news article and video profiling the successful transition of a local market into a worker cooperative. It does not discuss legal strategy (for that, a good start would be the SELC's Think Outside the Boss handbook - bearing in mind the need to adapt the information for your actual jurisdiction).

This profile of the Community Purchase Alliance is one of my favorite stories out of last week. It speaks to the power of leveraging the purchasing power of anchor institutions to not just save money but to also invest in just and sustainable businesses that prioritize the three Ps: people, planet & profit.

I am a gardener in withdrawal, and as I carefully pour over my Baker Heirloom Seed Catalog, I have looked forward to the day when I could help keep heirloom seed varieties alive through seed sharing with seed libraries. Unfortunately, that activity has irritated some state legislators. This campaign aims to keep seed sharing legal. 
There MANY other articles and videos on the that are worth exploring. These are just a handful that struck me as particularly timely. Take a look and comment below on what you think I should have highlighted instead.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Single Parenting Through Law School: Some Thoughts on How to Make it "Work" - Part Two #lawschoolmom #MSULawSM

In my last post, I focused on two key aspects that have helped me survive and find my stride in law school, as a single parent to a preschooler:
  1. Putting family first, and
  2. Fully using the resources for student parents provided by my law school and the university community.
When I left off, I promised to address three more points:
  1. Ask for what you need: Peer Community
  2. Self-Care: Do It.
  3. Set your child up for her own success
    1. with her own emotions
    2. school as co-parent
  • Ask for what you need: Peer Community
But for the grace, patience and generosity of the friends I have made in law school, I would never have made it this far. In fact, I'm pretty sure that the image below would have become my perpetual appearance (rather than an occasional reality), with only the size of my child and bag changing over time:

 (Image Credit: Melissa Garden Streblow)

In spring 2012, I flew with my daughter to Preview Weekend (which was a reasonable decision despite the fact that she had just turned two years old) because a woman in the alumni office (who was good friends with a Washington state alumnus I had met) was willing to host a playdate between my daughter and her five year old daughter so that I could focus on deciding if I would attend MSU Law. That is not a run on sentence. It was, however, the beginning of a wonderful friendship and my orientation to asking near strangers for help. 

Since then, my peer network has expanded and is largely comprised of other parents (married and single), with whom I have frequently arranged playdate and sleepover exchanges, and family-friendly study dates (basically: we study for as long as the kids can play together nicely or without extended eerie silence). None of us are particularly gunnerish because we know all too well how hard it is to avoid embodying the above image without the added gunning madness. But we all respect the work that we do and our families who need us to get it done. 

My student parent network has been largely informal and ad hoc, but if you find that your law school has a critical mass of student parents, then you might consider working with the law school to create a student parent association (perhaps as part of the Diversity office). You might even decide to set up a formal child care co-op, like the good legal eaglet you are.

However, I would caution you against developing a peer network with only other student parents. Kid-friendly people who do not have children are helpful for your personal sanity and for helping your children learn to interact with adults who are not their teachers/babysitters or family. When I realized that my finances required that I find a shared living arrangement to help me save up for post-3L bar exam and relocation expenses, I decided to rent a house with two guys from my section. They are good, decent men who are respectful and kind toward my daughter and me. I never ask them to babysit and my daughter knows how to respect their spaces (well, except for the roommate who introduced her to Mario Kart...sucker :) ). We knew each other for two years before choosing to live together, and my only regret is that we didn't figure out that we live well together even sooner.

For some people - particularly single mothers - our arrangement would raise red flags, as they would prefer to co-house with another parent, or at least with other housemates of the same gender. If you fall into this camp, then you might look into a service like Co-Abode (co-housing matching for single mothers), or consider establishing your own co-housing arrangement (here are some great resources from

Regardless of the approach you take, you'll want to have some sort of roommate agreement, from the more informal, but recognized, division of labor (e.g. in our house, the guys deal with the garbage, recycling & rent-exchange maintenance on the property, while I try to wrangle the kid sprawl and keep the kitchen clean due to the amount of cooking I do), to a more formal agreement (e.g. the customizable roommate agreement templates by Shake Law).

While figuring out your childcare and child-friendly network, and maybe even a co-housing arrangement, don't forget your social needs.

You will need friends.


Friends with whom you can talk about your stuff, issues, goals, frustrations, dreams.... Some of these friends will be other parents, but it is both allowed and NECESSARY for you to talk to them about something other than your kids, your homework or the Lego Movie (unless you dig deep into the film's brilliant subtext). Even if you cannot afford to go out very often because the babysitter costs $10+ an hour, allow yourself to go out at least once a month and be creative (but reasonable) in meeting your parenting obligations. Last Friday night, I joined some friends and fell in love with an amazing restaurant, (revolver). I could go because my daughter had a sleepover at a friend's house; in a few weeks it will be my turn to host a sleepover in return. 
  • Self-Care: Do It.
Say it loud and say it proud:"Self care is not selfish!"

Everyone and their second cousin's mail carrier will have an opinion about your decision to go to law school as a single parent. That nattering chorus of ne'er-say-wells can provoke overwhelming guilt in the single parent. Or maybe that was just me. Figuring out how to manage the guilt, required that I figure out how to take care of myself.

I know that sounds counterintuitive. But if we do not take care of ourselves, by listening to and respecting our bodies, minds and souls, then we will not be effective parents. Admittedly, when I was trudging through 1L, I did not always make time to exercise, eat well, pray or even sleep. Thus I am not surprised that I packed on an additional ten or fifteen pounds, began losing my hair in clumps, required a prescription bite guard because I was grinding my teeth at night, and kind of went through a spiritual crisis.  Good times.

I don't recommend it.

When I returned from study abroad in London, I realized that something had to change: Me.

I had to love, value and care for myself and the gift of my one life as much as I love, value and care for the gift of my daughter. So I downloaded and used the Couch 2 5k app and began cooking and gardening again (two therapeutic pillars). I began walking to school while listening to my power playlist (don't judge, it works) and going to the YMCA (it has a great student rate on the family membership, and they have a sauna - my third therapeutic pillar). Inspired by Pope Francis and my own spiritual yearning, I even returned to Mass and began to dust off the old prayer life (my fourth pillar). My journey continues in fits and starts (e.g. bacon regularly conspires with Michigan winters to be my undoing), but I have a better grasp on what I need to do to maintain a certain degree of centered wellness.

To manage single parenting through law school, you will need to do the same. So take the time to figure out who you are in your silent place, when you finally sit down, breathe deeply and exhale a soul-cleansing breath. Whoever you are in that moment is the person you need to nurture, not just for success in law school (however you end up defining that success), but for success as a parent with the capacity to love and guide your child(ren) through the law school journey. With any luck, your law school will have some resources to help you (e.g. MSU Law runs a weekly Wellness in Practice meditation and the MSU Council of Graduate Students runs a variety of wellness programs). Regardless, it is on you to take care of yourself so that you can help your child(ren) not just survive law school with you but maybe even thrive.

  • Set your child up for her own success
If you do not already have a routine for checking in with your child in a substantive, on his/her level kind of way, start one. Without a doubt, the variable triggers and stressors of law school will occasionally derail even the best routine, but you have to have one first before it can be derailed.

Furthermore, avoid trying to tweak your kiddo's routines to better accommodate your study and class schedule. There were a few really interesting classes I wanted to take during 2L, but they met at night, after my daughter's bedtime. The few times during 1L when I'd had a babysitter take over the bedtime routine for me so that I could attend a late night study session had all been quite difficult for my daughter. So once I began taking electives in 2L, I knew that was not going to be an option. The two times that I took an evening class (5:45 start time), I made sure to enroll my daughter in a fun class of her choosing at the YMCA. By the time she was done with her class, my class was over and I could meet her and the babysitter at the Y.

But the reality is, kids will be kids. There will be tantrums. They will be frustrated and confused by the amount of attention you pay to those massive books they are not allowed to touch or "decorate." You'll want to address their frustrations before your laptop "accidentally" falls to the floor (thankfully, mine "accidentally" fell onto a patch of floor that was well padded by a pile of clean, unfolded laundry). 

In those moments of child sabotage, the hardest thing to admit is that the saboteur may be right - not in her action, but in her feelings. I'm not a family counselor or therapist, but I can attest to the value of taking a deep breath in those moments, coming down to my daughter's level and trying to validate her feelings first. Eventually we discuss strategies for helping her convey her frustrations without being destructive. I do not always respond with such grace, but I have gotten better at it, and best of all, my daughter has become pretty good at advocating for herself and calling me out when I need to "chill" and take a "mommy time out."

Finally, we have been fortunate in that the school that my daughter attends has been very understanding of our situation. In some ways, the teachers and staff there have been like a co-parent who does not take point on the big decisions but is always supportive. I do not have the time to volunteer as much as they would like parents to volunteer, but I have never been subject to any shaming and my daughter is always treated with respect and warmth by the staff and teachers, and the other families with whom we have become friends. 

Admittedly, there is little in this last section that is unique to single parenting in law school. Rather, it's all just part of the reality of parenting. However, to help you and your child(ren) get through law school in one piece, you may need to cultivate a heightened awareness of how the unique stressors of law school impact you and your family and preemptively take steps to mitigate them. 

If your law school or the residential community in which you will live do not have the resources to help you succeed, and if you do not have the time to develop those resources, then perhaps you are not at the right school or in the right community. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Crowdsourcing #A2J: Some thoughts on @CrowdDefend & the strategic use of #collcons & the #sharingeconomy

Yesterday, I learned about the launch of CrowdDefend, a new platform combining crowdfunding and impact legislation. This appears to be a desperately needed tool for leveling the playing field, first for socially important litigation and second (perhaps) for private lawsuits in which a monied party uses or threatens to use litigation strategies to bully the other party into submission (by either dropping the case or settling). It is an important companion piece to low-bono, pro-bono, and law school legal clinic solutions.

And it also illustrates the expanding application of the ethics of care at the heart of the outcomes-oriented sharing economy, which strives to use transactions as a means of developing a more equitable, just, sustainable and resilient society. With CrowdDefend, that ethic can be taken to another systemic level, improving social justice outcomes in our case law.

Okay, so maybe that's a bit of an overstatement for a two-day old startup, because CrowdDefend is currently an invite-only crowdfunding platform. BUT it is a perfectly reasonable statement if one takes the long view and CrowdDefend figures out how to last.

Nevertheless, as a legal eaglet and Reinvent Law devotee, I have some concerns, chiefly: what if the campaign owners (the folks who launch a case crowdfunding campaign) are the attorneys of record on the case? Some of my anxiety below is admittedly the pre-emptive nail-biting of a newbie; hopefully, as CrowdDefend evolves and grows, some (if not all) of my concerns will be rendered moot.

  • Privilege, Confidentiality and Trial Publicity. Any lawyer who ends up using CrowdDefend as a campaign owner will need to pay extra attention to the attorney/client privilege and confidentiality requirements in Model Rule 1.6 (c): "A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, information relating to the representation of a client."
  • Attorney commentary about the profession. Imprudent discussion of the counsel or judges involved in a case could also land the attorney in hot water, per Model Rule 8.2 (and maybe 3.5 a wee bit).
  • Justice or Advertising? While CrowdDefend is focused on the justice needs of clients, I wonder if it might not run the risk of becoming a form of attorney advertising deemed "undignified" by some jurisdictions. There are bound to be some attorneys who will reference their use of CrowdDefend in advertising material about their professional services and the strategies they will pursue to help their clients. The problem may arise (and perhaps should arise) when the attorney has more skill for launching a campaign than for raising funds for his clients' case. And if the attorney is the campaign owner, rather than the client, then the ethics can become especially hairy if the attorney offers levels of "perks" as authorized in the CrowdDefend Terms of Use. Provided the perks don't amount to coupons or gift certificates for the attorney's professional services, then they shouldn't be considered "advertising" under the current Model Rule 7.2, but using CrowdDefend would, nevertheless increase the attorney's professional visibility.
  • Fee-Sharing. CrowdDefend charges campaign owners a flat 7% fee on funds generated through the campaigns.  Model Rule 5.4 always surfaces in discussions around law firm capitalization and ownership, and here it has bearing on the actual cases. Does that fee constitute a kind of fee-sharing arrangement since the total amount paid would vary based on the amount of money raised (with the balance going towards covering the attorney's litigation costs)? Or would that 7%fee be considered an incidental expense for the matter?

Presumably the lawyer(s) would have their clients' informed consent prior to using CrowdDefend for their case. But one of the "perks" of donating to a CrowdDefend case, according to CrowdDefend's marketing, is that the donor will receive updates about the crowdfunding campaign and the case.
Certainly, it is possible to provide updates that are largely procedural rather than substantive because attorneys do that all the time, in compliance with Model Rule 3.6. But imprudent management of case information online could have such significant consequences (including the loss of privilege protection) due to the reach of the internet and information caching online.
If ever there were an innovation that lays bear the logic and timeliness of Lucy Jewell's call to develop a participatory legal culture around professional ethics, CrowdDefend is it. Donors and interested parties may well want more insight into the human story of the legal professionals and not just the case parties, but as things stand now in most jurisdictions, if an attorney's analysis of the other counsel or the judiciary is found to denigrate the profession in some way, that attorney risks some degree of professional sanction.
Well, my hands are good and wrung. But I am still convinced that CrowdDefend is a welcome, necessary and potentially transformative resource for access to justice. Despite my totally premature concerns, I look forward to hearing more about how CrowdDefend grows, evolves and improves social justice outcomes in our legal system and our case law.

Single Parenting Through Law School: Some Thoughts on How to Make It "Work" - Part One #MSULawSM

I really should be reading for Secured Transactions....or sleeping. But this Lean In meme hit my feed and it resonated with me enough to give me a second wind.

I am in my last semester of law school, and it actually looks like I will graduate.  This was not a guaranteed outcome, and not for lack of intelligence or an unwillingness to do the work, but because every step of the way has felt like a Tough Mudder slog through the viscous muck of uncertainties and preschool hijinx.

Three years ago, I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn't watch (and still haven't seen) The Paper Chase. I didn't read 1L of a Year. Because I knew that none of those stories would bear much resemblance to mine.

I started law school as a 38 year old, former college administrator and lecturer,  and single parent to a 2 1/2 year old.

When the meme above crossed my feed tonight, I embraced it because it reflects the cornerstone of how I have "done" law school and made the experience work for me and my family.

Because I remember that it was around this time, three years ago, that I began to think in earnest about whether law school (even with a full tuition scholarship) would be part of my life's journey, I thought I'd take a moment and share some thoughts and experiences that may be relevant to other single parents contemplating a comparable journey.
  • Put your family first
Law school is weird. It's like high school + professional school + a high stakes Winner-Takes-All poker tournament. It takes up an obscene amount of time and energy (especially during the first year), which I found to be more hectic than working full time. And at first, I really sucked at managing it because I had convinced myself that I would only ever amount to anything by pursuing the same load and as many as possible of the same activities as my classmates. That didn't work for my sanity, my grades or my dear daughter, who really struggled during our first year.

So after I lost my scholarship for a year because I fell short by 0.03 grade points in 1L, I did some serious soul searching. Participating in the ReInvent Law Lab and studying abroad in London (joined by my daughter and mother) convinced me that there was still some work that I want to do both in and with law. But I decided that how I went about my studies would reflect how I plan to live my life. 

I set my priorities and family came first. While I knew I had to work hard to regain my scholarship (which I did), that work would have to be in a manner that respected my primary responsibility to my daughter. Motherhood is not just the hardest job I've ever had; it's also the source of great joy.

Then something strange happened: the more time I allotted for my daughter (including making most Saturdays OUR days), the happier I was, the more efficient I became and my grades significantly improved (I made the Dean's List!).

Granted, this prioritization came at a "loss." I didn't serve on law review or any other journal (which is fine with me because The Bluebook truly is the 7th Circle of Hell). While I did serve as a student attorney in the Urban Ag law clinic for three terms, I did not clerk or otherwise work outside of school (except on my entrepreneurial interests). Moot Court, the Trial Practice Institute and even the Arbitration, Negotiation and Mediation competitions all passed me by. Instead, the bulk of my professional development was through ReInvent Law and the related suite of courses, workshops and events. Instead of taking the shotgun approach to law school, I had to use a much more targeted strategy that forced me to take ownership over the "unique course" I wish to set for myself professionally and personally.

Figuring out the work/life balance cannot wait until after graduation. It must be a fundamental part to one's law school success plan. And that means learning when and how to say "No," and figuring out where you will invest your "Yes."
  • Ask for what you need: Institutional Resources 
Law school will train you to "think like a lawyer," but when it comes to being successful as a single parent in law school, you need to master the art of advocating like a lawyer, for yourself and your family. 

Even before you send in the enrollment deposit, figure out which staff and administrators are aware of and sensitive to the challenges student parents (especially single parents) face. At MSU Law we have a wonderful Diversity Coordinator, Mary Ferguson, who has been incredibly supportive for student parents, including providing Finals Childcare for our kiddos. Ask the Admissions people if they know of other current or admitted students who are parents and ask to be put in touch with them. One of my closest friends found me through Admissions, and now both our daughters and we have become dear friends.

Addendum: Don't forget to look beyond the law school's institutional resources to determine if the broader university has resources that can help you succeed as a student parent. MSU has a Family Resource Center that serves as a wonderful compendium of all the university and community resources available to support student parents (the FRC Resource Guide for Students with Children (pdf) is bookmarked on my computer). I joined the student organization, Student Parents on a Mission (SPOM) through which we have enjoyed discounted & free family-friendly events and activities. I have shamelessly taken advantage of the free subscription to, the five free days of emergency child care, the Finals Childcare provided by The People's Church across the street from the university (and which I learned about from SPOM),  and even the discounted Sick Child in-home care when missing class would have meant running afoul of the ABA attendance requirements (don't get me started on those). And I have applied for and received the Council of Graduate Students' Child Care Grant every semester for which I have applied, which has helped make it possible for me to enroll my daughter in a Montessori school.

Once you are enrolled, your interactions with your professors will be tantamount. My professors (many of whom have children who attend the same school as my daughter) have been understanding when I have had to bring my daughter to class, miss a class or even come in late (True Story: during 1L, my daughter fell asleep in the car on the way to my school & by the time we arrived she was starting to snore. I carried her into class late, laid her on a blanket in the back of the class, and she sawed logs audibly for the duration of class. Yet the professors were very understanding). It is on me to let the professors know my situation in advance, if possible, and ASK them if they mind the accommodation I need, when I need it.

Okay, the second wind is all but gone, so I will sign off here. 

Part Two will come soon(ish) because school reading, four job applications and a coworking business proposal, my daughter's social calendar (a sleepover one night and a birthday party), a day trip to Frankenmuth with another #lawschoolmom and her kids, the next #WritingWeekend story, and oh yeah...classes all need to be done this week. 

Part Two will cover:
  1. Ask for what you need: Peer Community
  2. Self-Care: Do It.
  3. Set your child up for her own success
    1. with her own emotions
    2. school as co-parent
Single parenting through law school is a humbling exercise in logistics, project management, occasional outsourcing, and LOTS of design thinking. BUT it is also workable if you are true to your family, your values and your dreams (personal, familial and professional).

Monday, January 5, 2015

Mourning Father #WritingWeekend Week 1 inspired by @Buzzfeed #51BeautifulLines

For years, I have been something of a writing coward, despite having completed a degree in creative writing and taught writing. Aside from the occasional writing contest, intermittent blog posts, and the occasional voluminous Facebook note or comment, I have generally kept my poetry and prose to myself. But when I read Buzzfeed's list of the 51 Most Beautiful Lines of Literature, decided to use it as an opportunity to save my writing muscles from atrophy. So, I will take one line each week and will write a story, poem or essay inspired by the line and will post it here. I do not promise brilliance or even consistent quality. I only promise consistent effort. 

Shortly after making this decision, I learned that my father died. We were not close. But I have been a mess anyway. Writing this first essay has helped.

Mourning Father

“At any rate, that is happiness: to be dissolved into something complete and great.”
Willa Cather, My Antonia

I was fine. Whenever anyone asked about him, I’d shrug and say, “I’m past my daddy issues.” Mind you, they had hung on like a motherfucker, well past the time when they should have been laid to rest. But since thirty is the new twenty, and – as the meme accurately states – the first forty years of childhood are the hardest, I forgave myself the tenacity of my longing.

But then I got over it. No. I accepted that I would never know my elusive half-siblings. I dismissed my father with a forced bravado to match the finality with which he had apparently dismissed me. And I found comfort in knowing that the four years I’d been an in-state Blue Devil had not embroiled me in some inadvertent incestuous love affair given the rumored size of my father’s family and my complete unfamiliarity with any of them.

Last week, I was sitting on the couch, giddy with anticipation as I worked on the proposal for the property where I plan to anchor my entrepreneurial dreams. Then I checked Facebook and saw a message from a niece I had met once: “Hey aunt Karen, your dad is in the hospital. It's looking like he's not going to make it. Call my mom.” I blinked a few times in rapid succession. I had never called him “dad.” That’s just not the man I barely knew.

In one three-minute phone call, my resolute and confident embrace of the future was dragged back to the vortex of my past pained confusion. Lung cancer for years? Stage four bone cancer? None of his kids were told? Pulling the respirator today? TODAY?! How the hell do you expect me to get there in time?!

These tears feel like a fraud. An unearned release from a sideways ache that I hadn’t realized was there. Am I mourning the man he was (whom I barely knew) or the man he could have been (whom We never knew)? Or is this grief for the dissolution of the illusion to which I have occasionally clung since I was old enough to care.

Because my father could have been anyone.

Sure, Nick was married to my mom and his name was on my birth certificate, but that could have been a matter of convenience, of marital presumption, of largesse or mere ignorance. No. MY father, the one who gave me my high cheekbones, who had a deep understanding of my therapeutic longing for the Earth, who was the source of my high-fallutin’ “difference.” MY father… he had to be … more. And interested, but thwarted somehow. For a damned good and noble reason, maybe a royal one! Not an absentee, philandering, unstable war vet, but … a…. prince! West African. No! East African… descended of the Pharaohs. Or so I had hoped as a grade schooler, accentuating the almond shape of my eyes, doing my best Cleopatra walk and toying with the idea of learning Arabic (I settled on French).

With each slap, threat or insult from my stepfather, MY father had loomed large in my imagination, reassuring me and eventually empowering me. Because my blood, HIS blood does not cower, it boils over and reminds the tyrant, “I might not be able to do much while you are awake, but you will eventually fall sleep.”

But when I saw the blurred photos through Facetime – my father intubated and unconscious in a hospital bed – I knew my prince would never come, because he did not exist. That flawed, absent, profligate, and dying man was the only father I’d ever had, could ever have, and would never have because he would be gone before the day was through and we would never, ever know each other.

It wasn’t the bounces on My Daddy’s knees that I had craved, nor the sage silence of a fishing jaunt to a creek. In the end, I missed his canned tomatoes. I never got to try them. When we met almost four years ago, we had talked about our mutual love of gardening and preserving the bounty of our harvests. I was partial to jams and jellies. He canned tomatoes. I think. It was one conversation, in segments, over three – maybe four – hours. And then we never discussed canning again.

 We never really discussed anything again. In the four intervening years, I could count the number of conversations we had on one hand. Maybe my questions felt too much like interrogation, while his answers were just too elusive for me. But even in those few conversations, there was something in his voice – gravelly, jovial, North Carolina pine woods drawl – that had tickled a genetic memory and felt like a cornerstone of home. The missing brick was laid in place, and while I may have wished for a different bricklayer, at least it was no longer a missing link.

I did not look in his casket. And it wasn’t just the hazy-headedness from a red-eye cross-country flight. I could not do it. Having only one visual memory of my father, I did not want that replaced by an embalmed corpse. And it wasn’t because I loved the man I had met years ago. I didn’t. How could I? I didn’t know him. I just want to remember him as he chose to be when I met him, and not as some mortician felt he should look, because I’ll take truth over hagiography any day.

And the truth that speaks to me the most is the truth of my sisters.

I have sisters. J I am the eldest of six children. I have met my three sisters and their children. I have not yet met my brothers. In one of the last conversations I had with Nick, he said that his goal was to someday gather all of his children together. And while I was very nervous about meeting one of my siblings whose life choices were more dangerous than anything to which I had ever been exposed or would ever want to expose my daughter, I had wondered what that future introduction would be like. I didn’t expect it to be at his funeral.

Scripture says that the sins of the father will be visited upon the son, but what about the daughters? As I sat in the pew with two of my sisters, a niece and my daughter, I wondered at the different kinds and degree of pain and grief we each had for this man who had failed at least two of us in unique, but total ways.

It’s not that I scoffed at the remembrances of others who spoke of the man who would give you the shirt off his back. It’s just that I realized I didn’t know that man, and I had nothing to say about the man I barely knew, to a gathering of family I didn’t know at all. 

It was the realization that I have five siblings, fourteen aunts and uncles, and over 100 first cousins spanning from two years old to fifty years old that changed my tears. From grief for the father I did not and would not know, to anger over the family I never got to know. The tears that came to my eyes at the funeral were tears of fury. Fury at my father. And fury at my mother. Because knowing my paternal family was my right, which neither of them seemed to have respected. Nick didn’t try hard enough to stay in my life. Mom didn’t try hard enough to make me part of his family’s life.

That may be unfair. It’s probably unfair. But watching my sisters from the corner of my eye, seeing their beauty and poise, and their tears, I felt … cheated. The dissolution of my father-daughter fantasy sucked, but never knowing my sisters (and our brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents) felt … feels like theft. You can only ever grow up with someone once (and I grew up as an only child). Now it remains to be seen if we will learn to grow old with each other, probably not as family first, but hopefully as friends, united by but not guided by our variegated memories of Nick aka Nank aka Rottweiler aka Bulldog aka Wild Mule aka Emanuel aka my father.