If you have never had it, can you miss it?


Good Morning from my office,

I got in early today and I have been trying to work my way through a list of things that seems to never reach the bottom. I guess that is a good thing because I have decided if the list is empty, either I am really bored, which I have noted the likelihood of that occurrence before, or I have expired, which I am hoping is still a bit of ways from my reality. Anyway, what I have found is writing my blog actually focuses me. It allows me to get all the things that, though important (at least to me, and perhaps a couple of others), do not really help me get my daily tasks completed in a timely or strong manner. In addition, and again the old adage of “practice what thou preaches” comes to mind, writing regularly is helping my writing. Again, at least I hope it is . . .  sometimes I go back and read this and I wonder if my brain was actually functioning. It has always been that way . . . . sometimes I read things and think: “my, did I write that?” More often my response is: “Oh my! Did I really write that (and now followed by “and I posted it!)?

The past week has been an interesting reality check. Because of some things with my family (extended), I have had to consider a lot of my family history. Families are such amorphous things at times. What actually relates us all? What makes us somehow reach out and decide to be identified with something or someone? It is certainly not merely a DNA thing. I know that from my own experience. It is not even growing up with them, or at least, it is does not seem that is a deciding factor. What makes some families “tightly-knit” and others more like a “large-hooked-crocheted-throw”, which has frayed or tattered edges (and I realize that analogy can take me other places, but not going there for the moment)? I am surely aware because of my own adoptive history that being in a new family in my case offered opportunities I probably would not have had in my birth family. Of course, what is interesting for me, and especially because I was adopted in 1960, was that I have always had some idea, involvement, or possibility of involvement with that birth family. My paternal grandmother was, and continues to be, my hero. I do have half-brothers and half-sisters, but I have made the decision to stay out of their lives. My biological mother is still alive, but there is no relationship there. Again, that is a choice I have made and I am responsible for any of those decisions. I am okay with that.

What has somehow come to the fore yet again, but in a very different way, is simply this: I had no children with Susan, the woman I married out of college, and while there was some attempt to have children, it did not happen. Theresa, my second wife, had three children, but by the time we were married, her youngest was sixteen. As a person with a post-partum tubal ligation, there were no additional children planned. There was a time in my late 30s and perhaps, even into my early 40s where I felt like I had missed the opportunity to have a family of my own. Somewhere around 45, perhaps when I returned to Michigan Technological University to finish by Ph.D., I realized that I was okay with the fact that I was childless, and single.  It just seemed like something that had occurred and so it just was. It was my reality. It was how my life played out. In fact, I have often stated, “While I have no children of my own, I have lots of everyone else’s.” I was okay with that because I could just send them home if I did not want to deal with them. I was (and I still am) in control of my situation. One of the things recently realized more clearly is that while I am around people (almost all of the time), I am usually in control of those situations. I manage them if you will. This past year, somehow I have felt my own, what I will refer to as, “reverse-empty-nest” syndrome. Instead of being lonely because they have all left, I believe I might feeling lonely because they were never there to begin with. This has sort of surprised me. It has also required me to contemplate why that might be. I am pretty sure I do not have clear answers or reasons for all of this, but I am pondering it. I have inquired about being a host for a foreign exchange student as a sort of temporary remedy, but I decided recently to wait for a year before doing this. I have some important things still up in the air regarding tenure and other work on my plate.

I have been given the most amazing gift of being able to work with some extraordinary people and I want to focus on those opportunities. What I realize is there is not often we are offered the change to specifically impact others. We do some of it everyday, but too often we are not aware of it. Before you accuse me of being narcissistic, hear me out. Indeed, we have people crossing our paths  daily and in a variety of situations and circumstances, but most times we are completely incognizant of what their needs or how we might help them actually is. Certainly, teaching first year writing offers interesting opportunities that many do not have in their own classes. I guess that is the efficacious nature of FYC. On the other hand, teaching Bible as Literature has been another class for me here at Bloomsburg where I have had the opportunity to offer some of my best work. Perhaps it is because students are really attempting to figure out how it all fits together. Because my upper level courses, which are experiential in nature, there too it seems I have the opportunity to really meet students where they are. All in all, it has served to take care of any desire I might have had to be a real parent (I am not sure that being creative in my understanding of parent will fly with some readers, but I understand.). Of course part of the reason I have been comfortable is simple, in spite of what many have told me over the years, I was a bit afraid to be a parent. I was afraid I would be a miserable failure.

Lately I have found myself rethinking this issue: what I am beginning to realize is that just perhaps, I might have been a good parent. What I am realizing is that being able to help students, colleague’s sons or daughters, nephews and nieces, or offspring of others still offers this opportunity to provide something that they might not otherwise have. In the case of some students, this is only possible if I have a chance to meet with their parents. I am reminded of Emily, a former student who is now an amazing professional. She was also an honors student and I worked as her mentor. Because of that, we did research at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.. When I think back to some of my former professors, at every level, there was one, in particular, who was a mentor, an advocate, a person who took a genuine interest in me and my development. I owe those persons an amazing debt of gratitude and I guess this is my way of giving back for what they gave me.

Lately, it sees that mentoring aspect of my life and that desire to be a parent has somehow reappeared and it makes me realize that I am missing something I have not really technically ever had. The title of parent is an amazing responsibility and something I will never really have, but I guess I am now aware that I missed out . . .  so now I will be a mentor, perhaps the uncle as some have called me, an uncle for real as I am to some amazing nephews and nieces and great-nephews and great-nieces, and even a surrogate parent to some others who have taught me as much about caring and loving as I have ever known. It is such an interesting journey and the return to earlier thoughts and questions always seems to catch me off guard.

Thanks for reading.

Dr. Martin





Published by thewritingprofessor55

As I move toward the end of a teaching career in the academy, I find myself questioning the value and worth of so many things in our changing world. My blog is the place I am able to ponder, question, and share my thoughts about a variety of topics. It is the place I make sense of our sometimes senseless world. I believe in a caring and compassionate creator, but struggle to know how to be faithful to the same. I hope you find what is shared here something that might resonate with you and give you hope.

One thought on “If you have never had it, can you miss it?

  1. Dr. Martin,

    Although this post was made a few years ago, I think it is important to reflect on the emotions and ideas you discussed. You took your situation of a non-traditional family and transformed it into how your students serve to fill a void in your life; this point is crucial for understanding the emotions in your writing. By presenting your relationship of you to your students as uncle to niece/nephew, you are creating a deep level of connection with your students. From your experiences, you know the value of having someone step in when your biological parents may not be there to support you. You don’t want to be the professor that just gives final grades and sends students on their way. You want students to leave your instruction not asking “why did I learn this,” but rather, “how can I use this in my future.” You want them to understand that criticism of one’s work is what drives a closer relationship and influences improvement.

    “I was (and I still am) in control of my situation” is an amazing recognition of self-development. You convey the idea that accepting your situation for what it is leads to better self-understanding. Most people blame their mistakes on a factor outside of their control, however, it is much healthier to accept the fact that you are the only one who is in control of your situation. Own your mistakes, recognize you could’ve done something different, and move on.
    Near the end of your post, you restate how you’ve been thinking about how you could’ve been a good parent; this stems from the impact of your adoption. The entire post revolves around the reflection of you being grateful for where you are and whom you’ve become and your desire to pass that on to someone else.

    Dr. Martin, I think it is crucial that you recognize the importance of your position in students’ lives. While you might not be providing crucial resources like food and shelter, you have the opportunity to teach students in a way most parents struggle – through criticism. To make this point clearer, children often interpret parental criticism as something negative to fight against, whereas those same children will accept the same criticism from professors and teachers, just in a different environment.

    This post is an example of the importance of overcoming challenges in one’s life and the new mindset it can instill in you. In today’s society, everybody is wrong. No “ideal” or “perfect” mindset can solve problems and negative thoughts. The only deciding factor is how a person sees and overcomes adversity.

    I appreciate this post.

    Thank you,
    Matthew Yurkunas

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