“It is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him.”
— Mark Twain
In the circle of life we start as children, become adults, and usually going on to become parents ourselves.
The family circle may be better characterized as a spiral. As parents we draw on a widening circle of friends and experts for advice and assistance. Unfortunately, one type of person Americans are likely not to call on is a neighbor. If you know some of your neighbors well enough to help each other out, you are probably a minority in our culture.
This is the focus of Peter Lovenheim’s In the Neighborhood: The Search for Community on an American Street, One Sleepover at a Time (Perigee, paper, $13.95). Living in Rochester, New York’s most exclusive suburb (Houston Barnard), he is deeply affected by a tragic murder-suicide only a few houses away from his own.
This started him wondering: If the murdered woman had known her neighbors — even one — would she have gone to them for help? Would she have fled to safety if she knew she had a nearby place to go?
Lovenheim (he’s an attorney and mediator by training) sets out to know his neighbors and to increase the safety and well-being of the neighborhood. He even asks some if he can sleep over at their houses, to get to know them and to observe them. A few consent and this is the author’s report and musings on the subject. It’s a fast read and a great starting point to get us thinking about our own neighborhoods and our roles as neighbors in them.
As spouses and parents, though, we are probably more likely to turn to a book than we are to turn to our own family or neighbors for advice. In Letting go With Love and Confidence: Raising Responsible, Resilient, Self-Sufficient Teens in the 21st Century (Avery, paper, $18), Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg of the UPenn School of Medicine joins journalist Susan FitzGerald to give parents practical, thoughtful and contemporary strategies for achieving those goals stated in the book’s title. In addition to the usual teen struggles, parents now seek the balance in moderating electronic media and social networking. Are kids being forced to grow up more quickly or being encouraged to be more dependent? Ginsburg offers suggestions based on his experience as a pediatrician and as a father of teens. Read it from beginning to end or pick and choose the sections that apply.
It’s great if we can turn to family in a crisis. What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired (RedandBlack, paper, $25) is written by a sister duo who have taken the nom de plumes Red and Black. It details Red’s attempt to comprehend and control family finances in the wake of her husband’s — and sole bread winner’s — job loss. She starts from zero and, with the help of her older sister, with her 30 years of corporate experience, builds a solid knowledge of personal finance.
We learn along with her step-by-step as Red relates hundreds of phone calls, emails and instant message exchanges between the sisters. It’s a personable and do-able approach. The book has already been used as a textbook and a teacher’s guide is also available. Houston’s Jewish community, of which the duo are a part, have embraced the book and the stories within.
Finally, we can only hope as parents that our kids grow up to respect us and, even better, let us know it.
My Parents Were Awesome, edited by writer, producer and comedian Eliot Glazer (Villard, paper, $15), is a collection of mostly sweet essays culled from the popular website of the same name. There, in 2009, Glazer began encouraging people to find vintage photos of their parents and reflect on those parents’ lives before children and the challenges of raising a family. The title gives the impression that only good memories are in store for the reader, but the book is not saccharine. Many of these writers turn an eye to their parents’ faults, but not with intent to blame. It’s done with the love and compassion that we hope to acquire once we reach that certain stage of adulthood. (Some of these parents, though, might have done well with a little of the expert advice referenced above.)
It so happens that many of these writers are Jewish, but many are not. Overall, the respect, love and yes, awe, conveyed here transcends race and ethnicity.