Showing Up

Richard Connor

MY WIFE AND I recently re-watched a video made by one of our nephews. In the video, he interviewed his grandparents—my wife’s parents—about their lives. He wanted to understand what they’d done or taught that built such strong family bonds that lasted over such a long time.

My wife is one of five children: three boys and two girls. Each of her four siblings is married with at least two children—11 kids in total. Eight of those 11 are married and have, so far, produced 12 grandchildren. Not an enormous family, but a family event usually consists of at least 40 attendees.

Far from perfect, the family represents the broad spectrum of humanity. But there are some obvious similarities. First, I’d say everyone possesses a strong work ethic. All work or—in the case of those who have retired—once worked. This they surely got from their parents.

My father-in-law drove a truck for almost 50 years, regularly logging 60-plus hours a week. My mother-in-law was a nurse. When the youngest child was old enough to be on his own, and with college costs looming, she went back to work. She handled the midnight shift as a nursing supervisor at a major Philadelphia hospital. She had an amazing ability to work from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., come home, sleep four hours, and then get up and run the household.

All of their five children share a reasonable approach to money. No one lives a flashy, wasteful life. Their parents somehow owned a home, raised, fed and educated five children, and saved for retirement. They lived well within their means, didn’t spend wastefully, and saved regularly. This allowed them a comfortable retirement.

The strongest and most important trait they share is devotion to family. They had lots of aunts, uncles and cousins that they saw regularly growing up. It was just part of life—dinners at grandparents, family parties, weddings, you name it.

The family’s annual Thanksgiving reunion is a great example. My wife describes it aptly. It’s not a command performance—no one is required to be there. But year after year, four generations make whatever effort is necessary to be there.

In the video, my nephew asked his grandparents what it was that made it such a strong family. My father-in-law said the key was “showing up.” If someone had a wedding, a baptism, birthday party, whatever—you showed up. It wasn’t always easy, as their mom said, but you made the effort. If somebody needs you to do something or to be somewhere, you do it.

After my father-in-law passed away, we learned even more about what it meant to show up. Some cousins told my wife that her father, after dropping off his family at a family event, would quietly go pick up his nieces and nephews who didn’t have any way to get there. He also made sure there were Christmas presents under their tree.

I believe that financial strength and family strength are strongly correlated. I was lucky enough to marry into a family that lived that ethic. So much depended on those two words—showing up. They showed up at work, at home, for their neighbors and for their community. I’m happy to say their progeny still do.

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