August 2nd, 2011 § 27 comments

I thought they would always be together. I thought it would be until the end. When I look back over the things I’ve written about my parents, a constant theme is always how I can’t imagine them without each other.

And yet, this week, my mother moved into her own condo and began her life apart from my father.

Their dynamic just was not working anymore; six months shy of their 50th anniversary, they’ve decided to separate.

I’ve known for a few months, and the children know now too. In fact, as I write this, my parents are (together) spending a week with Paige and Colin as they do each summer. Nothing, even the decision to move forward apart, comes in the way of that this year.

I’m still a child. Their child.

I’m learning that no matter how old you are it affects you; age is not a protective shield against the hurt that can accompany such changes. Now 42, I have two generations to consider: my parents and my children. At the moment my parents’ health is good; I’ve written before about my mother’s stage III cancer diagnosis six years ago (she is in remission). But I confess, even on their healthiest days I play the “what if” game. I feel I need to always be thinking about the future, making sure I have an escape route. Like a stewardess pointing with a flourish to an exit in the forward cabin, I need to show myself that there is always a way out, a plan should something go wrong.

Even in the face of truly excellent health we’ve learned that life can change in an instant; after all, Clarke’s mother was perfectly healthy when she was killed in a car crash almost two years ago. I did not have a “what if” mentally written for that circumstance– how could I? But I have seen the way a tragedy can change a life in a split second. I think my confidence in what the day will bring has been shaken; I no longer believe that the day shall end as it began, life bookmarked in its progress.

I love my parents dearly; I am as close to them as a child could be, I think. We laugh, we talk, we share. I wouldn’t have it any other way. But the fact we are so close means this new chapter of their lives affects me deeply. How can it not? The very foundation of home life I have know my entire life is gone. I’ve been married for fourteen years; I am not a naive child who thinks wanting to make it work is enough.

And so, I program my phone with my mother’s new contact information; she gets her own entry now. I order change-of-address cards for her, and return address labels. Information now needs to go to two places. Anecdotes about the children need to be recounted twice rather than hearing my voice echo on speakerphone in the kitchen.

I support their decision– how could I not? I want them to be happy, and to achieve this goal they must live apart. But my knowledge that it’s what is best doesn’t make the bitter pill any easier to swallow.

I know a lot about grief and loss. I know that it takes time. This loss is something I’m dealing with, and will continue to, day by day.

Grasshopper Grows Up (for my father)

June 17th, 2011 § 8 comments

I wrote this in 2009 for my father in honor of his 70th birthday.


I am turning forty, and I still call my father Daddy sometimes.

And when I do, my voice still catches in my throat.

I’m still his little girl.

I always will be.


When I found out I was pregnant with Paige, I remember Clarke saying,

“One of the great things about having a daughter is that she will always stay my little girl.”

He knew this from watching me with my father.


My father is strong, unflappable, and focused–

Things you’d like from a heart surgeon.

Daily in the operating room I know my father displayed strength under pressure. He had to.

But the greatest demonstration of this characteristic came not in his professional life, but in his personal life when his two girls—my mother and I — needed him.


In 2004 my mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Three years later so was I.


I am often asked if my dad took control of my medical care– if he took charge and told me what to do.

Those people obviously don’t know me very well.

After all, I am my father’s daughter.

Nobody tells me what to do.

Not even my father.


That’s how I knew I had earned his respect.

He didn’t take charge.

He met each of my surgeons one time.

He knew immediately I’d chosen well.

While he wanted to know every detail,

It was because he loved me, not because he questioned me.

He trusted me.


Finally I knew I had graduated.

Grasshopper had grown up.


He has always been my teacher.

I have always been his student.

Life with him has been a master class.

He was a tough teacher.

He brought out the best in this student.


That’s what a good teacher does.

He doesn’t ask.

You just know.

You want to do your best.

You want to impress him.

You want him to take notice.

You want to earn his respect.


It’s taken forty years,

But I finally feel I’ve earned it.

It wasn’t in school.

Or with my grades.

Or with a job.

Or by getting into a certain college.

It was, instead, in the school of life.


The way I live each day.

The way I move through the world.

The way I raise my children.

The people they are becoming.

The home I have made,

The challenges I have encountered.

And the tools I have used to meet them.


I learned these life lessons from both my parents.

A girl could have no better teachers.


A thank you to my parents.

You are my supporters,

My teachers,

My friends.


Mom and Dad:

Eternal gratitude.

I love you.

49 years and counting

December 25th, 2010 § 7 comments

My parents, on their honeymoon, in 1961:

On October 24, 2008 the Bonchek College House at Franklin and Marshall College was dedicated. The building is a dormitory and part of the new residential system at my alma mater. On that night I stood and spoke about my parents; I wanted to show the personal side of these two wonderful people.

It was easy to write about my parents. They are both unique and talented individuals, and it is with great pride that I introduce them here to you. On Christmas Day, forty-nine years ago my parents were married. Staying married for forty-nine years is an amazing accomplishment; however, it is only one of the many ways my parents have been role models for me.

I struggled with how to honor my parents and their anniversary. Of course, the best way I know how is in writing. I re-read the speech I gave at the dedication and decided to share it here in honor of their special day. Mom, Dad… I never forget how lucky I am. I never forget what you have given me both in sacrifice and by example. It really is an honor to be your daughter.

Here is the text of the speech I gave, as it was written:

On Halloween night 17 years ago, my life changed. On that night, my best friend Alex Welch and I attended a costume party at Chi Phi Fraternity, right down the street. On that evening, she introduced me to a Senior on the swim team, Clarke Adams. Coincidentally, he had lived in South Ben1 during his time here, and we hit it off instantly.

Six years later, we were married here on campus in Nevin Chapel. It really does feel like things have come full circle to be here with my parents and my family to see our family name here on this building.

F&M obviously holds a special place in my heart for the people I met here. Franklin & Marshall also nurtured my mind as well. My education here, particularly the dedicated instructors in the Sociology department… Carol Auster, Joel Eigen, Katherine McClelland, and Howard Kaye, along with many others, really pushed me not just to learn, but to think. And if you know how to think, you can learn anything.

One person here really touched my mind and heart and though he’s miles away I would like to mention him. Professor Joel Eigen, my friend for 20 years, is away on sabbatical in Australia. As a high school senior here in Lancaster, I took one’s of Joel’s sociology classes. I then went on to Cornell University where I realized that the experience I had in Joel’s classroom really was true education, and I didn’t want to waste my remaining college years without that.

I transferred here for my last 2 years and worked with Joel as research assistant. He was a professor, a mentor, and a friend– all of which are still true today. I was in touch by email with him early this morning and told him how much he exemplifies the nurturing of the mind and person that happens here.

This coexistence of the head and heart applies not only this fine institution, but also to that of my own personal faculty– my parents.

My father, as those of you who know him can imagine, focused first and foremost on training my mind. At every opportunity, my father has been– and is– a teacher, an instructor, an educator.

When I asked my daughter Paige what she thinks of first when she thinks of Grandpa she said, “How long his answers are when you ask him a question.” That is certainly my father.

What her comment shows is that my father prizes knowledge– rational knowledge in particular. He takes the role of parent as a teaching one. He did this when I was 3, and he still does it now that I’m 39.

Now as a grandfather to 5 grandsons and 1 granddaughter, he still uses every opportunity to inform others. He is brilliant on a wide range of topics. He is, quite simply, the smartest person I know. He is also a clear and thoughtful writer and editor.

But what you may not see evidence of as easily is my father’s tenderness, his kindness, his softness. The experiences of the past two years have brought me evidence time and again how supportive, how giving, how dedicated my parents are, and given me countless opportunities to see the gentle side of my father.

I spoke at the outset about how my life changed when I met Clarke here all those years ago. Almost two years ago my life changed again when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I found out I needed chemotherapy as part of my treatment, my parents came to Connecticut for each round. They took care of not only the day-to-day parts of child care, but also the love and nurturing of my children that I could not do in the way I was used to.

On the morning of my second round of chemo, my hair began to come out in clumps. I had been waiting for it to happen, and I was ready. With the same electric clippers I used to cut my two sons’ heads, I went into the garage and started shaving it off. But I could not reach the back properly. I came in the kitchen and asked him to help. With quiet and serious strength, my father finished the job for me.

In my darkest moments, my most painful and distressful ones, it was often my father’s comfort which was the most touching. And when I think of the last 2 years, I am lifted in large part by the love and tender care my father has given to me.

He came to every doctor’s appointment. He changed my bandages after my surgery. And in a true display of love and confidence, he trusted me to make all of the medical decisions myself, and never told me what to do.

Dad demands the best from those around him. He inspires others to want to do their best in his presence. But for those like me who know him well, we know that his serious exterior hides a sensitive and loving father and grandfather. I feel fortunate to have him “on my team” and for the loving relationship we have today now that I am grown. No matter how old I get, though, I will always be his little girl.

My mother’s public and private selves, on the other hand, have always been more congruous than my father’s. My mother is a softie through and through. It’s easy to see why he chose her to be his life partner. In addition to her selfless nature, she is  smart, insightful, funny, supportive, and most of all, patient. My mother and I have a wonderful bond, a great connection. To this day when we say goodbye to each other at the end of a visit, we can’t look each other in the eye because we will both start to cry. Even now you will notice I am carefully avoiding her gaze.

We try to be strong for each other, but we don’t always do a good job. Our biggest problem is that we try to protect one another from harm, from trouble, from stress. My mother has often been overshadowed by my father’s strong presence. But those who have had the gift of her professional advice as a psychologist over the years know that she is a talented therapist and a caring listener. Quite simply, to know my mother is to love her.

My parents have taught me great lessons. About moral standards, about confidence, about sharing the rewards of hard work. These are lessons my husband Clarke and I share with our three children. I never could have dreamed that on that night 17 years ago I would be here today, with my family celebrating this building and the people who made it possible.

Speaking about one’s parents is not hard– my brother Mark and I have been talking about my parents behind their backs for our whole lives.

On the other hand, speaking about one’s parents in their presence is a different story altogether. Rarely are we given the opportunity to compliment them in a public forum while they are still alive. I am thankful to have that opportunity today.

A good education provides a strong foundation for a person’s head and heart. A liberal arts education here at F&M nurtured my whole being, and allowed me to emerge with a stronger sense of self, of who I was in the bigger picture.

Similarly, my parents nurtured both my mind and my soul to instill the importance of education, of giving back to one’s community, and an appreciation for the role that social interaction can have on transforming the individual. The Bonchek College House is a perfect legacy for our family.

In closing, I would like to let you know that the Bonchek College House really is a dream come true for my family. After all of these years, we finally have a group of people consistently spelling our last name correctly…

I love you both.


So, congratulations, Mom and Dad, you made it to 49 years. Here’s to many more.


  1. the name of Bonchek College House prior to its renovation []

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