Learning to See

family.pictureAt first my family was everything. Then they were my everyday. Then they were my identity. Then they were that from which I needed to break free.

I was compelled to leave and couldn’t. I was fifteen or sixteen and temperament and hormones conspired to convince me I wasn’t happy, that it was an awful place and that I MUST get out of there to become whom I was meant to be. Its a very harsh, but from what I can tell a fairly common sentiment at that age when you think you know everything. On this energy I catapulted out of the cradle of my life and found a big, amazing world and I’m so happy that I did. Had I not I would never have been able to see how wonderful a world I had been born to.

I grew up amidst the apple orchards, corn fields and rust belt industrial hubs of western New York. Brockport, New York, to be specific. It’s an area that is occasionally mistaken for belonging to the northeast, but as a matter of reality its the Midwest. Much more in common with Cleveland than with New York or Boston.

I love the place, I miss the place and I imagine I always will. It was a beautiful place to grow up, and a cold one. Not many people would think of North Jersey as more hospitable in winter, but EVERYONE from where I’m from would. In fact it gives me a palpable sense of superiority every winter when locals complain about anything more than a dusting of snow and how hard it is to drive. Please. I was born in November and took my drivers test in January in Brockport, NY amidst copious amounts of lake effect snow.

From time to time I would have the occasion to bring people back home to Brockport. Often it was folks that worked at the lodge with me while I was in college. They were usually in their early twenties like me, and often from other countries. From my perspective it was a chance to have worlds collide, friends from home hanging out with my new found friends from far and wide.

We would go to bars, drink in apartments and socialize like young people the world over do. During the days we’d look for things to do. Being me and being in my early 20’s and breaking free of my home at that time I had a generally negative view of my region of the world and a specifically negative outlook on the town I was from. Shamefully now, I was embarrassed most of my home and my family. Bringing strangers from strange lands to visit changed that for me. It gave me a fresh perspective on what was in fact the great good fortune of my charmed life.

The broad, vast, open sky and miles and miles of beautifully worked farmland was visual white noise for me by the time I left. I would warn folks of the sea-level, flat monotony of the region. It was something entirely different to them. Taking them to see Hamlin Beach on Lake Ontario, the only thing I’d ever considered a lake, and to have them point out the obvious to me, who was so used to this sight as to think it nothing, that it was in fact hardly distinguishable from an ocean and breathtaking not only in its scope but also in it’s unexpected beauty was paradigm changing.

To bring them to Niagara falls and see there mouths agape, speechless at its awesome grandeur made me reassess this thing I’d so long taken for granted. I’m from a place, not nowhere. That place is unique and vast and beautiful. It’s a thing I was certain it was not, it was gorgeous. It took looking through others gobsmacked eyes to realize what it was I’d been looking at all those years.

While my head was down lamenting the tediousness of flat topography the eyes of my friends, eyes from the world over looked up and marveled at a sky they never imagined could be so enormous and vast and filled with so many stars.

In high school all that I was embarrassed me. I was popular and a jock and not a kid that was picked on or mocked. I’ve come to find that many of the young men I grew up with who were similarly fortunate have never stopped longing for that time. I was not reveling in it and felt little more than relief that my older years turned out far better than my younger years suggested they might be.

I was uncomfortable in my role. I was certain that I needed to get away from all I was to be what I wanted to be. And this was indeed true.

Becoming an adult is an act of contrivance and one that only made sense after the job at hand was completed. An inkling snuck in at the edges of my youthful anger and self-righteousness that I was in fact from a truly special family. But I needed the fuel of thinking I had something to run from, something that would always forgive me and accept me after my return, in order to motivate me out of the local bars and past a comfortable but unchallenged existence. For me that was getting away from the ‘crazies’ that were incontrovertibly ‘my tribe’, and trying to find another tribe to call my own. And I did.

The Lodge. It was an experience that propelled me directly to where I sit in life now. It allowed space for me to be curious and envious and striving and lazy and ponderous and annoying and loved. Thank god I went.

A funny thing started to happen. As I met and learned of the private lives of eccentrics and strivers and stoners and journeyers I learned that I am just like everyone else. All the things I felt shamefulness embarrassment about were in fact precisely what made me able to relate to these free thinkers, adventurers and truly revolutionary spirits who both attended the lodge and provided stewardship to the place. I started to feel like there might be a day when I’d feel fully comfortable in my skin and harmonious with my people.

I started bringing the world to my family and was afforded the opportunity to see them through others eyes. I came to realize that I had perceived them so ungenerously.

My family is what was and remains the most amazing gift my life has provided for me. They are generous and kind and thoughtful. They are fierce and funny and incredibly smart. They keep you sharp and keep you warm and keep you laughing and with the right mix at the right time, they keep the party going, although a laid back party with smart jokes and warm smiles.

Now that I’ve seen a few things, not a ton, but some, I know their was no better place on the planet to have grown up. I’ve met some people and had some victories and some struggles and in the end I am certain my big, crazy, funny, talented and thoughtful family is the only reason I am any of the good things I may be.

There is no doubt in my mind that I was exactly where I was meant to be, exactly when I was meant to be there and I will look back for whatever time I have left with nothing but generosity and appreciation for the wonderful family I was born into.


Author: joejmedler

Joe Medler lives in New Jersey with his wife, who is universally understood to be far too good for him, and his two young sons, who are far too smart for him. His work has been featured on MamaLode, The Original Bunker Punks and Sammiches and Psych Meds. You can find more of his work at https://developingdad.com/ and follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/developingdad

9 thoughts on “Learning to See”

  1. Loved this, as usual! It is always nice to read posts one can relate to. I had very neglectful parents and dysfunctional family. It took having kids of my own to realize just how much my parents DIDN’T do for me! As we would trod from football field to baseball field, go on downtown outings to parades honoring our vets to make the day “real” to them to just spending quality time together I realize, hey, my family never did this! Now, I come from forgiveness, they did they best they could and I did better for my kids. As a teen, I too, has to break the what seemed to be chanins and confines of home and find my own way. Isn’t that what we raise our kids to do? We teach them all the things, we hope, they will need to launch off on their own and then have to watch them struggle to find their way. It sounds like you have an amazing family!! I’m glad you found your way back home. Corny, I know, but it reminds me of a song I love by Daughtry – Home

    Oh, well I’m going home, back to the place where I belong
    And where your love has always been enough for me
    I’m not running from, no, I think you got me all wrong
    I don’t regret this life I chose for me
    But these places and these faces are getting old
    I said these places and these faces are getting old
    So I’m going home, I’m going home

    Awesome post and LOVE that you included pics!! Looking forward to the next one! 🙂


  2. Absolutely wonderful! It captivated me & sent me off thinking deeply about my own connections to my hometown & the same needs (tho for other reasons) i felt as a teen to run away from it all… how i exaggerated the issues of my parents to justify those feelings. And it took creating my own family to realize i had my own perspective flipped inside out & put on backwards! Thank you for such a great read, i thoroughly enjoyed it!


  3. Ha, I wish I could go back home to see it in a different light, but for me, every time I visit, the place gets worse. I loved my neighborhood when I was growing–I was proud of being a part of it. And now it’s become, well, lame, and my parents like it enough to stay there, but they always seem like they don’t belong there either. Actually, maybe they like feeling this way.


    1. It’s an interesting thing to enjoy being on the inside and feeling outsidery. I must admit that if I scratch far enough this probably describes me as well. And you should note to that the journey I take home is one of the mind, surrounded in gauzy nostalgia and more harkening to an appreciation of the youth I so disparaged in its time. My actual trips home, which may come VERY infrequently as my parents have moved this year, are not visiting the place I describe in the piece, just a memory of it. One only seen by me and in no other way real.
      Thank you, Oren, for taking the time to read and to comment. Your work is spectacular, moving and to have you even take note of something of mine is a thing I’ll put up on the mantle and share with anyone I can. You are a delivery service for positive energy and I can’t thank you enough.


  4. It’s nice that you’ve come to appreciate your family/roots. I think you are right in that many of use look down upon it when we are growing up particularly during the high school years when we know everything.
    P.S. I’m also in North Jersey – Fair Lawn. You?


    1. Thank you for reading and commenting. Truth is I’ve been lucky and never really had the right to be as angsty as I was, other than the right all of us have to have a temperament. Mine just leant itself to angst! I’m in New Providence, near Summit, and both my wife and I, lifelong New Yorkers are fully transformed Jerseyites… We love it!


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