From Poland, With Love

The weekend before last, my oldest son and I visited my parents in Michigan in order to work with Dziadzi in his shop on an electric guitar Bren is rebuilding and to connect with the Russell Kirk Center as he contemplates life after the University of Mary and—possibly—graduate school.

It was a good visit, as always, but it included three beautiful surprises: two different species of flower descended from my great Busia’s flowerbeds and a beautiful family story. Continue reading

Headed to the Motherland!

This time tomorrow, Gabe and I will be winding our way through security lines at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, preparing to embark on a pilgrimage to Poland to join Pope Francis and millions of other Catholics from around the world for World Youth Day. This will be Gabe’s first flight, first international trip, and first World Youth Day; for me, it’s my second overseas trip (Iceland being the first), one of my two or three longest flights (Iceland and Hawaii), and my second World Youth Day (2002 in Toronto with Pope John Paul II).

For me, it as also very much a journey to the Motherland. My mom is a Polish Catholic farm girl whose grandparents immigrated from Poland in the first half of the 20th century: the Galubenskis and Koczwaras. The Thorp clan is so diverse in its various bloodlines that Polish has always been the nationality I’ve identified most strongly with: it’s the only foreign language I’ve heard older relatives speak, the one ethnic cuisine I’ve had older relatives cook and serve, the language I studied in college, and the only poetry I’ve ever taken the time to translate myself. Poland’s history is deep, beautiful, tragic, and heroic. And even now, remarkably Catholic.

I am blessed to make this trip with a number of friends from here in Minnesota, and especially with Gabe, whose faith as a teen almost certainly surpasses my own. It is my hope that this trip deepens my own conversion and his, so we can be the men God has called us to be with courage, joy, and zeal.

I’m sure I’ll post much more on this trip when we return. Pray for us and for our family and friends while we’re away, and know of our prayers for you! St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Faustina Kowalska — all you great Polish saints and all you holy men and women — pray for us!

The Second Third, Week 32: Growing Up Dad

“Our similarities are different.”
– Dale Berra, son of Yogi

In my most recent Second Third post, I insisted I was becoming (rather effortlessly) more and more like my father. The interesting part, to me at least, is that the more I become like him, the starker our differences seem. Eventually we’ll be identical, and nothing alike at all!

It makes sense in a strange way. Part of Dad’s charm – and, I believe, a big part of why he looms so large in the lives of so many – is that he is thoroughly an individual. He looks how he looks, believes what he believes, and lives how he lives – and is completely unapologetic about it. You can take him or leave him, and he might prefer the latter.

I am not so thoroughly individualized. I still work in a collaborative and political environment in which one must be flexible and take alternative views (many, and often somewhat obscure, alternative views) into account. Dad is oak, not willow: straight, tall, deeply rooted, and hard; inspiring, hot-burning, and impervious to shifting winds.

We also have different aptitudes. Dad didn’t enjoy school, and wasn’t a voracious reader until later in life. He’s always been gifted with mechanical ability, spatial intelligence, and will power. In these ways I am his opposite—but (thankfully), I did inherit both his and my Mom’s persistence. Given time, I’ll make it work, make it happen, make it come out alright.

Nevertheless, I am growing into him. He is not a man of faith, but of deep conviction; my Catholic faith has led me to a similar place, in which the grays of young manhood are reconstituting into their constituent blacks and whites. His full beard and Amish-meets-mountain-man appearance have emerged in me as an unruly mop of hair and pincushion goatee, and jeans and western boots at work. His politics and inclination to be left alone are manifest in my politics and inclination to be left alone, and his willingness to be firm with his children and die for them in a heartbeat shape me more every day.

My sense of humor and involuntary tendency to play word games are his, too. One standard eye-roller for our kids: when someone says, “I’m too tired,” I ask, “Like a bicycle?” I also make up random lyrics to old songs, and spontaneously invert the first letters or sounds of word pairs…and then rhyme them to make new pairs. For example, Dad will call my mother “peety swie” and their dog, Maggie, “duppy pog” or a family favorite, “mirthless what.” (Don’t concentrate on the words; flip the first letters and sound it out…) An example from our house: I took to calling Emma Rose “Rosebud,” then “Boserud” – then ultimately “Nosecrud” if I want to get her goat. Should you find that cruel, consider that I was referred to as Dogbreath for much of my formative years. We played these games all the time when we were younger. Dad loved “runny babbit” well before I’d ever heard of the Shel Silverstein book.

I’ve been told I look more like him, sound more like him, move more like him. In my Second Third, I hope we will become just the same. Only different.

The Second Third, Week 27: New Growth on the Family Tree

Blogger’s Note: In my last Second Third post, I dug into the roots of my family tree. Today, let’s examine the newest blossom – and how we got to this point!

When Jodi and I first got together, she wanted six children, just like the family in which she grew up. I, on the other hand, knew I wanted children, but thought one or two would suffice. I had learned in my anthropology classes that large families were irresponsible — that our planet could not support humanity’s continued exponential growth, and that America’s resource-intensive consumer culture would drain the Earth even more quickly that other, faster-growing nations.

So I told Jodi, “We’ll see.” I knew that, over time, things would change. And they have. Earlier this week my bride and I announced the best thing to happen to our December since Christmas: the anticipated arrival of a fifth Thorplet.

The kids are ecstatic. Trevor longs to be a big brother; Emma has wanted to roll the dice on a little sister for years; Gabe adores all babies (and has verbally agreed with Emma that “we could use another girl around here,” which, given his history of rabid anti-sisterism, demands the question, “Use her for what?”); and Bren – our eldest, who wants his own room and has complained that our house is too small – has been grinning for days now. He knows just enough, I think, that this new addition is equal parts miracle, mystery, and science project to him.

* * * * *

My evolution into a father of five (six, when you count Jude, whom we lost last fall) began early on, with the way in which Jodi’s quiet faith drew me like a magnet. There is a peace about my bride that, I recognize now, is not of this world. Most of the time she is unworried, unflappable, confident that the world is unfolding as it should, despite appearances to the contrary. She led me slowly, steadily, to conversion – first, back to the Catholic Church, then to a previously inconceivable closeness with God, then to the gradual realization that marriage and sexuality are meant to be more than the “sum of our parts.”

On top of this spiritual conversion came four important, practical realizations. First, although we had planned to wait until we were more “financially secure” to start having children, we became pregnant with Brendan only about six months into our marriage – demonstrating that A) there is only one fail-safe way to not get pregnant and B) you’ll never be more or less ready than you are right now. Second, we realized that once you have your first, you might as well have more if you want ’em – you’ve got the baby gear, the mindset, and (when you’re young) the energy, plus the sooner you bring them into the house, the sooner you get them out! (For the past several years I’ve taken great pleasure in reminding my friends who waited to have kids that I’ll have all four of mine graduated before I’m 50. C’est la vie, I guess…) So we forged ahead – and Gabriel was born.

Now, I realized right out the gate that I loved being a dad. So when Gabe was born – at the point at which pre-child/Ivy-grad me would’ve said, “That’s it; no more – it’s the responsible thing to do.” – my heart was whispering girl-baby, girl-baby, girl-baby.

I struggled against this urge for awhile and came to a few other practical conclusions. First, although I have concerns about the wider world, our decision to bring another child into it – a child who would be well loved and well supported – would have little bearing on the allocation of resources in the world, but had the potential to sow peace and charity in a world in sore need of both. (For the record, we discussed adoption, as we have many times since, but felt our own limited resources could do more good raising our own children here in our own community.) Second, the more I thought about the social pressures in this country (and regulations in others) to limit families, the more I saw them as questionable means to a questionable end: a society in which freedoms were relinquished and families were engineered (and parenting outsourced) for the “good of the state.” Finally, I began to notice an inverse relationship between family size and per capita resource consumption in the families around us – put simply, most of the childless and only-child families I knew spent more, used more, wasted more, and still wanted more, than the bigger families I knew. Hand-me-downs, left-overs, gardens, and shared bedrooms conserve resources, too!

As if in affirmation of our choice, we were promptly blessed with Emma Rose. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Minnesota. We talked about a fourth child, but faced two challenges, one financial (the cost of daycare for four kids in or around the Twin Cities) and one psychological (the fact that most of our first friends and colleagues here thought it was ludicrous to have three kids, much less four). Fortunately, we had unwittingly settled in a veritable hotbed of Catholicism and big families—so when we had Trevor, we found that we also had support. Ultimately the families we met through St. Michael Catholic Church – and our tremendous priests brought us to an even greater understanding of what a blessing each and every child is: if you believe in God – if you believe that the world is unfolding as it should, despite appearances to the contrary – a new life here, there, or anywhere, is a gift meant to serve a Greater Good.

* * * * *

I remember once, early in our relationship, using the phrase risk of a baby. I was aghast as soon as I heard my own words…but it’s typical of the world today. In Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful,” but today, that original blessing is often regarded as a burden that we must sterilize in the act, or “fix” permanently. It reminds me of Christ on his way to the cross, speaking to the mourning women:

“Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’” – Luke 23:28

So here we sit, in our Second Third of life, with number five on the way. No more thoughts of “a whole new life together” when we’re 50, but that’s okay – the life we have is pretty spectacular. And the good news is that it gets easier. Think about it: your first child is revolutionary; it completely changes everything you’ve known before. Number two is big – 100% increase over number one; double the trouble, etc. Number three? That’s only a 50% increase over what you have already; the biggest problem (if they’re small) is you only have two hands, so one parent can’t restrain them all at once. After that, number four’s a piece of cake.

And now, with a six-year gap between the baby and our youngest, the first four can raise number five. Y’know, folks in the Twin Cities this might be called ostentatious, unsustainable, even irresponsible – but in St. Michael and Albertville, it’s a comfortable starter family!