If in the last few years you have invited me to teach a class or give a Dharma Talk, or asked me in one of my capacities to attend an administrative meeting to do my little part helping one of our temples or affiliates to stay afloat and thriving, chances are I’ve said I can only do it on a Monday or Wednesday. If it’s not something I can do late at night over email, chances are it’s on a Monday or a Wednesday.
These are not holy days. The remaining five days of the week are not some sort of Zen Sabbath. (Although how awesome would that be! Soto Zen Buddhist Association, can you get to work on declaring that?)
It’s that Mondays and Wednesday are when my kids grandparents come over. Whether or not you appreciate what I do (and somehow this blog has seemed bring along as many who don’t as who do), it is all accomplished in complete dependence on the grandparents.
Grandparents don’t only keep the whole capitalist machine running. In my case, they also keep the Dharma Wheel turning, lurk behind whatever tiny ways I myself help to turn it. They are the much-loved but unpaid and under-acknowledged domestic workers who enable incalculable swaths of the economy, religious workers included. Not to mention they raise and care for millions of children whose parents are incarcerated, deceased, or out of the picture for a thousand reasons.
But apparently, according to the State Department guidelines on the Supreme Court travel ban decision, they are not legitimately “close family”. Trump, Tillerson, and our friends at the State Department are asserting that a child’s relationship to their grandparents is not a bona fide connection.
Of all of the profoundly dehumanizing, cruel, and heartless things the anti-immigrant and “tough on crime” Trump administration has said and done, this one is getting profoundly under my skin.
Of course there are many American families with grandparents out of the picture for whatever reason. Economy, geography, mortality, alienation. Having grandparents present in a family is a privilege in this culture and economy. I respect that, and respect the pain in the all-too common separation of grandkids and grandparents. This is a separation no amount of Skype can overcome, and for some it’s easier to take than for others, but either way it’s a pervasive and unfortunate feature of our society.
But be that as it may, there is no excuse to then cut grandparents out of the category “close family”. Maybe a grandparent-free family is how Trump or Tillerson has it, a billionaire’s version of real family. But it’s not my reality, and it’s not my version of family.
So how about your local Zen priest? Where are his or her kids while they’re doing the clergy work that the Right feels is so vital in providing services to society? In the case of yours truly, if he’s actually attending something, which is to say if it’s Monday or Wednesday, then his kids are with their grandparents. So if you appreciate what I do, don’t thank me, thank my parents and parents-in-law. They are behind it. It is on their backs.
Many people in the last year have shared George Lakoff’s work on understanding the success of the American Right in terms of notions of family. From Bush to Trump, the hodge-podge of values associated with the Right is made coherent by a common reference to a tough and demanding patriarch. “Father knows best.” If you think spanking is important, chances are you voted for W and 45.
It seems this same reductive, backwards view of family is where these people are coming from when they so blithely write grandpa and grandma out of “close family”. This latest disparagement of the grandparents (not to mention the egregious and ongoing anti-LGBT rhetoric and policies), is more of the same tired celebration of the the middle-class, white 1950s nuclear family that made America Great last time. Mom at home with the kids, and Dad at the steel mill or busy at work excluding African-American renters. Mom (girl), Dad (boy), kids (cis-, straight) – that’s close family. Those are the only bona fide family relations. The rest is just extra.
Maybe this is a fundamentalist Christian idea. Maybe it’s part of the White Supremacist package. It’s reeks a bit of both, but I don’t know for sure.
What I do know is that it’s heartless garbage. It totally misses the reality of my family life, for one, not to mention the lives of many other families in which grandparents serve an even more vital function than they do in mine. And tragically, with respect to the travel ban, it just further works against the success of immigrant families in this country. The story we hear everyday is that if they’re here, they need to contribute! And contribute they do. But how can we ask that and in the same breath disallow them the social structures and social support that enables those contributions?
My kids grandparents are the great unacknowledged Dharma Protectors of the temples I serve. Fierce Dakini Grandmas and fierce Dharma Protecting Grandpas, I bow to you with palms together, in deep gratitude.
Donald Trump and his cronies do not define my bona fide family, and never will. And I am furious that they continue to try. May we join the Wrathful Grandparents across the world and rise up against them. Fierce compassion to meet heartless injustice!