Sunday, June 5, 2011

What About Bob?

Maybe you've seen the movie from the 80's. It's one of my families favorites with Fred at the top of the fan list. But that isn't the Bob I am speaking about. I am writing here about my oldest cousin Bob who I knew very little of as a child but through the wonders of modern technology have become linked to in a wonderful friendship.

Sometime last year I think I noticed my niece was 'friends' with Bob Mackreth and I clicked on his profile. It took me all of about 5 seconds worth of reading to realize we couldn’t possibly be any different from one another on almost every level. Religion, Politics, Lifestyles, you name it. Half scared out of my wits I clicked the facebook home button and was transported back to the safety of my cyber comfort zone.

But that night I couldn’t get the idea that this was my family out of my mind. You see my Dad and Bob’s Mom are fraternal twins. Bob is my Aunt Helens firstborn son and the oldest Rogan male grandchild. I on the other hand am my Dads last female offspring and the youngest Rogan granddaughter in the clan. We are on opposite ends of the Rogan spectrum and didn't spend much time together in years past.

I missed my Dad terribly when he died and so Aunt Helen; who already had a special place in my heart for her quick humor and strong opinions, was even more cherished as a link between heaven and earth.I was also  told I looked a great deal like my Aunt Helen and so always thought I must be more Rogan than Farley( my Mom's side).  I didn’t spend a lot of time with extended family growing up and  felt a little short-changed that I had cousins, but didn’t really know them in a meaningful way.

I also had one memory of this older cousin at a big family reunion of sorts when I was about 6 or 7. I can remember him chatting with my Dad and standing with my Aunt Mary at the back door. I wound up getting left behind when the other older children went out to play a game. Being in unfamiliar territory I began to cry to my Father and then heard this cousin say “I’ll bring her Uncle Jimmy!" and next thing I knew I was scooped up and carried gingerly and happily out to meet up with the other kids.I had been rescued by this wonderful older cousin and he seemed to care about me even though I didn't really understand who he was.He was simply a mysterious family member. Later that day I heard this same cousin singing which was a total marvel to me since none of my siblings were musically inclined. The image stuck with me that night as I drifted off to sleep.

Soon thereafter I sent a friend request to Bob. He accepted. I checked out his profile, and his posts, and his blog ( apparently blogging is a genetic trait- who knew!). I had no idea how I could ever possibly be friends with someone so entirely and radically different than myself but I was really curious and wanted to try. I decided it wasn’t enough to view him from the outside any longer. If we were ever to make any progress I decided I'd have to take some risks. I had a million questions I wanted answered and decided if he was ever going to explain to me why he became a Democrat I’d actually have to summon the courage to ask. So I did. And while I consider all that we write private, I don’t think he’d mind me sharing that his answer to his political party went something along the lines of:

 “Good Lord Ellen I didn’t join a cult, the Democratic party has existed for a few hundred years!” which of course made me laugh very hard and realize my foolishness and  I was never afraid to ask anything further of him since then.

In fact I have found one of the most wonderful things ever in this new friendship is that precisely because Bob is so different from me I have had the opportunity to enter into conversations that keeps me honest and thinking. I am challenged to reflect on my views in a way I don't usually have to. And dog-gone-it, he just makes me laugh.

There is  no question that- generally speaking- all of us surround ourselves with those who are 'like minded' because it keeps us comfortable and safe mostly.(there are other good reasons too) My thoughts are never safe with Bob, he could challenge them or have an utterly different opinion ( and generally does) on everything.Initially I found this threatening. But far from dissuading my views, he has helped me to thoroughly work them out. He has also exposed some of the silliness I might not see in myself if I wasn’t hearing the other perspective (especially politically) and also firmed up many of my views so they actually have more substance.

I woke up one morning realizing I love my Democrat cousin! Not despite his party affiliation but because of it. He forced me to be a better conservative and to be a more compassionate listener. It began to dawn on me this might actually be a good thing in many ways. If only Washington could be filled by as many relationships as the one we have found that is based on mutual respect and honest exchanges I am certain we could work out some of our problems.  His name is now tossed about my house  with normalcy and every day ease. When we speak to the teenagers at the dinner table about news and world events  they’ll turn and ask “Dad what do you think about that?” And then invariably after giving our views my sons will turn and say “And what about Bob?” and I know they’re really asking what the opposite political view might be. In every way this is a desirable position to be in. And so it goes. Recently Andrew and Bob became friends as well. 

And after all the politics and news events and religious thoughts and commentary gets passionately talked out between us  in our writing; we also mention thoughts on parents and siblings and Aunts and Uncles and  shared spaces from yesterday we both call home. Because after all -we are family. And after many years I am no longer short-changed but abundantly blessed and still feel as if somewhere inside- I am being lifted up and carried off by this wonderful cousin to meet up with the other children for play.  


  1. Wait a minute. Politics and religion and socio-cultural disparities are one thing.

    But you heard me singing and still wanted to be friends?

    Now I really am shocked.

    And humbly grateful.

  2. Ellie, what a nice post about your cousin and what family means to you as well! It's always good to learn and become more steady in your thoughts when you are challenged by others. Love you!