I've been counting my blessings a lot lately. I've had a wonderful life, not that I think it's anywhere near over. But especially with Thanksgiving coming up, I want to talk about some of the many blessings I've received throughout my life. It's an embarrassment of riches, really. I'll just talk about one thing I'm thankful for in each post.
The first one is the most obvious, because all the other blessings flow from this one. I was raised in a wonderful, loving, fun, hilarious, and dedicated Christian home. Both of my parents were also raised in Christian homes. I don't know many people who can say that.
My wife says I grew up in the perfect home. Like Ozzie and Harriet, or Leave It To Beaver. Not exactly, but it wasn't too far off.
I've always been a basically happy, upbeat, optimistic person. But I know a lot of basically unhappy, negative, pessimistic people, and at least anecdotally, I find that most of the happy, well adjusted people I know came from homes where they knew they were loved and validated. Most of the negative people I know had unhappy childhoods in some way. I believe there's a connection there. I believe that the home my parents provided for me and my sisters made my current positive disposition possible. If you think I have a positive attitude about my cancer, they're the reason.
We laughed a lot in our house. When as kids, we brought home friends for Sunday dinner, they were frequently shocked at our dinner table antics. Not because of anything rude or bad, just the fact that we joked and teased each other and laughed around the dinner table so much, when apparently their dinner tables were much more stoic.
In all the time I grew up and continuing to this day, I have never once doubted that my parents love me or each other. That's an immeasurable blessing.
Let me introduce each one individually. First, my dad, Nelson Bradford. He and my mom married young. He was 20 and my mom was 18, fresh out of high school. He served in the Air Force stateside during the Korean War, and I was born at Sampson Air Force Base in Geneva, NY, while he was stationed there. One of my earliest childhood memories is of sitting on his lap and hearing him tell me, "Mark, I want you to know that I love you, and I wouldn't trade you for any of the other boys on the block." He did not grow up in a home where affection was showed freely. But he decided as a young man of 25 or 26 that he was going to do things differently. His kids were going to know they were loved, no matter what. And we sure did.
Another favorite childhood memory of mine is him waking me up on my fifth birthday to tell me we were going to the Humane Society to get me a puppy. That dog (Frisky the Beagle) ended up being a total idiot and a headache, but what a great memory!
As I mentioned in a previous post, My Complicated History With Divine Healing, my dad has been ill for decades. Please pray for him.
Then there's my mom, Norma Bradford. She's not on Facebook, so she doesn't get a link. Get with it, Mom! :-) My mom is, quite simply, a saint. If there are saints today, she is one. She's a saint for simply putting up with the rest of us for all of these years! My mom is a rock. She was a full-time mom in an era when that was the norm. I'm grateful to have grown up when that was still possible for most families. Her constant care made me the man I am.
Then there's my middle sister, Karen Bradford Anderson. I'm the oldest of three kids. Karen is the one who, soon after my diagnosis, when I said I didn't want to be the guy everyone feels sorry for, basically told me to get over myself. Told me that what I was feeling was pride. It's nice to have siblings who can tell you the truth. Karen and I fought constantly when we were growing up, but grew to appreciate each other more as adults. My main problem with Karen when we were growing up was that she was always trying to "mother" me. But she was only practicing what turned out to be her greatest gift. Karen is the most gifted person with children I've ever known.
Here's another thing about Karen that really irks me. One really fun thing about my family is that everyone in it is funny. Except Mom, but somebody has to be the audience. I've actually been lucky enough to make a living from comedy for the last 28 years. But I'm not the funniest person in our family. Karen is. That's actually very common. Successful comedians are often not the funniest people in their families. They're just the ones who were driven enough to try to make a living from it. Karen's a stitch, and it really bugs me that I have to work so hard to come up with good jokes and she rattles them off without even trying. It's very irritating.
Last but not least, my youngest sister, Lynda Allen. Lynda's the most accomplished of all of us. She has an earned doctorate, and is a professor of business at the college I went to. When we were growing up, she was the peacemaker between Karen and me. Karen and I couldn't get along, but we both got along well with Lynda. What does that say about her? Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)
To this day both of my sisters, and their great husbands and kids, are all wonderful, kind, generous people who genuinely love others. Of course, all of this is because of the home that was provided by my mom and dad. Future generations will rise up and call them blessed, starting with me.
I hear my friends talk about their dysfunctional families, and I can't relate. There has only been one divorce in my extended family that I can think of, at least in the last 30 years or so. Including my parents' generation and mine, and my nieces' and nephews'. Amazing.
I could go on and on about how my parents were tolerant of my teenage rebelliousness, as far as it went, which wasn't very far. They let me listen to my Black Sabbath album and didn't take it way or break it, like so many of my friends' parents did. They supported me when I wanted to major in music in college, rather than something I could "fall back on." And now that I'm 60 and have cancer, my family is there for me like they've been throughout my life.
If you want to know why I'm a weirdo, blame them. If you think I'm a good guy, they get the credit.
The top picture is our most recent family picture, taken when we were visiting my family for my parents' 60th anniversary in March of 2014. Now you know where my good looks come from.
This one is of Karen, Frisky and me on the front porch of our house in Flint, Michigan in (I'm guessing) 1963 or '64. That would make me 8 or 9, Karen 6 or 7, and Frisky 4 or 5 in the picture. By the way, we're all very proud to be from Flint right now! Ugh.
This very stylish young family picture was taken in 1966, after we had moved to Plymouth, Michigan. Check out my dad's Mad Men tie. I'd actually call it a Rob Petrie tie, but that's because I'm old. He gave me a bunch of his vintage ties in the 80's when I was a new waver, and I still have them, including that one.
At this time in my life, Thanksgiving is more special to me than it's ever been. I have many, many things to be thankful for, and the thankfulness I feel starts right here, with my family. #waroncancer