I hail from a long line of disowners. My maternal grandfather's Irish Catholic family shunned my grandparents after their marriage, because my grandmother was a Southern Baptist heathen. My father's family, also Irish Catholic, demanded that my mother convert so that my parents could be married in a "proper" ceremony, with my father's brother, Father Kevin, officiating.
Fr. Kevin baptized my brother and me as well. Then, when I was around five, my mother rebelled and joined our local Episcopalian church, in the absence of anything resembling her own tradition in suburban New York, and they dropped us cold.
My brother and I were raised Episcopalian. We both had good voices and enjoyed singing in the choir and holiday pageants, but never really felt part of the small, tight-knit church community, many of whose members had ties spanning generations. We attended a school that was mostly Jewish.
My mother had one brother, who died when I was three. My father was one of nine, but we barely knew that side of the family. So my brother and I grew up without close relatives, and without much sense of an ethnic or religious heritage. Bill is a non-observant Jew, and I can't say we have given Ben much of a cultural tradition, either.
So it is odd to be spending this week in Dublin with two of my brother's sons. The boys have grown up geographically separated, but connected through the Internet and visits when we can. This the first time we have been in Ireland with them.
They look like each other, like my brother and me when we were young, and like so many people here. They share our fair skin; dark, cowlick-ridden hair, and bizarre sense of humor. It is unsettling to feel part of a clan that fits easily into the larger culture—and I am loving every second.