Brothers, Sons, and a Missing Dad

In 1974, David greeted his newborn brother with joy and a dripping nose. I decided their first meeting was more important than the risk of a snot-filled infant. My husband Vic took photos as I put little Anthony in David’s arms. I wanted them to love each other even if the price was a baby with a nasty cold.


When Vic came home from work in 1975, four-year-old David waited by the front door.

“My feet hurt,” Vic told little David. “They’ve been hurting all day, and I don’t know what’s wrong.”

David looked worried.

“Oh, how my feet hurt,” Vic moaned. “Do you see anything wrong with my feet?”

“Oh, Daddy,” David exclaimed, his eyes bright with discovery. “You put your shoes on the wrong feet.”

“That’s silly. I wouldn’t do that,” Vic said looking down at his feet. Then he threw his hands up in mock alarm. “You’re right, David. That’s why they hurt. My shoes are backwards.”

Vic reached over to tickle David who let loose with the clear loud laugh of innocence.

“They’re the fruit of the love tree,” Vic said as he picked up one-year-old Anthony. The baby had no idea what was going on, but laughed at the joke anyway.


I told the shoe story in my book Leaning into Love. It came up this weekend when David visited from North Carolina. David and Anthony laughed, wept, and retold many family stories during David’s short visit.  Eleven years after Vic’s death, we’re not “over it.” Grief came to stay.


Vic liked exploring the countryside on long spring weekends. He took unfamiliar rutted dirt roads, long before GPS.

“Is this road safe?” I asked. David picked up on my anxiety.

“Daddy, are we lost?” David asked.

“I’m the biggest Billy Goat Gruff,” Vic said. “I won’t let that Troll get us. We’ll be fine and get over the bridge.”


“You lost the fun parent when your dad died,” I said last weekend. No one disagreed. I wouldn’t have dreamed up a trip to the winter forest to cut a load of firewood with a thermos of hot chocolate in the wagon for two little boys.

Vic often had treats in his briefcase. A Half Moon cookie or a Richard Scarry book or a metal matchbox car from a shop in town. Would Daddy’s briefcase hold a treat today? It was their guessing game.


~ 1995








When they were older, a late winter snow meant school was canceled again.  I wouldn’t have entertained two crazy-bored boys on a cold winter’s evening by enticing them to run outside naked and circle the house in the snow. Yes, Vic did. Yes, I protested. Yes, the little boys stripped down and took a loop, hooting and laughing all the way.

The roundtrip lasted less than a minute. (I’m trying to reassure you we weren’t irresponsible parents, but it’s a hard sell.) There were towels warmed near the wood stove. I didn’t approve, but they were having so much fun while I fretted. I hoped Child Protection wouldn’t visit. David and Anthony still laugh about that night.

At Vic’s cairn, 2019

As the kids grew up, Vic involved them with various building projects from cold frames to dog houses. Last weekend, I watched my two sons build a hoop house for spring planting at Anthony’s cabin. We couldn’t help longing for our missing fourth.

2008, 6 weeks before Vic’s death


Do you have siblings or children who are siblings? Do you celebrate life and grieve together? For other posts about our family, see Remembering Where We Belong. My brother and I had years when we rarely saw each other, but we showed up to support each other later in life. I wrote a piece about his last days called Coming to Carry Him Home. It isn’t always smooth sailing in my family, but I’m grateful when my adult sons show up for each other (and for me). I liked this article about How to Maintain Sibling Relationships.

  1. Dear Elaine, It’s simply wonderful to read more of your family stories! Of how two brothers ‘met’ and of how two sons ‘miss’ their much loved, and admired father. The running through the house naked story had me whooping with laughter. What joy and freedom! Thank goodness you had a camera to record it all (well most of it as my imagination ran wild enough without pictures for your last story!)

    “They’re the fruit of the love tree” Oh, my heart did smile when I read those beautiful words! As May approaches, I can’t but help think of you and Vic and the anniversary poem I dedicated to you both, “The Goddess and Her Green Man”. What a precious weekend you’ve all just had, all meeting and missing, loving and laughing, and a glimpse of Willow too, nose deep in the earthy, woodland floor.

    That’s such a great photo of both your sons at Vic’s cairn. Your family photos are treasure for sure and always bring the magic and mystery of your words to life. Sadly, there is much estrangement in my family, so although I don’t celebrate and grieve with my blood family, I do with my soul family! Later in life, who knows? Until then I continue to call on my ancestors for deep healing. Love and light, Deborah.

    • Deborah, your comment made me return to my post for a quick edit. I realized when you said “running through the house naked” that you understood they ran around inside the house. They actually looped the house naked on the outside–in the snow. I didn’t get that on camera.
      It’s almost May, although our spring is late here because it’s been cool. You’ll have another poem to offer in your seasonal cycle and I’ll give a workshop on Aging, Loss, and Mythology on the 51st anniversary of my marriage. Among other things, I plan to talk about the Green Man in his cyclic transformations. He’s slow to arrive this year, but he’ll be here in May.
      Willow is never far away–and there’s a little dog on David’s lap in the cairn photo, too, and two more dogs running around through the woods but not in the photo. David has three sweet dogs. I’m grateful for my family and our ability to show up for each other. It hasn’t always been easy, but Vic’s illness and death made us realize we don’t have unlimited time in this life. Sending you spring bird song, light, and inspiration.

      • Oops, I must’ve read that wrong Elaine. Ha-ha! Still, getting naked and looping the house outside is even funnier! I hope your preparation for the May workshop is going well and that your hearing adjustment is improving as the days and weeks pass. Oh, I didn’t spot the other little dog on David’s lap, how cute! Sending warm spring wishes back to you. x

        • It is funnier–and the reason I was concerned at the time. Nakedness wasn’t the issue, but in the snow? I’m glad you interpreted the post in an unintended way so I could edit to make sure that detail was clear. May workshop preparation is coming together well, Deborah. Thanks for asking. I have all the pieces, so I’m weaving. My hearing adjustment is tiring and I have to be careful to not push beyond my capacity. The process requires patience and daily diligence. According to doctors, I’m doing unusually well. I can now listen to something like a TED talk and pick up all the words using only the ear with the cochlear implant. I cover captions, but use them when I’m unsure. It’s amazing to have this sound transformation going on–the brain adapting as brains do.

  2. I wasn’t the fun one, either, Elaine. But we were a team. And yes, grief is here to stay because I don’t want to lose the memories.

    • Thanks for commiserating, Mark. When we tell stories about Vic, it’s not his books or his teaching or his worldly accomplishments we discuss, but the jokes and playfulness and laughter. I’m glad our grief is mixed with laughter now.

  3. what lovely memories Elaine! I am the mother of two sons and it was wonderful to have a father figure such as the boys had and do still have, so I sense your longing for Vic the fourth, who would be still be going forth bringing laughter and light and joy were he with you all. He was clearly a great father – you and we and those who’ve had strong father figures to our offspring are so fortunate –

    My brother and sister live in different parts of the country but we keep in touch. I see my sister more frequently than my brother. My two sons I see every now and then and it’s so special when we’re all together.

    Your photos are lovely, thank you for this post.

    • Vic was a great father, Susan. He had no agenda for his sons (or his students) and trusted the Self would guide them. He truly believed the best path and the only true path was to “follow our bliss.” I had a wonderful dad, too, but he died when I was 14, so I didn’t get to know him as an adult. I saw my brother the most when tragedy struck–first for Vic and then for my brother. I’m glad we had those times together. I miss our Sunday morning talks. My nuclear family tries to get together as a foursome (now a threesome) at least once a year. That’s easier now that one son lives three miles from me instead of in California. Thanks for reading and commenting, Susan. You’re busy with writing daily blogs and responding to comments. You’ll need a vacation when you’re done with Z.

  4. This one brought tears, Elaine. Of course, I knew Vic, whose presence now, in Consciousness, is one of those gifts that keeps on giving. Specifically, his potent stance in the Wisdom teachings that come through (especially Tibetan) Buddhism, shines jewel-like in my dream space. He gave so much, so selflessly, often, in his own community, without much honoring or appreciation. May we all rest in the love that he represents.

    • Thank you, Fred. Yes, the gift that gives and gives. It was a tender weekend of old stories and old wounds. (We run the risk of mythologizing Vic who was an ordinary guy who struggled with self-confidence.) You weren’t around the community in later years. It was heartening for Vic to experience the honor, appreciation, and kindness offered. He always had a loving nature, but that bloomed freely in his last two years. More stories come to mind for another time. Sending love to you and yours in floral AZ.

  5. I LOVE these stories. As you may guess, Cliff was the fun parent and still is with the grands. The most fun thing he ever did with our kids besides tickles and piggy-back rides was teaching them to swim in a crystal spring across the street from their childhood home – and rowing in a makeshift raft. When they were adults, he took them out West to retrace places he lived and places he visited when he was a child. He never invited them “to run outside naked and circle the house in the snow.” ~ What a scream!

    About siblings: My daughter absolutely adores her brother. Not long ago she said, “All you have to do is keep on being my brother.” I forget the context but remember the words.

    Grief lurks in odd places and never goes away. (Would we want that to happen anyway?) Two thoughts about grieving from Mary Pipher’s Rowing North: “Grief is a circular staircase.” and “Grief is a reflection of our capacity to love.” I think both are true.

    • Vic was a little desperate to entertain them and they were arguing that night out of boredom. It worked! He liked taking them on trips, often to Canada and once to Mexico. The few European trips were just the two of us. I love what your daughter said. That’s the job!

      I’m back to the line: “Grief is the way love feels now.” I like the Mary Pipher quotes. I hope all is going well with your projects.

  6. Lovely story. I can feel your love and sorrow in your words.

  7. A memoir progress report comes out nexr week. Right now I’m preparing files for typesetter. Scary but good.

  8. So lovely … touching… poignant. Thanks Elaine.

  9. Thanks for another beautiful post, Elaine.

    I’m thankful to have siblings to discuss my parents with, even though we may disagree on “what REALLY happened” on some long ago day.

    • Lynne, when my brother and I spoke about our parents, it was obvious we didn’t have the same ones. Except we did and had shared memories of my dad’s business, my mother’s lousy cooking, our cousins, and so much more. But temperament? We completely disagreed on who was the more loving and supportive and wise parent.

  10. Such wonderful memories to keep buried in your hearts Elaine. Nobody can take those away from us. Memories are a summation of what we have left after the party. And you are also blessed to have 2 sons from your beloved Vic, so you all can continue to celebrate him. 😉

    • I’m grateful for many years of sweet memories and for my two sons who are part of most of those memories. They’re both very much like Vic and very different in their own unique ways. All as it should be.

  11. As others wrote to you, Elaine, thank you for another beautiful post. You are so generous in sharing your family stories without sugarcoating them–and they provide true nourishment for the soul that way.
    Our family also has a story of kids running naked through the snow (to and from our wood-fired hot tub), and it never occurred to me that it was irresponsible until I shared it with a group (for some reason) when I was in graduate school. Haven’t told anyone else about it until now.

    • Anne, my sons are generous about letting me write about them. I ask first and they always say yes. On the other hand, I’m cautious about what I share about their adult lives, so they trust that. Vic had wonderful talks about brotherly love with our sons after he was diagnosed with cancer. He didn’t have siblings and wanted my sons to be there for each other in ways they hadn’t been when they were younger. They heard him. (I’m sharing a new post about my son who lives locally tomorrow–with his permission.)

      Your hot tub story makes me laugh. That seems a perfect reason to run naked in the snow whereas Vic had no reason except trying to burn off some of the wild energy of two kids who were bored out of their minds. It worked and we’re still laughing. Running through snow to a hot tub is a luxury in my book. Oh, that warm water!

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