15 May 2017

The Ties That Bind

  Family Fortnight +   Today, the 15th of May, marks the International Day of Families. For the past two weeks, our mystery writers have written of kith and kin, of loved ones and dear ones, and we have more articles to go plus some follow-ups. We’re happy to invite David and daughter to celebrate this world holiday. Settle back and enjoy!

by David Dean and Bridgid Dean

Today is International Family Day, an occasion that I was unaware of until Leigh Lundin made me so. He also asked if I would consider writing an article on the subject. Being an internationally recognized expert on the subject of families, this was agreeable to me.

Most of us have families, whether through blood, adoption, or, in some cases, through convenient, and hopefully beneficial, social arrangements. I wouldn't be going out on a limb if I also added that most of us have, or have had, conflicting feelings about these same families. It's safe to say that much of the stress, anguish, and worry we experience in our lives comes as a result of these unruly, and often ungovernable, social units. Growing up we can hardly contain our exuberance when thinking of that blessed day when we, too, will be adults like our awful parents… and free! Then, for reasons both unclear and diabolical, we finally do leave home, find a mate, produce children, and become truly awful parents ourselves. Maybe not every moment of every day (we do have to sleep after all), but in the invisible yet meticulously maintained ledger of infractions kept by all children, we are judged sadly lacking in all the important categories. Clearly, the only thing learned from our own awful parents was to reproduce their sad failings. And then there's adolescence…

When children enter into this infernal stage the very gates of family hell swing wide emitting foul odors and spewing forth imps and devils, artfully, and awfully, disguised as your own issue. Entering into this dark region slays and tramples all remaining hopes but one– that someday, and God willing, someday soon, those children of the damned will also be visited with adulthood and leave the family manse… if it still stands!

And yet, for reasons that are mostly unreasonable, we find ourselves dreading that day, as well, and saddened when it finally does happen; comically nostalgic for the days we were a young family. Even those children turned adults, having now tasted the dubious freedoms they once longed for, purr like contented kittens during visits home. It has even been remarked by my children that their mother and I have grown more intelligent and reasonable with the years, a possibility none of them had foreseen.

So how did we weather the tumultuous years that we now look back so fondly to? There were two methods employed to save us from the lengthy prisons terms we all contemplated from time to time. The first was a dog. Not just any dog, but a Welsh Corgi. We are a Celtic-derived family and therefore must have a Celtic canine. Silke, as she came to be called, fit right in, being both untrainable and demanding. She was just as uncompromising as the rest of us, only probably smarter. Yet, the kids adored her, and their mother and I were roped in as well.

In a very Celtic way Silke became our sin-eater. No matter how badly we behaved toward one another, she was always available to be stroked and petted, somehow soothing and calming us in the process of tending to her unending need for affection. By being so needy and demanding, she drew us out of our own selfishness. And because she was inadvertently comical and endearing, she was a subject we could always talk about. Silke was a movable conflict-free zone.

But it is the second method--reading, that is more germane to this blog site. The family I grew up in did not often indulge in the written word. My parents were not well educated and, having grown up working, had never had the leisure time for recreational reading. It was my good fortune, and through their hard work, that I was provided with that very luxury– a gift beyond rubies. Not that they encouraged me to read, but seeing that I had a knack for it, they did not oppose it. In fact, when they observed that I was becoming a voracious reader of stories, novels, newspapers, and comic books, they were mildly amused, if somewhat cautious, being unsure of the results of such indiscriminate mental activity.

At greater family gatherings it was sometimes pointed out with a certain pride that I read a lot of books. My relatives' reaction to such an announcement ran the gamut from mild astonishment as to why anyone would do such a thing, to concern for my mental health and spiritual well-being. Still, I pressed on, and many years later looked about me one day to find that all of my own progeny had picked up books from somewhere and were reading them. It must have been the silence and unaccustomed peacefulness of my suddenly unfamiliar surroundings that tipped me off. I had failed to notice the start of this phenomenon and was, like my relatives before me, mildly astonished at the development. Could it be that my children and I shared some common thread beside DNA, I asked myself. Was it possible?

Like an animal trainer that's been bitten and mauled, I proceeded with caution, gently inquiring as to the subjects of their readings, while sliding books of my own choosing through the bars of their theoretical cages. Mostly, after a sniff or two, these were rejected– though not with snarls or bared fangs, just shifted back to me without comment. I was encouraged and found that with patience and literary forbearance we soon began to use the spoken word to discuss authors and stories, even progressing to the ideas and inspirations that might have motivated them. And all of this without heated argument or emotional eruptions! I questioned my own sanity. Could this really be happening? My wife assured me that it was all real.

Julian and J. Joyce in Dublin
Oh, how I wish I could say that the Dean household's serenity was nevermore disturbed by a voice raised in anger, or shrill with indignation. Alas for all you hopeful young parents out there, it cannot be done. We devolved on more occasions than I would willingly recall… but now there were bright oases that we arrived at from time to time in our family journey, like restful, green isles scattered across a turbulent, grey sea. Just when it seemed that my mutinous crew would finally toss me overboard, we would wash up onto a wide, warm beach and peace be restored with the opening of a book.

Many years later, I still discuss stories, books, and writers with my adult children. And it's rare I come away from visits to their homes without a book selected from their shelves.

Our son, Julian, is turning his love of reading into a profession, having just been accepted into Notre Dame University's PH.d program for literature. He will be specializing in Irish works. It seems Ireland has produced some decent authors over the years. Who knew?

My eldest girl, Tanya, still waxes nostalgic over our reading of C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia when she was but a child.

Her sister, Bridgid, not only retained her appetite for literature, but has become a writer, as well, having produced her first novella, The Girl In The Forest. (You'll hear from her in just a moment.)

So here you have it, on this International Family Day, all of my wisdom and experience contained in these two exhortations: Get a pet and scatter books about like landmines! It worked for us and could for you.

Bridgid’s View of Things

While it is hard to argue with the notion that my parents have grown more reasonable over the years since we've left home (probably because they didn't have us kids around, irritating them to distraction!) I would like to point out that I always thought they were intelligent. This point was particularly impressed upon me when, at the age of eight, I heard that my dad was going to have a story published for the first time.

My sister was already in college and my brother was only five, but I was at home and just old enough to be in the midst of really discovering reading for myself. I recall eight as the age when the books no longer had pictures, becoming, instead, thin novels with exciting covers, full of amazing plot twists. They were peopled with characters that made you wonder who you might one day be, what you might do in those unfathomable years ahead. I was probably in the midst of devouring yet another John Bellairs book when I heard the news of the my dad's first story being published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magzine. And, as though someone had opened a window in the house, a fresh breeze scented with possibility wafted through, rifling the pages of my book.

This was also the year in school when we first had to keep a journal as an assignment, writing for some designated period of each day. It soon became apparent that I loved to write; my classmates would gladly close their notebooks once they had completed the minimum requirement but I kept going, filling page after page, stopping only when the teacher said we had to move on to something else. Later in the year, while talking about occupations, my teacher said she could see me becoming a writer. Right then and there I decided that that this was exactly what I wanted to do. Quite thoughtfully, my dad had just begun proving that this was an achievable goal for readers like us.

As my dad mentioned, books were always present in our house. Book shelves were stocked like bomber pantries, the library was visited twice a week, and favorite books were passed between us like sacred gifts. My sister's gift of the Hobbit, decades later, still sits on my shelf, read many times. From my dad I got Graham Greene, from my mother, Jane Austen. To my brother I bequeathed Anne Rice, though he might not care to admit it to his fellow doctoral students.

Happy International Family Day
Even when distance or time kept us from discussing a book that we had shared, the act of sharing it always felt significant. My older sister is the fantasy reader amongst us, with the Hobbit she offered me a doorway into a world to which I had not yet entered, but one that I knew was very significant to her.

Books felt, sometimes, like keys in this way. Keys to the inner worlds of our family members, keys to what they loved, and a means of sharing in it. Books have provided a common ground, a shared interest, and, at times, something else to argue about. What could be more significant?

Well… okay. Maybe a Corgi.


  1. Bridgid, welcome back. It's good to see you're still wordsmithing. It's a marvelous tale how your parents turned your household into a reading family. That's quite a gift.

    Happy International Day of Families to you, too!

  2. That's some story and some family, David. I wish you all the best! And it was great meeting you in person a couple of weeks ago. Hope we'll do it again.

  3. A super tribute to family, books- and smart dogs.

  4. Thanks so much, Leigh, for all your help with this, and I'm so glad that you liked the final result.

    Paul, it was great meeting you, too, and congrats again on the Readers Award! They are a pretty good bunch, this family of mine. I like them most of the time.

    Thanks, Janice. Happily we're all still together as a family. I don't think we've even thrown away any of the books from when the kids were little. Sadly, only Silke has gone from us, though not far--she's buried in the backyard with a corgi statue marking her final resting place. No, I'm not kidding. My wife, Robin, found one at a yard sale and knew what had to happen.

  5. David, although we've never met face-to-face, I feel like we've been friends for a while now. Thank you for inviting us into your home and family. As always, beautifully written. Best to Bridgid with her writing, and it was good to get her take on the Dean family. I grew up in a house full of books and there were no limits set for my father's book case. That's why I read Mickey Spillane, Erskine Caldwell, and William Faulkner at a very early age. Now, if I want to be sure one of my offspring reads something, I leave it out and sooner or later, they will pick it up and end up reading it. A question though: Which one of your three children is the parent of your beautiful grandchildren?

  6. Thanks, Fran, I feel the same way. Who knows, someday we may actually meet in person. I've managed to do so with a number of our fellow SleuthSayers over the years (see Paul's comment)so anything can happen. The culprit responsible for the grandsons would be Julian. The tradition continues by the way, with Finn demanding a story while he toys with breakfast each morning.

  7. Great posts here, David and Bridgid! And thanks for the perspectives on families, David... glimpses ahead. Congrats to Julian too on the new Ph.D program--exciting news!

  8. Thanks from both of us, Art, and you're welcome. Your post made me realize that I misspelled Ph.D in my blog. I guess it's obvious now who did not earn a doctorate degree...or a masters...or a bachelor...I do however hold an associate degree and high school equivalency diploma.

  9. Ha, David! I misspelled it too—there's another period after the D--just looked it up!

  10. Great post, David & Bridgid. Books (and dogs) will get you through times of trauma, despair, doom, illness, and general life-suck better than anything else. Anthony Trollope's "The Palliser Series" got me through recuperation from emergency surgery; recently Germaine Greer's "Shakespeare's Wife" got me through the trauma of moving. And family chaos can always be helped by a little James Thurber (try "The Night the Bed Fell").

  11. David, it's a great family you have, both as readers and as writers.

    Kiti is trying to work out NYC for next April, so we just might see you then.

  12. Art, if we all misspell it often enough, I think Webster's has to classify it as a modern spelling and put it in their dictionary--this would make us right.

    Thanks from Bridgid and me, Eve! You're dead on about books and difficult times, of course. By the way, when I was but a youth a few years ago, I acted in a play version of "The Night the Bed Fell"!

    I'm proud of them all, R.T., as I'm sure you are of your tribe! This being one of the few times excessive pride is not a sin. If you and Kiti make it to NYC, let's have a drink this time...or several if you're buying.

  13. Thank you, David and Bridgid, for these complementary portraits of a family unified by dogs, books, and, clearly, love. David, your opening paragraphs made me think of a Philip Larkin poem you may well know, "This Be the Verse." I won't quote it (one can get into trouble by quoting it), but I bet just about anyone who Googles it will enjoy it.

  14. I didn't know of this poem, B.K., but should've--very funny, but too late for me comes the warning. Thanks for sharing it!

  15. Books and dogs--what more could you need in life? Nice post!

  16. What more, indeed? I'm glad that you enjoyed it, Barb!

  17. Bridgid Dean15 May, 2017 19:12

    Leigh, thank you, it's good to be back! A happy International Day of Families to you and everyone here at SleuthSayers. And thank you, Eve, for reminding me of The Night the Bed Fell...might need to start re-reading that tonight!

  18. Weil done, David and Bridgid--enjoyed this column. So glad I had that one opportunity to meet you, David, during Edgar Week in New York a couple years ago. Wish all of us SSers could get together more often.

    Bridgid, best to you in all your literary endeavors. What a great family!

  19. Thanks so much, John, from both of us! It was a pleasure meeting you, too. Wouldn't a gathering of all the SSers be a grand thing?

  20. Hello Mr. Dean and Bridgid!! I am elated to have found your blog this morning. Bridgid I hope you remember me, about 1000 years ago, way back in grammar and high school, I considered you my sister. . You darling, were the very best friend I'd ever had, possibly to this day; along with Eric, or Beetle as we lovingly referred to him. He and I have been trying to find you for more than ten years! Ive told myself, and anyone who would listen, that I would not stop until I found you. Today I have finally accomplished my goal!!! Honestly I could not be more thrilled!! I pray you are able to receive this comment. I've got so many things I'd love to tell you and so much more I would love to hear from you as well. I have thought about you and your family often over the last decade or so, I even went as far as to knock on the front door to the last place I remembered you living in. The man who answered was very obviously not your father or Julian haha. He seemed a bit startled and mildly confused. Haha The gentlemen and I had a nice chat about how neither of us had the foggiest clue as to were you had moved to.

    I am sincerely hoping you may want to reconnect. I'm sure we have both changed dramatically since high school. I know I'm not the same horrible person I used to be. I would be eternally grateful for a second chance to get acquainted with you.

    In the case we do not get the opportunity to speak more privately, I just want to say I am proud of you, congratulations on the new book, and I wish you all the happiness and sucess in the world. I will be looking forward to your response.

    ~ Sincerly & with all of my love,
    Cortney ❤️


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