Type into Google “How did I ..”
And the first completion option that pops up is “How did I get here?”
It’s an enduring life question.
It fits for specific moments of crisis (addiction, war, etc.) or accomplishment (Super Bowl champs, graduation, etc).
It fits for mankind as a whole as we unmask other planets.
And it fits for us personally as we pull at the threads of our own past.
My Father’s Day present today is coming home from a week abroad with my sons – pulling at the threads that just partially answer their own “How did I get here?”
Half of me is Irish, which makes my sons a quarter Irish – and a smidge more as my wife has a bit o’ the green in her, too.
By fluke of influenced marriage, town relations and emigration support, all of my Irish hails from the tiniest speck of Ireland – so small that even the U.S. Customs agent questioned my son when he said where he was. “Goleen? Where is that?” asked the stern agent.
There is a bottom of Ireland. And that bottom has a further bottom. And even that bottom has a further bottom — sort of like “from the last highway, take the county road; from there take the local road, then when you get to the end, take the dirt road to its end.”
That is where you will find my Downey ancestral lands, and part of our answer of “How did I get here?”
And that is where we spent several days last week interacting with cousins age 8 to 88 and retracing family steps that date back to the 1700s. Stepping into the home of your great-great-grandfather is a special moment.
I made this same journey five years ago, and the main storyline then was connecting my mother to her past. This second trip was about connecting the next generation to their past.
If the trip were a class or senior project for the lads, I would say Ireland rolled out an opportunity that measures five stars. And the lads reciprocated with engagement that at least earned an A – if not an A plus.
What they found:
An Irish population so welcoming and enamored of Americans that the boys felt a bit like celebs. From strangers at pubs to elderly ladies at church, being a “Yank” was a magnet of constant conversations for them – many of them starting with the NFL or President Trump.
(I asked one new friend at a pub I called home: “Is there ever a fatigue here with America and its ways?” He said of course, as with any occasionally obnoxious family member at a reunion. But he continued that in the end, too much of Ireland moved there, it’s still such an impactful country to the world, and “Who else can we love? England has dismissed us for thousands of years, and then who, Russia?”
An Irish population that is resilient and brave. Our ancestral home was ground zero for the famine. When journalists arrived in Dublin 1847 to report on that event, they were dispatched 220 miles south to our homeland at the bottom of Ireland. There are no direct family records. But you can look at the dates of your family and the famine and conclude the obvious. Our family survived among the 1 million who had died. But our family was part of the 2 million who decided to leave because of the famine.
When we left for Ireland last week, it was just for a handful of days. A lifetime ago, when our two grandfathers left for the U.S., it was forever. We know one grandfather came back just twice.
An Irish population that is genuinely nice. Maybe it’s the tight roads in the countryside? Miles of narrow roadways force drivers to slow as they pass one another to ensure that car mirrors do not clash. In the most rural of areas where we were, the roads are just one lane. There, when two cars come upon each other, each must figure who had the closest jut or shoulder they could drive in reverse to, so as to allow the other car to pass. This is not a two-driver debate or discussion. It’s a silent concession one driver makes to the other as he starts to drive in reverse. When those drivers pass, there is a nod of appreciation exchanged.
Whatever the reason, it’s just a jovial place to be. The place is not without angst or strife, to be sure. But it’s seemingly offset – more than ours – by a congeniality maybe forced by their proximate living.
The Frankos are a typical suburban American family, I suppose. “How did I get here” is partly answered with things like Buffalo, Corning, Sandusky, Nebraska, journalism, teaching, blue collar, etc.
But all of us are more than that – whether Irish, Italian, Jewish, African, Slovak, etc. – and it was splendid last week to see your sons scrape deeper into the “How did I” question and learn some remarkable feats of human perseverance. Each seemed to pull at different threads of the experience. But all of the threads had purpose and meaning.
And in that process, I think they got the chance, as emerging men, to truly begin to formulate their own “How did I get here?”
For while it is all of the above, the best autopsy of all those buried places, peoples and histories is to derive things such as ambition, ingenuity, kindness, courage, collaboration and other such things that make a successful person.
To me, those traits – or the absence of those traits – begin to answer that enduring life question “How did I get here?”
Congrats today to all the dads out there.
Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at email@example.com. He blogs, too, on Vindy.com. Tweet him, too, at @tfranko.