The mission of every family is to dissolve.

It sounds awful and harsh and tragic, but think about it. What is a parent’s job? To raise and protect children, to make sure that those children are healthy, safe, happy and smart, and to teach those children to be savvy enough to be able to successfully operate in the world on their own.

The mission of every family is to dissolve.

I don’t know how ready I am for my nuclear family to dissolve, but I can attest to the power of this phenomenon in a different way.

I visited my high school on Sunday. I was in North Carolina for the weekend, and I wanted to meet up with my mentor from high school. He suggested that I stop by Cardinal Gibbons on Sunday afternoon during the Open House. “Bring coffee and we can catch up,” he said.

I’ve been back to Cardinal Gibbons High School many times since I graduated in May 2008. Usually, I visit a few teachers and chat with my younger sister and some of her friends for a little while. I used to bring Maggie lunch or a snack, but since she’s a senior now, she can go off campus and get whatever she wants.

Before Sunday, all of the times I had gone back to Gibbons to visit had been during college break periods. Fall break, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Teachers tend to anticipate graduate visitors during these times. “Oh! I just saw Jordan two days ago! And have you talked to Tommy? He emailed me to say he’ll be in tomorrow.”

But this visit was different. I happened to come home on a random weekend in November. Nobody expected to see me on Sunday, so it was especially fun to see the surprise on the teachers’ and administrators’ faces.

I hadn’t been to a Gibbons Open House since my senior year, when I gave tours to prospective students and their families in my capacity as National Honor Society treasurer. This year, Maggie was doing the exact same thing that I had done three years earlier.

It was so much fun to see Gibbons all turned out for Open House. Outside, the guitar band played to welcome visitors. Inside, various faculty members milled about the fancy new lobby (complete with video wall—a new addition since my days at CGHS) to greet and direct. As I made my way to the gym, I smiled at some of the teachers I recognized. A few of them waved, feigning recognition with half smiles, but the vast majority grinned back at me, surprised and happy to see me.

I love catching up with the teachers I knew from class or from retreats or from NHS, but I’m always so pleasantly surprised when faculty members who I didn’t know very well remember me and ask how things are going. The Gibbons staff is genuinely interested in their graduates—how they are doing, what they are doing, where they are going.

Gibbons showed me how a family successfully dissolves. In carrying out its mission of “forming men and women of faith, service and leadership,” Cardinal Gibbons launches graduates into the world to be successful. But like good parents, the faculty and staff at Cardinal Gibbons truly care about the welfare and progress of students, their kids. When graduates come home, Gibbons checks in.

My visit to Gibbons during Open House was so special. They remembered me, even when they weren’t expecting me.

I think I surprised my parents a little by coming home on a random weekend in early November, but they were sure glad to see me. And I think I surprised my Gibbons family by appearing in the halls on Sunday afternoon, but they were glad to see me too.



Filed under North Carolina

4 responses to “Family.

  1. Aunt Sue

    Hi Amy,
    I have to strongly disagree with you about families dissolving. I think they simply spread out, like red food coloring in white icing. I suppose if you keep putting more icing in the bowl, eventually all the red will become very pale pink, but it never really dissolves.

    When families do dissolve it is a very sad thing. Don’t ever let it happen to your family.

    • I like your metaphor–maybe I should revise mine. How about this:

      Families are like airports. Parents are like air traffic controllers who make sure that children (pilots) are flying tuned-up airplanes that are ready to take off for journeys to interesting places. Then, when the pilots need to fuel up or rest, they can circle back to the airport and the air traffic controllers help them find the right runway to land on.

      The launching-and-returning is what I was trying to get at–not just dissolving, but dissolving and reconstituting in a different form.

  2. Dan Jukic


    It was great to see you on Sunday. Thanks for dropping by and for checking-in with us Gibbons folk.

    I understand what you’re getting at by saying families “dissolve” but I also understand why Aunt Sue objects to the term. There is a negative connotation to it, especially for us parents.

    For me, how I see your use of that term depends upon what I think actually dissolves and what I think families dissolve INTO.

    I’m no chemistry major so forgive my lack of terminology here but the way I see it is if a family is one closely linked and bonded unit made up of constituent components, then it’s the bonds between those components that must indeed “dissolve” over time. How else could the children separate from the parents, as they must?

    As a father, I can tell you with certainty that I don’t relish the thought of my boys leaving me and my wife. But being a son, I have an idea of where their dissolution will lead them — if I do my job right — and that the dissolution of this current bond is hopefully just a necessary step to a REsolution of our family later into a new, and hopefully stronger, bond.

    It’s also the necessary dissolution that allows the constituent parts to find their way, to make their choices, to attach to others in their own way, to create their own bonds, and then dissolve them again.

    There are plenty of families that dissolve and don’t ever resolve, which is what I’m guessing Aunt Sue is expressing in her post.

    But I like your choice of metaphor because of its dual quality. Dissolution IS difficult and CAN be painful. But without it, nothing new can form.

    Thanks, as always, for good food for thought.


  3. Mom

    Okay, I’ve already weighed in on my feelings about “dissolve”. I prefer evolve and I rather like the airport analogy. Children are successfully launched, but know that they can return, and all can share their adventures – together. Besides – an airport is a pretty exciting place to be.

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