August 23, 2008
If you think your family is confusing, try understanding this branch of our family.
Three weeks ago, I gave a welcoming hug for the first time to my eighteen-year old grandson, Tyr (pronounced tier), who likes to say that he is his own uncle. Since that opening line requires a little explanation, let me tell you why he identifies himself that way and how events have brought together two families and two fathers.
A Complex Family Genogram
It might help if I could draw you a genogram of our relationship, but I’m not sure how our family diagram would look. Until grandchildren and the reality of Tyr entered our lives, my genogram could be laid out in fairly straight lines. I was raised by a Lutheran minister and am the granddaughter of a minister from the Church of the Brethren, so the idea of living without benefit of marriage was not an option that I, or my siblings, would have considered when I began dating a hundred years ago.
Divorces and unmarried alliances were rare in our family and if there were children given up for adoption, I didn’t know about them. Today, relationships with half-sisters and step-brothers seem to be more common in more and more. In any case, Tyr and our oldest son put a twist on the term “complex family relationship.”
Birth and Death in Northern California
The role that my family plays in this drama began nineteen years ago when our son lived for several months with Julie Hawkaluk, a young woman he met in Northern California. Sometime during their relationship, she became pregnant. However, before the baby was born, she reconnected with Eric, a boyfriend who had signed up for the Army but decided the military wasn’t for him, and left.
Rumors that our son had possibly fathered a child floated around the family for awhile, but faded as the years went by. Since I have always believed that the person who raises a child is the true parent of that child, and since he was not in touch with his son, I assumed the story was probably not true. Even if it was, his child was not part of his life. We didn’t feel we should take the initiative to search for him because we didn’t know what unintended complications would have been created in the life of the family in which the child lived.
IIn any case, about a year and a half after Tyr was born, Julie and Eric had a boy named Keith. The four of them were living in a small house they were building near the Hoopa Valley Indian Tribe when a fateful accident occurred four days before Tyr’s second birthday in 1992. The tar paper covering the wall caught fire from a candle and a large piece of the wall came down on the bed where Tyr was sleeping. Julie grabbed him, ran outside, handed him to a neighbor girl standing there, and rushed back into the house to rescue Keith, not realizing Eric had already taken the baby outside. Unfortunately, she was killed for her bravery.
Tyr was burned over 80% of his body and spent more than a month in the burn center in San Francisco. Eric then took the boys to Colorado to live near his mother
An Angel of the Highest Order
Just as the characters in Russian novels enter the story from different periods of time, we now need to go back to 1976 and meet Mike Hawkaluk. His role in this story began in 1976 when he married Maryann, who had two young children, Julie (Tyr’s mother) and Allen. Although they
didn’t have any children together, he adopted Maryann’s two children and life
seemed to hold great promise. They bought fifteen acres ten miles outside of Ronan,
Montana, and planned to build a house on it. Unfortunately, shortly after then,
when Julie was fifteen years old, Mary died in a motorcycle accident, leaving a
bereft husband and two children.
Losing a mother when you are a teenager is always tough and, apparently
in reaction to her loss, Julie went to live with her grandmother to finish high
school and then took off for California, planning to enter Humboldt State
University. Instead, she met our son.
Now let’s bring our story up to one year after the fire. Eric was
unable to adequately care for the boys and his mother, realizing Tyr and Keith would
be put into foster care if someone in the family didn’t accept responsibility
for them, called Mike and told him the situation. Immediately, Mike got in the
car and drove to Colorado to get the boys.
But now there was a big problem. How would he raise them without
someone who could take care of them while he was at work? Fortunately, for a
couple years Mike had been dating Ginny, a woman with whom he worked at a lumber
mill. So he asked her if she would marry him, quit work, and raise the boys. “Crazy
idea,” she replied, but was willing to take on the role of mother, even though
she had already raised four children of her own.
Since Mike intended to adopt Tyr and Keith, he put a legal notice
in the newspaper. However, because it was a local Montana paper, our son didn’t see
the notice and the adoption went through.
Before explaining how we finally connected with Tyr, I’d like to
share two challenges the Hawkaluks faced that demonstrate their resilience. When
Tyr was five-years-old, they lived in a trailer while planning to build a house
on their property. A propane tank exploded and the trailer burned to the
ground. Moving back to town and staying with friends, they sold all but five
acres, leaving room for some horses they kept as a hobby, and gradually built another
Their second significant challenge came when, a few weeks after
moving into their new house, a tornado came through and two large pine trees
crashed through the roof before the family could get to the storm shelter. Fortunately, Tyr and Keith escaped injury because they just happened to be standing under sturdy cross beams. But the insurance company cancelled the Hawkaluk’s policy because they had trees near the house. So, taking a deep breath and determined to rebuild, Mike and Ginny had the roof repaired and removed all the remaining trees just in case they got unlucky with another tornado.
Our Son Creates a Family
Now it’s time for our story to return to California and catch up with what happened to our son while Tyr was growing up in Montana.
Some time after Julie left, he met a woman who was raising her two children by herself. They were married in an outdoor ceremony overlooking the Pacific ocean and two years later they had a son, Kevin. We saw the family about once a year, accepted all the boys as our grandchildren, and were pleased four years ago when their oldest moved past his rebellious teenage years and entered college, where he was doing very well and showed great promise.
Unfortunately, on July 5, 2004, our grandson was a passenger in a car driven by a friend (whose life he had twice saved while surfing) when the friend fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree, killing him instantly. This tragedy was very difficult for everyone in the family, not least of which were his two brothers. They needed an older brother who could show them how to avoid some of the snares and boulders that lie on the path to adulthood.
MySpace Connects Two Brothers
Even before his half-brother was killed, Kevin wanted to meet his other half-brother. After the accident, it became more important and Kevin spent several years searching for information. Finally, a Google search for the name Tyr Hawkaluk turned up an article about his winning a speech or debate contest and information about his high school was the first big break he had. Trying to reach the school through email was, for some reason, not possible.
Then Kevin turned to MySpace and last January asked if anyone online went to Ronan High School in Montana. Several said yes. Do you know Tyr Hawkaluk? Yes, a girl replied, and provided Tyr’s email address. That very evening Kevin wrote to Tyr, informing him that he was his half-brother. Though Tyr at first thought someone was playing a joke on him, when he realized it was true, he was excited to know about his other family, even though he was happy in the family where he had grown up.
Over the next half year the two boys built their relationship through emails and in August Kevin drove to Montana with his mother and father, meeting Tyr for the first time face-to-face. After several days there, Tyr drove with them back to their home to visit before beginning his senior year. Then we invited the Hawkaluks to come to our house this summer. (Though only Mike and Tyr came this year, we hope that next summer we can meet Ginny and Keith, for the Hawkaluks are now extended family.)
That is why, three weeks ago, I greeted Tyr with a hug and welcomed him into our family. During the next seven days — as we went to a Reggae concert at the Hollywood Bowl, saw Venice Beach (that’s Tyr talking with a street performer), spent a day at Catalina Island, and played hosts at other Southern California attractions — I was very pleased to get to know an open, intelligent, personable young man who just happens to be my grandson.
A Great Addition to the Family
I suspect that Tyr has turned out so well in part because he grew
up in a secure and loving family, with horses, camping, and encouragement of
his interests. His outlook on life also comes from having to deal with more
than sixty operations in his eighteen years, all thanks to the Shriners. Such
an experience has given him a chance to know what is important in life and what
is not. He has developed a fine sense of why people do and say what they do. Out of this has also come an acceptance of the scars he can’t hide. If
you are bothered by them, that is your problem.
It helps that he seems to have been born with a happy disposition
and is very smart, with a wry sense of humor and love of puns. He’s also a little cocky and
opinionated, as eighteen-year-olds are allowed to be, but he is open to new
ideas and enjoys the challenge of learning.
Perhaps one of the reasons I connected so easily with this new
grandson in my life is that he also likes to write. In his case, it is poetry,
song lyrics, short stories, plays, and school newspaper articles. Later this
month he will enter the University of Montana with a full tuition scholarship
in creative writing, possibly becoming a journalist. Since he received numerous
high school awards, from math to history, and is the winner of several regional
and state speech and debate contests, it’s interesting that the roommate
assigned to him is also a debater. Should be an interesting year for them both.
Relationships Built on Happenstance
In order for each one of us to be alive, every single ancestor,
from the beginning of time, had to have survived long enough to pass on his or
her genes so we could be created. What is often not considered is the fact that
random connections build the structure out which our genes express themselves.
For example, had Mike’s family not been displaced persons who migrated to Montana from Ukraine when he was eight, he likely would not have met Tyr’s grandmother. If Maryann had not been killed, Julie may not have gone to California and met our son. If our son hadn’t gone to the same town, he likely wouldn’t have met Julie.
If the candle hadn’t burned the tar paper, Tyr wouldn’t have been
burned and Julie wouldn’t have died. If Eric had been able to raise the boys,
things would have turned out differently and we may never have met Tyr. If our son
had read the newspaper announcement of Mike’s pending adoption of Tyr and
Keith, he may have raised Tyr himself, and that would have resulted in yet another outcome. It is clear to me that both nature and nurture shape the person.
Of course, we can reach back even farther and note that if I had
taken the teaching job I was offered in Ohio when I graduated from college,
rather than come to California to work as a parish worker, I wouldn’t have met
Bob. And if Bob hadn’t gone to Caltech after graduation from Carnegie Mellon
and hadn’t come to church one day and sat down next to me (even though he
claims I tripped him as he walked along the pew), we likely wouldn’t have met, married, and had four children, one of whom became the biological father of Tyr.
The circumstances of every life stretch far back into history. How
many of us have not wondered how things would be different “if” such-and-such
hadn’t happened? Yet they have.
We may want to believe that each of us is the captain of our fate
and master of our soul. We may have been told that all we need to do to reach our
destination is to keep our compass set on a steady course. But it is a rare
person for whom unforeseen events beyond his or her control do not play a major
role in determining what happens in our lives, and in the lives of our
Welcome to the Family, Tyr
By now you may have figured out why Tyr says he’s his own uncle.
After all, if the children of your grandparents are your aunts and uncles, and
you are a child of your grandparents, doesn’t that make you your own aunt or
uncle, in a roundabout way, of course? In any case, his adoption makes him the
brother of his mother, an interesting arrangement to place on a family genogram.
When I had known a daughter or daughter-in-law was about to have a
baby, I awaited the birth with great anticipation and welcomed each
grandchild with joy and hope for their future. Now I find that knowing about
and meeting a grandson I didn’t know I had is also an unbelievable joy. I am
sure that our connection will both stretch and strengthen our families.
Welcome to the Harder family, Tyr. We know you will do well
whatever path you choose to take.