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What is “Home”?

In today’s crazy world, the idea of “home” seems to change a lot. Here are my thoughts.

When I was a kid, we moved around a lot – about once every 3 years. During this time, I had two “homes”. The first was wherever my family happened to be living at the time. The second was my grandparents house in L.A. It was the stable point – always there, always safe. Even if it was on the other side of the country, just knowing it was there made a big difference.

As I got older and did my time in the military, My family and Grandparents were further away than ever, but during this time, my folks didn’t move, so both of my anchor points were pretty stable. I also had a “home” of sorts in my unit, although I have to admit that the whole”Brothers in arms” thing never really clicked with me, and I have not kept in touch with any of the people from my unit. The fact that I had major issues with the military in general, and many of our combat missions in particular may play a part in that, but hey, I always viewed my time in the military as prostitution to pay for University.

Once I finished my tour, I went off to University. I spent almost 15 years at University, and for the first decade or so lived in a series of trashy student housing, field camps (I did a lot of field work), and a couple of decent apartments. During this time, the closest thing to a stable physical “home” was my beat up old VW camper. I would return to my parents house on a regular basis, but as we all aged, my parents home became, well, my parents home – not mine.

When my grandparents died (within 9 months of each other), my aunt kept the house (she lived only a few doors down the street) and rented it out to some family friends. I didn’t realize what a loss that was util I went to visit, and stayed at my aunts house instead of my grand parent’s. This was when I realized how important that anchor had been i my life. I suddenly found myself adrift with no real home. Sure, I had plenty of places I could stay, but none of them was really home.

So, what makes someplace home? I’m not sure I really know. I do know that shortly after my visit to my Aunt, I moved out of the normal series of cheap student housing, and into a small house. Some friends of mine had purchased the house, gotten in over their head financially, and were in a situation where they were going to just walk away and let the bank take it. By stepping in a taking over the mortgage payments, I could have a house of my own (although my friends would still own it, I would live there and have total control). The mortgage was not that much higher than the rent I was paying, so it was no-brainer.

I lived there for the next 5 years, and it was definitely home. Most of that time I had the same house mate. In that home, I discovered that the people you live with really make a difference in building a home. You don’t have to be romantically involved (we weren’t) to establish very close ties with someone, and the two of us hit it off completely. Shortly before I left University, my housemate got a good job offer Far Away, and had to move out. That was when I realized how much difference having a housemate had made.

Fortunately, once I decided to leave University, my old house mate landed me a very good job at her company, and asked me to be the 4th in the house she was sharing. Once again, this was a no-brainer. Unfortunately this time it didn’t work out as well. The other two housemates just didn’t mesh (or maybe it was that the two of us didn’t mesh with them). In any case, things were good enough that my old housemate bought a house, and we moved in there together again. Didn’t take long to make that place home too.

Eventually, I moved out to buy a house and get married (big mistake, but that’s another story). Somehow, even though I lived there with my (then) family, it was never any more of a home than the series of college apartments I had lived in. I don’t know if this was as symptom or a cause of why that marriage didn’t work, but in any case, it was never home.

Now, I live alone. My mom lives in the other half of the duplex, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference in the comfort of my home. I have good friends that know they can drop by anytime, kids that think of this as their second home (at least that the impression I get, and I hope they do), and my daughter calls our house “home”, even though she doesn’t spend nearly enough time here.

I think there are some clues in that. My daughter. She spends most of her time at her mom’s house, which she calls “mom’s house”. Initially I thought she did this only when I was around, but her teachers have commented on it as well, as have a few friends. Apparently, she thinks of our house as “home” and her mom’s house as “mom’s house”. I don’t really know what the differences are, but I do know that “mom’s house” certainly wasn’t a home during the time that I lived there. I’m not trying to be mean or bitter, but everyone that lived in the house had someplace else that they thought of as “home”. For me it was the office, for the kids it was Gramma’s or their dad’s. I’m not sure where my wife thought of as “home”.

So what makes “home”? Looking back, I think it is a lot of things. Stability, safety, security, all play a big role, but I think a bigger concept is comfort. Comfort includes the stability and safety stuff, but also takes into account personalities, environment, and a whole bunch of impossible to describe intangibles. As we grow, the definition of what “home” is changes. If we are lucky, when we are adults we can create a home that our children will also think of as “home” – at least until they grow up and create their own home. That is a transition that I am both looking forward to and dreading….

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