Why Do We Need The Cajun Navy?

In the aftermath of Harvey there was a long caravan of pickup trucks pulling boats on trailers towards the massive flooding in Houston. They call themselves the Cajun Navy and for those of us from Louisiana there’s really no need to ponder how they came about. They were needed and so they came. With a general distrust of the government, the people in Louisiana are wired a little like your mom. She knows that if she wants something done right, she’s got to do it herself.

There’s a unique set of rules, common practices and even accents for the people of every parish, but our culture demands that we come together in times of crisis to aid our neighbors. Navigating the red tape of the Federal Government is a far less appealing option than the sort of “duct tape” approach we’re comfortable with. Everyone’s got a pickup truck or a boat, a big jambalaya cooker or a brother-in-law that’s a contractor. Everyone has something to contribute.

I don’t know if the Federal Government has a great reputation for efficiency anywhere, but they’ve done little to dispel the widely held belief down south that they’re about as helpful as a push-up bra under a burka. We can’t trust our state government either since we only seem capable of electing crooks, incompetents, liars and the occasional Jesus-loving family man with an affinity for working girls. It can be difficult to trust an entity that is so fraught with that kind of corruption. I get it.

Politics and cultural differences don’t matter when American lives are on the line. I’ve been in Houston for most of the last ten years, but I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, and it hasn’t surprised me at all to see my communities step up in a way that is admirable and inspiring.

I’ve seen a lot of praise in the national news coverage for the Cajun Navy’s heroic efforts, but it can be difficult for those outside of the region to put their faith in a bunch of regular guys in bass boats. There are those that have asked why such a volunteer group is even necessary, given the size and power of our Federal Government. I would encourage those people to set aside such questions for now and focus on the incredible accomplishments of these volunteer forces. Let us be grateful for their help and save the political bickering for a more appropriate time.

On a lighter note, a little advice for those of you that have never met a Cajun person in real life before: Do not refuse their offerings of food. Take the jambalaya, even if you are not hungry! Eat the delicious food, compliment the cook and say thank you! Anything else is just a slap in the face.

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So I Finally Met My Biological Father…at 37 Years Old.

This past weekend I met my biological father and his family after more than 30 years apart. Pretty crazy, right? A few years ago seemingly out of nowhere he contacted me through Facebook. Maybe it was my pregnancy hormones or just plain shock, but when I saw his name on the screen I just burst into tears. Then I felt scared and anxious. My fight or flight response has always leaned heavily towards flight so I did what any crazy person would do and I ignored him for months and months.

I still can’t adequately explain my initial reaction in a way that makes any real sense, but I’m happy to report that after some time passed I had a change of heart. Curiosity about these people (he has 3 other children!) with their faces so much like my own won out and I’m so incredibly grateful to know them now. 

Surprisingly, I didn’t feel awkward at all meeting them and we had a fun, laid back, Louisiana-style family reunion, decades in the making. It was absolutely one of the best days of my life, laughing and finally embracing that part of my family. Here’s how it all happened…

I was too young to remember when my parents divorced. When I was 5 my mom remarried and her new husband adopted me. It was no deep, dark secret as I’m clearly the flower girl in their wedding, but it wasn’t exactly talked about either. My family has never really been big on having talks about anything of substance and there were certain subjects I avoided so as not to make them angry.

I got my ass whipped when I told my new dad once, “You’re not even my Dad, you can’t tell me what to do!” when he asked me to do something that I’m sure was quite reasonable. I was a very sensitive and overly dramatic child to put it kindly. I vaguely remember being told something like I was lucky to have him as my Dad because my first one didn’t want me. That was the last time I brought up my father to them, but I often felt the weight of that rejection and felt more than a little out of place with my family.

My old school upbringing didn’t require parents to give kids answers to their questions anyway. They didn’t so much worry about things like my self-worth or make sure I felt heard and validated. Maybe they did but couldn’t google the proper techniques? It was the eighties! All I know for sure is they were very young and we lived in South Louisiana where parenting was 90% about teaching manners and discipline and 10% staying out of the way while they do important adult things. 

My mom wasn’t exactly getting on the floor to play Barbies with me or asking me how I felt about things. She was busy taking care of her father when he got cancer and dealing with my little brother and sister’s severe asthma. She checked my homework every night and watched me cry over math I just couldn’t understand. She did my science projects because my handwriting was so awful. She threw me a birthday party when I turned 8 the day she got home from the hospital after giving birth to my baby sister just so I wouldn’t be disappointed. 

I don’t know what happened between my parents to prompt their divorce or his exit from my life, but I’m sure 2 married 19 year-old kids with a baby and no money had plenty of issues. When my mom remarried I think she just wanted to give me a nice normal childhood in a 2-parent household and also protect me from a guy she saw as too irresponsible and reckless to be a parent. Being as young as I was, it’s hard to tell what memories are real and what might be a narrative I created myself to fill those gaps in my mind.

Years went by without contact and I just assumed I’d been forgotten. I found out later that he did contact my mom a few times trying to see me, but she didn’t think it was a good idea. I was still very young and at that point I didn’t even really remember him anymore. I’m sure she just didn’t want to disrupt my life or upset me and I know her intentions were pure.

Only upon reflection did I start to think that feelings of rejection and abandonment did some emotional damage that I didn’t want to acknowledge at the time. 

Now that I’m a divorced and remarried mom, I get how hard it is to make the right decisions for someone else while they’re too young to do so on their own and I can’t even imagine the difficulty they faced going through all of that at 20. I have a lot of sympathy and love for all 3 of my parents and I can’t say that harbor any resentment or anger towards them. At least not about this issue. LOL…we’ve got 99 problems but this ain’t one.

My already huge family has gotten even bigger this year, but being a mom and step-mom to 3 boys has me embracing the noise and chaos that comes with a big messy family. I would not choose any other life for myself and I’m excited to have more people to love.