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Breaking the cycle: “It’s much riskier to be vulnerable with your family”

 Kris Fedro (left) and Jeannie Gracey.
Kris Fedro (left) and Jeannie Gracey (right).

As part of the 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour, Kris Fedro and Jeannie Gracey talk about the inaccessibility of their fathers—how their private, familial lives differed a great deal from the men the public (their students and colleagues, their customers) knew them to be—and how each has broken those cycles of silence and impenetrability with their chosen families.

Kris Fedro: Jeannie Gracey, what lessons did you learn from your dad?

Jeannie Gracey: Well, my dad was a school teacher. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming. And he was an elementary school teacher, which was—he was 6’3” and, you know, just muscle-y, and he was very commanding of the space. And to have all these little kids around him—what was puzzling for me: I never had him as a teacher, purposefully, but every kid loved him and wanted to have him as a teacher. And I was just like, What? because I didn’t understand that. Then what I understood, even still in elementary school, was that he gave all his best bits to his students, to his co-workers, to the outside world. So when he came back home, he had nothing left. And so that’s what I feel like we always got was, was that, and when he died this Christmas, I posted on Facebook (so his friends and, you know, extended family would be notified, and I wouldn’t have to call everyone), and there was just a slew of comments, like hundreds of comments, on all these great attributes about him, how he changed people’s lives. And I ended up texting my brother, and I said, Did you know that your dad's most important thing in his life was his family? And my brother said, Yeah, I read that.

And while it cracks me up, it’s really a shame, you know, and I don’t know why it seems to be a pattern. I don’t know if it’s just dads or people in general, where they give all their best parts to strangers or just the outside world. And they don’t keep any reserves for their chosen people, their family.

Kris Fedro: Right. Yeah. I mean, I think your dad and my dad had a similar resistance to vulnerability. It’s much riskier to be vulnerable with your family than it is with people who barely know you. Right? You know, and my dad, he could easily impress strangers...

Jeannie Gracey: Oh, yeah.

Kris Fedro: ...At the cafe.

Jeannie Gracey: Yeah, yeah.

Kris Fedro: And I think he knew that. We expected more of him. And he wasn’t really prepared to give it. He wasn’t able to give it, because he didn’t learn that from his family.

Jeannie Gracey: Right.

Kris Fedro: And so he didn’t have the tools. But when you’re a kid, you don’t know the complexities of all of that; you don’t know that your dad and your mom are just struggling to cope...

Jeannie Gracey: Right.

Kris Fedro: ...And they’re dealing with their stuff. And so the legacy of, you know, this sort of, you know, dysfunction (I’m not super fond of that word, but it fits) is it’s generally, it’s intergenerational. It just is passed down from generation to generation until you break the cycle, until you bring awareness to it.

Jeannie Gracey: Right.

Kris Fedro: And I see you being aware with your kids.

Jeannie Gracey: Thank you.

Kris Fedro: You have broken the cycle with your kids.

Jeannie Gracey: Thank you.

The 2022 StoryCorps mobile tour is recording at the Missoula Public Library, giving Missoulians the opportunity to preserve their conversations and stories for future generations. StoryCorps Missoula is brought to you in part by Clearwater Credit Union, Partners Creative, and Montana State Fund.

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