I begin my series in the most obvious place: at home. Our families have a tremendous impact on us and play a large role in shaping who we become. I’m no exception, and for good or ill, I’m very much the product of my family. Particularly influential to me has been my mother’s extended family—the Thomson clan and most of the people on my list come from their ranks. I’ve never known my dad’s side of the family very well (though they all seem to know me), but the Thomsons—my mother’s parents, her siblings and their spouses and children have been a huge part of my life. Grandpa, Grandma, Uncle Roland & Aunt Coleen, Uncle Slimen Saliba & Aunt Patsy, Uncle Robert, cousins Nicole, Landon, Nabih, William, Yvette, as well as my mom and siblings have all been near constant influences for as long as I can remember. I think it’s important to acknowledge the influence they’ve all had as I will focus on only some of them for my list—those for whom I was able to identify specific ways they impacted me. My inability to articulate how each member of the Thomson clan has impacted me in no way diminishes the extent to which they’ve made an actual difference my life nor does it diminish the love and appreciation I have for each one of them.
In this category, and in some of the others to come, I’ve paired some people together (though they are counted separately in almost all cases) when their influence, while individually unique, represents a cumulative, similar impact.
Herewith the eleven on the list, and then the profiles:
Rosalind Maycock-my mother
Duane Maycock—my father
Barbara Leen Maycock—my wife
William & Enid Thomson—my grandparents
Roland & Robert Thomson—my uncles
William Leen—my father-in-law
Dawn Maycock—my sister
Vincent Maycock—my brother
Yvette Saliba—my cousin
For many of us our mother is the single person who has had greatest influence on our lives—after all it’s mom who provides for our most basic of needs from the point of conception and quite literally shapes who we turn out to be by the choices she makes while carrying us in her womb. For most of us it’s mom who teaches us how to navigate our world in our earliest years. And it’s often our mom that we turn to for answers about life and how to live it. But for me I think the influence of my mom has been stronger than most. For most of my life, she hasn’t had someone else to share the burden of raising me, teaching me, providing for me, disciplining me, guiding me. The influence of normally shared by two parents she carried alone. Oh, she definitely had the help of her close knit family. We lived with my grandparents for five years and my aunts and uncles were always nearby to lend a hand, but at the end of the day when Uncle Roland and family drove back Harbor Point and grandma and grandpa climbed the stairs to their room on the second floor, it was my mom alone who worked on into the night, lulling me to sleep with the patter of her typing in the next room. When she retired to bed, in those moments before she fell asleep, there was no one to share the worries and joys that I’m sure filled her heart. No one but her Lord. That decision to raise us alone, to leave the poisonous, fearful atmosphere of life with my father—may have had the single biggest influence on the course my life has taken.
From my mom, I learned about the character of God. I learned not just from her words, but from the way she lived. My mom loved me unconditionally. She was firm but fair, and commanded my respect. I knew that no matter what I did I could always come to her and she would accept me, love me, and forgive me. Because these things were true of my mom, I came to believe they were true of God as well. She taught me that “God will provide” and because of her faith and God’s subsequent provision throughout my childhood, today I rarely worry about “what I will eat or what I will wear.” From my mom, I learned that the most important thing was to ask Jesus into your heart everyday and to never stop talking to Him, even when you’d done wrong. She taught me to always put my relationship with God first. The faith that I have today is rooted in the God that my mother introduced me to.
In addition to her influence in the explicitly theological arena, my mom taught me the importance of thinking and speaking positively. She taught me the value of being considerate. She taught me how to treat women. She taught me to think for myself and to never blindly accept what others—even she--claimed to be true. She helped me learn to rise above but never accept prejudice and discrimination. She demonstrated by selfless example the importance of self-sacrifice, of service. I’m still learning to put that value into practice as well as she does.
Though I moved away from my dad at the age of 7 and saw him only twice in the next ten years, my father has had a surprisingly strong influence on my life. Because of my father, I wrestle daily with who God really is, what He is really like. While intellectually I believe in the God of my mother, emotionally the darker visage of the God of my father still looms ominous and frightening in the corners of my heart. While that sounds pretty bad, my spiritual struggle has softened my naturally strong sense of my own rightness and belief in my own opinions (another quality of his I inherited). I’m not the most humble of people, but what humility I do have is often due to my ongoing struggle with fear and doubt. Because of my father, I have a strong revulsion for misogyny and am ever sensitive to the mistreatment of women. Because of my father, I’m highly skeptical of fanaticism and resistant to extremes in my lifestyle and practice of my faith.
In his own way, my father is the yardstick by which I measure who I am as man.
I will not make the same mistakes that you did
I will not let myself
Cause my heart so much misery
---Kelly Clarkson “Because of You”
Barbara Leen Maycock
There is no person on this earth that I’m closer to or love more than the woman who I often simply address as “Love”: My wife Barbara. It would seem obvious that this woman I share my life with would have a tremendous influence over me, but when I actually took the time to identify the ways in which she has influenced me I was amazed by the breadth and depth of her influence. Name an arena of my life and I can point out a way that she has influenced me: Career—It was Babs that encouraged me to enter the field of education. She is the primary influence in me becoming a teacher. Where I Live—Barbara’s appointment as principal and her decision to continue in that capacity is the reason why I still live in Saipan and still teach at the SDA School. Leisure Activities—Babs has helped me become less rigid, more flexible, and even spontaneous in how I plan my time. Habits—I lock doors and let the dog in the house because of Babs! There are so many ways big and small that Barbara has influenced me but one of the most significant arenas has been my spiritual life. Perhaps more than anyone else, Babs has taught me to place more trust in God and to have faith in his guidance. Her simple faith in God’s love for her, her spiritual fearlessness, her belief in the power of prayer, have inspired and enriched my walk with God. I’m very blessed to be able to say I’m a better person because of Barbara.
William & Enid Thomson
There’s a song I know by heart because my grandpa sang it every morning to start family worship. He’d be alone in the living room, and he’d start singing and we’d come running. By the time he got to the final stanza we were all singing along. As a measure of the influence he and my grandmother have had, as I type the words come almost unconsciously:
Lord in the morning
Thou shalt hear
My voice ascending high
To thee will I direct my prayers
To thee lift up mine eyes
My grandparents are my role models in so many ways. When my grandfather passed away in March of 2004 they were just shy of their 60th wedding anniversary. I want a marriage that lasts like that. Both of my grandparents have spent their entire lives in service to others. That’s the kind of legacy I want to leave behind. I remember talking with grandpa and grandma maybe 10 or 12 years ago, and I was amazed! They were the farthest thing from the stereotypical “stuck in the old ways” old folks—their faith was dynamic, alive, still changing and growing. I want to have a living faith like that. My childhood memories of grandma and grandpa include family worships every morning and Friday and Sabbath evening. I want to have traditions like that in my family someday. I remember when I was in college my grandma came into some information that led her to believe I was doing some immoral things (for the record I wasn’t but grandma didn’t know that). She wrote me the most beautiful letter of concern and dare I say it—remonstration—and when I went to talk to her about it, she was so kind. I remember her saying “I’m not going to say anything to anyone else about this. It will be our secret.” Even though the facts of the case were not true, I was deeply moved by how grandma dealt with what she believed was her erring grandson. I want to have that spirit of loving grace. My grandparents were both thrifty and generous. The influence in that area, especially in the area of thriftiness, is still taking hold (I’ve reached the point where I always clean my plate, but that’s about it so far), but I trust it will! My grandparents are my role models, my inspiration. If I live as long as they have, I hope my life will look a little bit like theirs.
Robert Thomson & Roland Thomson
They rode motorcyles. They both had these matching bikes that they would take on road trips. It was like having the guys from CHIPs Patrol in your own family. Except cooler. They both played the guitar. I remember the two of them trading licks on some super complicated jazzy/Caribbeanesque song. They were both scuba divers. They had the best stories about doing all kinds of cool things and having all kinds exciting adventures. As a little kid, my two lanky, dark-haired uncles were the epitome of cool. Everything they did, thought: “I want to do that.” Uncle Robert had a black four wheel drive Toyota 4-Runner. Uncle Roland drove an emerald green Honda Civic station wagon. I thought those were the best looking cars on the planet. I still dream of one day owning a 4-Runner. Uncle Robert & Uncle Robert liked jazz. I decided I liked jazz too (though as a kid I wasn’t even sure what jazz sounded like). So today, every time I put Diana Krall or Harry Connick Jr. in the CD player, every time I slip on a pair of flip-flop sandals and think ‘Yeah, they look good—loose, bohemian , cool’, every time I decide to try something new or go on a new adventure, I’ve got Uncle Roland and Uncle Robert to thank. I’m not near as cool as they are—after all, while I do scuba dive I can’t play the guitar and or ride a motorcycle--but I’m working on it.
When I think of what it means to be like Jesus, the first name that comes to mind is always Bill Leen. I’ve only known my father-in-law for twelve years but in that time he’s definitely become one my greatest heros and role models. Of course when he reads this he’ll shake his head, and say something like this: “Well that’s real nice of you, Sean. But you didn’t have to say all that.” See what I mean! Humble, gentle, kind, gracious. I love talking to him because he’s so genuinely interested in what you have to say—no, more than that, he’s really interested in you as a person. A lot of us try to fake that kind of interest, but with him it’s real. You can tell by the questions he asks. He asks about you like he really cares, like he really wants to know. I’ve tried to take that same spirit in my interactions with others (though I still too often fall prey to talking too much). I love the way he treats my mother-in-law, Carol with such deference and consideration. He’s a gentleman of the old school. Dad Leen is pretty conservative. I often wonder what he must think of me with my wild-eyed liberalism (and up until recently my shoulder length dreads). But I don’t really worry. He’s the least judgemental person I’ve ever met and he never treats me with anything less than the highest respect. He’s never given me so much as a disapproving glare or condescending tone. When I met Babs, I was doubly blessed. Not only did I gain a wife, but I gained a dad as well.
My sister Dawn is one of the strongest people I know. We were talking about this the other day, because she doesn’t feel very strong all the time. She’s got a sensitive heart beneath her hardy exterior and she hurts like all of us do. So when I say that she’s strong I don’t mean that she’s impervious. Her strength is found in her unyielding commitment to her convictions. When she believes in something, Dawn does not back down. Period. She doesn’t pretend. She doesn’t prevaricate. She doesn’t sugar-coat. What’s amazing is that standing up for what’s right isn’t always easy for her (is it ever for any of us?). She gets scared, lonely, sad, cries, like anyone would. But while many take the easy route out and compromise, Dawn refuses to do so. Once when she was traveling in Australia she saw a woman brutally verbally abusing a little child in a train station. Most people turned the other way, not wanting to get involved, making excuses. Not my sister. She stood up to this woman, told her enough was enough—and nearly got slashed as the woman turned her rage on Dawn. Fortunately my sister escaped unharmed, and as if freed by Dawn’s courage someone else called the police on the woman. Ever since I heard that story, my sister’s moral courage has become the gold standard for me to measure the strength of my own convictions. When the chips are down and I’m faced with standing up for what’s right, come what may, I hope to be like Dawn.
It seems like Vince has been challenging me all my life. I don’t think he meant to. He was just so good at everything. A lot of things I did, I did either because Vince was doing them first or he was doing them better. When we were kids, he made these little Indians out of pipecleaners and bandaids—whole tribes of them. So I started making them too. Both of us were attempting to illustrate the Bible (we both foundered around Abraham), both of us were drawing history pictures, writing stories of dogs in the wilds of Alaska, both of us were writing Journals (The Journal for me and VAMJODH [Vincent Alex Maycock.s Journal of Daily Happenings] for him), both of us were playing Jeopardy against the players on TV. We both did a lot of things, only he always did them just a little better which challenged me to do what I did just a little better. Now that we are adults, Vince challenges me still. My brother is brilliant (this is a guy who reads physics textbooks for some light reading) and he challenges me to keep learning. His atheism challenges me to wrestle with my faith. Vince has faced obstacles in his adult life—with his health and in other ways—that I could never imagine overcoming, and yet he has soldiered on resolutely, challenging me to do the same in whatever life throws at me. He’s still pushing me to do better. A memory: Vince is maybe 9 or 10 years old wrestling with our cousin William who is two years his senior and twice as strong. William’s got Vince’s arm twisted into some excruciating position and is demanding his surrender. But Vince is dogged—I can tell he’s in pain but he’s stoic, unyielding. He endures.
For a long time I used to think of Yvette primarily as “my sister’s cousin.” They were the same age and by the time Yvette along with Uncle Slimen, my mom’s sister Aunt Patsy, William, Nabih and Yvette moved to Central Florida I had moved away. But on my annual visits home over the past nine years I’d see her when she popped in to visit Dawn. We’d chat and it turned out she was an avid bookworm. Now, I used to read a lot as a kid. But somewhere along the way I lost that reading habit. Yvette helped bring it back. A couple of years back we started talking about good books—she recommended a few and I recommended a few. I started reading again, and our book talks spurred me to keep reading. Now I read every night before bed. And I’m always on the lookout for a good book to share with Yvette. But here’s the truly wonderful thing—a return to reading wasn’t the only thing I gained from Yvette. One night I’m e-mailing Yvette my thoughts on The Kite Runner (one of our recent shared reads), and I pause for a minute, imagine her cheerful smile, and I realize, with wonder, that somewhere along the way she went from being “my sisters cousin” to being my friend.