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A family with a penchant for following less expected paths

Zanny Merullo Steffgen hiking the Camino de Santiago, a nearly 500-mile long network of ancient pilgrimage routes running through Europe.
Andreanne Lafrance
Zanny Merullo Steffgen
Zanny Merullo Steffgen hiking the Camino de Santiago, a nearly 500-mile long network of ancient pilgrimage routes running through Europe.

My older daughter Zanny and I both write for a living. We recently decided to publish a newsletter together — an ongoing conversation between a father and daughter 44 years and 2,000 miles apart.

As Zanny and I considered subjects we might discuss, one aspect of our family situation became clear: distant as the two generations are in years, we’re all in transitional stages.

My younger daughter, Juliana, will soon graduate from college. Zanny’s newly married, and she and her husband are figuring out how they might afford to buy a house, and when they should think about having children. And at 67 and 70, my wife Amanda and I are entering the last part of life’s journey.

To complicate matters, all of us have a strong preference for the less traveled path. Juliana took a year off before college and, at 19, instead of coming home as we offered, chose to live alone for months in rural England during the COVID lockdown.

After graduating from Philipps Exeter, instead of attending college, Zanny volunteered with street kids in Naples, Italy, walked the 500-mileCamino de Santiago, then lived in Cambodia for two years.

Maybe they were following in their parents’ footsteps. Both Amanda and I have degrees from Brown, but in our mid-20s, she was waitressing and I was driving a cab — both of us foregoing the more expected and much more lucrative careers upon which many of our classmates had embarked.

Later, even with the financial responsibility of kids, cars and a house, we stubbornly resisted the sensible attraction of a regular paychecks.

I suspect that our shared penchant for taking the road less traveled will guide all of us as we wrestle with the challenges of our disparate life stages. Maybe Amanda and I will retire to Sicily. Maybe the girls will run a food truck or coach soccer in Uruguay.

Every human on earth, in every chapter of life, must deal with the future’s unpredictability. It seems to me now that the choices the four of us have made — some wise, some not — have been a way of acknowledging that security, real security, is an illusion. We can make plans, we have to, but whether we choose the safest route or something else, the universe has its own ideas about what will happen along the way.

Roland Merullo lives in western Massachusetts. His newest novel is "Dessert with Buddha." The Substack newsletter he writes with his daughter is called "Hi Zan, Hi Pa."

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