My Also Family

I had a classmate once who was part Apache (native American). He told me they have a belief that you should be able to realign your family at the age of 15. Those who you were born with may not be the ones you remain with for the rest of your life. Families were fluid and worked on a meritocracy of sorts - you chose who mattered and who you belonged to. I like that belief.  

If you are born, are raised and die in the same location, your family is pretty much defined by DNA and marriage. However, when you are a TCK, the family you are physically related to are so very physically distant. Do you still hold to the inflexible definition of family as that of blood and betrothal or do you adapt? Do you become more malleable? What can the concept of family mean to you?

I have blood relatives in Illinois. My aunt coaxed and cajoled me to come for a visit when I was in my 20s and I obliged. She talked me into going to pay my respects to an estranged grandparent in Indiana (against my father’s wishes) and she wound up jealous of my grandfather’s reaction to me during our stay. On our return to Chicago, she ridiculed my life experience, my lack of proper values (hers) and followed up with a letter to my parents telling them that I had been a disappointment to her. She forgot to mention to the other 45 relations in town that I was coming because her agenda was to show me off like a prized caught trout to my paternal grandfather. 

What she really did was flay me of my self-worth. To her, I was an experiment that went wrong and blew up in her face. To me, I was a guest in her home and she betrayed me. Today, in my eyes, my family in Chicago is dead. There was no casket and no memorial - just a vast gaping hole where a warmer history should have been. I have no relations there anymore and I might think I never had. I am happy with that.

It is hard to divorce yourself from parents and siblings but sometimes it is necessary. If they cannot be part of a supporting and loving system of interactions and are nothing but destructive actors then it is best to cast them over like so much ballast which weighs down a hot air ballon. 

The same friends who tell me these cautionary tales ask me how I get along so well with my parents and are amazed I make a point of spending a month with them each year. Admittedly, there are times I will do something to displease my mother and she will say “I love you, but I do not like you” and that is okay by me. We are family, the important element is love - not popularity - and we do get along so very well regardless.

I look at my mom and dad and as I see them change each year when I go home, my heart tugs. Time marches on but while I have them with me, I am happy and I know this. In my mind, I hear myself in what could be my grandmother’s voice: “your parents become your children.” The thought makes me more acutely aware of how I love my parents and how, someday, I shall face crushing despair when they are no longer here. Until then, I hug them tight to hold them close.

My family and my blood are in Alaska. My heart will hold up north and I fool no one. But my also “family” exists as much to me down in Texas and California, Washington and Tokyo. I do things for them because they are part of my clan. These are the people I have met, known, shared secrets and hardships with, have held and cried with in moments of utter despair and in times of great joy, they are the people to shield from unpleasantness and pain. 

They have supported me in my most difficult decisions. When my world crumbled around me, there they were with hands reaching into the collapsed tunnel to pull me out. There was understanding and support as I was picked up, brushed off and made to stand back up. “You ok now? We’re right here if you need us.” Isn’t this where family truly rests? Somewhere you can lower your defences because you aren’t strangers?  

My concept of family is flexible. I come from a multicultural background. Why shouldn’t I have a multi-cultural family?