Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Does "Family" Mean, Anyway?

This is the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls Idaho. It provides substantial proof that Idaho isn't completely ugly.

My relationship with my biological father is strained at best. Not because I don’t feel love for him or wish him well, but because his role in my formidable years—age 11 to 21— is an absolute blank. Was he a good man? Was he a bad man? I have no fair answer. He was absent, nonexistent, estranged—which is to imply a pejorative impact, but it's not necessarily reflective of an evil character.

I mention this because over this past weekend, my older sister and I had the opportunity to go to a family reunion of sorts in Idaho. There we met with my biological father’s entire side of the family for the first time in my memory. Two of my father’s three younger sisters I hadn’t met since early childhood. One of the two I couldn’t remember at all.

It was surreal to look at these family members--many of whom look a lot like me--and realize that I probably knew my co-workers better than these people. They were all very polite, if somewhat indifferent, and with exception of one Aunt (we'll call her amazing Aunt Alaska for the sake of this blog), I couldn't think of one thing I had in common with any of of them.

When we finally left the reunion, I started to feel depressed and ambivalent. My heart and mind began to wander into a room that has long since, for the most part, been shutoff and left to collect dust in the inner sanctums of my conscious. I have deliberately avoided this room, because it contains hundreds of empty boxes where memories with my father should be. As I tentatively entered to drop off these new memories, all I could hear was an echo. It left me feeling angry and dejected--I resented this room's emptiness.

Perhaps one day this will change. In the future, it might be better for me to store the new memories in a different room altogether. I’m not sure. What I do know is not all of my memory rooms are this sad and lonely, and for that I’m eternally grateful. I have been blessed in my life with a series of unconventional familial connections. These connections have made such indelible impressions that I am forced to reevaluate my definition of “family.”

1. First, I have a step father who has been absolutely supportive since the first day we met. I am moved by his kindness and impressed by his unfathomable capacity for patience. I'm also grateful for someone in the family who has similar interests to mine. He's an outdoors enthusiast, knowledgeable about the Southern culture, highly educated, and he loves the gospel. He truly is the father I never had.

2. The second set of people who've had a huge impact on my life are my uncle and aunt--who, in actuality, are only related as fifth or sixth cousins. That familial connection, however slight, was reinforced to within an inch of its life while I was growing up. I cannot say how many meals I've eaten at their table or how many times my uncle helped me with homework in high school (-"Want to hear a joke about inertia, Becky?" -"Now that you mention it Uncle, No. No, I don't."). I am also excessively fond of my cousins. One I idolized (we shall call him Sethie-poo) and another with whom I have enjoyed years of sibling rivalry, fighting, and eventually an quasi-intellectual truce ("-My argument is logically sound." -"But you're still wrong." -"How wrong would I be if I offered you some chocolate?" -"How 'bout you give me the chocolate, and let me think it over?").

3. Lastly, I have enjoyed an incredibly short list of best friends who've had an astounding impact on my life: Jaime, Jea9, & Bep. You ladies know who you are. I would not be who I am today without you.

"Family" doesn't just mean blood. It means love.


Remember What's Good said...

I just wanted to thank you for putting words to a picture from my childhood. I loved your description of the room with empty boxes. I can appreciate the feelings you expressed. I also liked the description about Dad and Aunt and Uncle. Amen! Thanks again.

Love ya,

Sara Lyn said...

Amen, sista. I mean, cuz. I mean... Love you.

Mummzie and Popsicle said...


Your words describe much of how I feel and have felt about my own childhood. I am glad you have Pops, Uncle, Aunt and all those great cousins...it was a blessing to me to have them in my life too.


Jeanine Gee said...

I feel the same way about the definition of family. You and all the Sara(h)'s are no less than sisters to me, as well other roommates and people in my life. I even feared for a time that marraige might forever inhibit me from developing as deep of bonds with people as can come when you live with them (or in your case with their sister & cousin and just North Court of them). But fortunately this recession has permitted me to finally start expanding my family again as we have taken residence with two of the finest families I have ever known. And more family is always better because love doesn't divide, it multiplies. It enriches my life like the richest chocolate I have ever tasted and would sure like to taste now but it upsets my nursing baby's tummy!