Thicker than water

For the past few weeks I’ve had family on my mind. I’ve been delving into all kinds of definitions and portrayals of family and here are a few of my faves and not-so-faves:

According to a simple Google search:
fam·i·ly/ˈfam(ə)lē/
A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household.

From Wikipedia:
In human context, a family (from Latin: familia) is a group of people affiliated by consanguinity, affinity, or co-residence. In most societies it is the principal institution for the socialization of children.

From Merriam-Webster:
a: a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head : household
b : a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock
c : a group of persons of common ancestry : clan

From the U.S. Census Bureau:
“A family is a group of two people or more (one of whom is the householder) related by birth, marriage, or adoption and residing together.”

After a while googling and contemplating two-dimensional meanings of the term family, I considered more entertaining portrayals of family, such as:

The Bluths. (and my personal faves) Photo courtesy of Womansday.com
The (new) Addams Family. Photo courtesy of Fanpop.com
The Arnolds! Photo courtesy of abcnews.go.com
The Hoovers from Little Miss Sunshine. Photo courtesy of IMDb.com

I much rather the depictions of family that Hollywood provides because the mom, dad, sister, brother, dog, cat realities that are out there are, frankly, a dwindling version of the kind of family that currently exists in the majority of households around the world.

When I was growing up in San Francisco, I didn’t really pay much attention to the family units of my classmates. When I moved to the suburbs, said family units were all up in my face and I quickly realized that my type of family unit was just…”weird” (for lack of a better word AND to use a word that an insecure, 14-year old might use.) I had my mom, of course, the solid rock in my life growing up. I also had a stepfather I actually really, really hated though I think I blindly tried to convince myself that I liked him AND, even funnier, that he liked me. I had a sister but said sister was always in Chile so I never really grew up with her and for the record, never, ever – to this day – bonded with her. I had aunts, uncles, cousins – all who lived in Chile, all with whom I never shared more than a week out of each year with. In short, I kind of grew up a loner (in the family sense.)

Given this, who, in turn, did I look to – and still look to – as my family? Well my well-intentioned, solid-as-a-rock, often-times-pain-in-the-ass mother, for one. And I could NEVER even utter the word “family” without immediately conjuring up images of my Tio Pato. Along that note, no image of my family could ever be complete without also picturing my cousin Tony, Uncle Pato’s son. With this, I also throw into the mix a handful of amazingly good friends and at that, we call it a day. For reals.

When I was younger, my “weird” version of family really bothered me because I compared myself to other people and what their families looked like – from the outside. But that’s just it – I saw their families from the outside and most likely projected my ideals onto them, even if that wasn’t necessarily their reality either. Who knows? Maybe their families were even weirder than mine! And of course, as one grows up and meets people from different walks of life, one begins to realize that all KINDS of families exist out there and that, just because I grew up in Edward Scissorhands-town where all family units seemed to be derived from the 1950s mold, not everyone had the standard, formerly stereotypical family. It felt good to realize this and it felt good to let it go.

That’s not to say that certain things about “family” don’t really toy with my emotions and/or generally piss me off. To begin, yes, it does make me a bit sad that my soon-to-appear kid won’t have little cousins and lots of aunts and uncles with whom to share memories with. I have one sister, divorced, (that I never see) who happens to have kids that are either 15 or 9 years older than my soon-to-appear kid; G has one brother who isn’t tied down and who doesn’t have kids. Between the two of us we have one aunt and one uncle to offer our kid and two cousins, both boys. It’s slim pickins’ for the little one, slim pickins’.

That makes me sad. What pisses me off is the fact that my father’s side of the family, father included (and yes, biologically I do have a father) kind of threaded through life pretending I didn’t exist – type of “out of sight, out of mind” just because I lived in another country. And the irony here is that THAT family is typical in so many ways and there are lots and lots of cousins and second cousins, etc that would MORE than make up for the lack of siblings G and I have to offer … but alas, that entire group is pretty much a non-issue due to the way things worked out in my life. As a result, they’ll be a non-issue for the soon-to-emerge kid.

My immediate family now consists of my husband, my beloved Obi and of course, my mom. Soon we’ll add a daughter. I think about G’s kid’s version of family and I actually think it’s awesome. They have an active mom and dad, they also have a stepmom (me) and will soon have a stepdad. Then they’ll have a half-sister (the current pea-in-the-pod) and I’m sure that their mom will likely have more kids and so then they’ll have yet another half-sibling. In addition to this, they have three or four uncles, all of whom have small kids ages 2 months – 6 years old. Despite not living in a “traditional” mom and dad household, they truly have a lovely version of what is family. For them, family get-togethers are truly family get-togethers.

I think the best those of us with the non-traditional sense of the word family can do is embrace the people that matter. I know this sounds simple and elementary but at the end of the day, I realize that as time passes the “traditional” family has morphed. It no longer includes JUST your dad or JUST your mom. It no longer includes only a sister and a brother, uncles, aunts and cousins. And it might just be a mom, dad and dog or mom and daughter. Or uncle and son. There are a million variations and everything seems pretty legit.

From my personal experience, blood does not a family member make. The proof for me is apparent in my reality. I have five uncles and aunts on my mom’s side of the family and in turn, through them, have 12 cousins. The reality is that of all those “family members” I truly only consider half of them family and only 2 of them true, immediate family. On my father’s side I have four aunts and uncles and through them about 12 cousins as well. Aside from my nephews, I consider NONE of them to be family (they should be so lucky.) And we’re supposed to believe that blood makes the relative and that relative makes the family? This truly is a subject matter that is up for interpretation and a subject matter that begs the redefinition of the concept of family.

Would you agree that the word and meaning of family is fantastically loaded? Do you think it’s open for real interpretation?

Discuss.

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One Comment

  1. says:

    28 March, 2012 at 3:31 am

    I also come from a complicated family background. Mom+Dad=Me+Brother. Then Mom+Stepdad=Stepsister+Stepbrother. And Dad+Ex-girlfriend=Halfsister.

    I don’t even bother to explain to people. Obviously my relationship is really different with all my siblings. My brother is the only one to me that feels like a true brother because he and I grew up together and share memories of childhood together. If the rest of them had been in my life from a younger age I think I would feel differently…

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