Family is something I've never thought too much about, never thought was important or an integral part of my life. Family is, however, plays an important role in my life, probably more than I can realize or appreciate. I've just taken them for granted like I have all the other luxuries in my life. I think, "Who doesn't have a family? That's like asking who doesn't have oxygen?" It just feels like something that's always been there and is just as much a part of my life as my skin covering my bones or the grass on the ground. But a lot of people don't have a family and I can't necessarily wrap my mind around how that might be a negative thing for them. And I guess that's because although I do have a family, none of us are that close or hold that relationship to a high degree and it almost feels like I don't have much of one, either. I feel bad for saying that because I'm sure there isn't a legitimate comparison there. Having a detached family is better than none at all.
I think a big factor in my family not being close is the fact that we've all kind of done our own thing. My dad's grandmother had four boys and none of them finished high school. Without an education, they took on menial jobs to support their new wives and screaming babies. That includes my father. And it seems my father's brothers didn't seem too bothered to tell their children to get an education because next to none of them did. They were lucky to get out of high school but even that doesn't help you get very far in life anymore. And with no way out, they all stuck around and knocked up others who stuck around. And then came more screaming babies, which always made holiday get-togethers way more fun, and the cycle continued. And I say this not to insult my family because even with an education, I'm not much better off than they are. I only say it to mean that my goals differed from those of my aunts, uncles and cousins. They focused on cigarettes and alcohol while I focused on getting through college. They worried about how they were going to take care of their accidental offspring while I wondered how I would become an artist. And those differences in focus left very little for commonality among us. Therefore, we never had an opportunity to be that close.
I hear all the time about the importance of family, how family is all you have, how if you can't count on your family, you can't count on anyone. And I wonder if that's why I can't count on anyone. I wonder if that's why I can't form close connections with people. Maybe family is set up to be your practice bond that you learn to form when you are younger. And because I never managed to do that, maybe it negatively affected my social skills. As much as family can be there for you to have a place to settle, to feel like you belong somewhere, they can also make you feel alienated.
There are people without families, and although it's probably not always an ideal situation, many of those individuals manage to do okay for themselves. So, is family really that important after all? What if friends take the place of family? It seems any support system is beneficial, whether it be a relative or a really good friend. And don't the terms "friend" and "family" become interchangeable after a while? When it comes down to it, doesn't it seem more natural to think of your friends as your family, especially if you find yourself in a family that doesn't get you? You share genetics with your family but how far does that take you? When it comes down to it, it's only blood. You are born into families and as you develop your own unique mind, you realize you might not click with the rest of your clan. But you can choose your friends, find the people who share your interests and passions and that's how you can grow close. They become your support, your therapy, your anchor.
But I don't have an anchor. I'm not close with my family and I'm not really close with anyone. Not anymore, anyway. It's interesting because it feels like I'm missing something in each relationship I try to establish, whether it be with a relative or an acquaintance. There's either that built-in closeness that comes with family, yet without the common interests. Or I find people I have things in common with but can't ever seem to get close to them. I wonder what keeps me from giving myself to others or allowing them to give themselves to me. I seek it out yet can't seem to grasp it.
If family is so important, I wonder why it is that people have to find that family feeling outside of their blood. It makes me wonder how families are put together. Are our relatives randomly placed in to our lives or is there a plan in the parentage? I look at the diversity of family and some days it feels like some are cut from the same cloth while others seem like a cut-and-paste collage. How is it that dreamers are born into practicality? How is it artists come from athletes, homosexuals from homophobes, atheists from the religious? It turns out that some poor souls become the unfortunate result of the wheel of chance, made to begin their lives as outcasts. It feels unfair to be placed in a family that will hinder a person's lifestyle. Yes, friends can be supportive but it still hurts to feel like your family has turned their backs on you. For example, my cousin came out as gay several years ago. My mom told me that my father said he'd disown me if I ever came out as gay. I wasn't gay so I was relieved I'd never have to go though that situation but I was also alarmed that he would feel that way. It was annoying that he could be so small-minded for one and it hurt that he'd feel he could cut me out of his life so easily, especially over something I found so inconsequential.
I have to wonder if that small tidbit of information shaped the way I saw my father. I wonder if it was one of the wedges placed between us, a slice of knowledge that kept me from pursuing a close relationship with him. It makes sense. Why should I try to get close, why should my love grow for him if he isn't willing to accept all of me, just love me as a son, respect me as a man, not just a lifestyle. It seemed kind of a waste of energy.
I look at my parents and my sister and all my relatives and I realize I don't want to have children because I am terrified I'll end up passing my crazy along to my son or daughter. Another part that scares me is the massive amount of bigotry and addiction in my family, something else I'm not too fired up about passing along to another generation. Or what if I end up being like my parents? What if I'm overly critical like my mother or emotionally absent like my father? I wouldn't want to damage a child that way. But, would I? Who says I will end up being like them? You hear of parents breaking the cycle of abuse all the time but is it really so easy to do? Was my mother criticized as a child? Did my dad have a good relationship with his dad? Did they simply inherit their parents' bad habits? Or did they consciously make a decision not to act the way their parents did but ended up doing it anyway? What is controllable and what is unavoidable?
Is blood relative to behavior? Are we our parents? Are we handed down the bad as well as the good? I have my mother's eyes and insecurities. I have my father's hair and inability to show affection. We not only inherit talent but temperament. The question is what is fixable? What can be changed and what will always remain? Can you lose your ability to sing or your penchant for anger? Are our characteristics so ingrained in us that we can never get rid of them or can we only suppress them, work on it daily or watch as it rises back up into our behavior? What can be destroyed and what can be kept down? Are we sentenced to a life of stoicism or mania? Are we chained down by a certain set of characteristics or can we craft our own? And if we can, how?
I look at my family tree and wonder what feeds it. It's like it stands in a stagnant body of water, a pool where all the hereditary habits can be found, submerged and cycling, funneled into the tree, all the paranoia and madness and drug addiction coursing through the trunk and pumping through the pulp as it blooms, feeding the bark and branches the same tainted water that fueled the previous boughs, the ancient liquid that still lingers in the limbs, the roots swimming in insanity. It's chlorophyll and cancer, heartwood and heartaches, sap and cigarettes. Of course, every family tree could use some trimming but it still feels a little daunting to sit back and see the whole thing spread out in front of me. Interestingly enough, it's also kind of reassuring. Yes, I might be screwed up but every branch on the tree is a little gnarled, every leaf a little wilted. It's not just me. Maybe, baby, I was born this way and maybe I didn't solely contribute to my craziness. I sprouted among the periwinkles and weeds and I can't help my placement in the dirt, so why should I worry? Oh, yeah, because I can't help it. My mom's a worrier, too.
It's genetic, after all.