My mod­ern fam­i­lies

GA Voice - - Arts -

Any es­trange­ment I have from my fam­ily—and it abounds—doesn’t re­sult from be­ing gay. I’ve al­ways been ac­cepted by my im­me­di­ate fam­ily, and wel­comed as kin into oth­ers, through both fel­low­ship and ge­net­ics.

The dis­tance be­tween my rel­a­tives and me is not filled with bad blood; rather, I come from two blood­lines in­clined to flow along sep­a­rate chan­nels. A four-day trip to Chicago planned for later this month is de­vel­op­ing into a week­end that will reaf­firm yet trans­form my un­der­stand­ing of fam­ily.

The ori­gin of the trip is a gath­er­ing for my fa­ther’s side of the fam­ily, most of whom haven’t seen each other in decades, since we were grow­ing up on 60th & Hal­sted (the same Hal­sted that runs through Boys­town in an al­ter­nate re­al­ity). “Re­union” is too big a word for what we are at­tempt­ing, which is sim­ply a Satur­day night fam­ily din­ner at Old Coun­try Buf­fet.

It’s worth a round-trip air­plane ticket, even though I learned a few years ago that my fa­ther is not re­ally my fa­ther, so I share no blood with those I call fam­ily.

“OK, cuz,” wrote my cousin Tassie, who, like many oth­ers, prob­a­bly knew the truth about my fa­ther long be­fore I was in­formed, “I am go­ing to change the date to Septem­ber just for you and if you don’t come I am go­ing to be re­ally pissed.”

It’s touch­ing to know that the shenani­gans of older gen­er­a­tions don’t dis­rupt the bonds we de­vel­oped as broth­ers, sis­ters and cousins.

The week­end is also the cul­mi­na­tion of a dis­cus­sion I’ve been hav­ing with some­one from my child­hood who con­tacted me sev­eral years ago on Face­book. With­out any knowl­edge of my shift­ing parent­age, he wrote that he is con­vinced we are broth­ers, that his fa­ther is my fa­ther.

I’ve been re­luc­tant to do a DNA test— which would re­veal not only sib­ling­hood but also eth­nic­ity—due to re­sent­ment that a cot­ton swab could have more say about who I am than 35 years of life and ex­pe­ri­ence. Nev­er­the­less, we’ve bought the kits and will learn whether we are broth­ers dur­ing a night of beers and blunts. I des­per­ately hope we are, and wish I shared his cer­ti­tude. “The dis­tance be­tween my rel­a­tives and me is not filled with bad blood; rather, I come from two blood­lines in­clined to flow along sep­a­rate chan­nels.”

More re­cently, I was con­tacted on Face­book by my 20-year-old nephew, who has found love for the first time, and sub­se­quently, mo­ti­va­tion for more than the life he’s known on the South Side. He is con­vinced that his best course will take him away from Chicago, some­thing I’ve known for more than a dozen years.

We’ve been talk­ing about the young cou­ple com­ing to At­lanta to look for jobs, stay­ing with me un­til they can get their own place. Sud­denly, it looks like they will de­part Chicago with me at the end of the month, which means I have two weeks to het­ero­sex­u­al­ize my gay bach­e­lor pad.

It’s daunt­ing to take in a cou­ple of South Side refugees and tem­po­rar­ily pro­vide for a three-per­son house­hold while the two of them dis­cover adult­hood. But I once walked their path, and I know I wouldn’t have ad­vanced with­out im­pul­sively seiz­ing es­cape routes with­out know­ing where they led, and I be­lieve we face no strug­gles or odds that would be any greater than their cur­rent fate.

I’ve tried to be a good un­cle through­out my neph­ews’ and nieces’ lives, while know­ing they needed far more from me than the cash I send home for Christ­mas or birthdays. I was pro­tected from re­spon­si­bil­ity by dis­tance, my dis­plea­sure with their mother, and the sense that I was ill-pre­pared to take care of some­one else’s chil­dren.

While be­ing a gay male has in­su­lated me from the de­mands of guid­ing tod­dlers and teenagers, my ab­sence from their de­vel­op­ment is some­thing I’ve strug­gled to rec­on­cile my­self to for a decade. Un­able to be their guardian, I hope I can at least be a men­tor to my nephew as he crosses into man­hood, and to­gether we can steer our fam­ily to a smoother way for­ward.

Ryan Lee is an At­lanta writer.

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