On what makes a fam­ily

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - CONTENTS -

Per­haps I’m be­ing petty. Sure, I get that it’s in­tended to be in­clu­sive. That it’s sup­posed to be the lin­guis­tic equiv­a­lent of a bear hug. And per­haps a less cap­tious mind than mine might be more for­giv­ing, might just as­sign it to the dung pile, along with all those other mar­ket­ing fal­si­ties we are con­stantly be­ing sub­jected to, with­out tak­ing of­fence. I guess it’s even pos­si­ble some­one all alone in the world could be grate­ful for the em­brace­ment, but I sorely doubt it. More likely, I reckon, it is to rub salt in the wound of their iso­la­tion.

I first came across it a few years ago, when a man, who had suc­ceeded in sell­ing me some­thing I didn’t re­ally want or, quite pos­si­bly, need, told me heartily that, go­ing for­ward, we were part of the same fam­ily. No, we’re not, I thought. I’ve got enough rel­a­tives, thanks, with­out adding your slimy self to the line-up. And now, I strike it ev­ery­where. Banks, in­sur­ers, sud­denly, ac­cord­ing to al­most ev­ery com­pany I give my busi­ness to, we’re all one big, happy fam­ily.

Com­ing from the com­plex, blended fam­ily that I do, I am the first to ar­gue for the re­def­i­ni­tion of fam­ily. To claim that these days a fam­ily is far more than just Mum, Dad and the kids. That there is a flu­id­ity, a lovely loose­ness to fam­ily that pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did not al­low for. Not so much a tree as a flower, in fact a chrysan­the­mum to be pre­cise; with you and your im­me­di­ate loved ones form­ing a cen­tral core and petals of var­i­ous sizes rep­re­sent­ing whomever you hold dear ra­di­at­ing out­wards around you. For me my fam­ily is made up of my son and my daugh­ter, my hus­band, our dog, my mother, her les­bian part­ner (my other mother), my fa­ther, his part­ner, my brother, my step­brother and sis­ter and her part­ner, my grandmother, my hus­band’s mother, my fa­ther’s part­ner’s mother, my aunts and un­cles (in­clud­ing step and in-law), my cousins (in­clud­ing step), their spouses, my cousins’ chil­dren, my won­der­ful friends, both old and new, my friends’ chil­dren, and, in some cases, their par­ents, my chil­dren’s friends, my par­ents’ friends.

One of the great­est joys of my adult­hood has been the dis­cov­ery that just as my friends have come to feel like fam­ily, peo­ple whose back I have and who, in turn, I trust have mine; peo­ple be­hind whose back I might some­times talk and who, I imag­ine, most likely talk be­hind mine — but only ever out of a sense of love and con­cern, of want­ing what’s best for each

There is a flu­id­ity, a lovely loose­ness to fam­ily that pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions did not al­low for.

other, then so, too, have my fam­ily come to feel like friends. De­spite a sunny, shared grow­ing up, I can re­mem­ber feel­ing dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent in my teens and early 20s to my wider fam­ily. Yet while our paths have def­i­nitely di­verged, the sur­face asym­me­tries are noth­ing next to the com­mon­al­i­ties, pale in the face of our com­bined his­to­ries, our mu­tual fond­ness.

Be­ing part of a fam­ily is ev­ery­thing, and while, through choice or ne­ces­sity, some fam­i­lies work to­gether for fi­nan­cial gain or sur­vival, be­ing part of a fam­ily is never a busi­ness trans­ac­tion. And for a com­mer­cial en­ter­prise to sug­gest oth­er­wise, in­sin­u­at­ing, or even boldly claim­ing, that its cus­tomers are fam­ily is down­right creepy.


Last week I wrote about the friend­ships that can form be­tween adult and child in­de­pen­dent of you, the par­ent. John shared this: “Some­times it is easy to see why you get along with some­one be­cause they have sim­i­lar back­grounds, views, etc. But how you ex­plain the in­stant fas­ci­na­tion with an­other per­son when there is no ap­par­ent rea­son; it con­tin­ues to baf­fle and fas­ci­nate me. Although now out of the bat­tle zone,

I can re­mem­ber like it was yes­ter­day the colour of an eye, shape of a cheek, phrase, or tim­bre of a laugh that sud­denly tipped my world off its axis. But you live too closely to your chil­dren for too long, and as an au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ure, for them to see you as a fas­ci­nat­ing fig­ure in their lives. That comes later when, as they say, the chil­dren sud­denly re­alise that you have grown up a lot.”

Do write. megan­ni­col­[email protected]

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