Perhaps George Bernard Shaw was right when he said, “I can remember quite well the joy I felt when my family was happy.” But, what is a family, and why does the concept seem so out of grasp for me, and many others?
My family would tell you that I’m snobby and judgmental and that’s why the relationship is torn. Alas, I am in a city while they still live in Boise, Idaho. I fervently oppose their conservative Trumpist views, while they say almost nothing about mine. I went to an Ivy League school, while most of them have only walked through a college campus. I chose to visit foreign countries over visiting them, and ultimately, I do feel like I’m a better human because of that, among other reasons.
Is this cocky? I would say, “No.” After all, I’ve gained a network of friends spanning the globe. I’ve learned culture, science and communication from some of the brightest minds in the academic community. I actively support inclusivity including DACA, LGBT equality, and I actively oppose Islamaphobia, homophobia, etc. ... I can compare Spain’s fascist takeover by Franco to modern historic events to create my own opinions and ideas about our nation’s current state. I read and read and read, while they live their boring Idaho lives. I know. I’m pompous. I don’t try to hide that, but it’s because we have the world at our fingertips with the internet, and so unless you don’t have access to this, you should be just as knowledgeable as I am.
Regardless, I don’t feel like I have a family. I don’t call them and they don’t call me. I do feel a deep emptiness at times. And at times, I dwell on it. But I don’t think it’s because I actually miss them or need them.
My life was quite miserable after my parents got divorced, and my family has been anything but strong since. I think I feel this pain because of the social importance we’ve placed on families, and on a deeper level, the social weight we’ve placed on normality. To be different, whether your Muslim, gay, poly or you name it, is to go against the flow of America’s 1950s nuclear family.
A family structure is surprisingly still such an important image in our culture. Think about some shows we have:
“Modern Family”: sure there’s a gay couple, but the white picket fence still exists. Also mostly white.
“Game of Thrones”: Totally isolated to the idea of a family, even if it means breeding within your own blood.
“Stranger Things,” “This is Us,” “The Conners” (previously “Roseanne”), “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “Shameless”: All of these shows place a huge emphasis on family despite their social status, and despite how screwed up the family might be. The message is clear: family, at the end of the day, is what’s important. Also, all of these shows, like most shows, contain nearly all white families. Not a critique, just an observation.
So what if we don’t have family? I have friends that I could definitely say, quite possibly in attempt to feel normal, are family to me. Many people tell me, “well you have family, but it’s not blood,” and I suppose they’re right. But maybe they’re not, and maybe that’s just fine. I’ve spent most adult Christmases alone or with friends. I’ve travelled the world with friends. I’ve depended on friends. But at the end of the day, while I would absolutely jump in front of a bullet for them, they are just friends.
Richard Bach, an American novelist says, “The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.” Think about that for a minute. Shouldn’t we all respect each other? Shouldn’t we all try to bring joy in each other’s lives? Whether or not you have family that is blood or of respect, do you ever catch yourself othering people? Maybe you’re at the bar with your family and you judge another human. Maybe you copy Drake and say, “no new friends.” What kind of bullshit is this?
Rarely, if ever, has creating tight-knit groups outside of the activist, activity and assistance realm produced positive results. And, the tighter, more exclusive the group, the more dangerous it can become. Take Nazis, Franco’s fascists, Stalinists, Christians, Catholics, Muslims, and yes, even staunch atheists — they’re inclusive in their own exclusivity. Like prejudiced groups, we create rules for acceptance in families. We say things like, “only in this family,” and “we don’t do that in this family.”
I think the notion of family is un-evolved, or rather too restricting. The reality is that we are all connected. We are all “family” if you’d like to call it that. That homeless woman on the street — she is your sister. That Muslim in a burka — she is your sister. That gay boy running away from home — he is your brother. That trans man — he is your brother. All deserve love. All deserve acceptance. Stop being so exclusive, and start realizing that as different and fun as you may think your family is, they are not that different or special, even genetically. If we were dogs, we would all be the same breed. Think about it.