One of the first disco albums I ever owned was “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge. I didn’t actually buy it; I won it in a radio call-in contest in the spring of 1979. I was living at home at the time and remember driving down to the local Southwest Michigan radio station to pick it up, excited to have won.
The enduring club anthem about having “all my sisters with me” has always been a part of my ethos for my entire adult life, and I still have the vinyl record in my possession. I can’t seem to part with it.
The people in our families can be a source of unconditional love — those on whom we can always rely, and will support us no matter what, who share in our joys and accomplishments, and we in theirs. Families — for many — can also be a source of frustration, pain, suffering, despair, conflict, anger, resentment and drama.
At one point in my life, I thought I might make a good parent, but by the age of 30, I figured I wasn’t able to have a child because I was HIV-positive — the technology and methods that are available today were not around then, or were prohibitively expensive. I knew, though, that raising a child would have altered the course of my life for sure, judging by my reaction to my partner Stephen bringing home a puppy one October day in 2010, unannounced. (I believe my exact words were, “What have you done?”)
I knew then, and still today, that there is a lot of work that goes into raising a puppy, let alone a child, but the rewards are immeasurable.
Now that I’m nearing 60, I guess I’ll never know whether I would have been a good parent. But, luckily, I have other children and people in my life through my extended family with my partner’s sister and nephews, who have always been incredibly welcoming from the very first time I met them.
Families come in all shapes and sizes — there are the families we are born into, and those we choose. I have my relatives, my extended family, my family of friends and my work family, to name just a few. Families can drive you crazy sometimes. But if it weren’t for family, I would be lost. We cannot exist in isolation, as much as we think we’d like to sometimes. We need the social support, connection and interaction with each other, to learn, to grow, to forgive and to give back.
I am grateful for my family and my families, and hope that all of us appreciate them in whatever form or shape they may take. One family is no better than another, but they’re all opportunities for us to stay connected, and to ultimately understand what the good qualities are that we all have in common.
Take care of yourself, and each other.
Jeff Berry is the editor-in-chief of Positively Aware magazine. This column is a project of Plus, Positively Aware, POZ, TheBody.com and Q Syndicate, the LGBT wire service. Visit their websites — http://hivplusmag.com, http://positivelyaware.com, http://poz.com and http://thebody.com — for the latest updates on HIV/AIDS.