I have very mixed feelings and ambiguous emotions about the term ‘family’; and the importance of family. But I do not believe in the metaphor that that ‘blood is thicker than water’ when it comes to my blood relations and blood family. For me, I believe the aforementioned adage applies to my nuclear family and those I choose to become ‘family’ in my life. This includes friends and partners.
Family, to me, are the people that care about me ‘no matter what’. It does not need to matter if they are genetically related to me or not, but what matters to me is that they love me and I love them back in return. This to me is family.
I have concluded that my immediate nuclear family i.e. my wife and children mean the ‘world’ to me. One of my four brothers means the world to me – I am related to all these by blood. I have a few friends that mean the world to me and I have had male partners who have meant the world to me; and I still consider these partners and friends as family, despite them not being my blood relations.
I use the term ‘world’ in the sense that I will make reasonable sacrifices for them to live well and be happy. I genuinely have them in my thoughts at all times and want what is best for them. I actively stay in contact with them, even if I have differences with them. I am a listening ear for them, a moral source of support for them, and a shoulder to cry on. I am a provider, father, husband, brother and friend to them. They in turn have enabled me to understand who I am, define who I am and enabled me to find some meaning in my life. They are also there to support and love me in return.
On the other hand I have literally no real feelings or sense of family responsibility towards my mum and dad, in fact I don’t know them as people or respect then as role models. I feel that they have never put me first or made sacrifices for me, but pursued their selfish dreams and aspirations at the expense of my emotional and mental stability. I have often been told by them, that they did the best they could do for us. They have not fostered unity amongst their offspring and I feel they have always put their new partners and the products of these liaisons first; as opposed to the children they conceived prior to their divorce from each other.
I also feel that they see their children as a ‘cash cows’. They try to burden their children with their personal and extended family troubles, traditions and expectations. Fortunately, I have had the fortitude and strength of character to alienate myself from all this type of emotional blackmail, baggage and mess – all defined as ‘tradition and culture’ by my parents.
My parents would argue that they have enabled me to become self-made and independent through pawning me off to their extended family and boarding schools as opposed to proactively directly looking after me themselves; and showing me physical affection and love. They would argue that I owe them and their extended family gratitude and pay back for what I have supposedly achieved or will achieve in life. I obviously fundamentally disagree with their synopsis. They may be right and I may be wrong (vice versa), but I am comfortable with my conclusions and thought processes. I find this allows me to remain sane.
I often wonder if I know what a mother and father love is, and I think of the feelings I have for my own children and I cannot imagine them having the same experiences that I have been through. I also wonder whether they would have the tenacity and survival instinct to make good of themselves, if they did not have the love and guidance of two loving parents or would they end up in the criminal justice or mental health system?
I feel so grateful and privileged that my wife ensures I play a proactive role in my children’s life, even when I left her for a man and went on my journey of self-discovery. She had the generosity of spirit to accept me back when I had my light bulb moment and came to the realisation that my nuclear family means the world to me; as do those people in my life that I do not have to hide who I am from and who have accepted the authentic me; ‘warts and all’.
In conclusion, I have limited contact with my mum and dad; some of my blood brothers and sisters (especially those of whom I either share the same mother or the same father); so I do not really know them nor have I strived or made the effort to know them. I have limited contact with my extended blood family and only engage with them if and when I choose to do so on my own terms.
Therefore, blood to me is not thicker than water. I define who my family is and they mean the world to me. In essence, family, to me, are the people that care about me and I care about them…… no matter what.