Families, who needs em?

Every so often, the subject of my relationship (or rather non-relationship) with my father comes up in conversation. Most of you won’t know so I’ll briefly fill you in. I left home at 20 and in the last 12 years have only seen him for a couple of hours at my mum’s wake and we didn’t have much to say to each other then.

An awful lot of people seem to think this is really sad, that we’re both missing out on so much family joy by not seeing each other regularly. Are we? Really? I think people seem to find it difficult to understand how we could just not speak to each other for so long. We haven’t fallen out, there’s no underlying feud, rivalry or any other reason to not speak, I just don’t have anything to say to him. I think that’s where it lies. I don’t really care what he’s been doing, he doesn’t really care what I’ve been doing, we’re both aware of this so why bother?

Now we get into the part that has little to do with me but more to do with you. Why is everyone so obsessed with families? In what way is blood thicker than water? What exactly am I missing out on by restricting my family ties to my wife & step-daughter? A choice of venues for Christmas day? An extra card on my birthday? Or am I missing the point entirely? Maybe the point of families for many people is an innate sense of belonging, of being a fundamental piece in an enormous interlocking jigsaw linking man, woman & child across the land. Feeling at the heart of something special and exclusive, among those who need you and you them, knowing that their love is unconditional, no strings, forever. An extension of the time when you were a babe in arms, relying absolutely on these parents before you, knowing that you needed them for everything and they would do anything in their power to aid your survival in this harsh, unsafe world.

I think that probably is the point, it can’t be nice to feel that the comfort blanket you’ve had for so long may no longer be necessary, as though you’ve suddenly realised that the man holding the back of your stabiliser free bicycle is about to let go. But he won’t will he? Not unless you make it clear that’s what you want , even then he’ll be following behind you to help you up if and when you fall. What most of you will not have felt, however, unless you’re in a situation like me, is the elation of knowing there’s nobody behind me and even if I do fall I can get up by myself.

Ok, I think the metaphor has run its course now, most of you can cycle and I’d hope that if you haven’t already, most of you have left home and can foresee a time when parental intervention is neither necessary nor desirable for either child or parent. Is that when we come back to the belonging part? We are after all social animals, we need social contact, the success of social media and the reason for me writing this is all fulfilling a basic instinct inherent in us all to communicate. The need to have people you are close to and can spend time with to moan & groan about your boss or express admiration for the friendly, hardworking local shopkeeper is something we all have.

Is this really all family is? An evening gossip club for working adults? No, of course not it’s a combination of all the aspects I’ve mentioned above and so much more. Am I coming round to the idea of feeling I’m missing out? No. I never said I didn’t want a family, I said I didn’t want or need the family thrust upon me as a child. Now I’m a married adult I’ve rejected the dysfunctional, semi-parasitic notion that because you share a fraction of your genetic material with a person you must be permanently adhered to each other for the rest of both your lives. I’ve chosen instead to put my time and effort into the family of my choice not only that but also the choice of my wife. This is probably more important, knowing that as complete as it is now, there was a time when our bond was anything but unconditional. It has been earned, indeed it continues to be and is much stronger as a result.

Of course many people are not as lucky as us in these matters. Children have no such choices and many young adults are in a similar position. For the young and inexperienced, financial and emotional support has to come from somewhere and the younger the person is the more often it is likely to be needed. This, for me, is what the old-fashioned notion of ‘family’ is all about. When one is in those younger stages of life, without the support network available to older adults, a family is needed. As you get older, a family becomes wanted.

Many of you may be thinking I had a bad childhood. This is far from the case, as poor as my parents were at parenting, I have mostly pleasant memories from that time. I was not neglected or beaten (no more than was usual for the 80s anyway!) and as a young adult I used the support provided by my mother as much as any of my peers. The point of this piece is not that we don’t need families or that people should reject their parents at the first point of independence. It’s not that couples in their 30s & 40s should stop talking to or visiting their parents. It’s that if you get nothing positive from your family relationships but feel that you have to keep them because ‘its what you do’, take a step back. What would you miss if they weren’t there?

Thanks for reading.

Rowan

All comments welcome, I’ll try to respond to as many as possible.

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One Response to Families, who needs em?

  1. Tina says:

    Well written. Look forward to hearing some more blogs in future…

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