My Nucleus

After opening with such an interesting perspective on families in general, I guess it'd be easy to assume there are some real issues with my family. If you reached that conclusion, you'd be wrong. My family is just as dysfunctionally normal as any other.

Where to start? I'm the oldest of three siblings. My sister is the next oldest, four years younger than I. My brother came eight years later and was a very pleasant surprise – to me at least. I had always wanted a little brother and was extremely happy when he came along. As far as children are concerned, the balance was perfect in our home. Oldest boy; middle child is the only girl; and then the baby boy. There was no room to suffer the well-known "middle-child" syndrome so well developed in Jan Brady. We all had our shtick, our niche market, our place in the family pecking order, our reason for being special.

Growing up I always felt, as the oldest and as a boy, that I often got the short end of the stick. Whenever something needed to be done, I had to be the one to do it. Who would if not me? The girl? The baby? Nope – me. Now it of course makes sense, but growing up it was just one more reason to feel as the redheaded stepchild. Of course perception is reality. I really had no reason to complain – I had it pretty good. By comparison, I actually never actually had to do much of anything. I didn't mow my first lawn until I became a homeowner myself. I wasn't spoiled, but I lived an arguably privileged life.

I also reminisce back, now with my own life in mind, and wonder how hard it must have been for my parents to raise me and subsequently my siblings. When I was born, my mom was 21 and my dad was 24. At 32, and only somewhat prepared to embark in the lifelong responsibility of raising kids, I cannot fathom what it was like to be in their shoes. It just seems to me that they were kids raising kids. Between 21and 24 I was still in college (or barely out) living that lifestyle and certainly not prepared to deal with children, let alone raise them. And so, when I look back at all the things I may think they did wrong or they did differently than I would now, I have to give them the benefit of the doubt because frankly they probably didn't know any better. And after all, I turned out pretty good so they must've done more things right than wrong.

Moving on I guess it'd be remiss to omit that I come from a now-broken home. At the time I left for college, my parent's marriage was on its last leg. In this case, the children were the last to know. I don't remember my parents ever fighting. In retrospect, I don't remember them being expressively affectionate with one another either (towards the end anyway). I remember it as if it were yesterday when I was visiting from college one summer and my mom broke the news to me. I won't get into the details, but I remember her explaining her reasons for it – reasons I thought selfish and shallow at the time, but certainly justified. At first it would only be a separation – more of a wake-up call to see if my dad would get with the program. But he didn't and so the marriage ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. To be fair to my dad, maybe there was reason for him no to get with the program. Maybe my mom could've looked the other way and maintain the status quo – after all life wasn't that bad (right?). Then again, that would not be fair to her either. What happened, happened. Whether it was good or bad, justifiable or not, the best or worst thing that could have happened, it is really not important at this point.

I was gone for most of the dissolution. The split first hit me really hard one Christmas where I had to experience firsthand what it was to have parents in the same room that wouldn't talk to or look at each other. I still have some pictures where I was holding my brother; my eyes red from crying. Being far away for that whole thing and the painful years thereafter has been a certain blessing from God. I will always hold my brother in high regard for having to endure growing up under such circumstances. Where it was only hard for me at times, it was certainly hard for him often. He's a tough kid (although he's 21 now), and I feel extremely sad that he had to grow up in those conditions.

A few years later my dad remarried starting a whole new slue of issues. If things are complicated in a broken home, insert a new person (one who doesn't really seem – by her actions – to want to make things smooth for all) and things will undoubtedly get even more complicated. A few years later they had a child – ironically enough (and this is why I remember) – the day after the infamous 9/11. She's my half-sister although I barely know her, which is sad I guess. Although she's a blood-relative, we don't share that family bond I've written of. I've seen her just a handful of times. We don't share anything but some genes. When she's grown, her family experience and mine will look nothing alike. That's both a shame and a reality.

Despite some issues about (guess what) money, my parent's divorce has not been particularly destructive or bitter (except for my sister's wedding – another day, another cube). This doesn't mean it hasn't been painful for all in some respect or another. I guess of all the parties involved, I have been the one that has suffered it the least. I was pretty much done with college and on my own when the final nail struck its coffin. My sister, brother, mother and father all had much worse to deal with. Again, being far away and being self-reliant made things a whole lot easier for me. I was the lucky one.

As previously brushed upon, my sister got married just a few months ago and has now moved to Australia with her husband (he's an Aussie). Being with my siblings during that week was great. Talking about the past – how much of a jerk brother I was growing up, all the trips we took, when my little brother got his first (and lamest ever) spanking, etc – knowing that only they know exactly how it was, and how we all felt is certainly remarkable. Childhood memories are so precious and so fleeting, and having someone who was there with you through it all is so valuable, so special.

I love my family – all of them. I shared with them 20 years of my life and owe them all much for who I am today. Whether together as a unit or individually, they are my family and I will never be able to have that specific relationship with anyone else. They are my parents and my siblings and I will never have any other fill those roles. Whatever things happened in our past, we lived them together – the good times and the bad. And although they are not close (and some are a lot farther than others), I have them always in my heart – real close. I have always felt them near, even when I left for college and was living far away from them for the first time. I guess it may not be easy to understand or relatable at all, but it is true.

Separated by geography and political boundaries and political ideologies and thoughts and feelings and even by our current lives, the five of us share an unbreakable bond. The three of us, my siblings and I, are the genetic and environmental product of our parents' parenting. They are the reason we exist. Without them we wouldn't be here. We owe them our lives and that is a favor only repayable with love, respect, and understanding. My siblings and I owe each other support, encouragement, friendship, and unconditional love. From a distance, impossible to hug or hold one another, this is all we can do for each other. As I sit here, staring at a furious ocean beating upon a disappearing shoreline, spending time with a family that is not my own, I know that wherever they are and in the back of their minds – buried beneath day-to-day activities, school, work, other relationships, more – they as I look forward to our next meeting. What will my brother's hair look like next? Why doesn't my sister or my mother seem to age at all? Will my dad bother to dress up? Will I have more gray hair than gone hair? We'll just have to wait until then to find out – whenever "then" happens to be.

Created: 7/4/2007

Family Dysfunctionamics

Family dynamics are complicated and dysfunctional in nature. Dysfunctionality is normal. Whether you want to admit it or not, this is reality. Normality is often defined by each person's own experience. Look within your own family and you will find plenty of dysfunctional behavior. There's no shame in it – remember I claim we've all had our share of dysfunction in our families – so you are not alone. Yet, even despite this realization, admitting this about our own family would be perhaps too painful, too telling. Our families can be interpreted as (or are) such a part of who we are that we may want to pretend it's perfect and conflict-free. How could I be so well adjusted if my family wasn't perfectly adequate?

I also submit that the idealized family exists only in our minds. We often fall in the trap of perceiving other families as ideal by buying into the front they put up. Believe that every single family has issues and problems and skeletons hidden in the closet – whether they are visible to all or well kept. Regardless, it would be naοve to ignore that some families – even most - are undeniably loving and nurturing, and provide a stable environment for all its members. If there is a real ideal, that would be it.

Furthermore, it's remarkable how the problems are often so similar from family to family. Almost every issue your family has quarreled about is undeniably universal. The explanation for this is rather simple – families are made up of humans and we're all human. We love, we hate, we need, we want, we feel. Yes, we feel, and feelings are the root of most family discord (even human disagreement, that's why I think the movie Equilibrium was based on such a great concept even if highly implausible).

Feelings of entitlement, of being less loved, of envy – all contribute towards the typical family discords. I've participated and been a spectator to some pretty nasty family disputes. All and all, in a functional normally-dysfunctional family, problems get soon-after resolved. The problems might vanish right then and there forever. Others, often the big ones, usually just get buried until they make a reprise in a future argument. Big family issues never go away… or at least they don't until it's too late if you know what I mean.

Blood is indeed thicker than water. That is more than a tired clichι – it's an undeniable truth. We all have some things we share with our family that we don't share with anyone else. More than genes, we share experiences, trials and tribulations, memories, happiness and sadness, life. Those who have seen us grow, those who have been with us through our formative years, through our first words and steps - those are the people that know us and love us the most. And perhaps that they love us so much is the reason arguments are so emotionally charged. Where there is much love, there is usually much pain. That is family to me and probably to most: dysfunctional, loving – normal.

Created: 7/3/2007