The other day my homegirl Shelly and I got caught up in a conversation about family. See, when I think of the people I consider my real family, the list begins and ends with my mother and my three siblings. That’s not to say I don’t consider cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. as my kin, but I don’t have as strong of a connection with those family members as I do with the woman who gave me life me and my brothers and sister. So, for me, my family consists of these four individuals.
I accredit this outlook to two things: 1) Coming from a broken home, I have no connection with my father or his side of the family, so half of my ancestral tree has been pruned out of my life. 2) My mother’s various interpersonal conflicts with different family members caused her to distance herself from them, which inadvertently alienated me from them over time as well. Aside from a few childhood cousins that I communicate with on occasion, there aren’t many kinfolk that I can actually say I have a personal relationship with and that worries me.
The heart of my conversation with Shelly was how my lack of familial bonds can affect my own relationship with my future family. How can I tell my children about their history if I don’t even know it? I have an older sister with five children that I’ve never met. We spoke for the first time a year and a half ago when I confronted my father (CLICK HERE) and although I got her contact information, I’ve only attempted to reach out to her once since then. My list of excuses include: being that she’s spent her entire life in Grenada there are cultural barriers that make fluid conversation between us difficult, my phone card didn’t work the one time I called her, and I have no idea what to say to someone that I’m related to but is basically a stranger. The reality is I’m just scared.
For the most part, I’d like to believe that my life has been fine contained within my four-person family bubble, but is it fair to my nieces and nephews, even my future children, to cut off everyone else in my bloodline? I grew up as the oldest of my mother’s children and had to carry the burden of growing up fast. How different would I have been had I had an older sister in my life to guide me or even tease me? What lessons could I teach my nieces and nephews about life if I make the effort to be a part of theirs? Do they view me as a bad uncle that cares nothing about them? How will my ideas of what family is and my own personal experiences meld with the woman who will (hopefully) become my wife one day? Will I merely follow suit and deny my own kids access to an entire side of the family tree because I was too scared to dig up my roots? These are just some of the million what ifs and I wonders that constantly run through my mind. I’ll never find any real answers until I stop asking questions and start taking action.
At the end of my conversation with Shelly, her advice for me was that I needed to connect with my family not just for my unborn children but also for myself most importantly. As fate would have it, less than 24 hours later my mother and brothers stopped by my house to catch up. In the midst of the family bonding, my cell phone rang and I saw my older sister’s name appear on the caller ID. After pleasantries and belated birthday wishes were exchanged (I didn’t call her for her birthday a few weeks ago) she got to the point of her call. My paternal grandmother, who I have never met, lost her leg due to complications from diabetes. My father had actually told me my grandmother had a blood clot or something in her leg when we last spoke in January, but I didn’t think it was that serious. Apparently I was wrong.
I had mixed emotions upon hearing the news. Of course I empathized with my grandmother’s condition, but at the same time I wasn’t emotionally distraught because, to the best of my knowledge, she’s been in Grenada her entire life and we’ve never met. Please don’t take that to mean that I’m heartless or don’t care, I just digested and processed the information as if it had happened to the cousin of an old high school friend. After sending my condolences, my sister informed me that my father wasn’t taking the news well and I should reach out to him. I thanked her for the information and tapped my brother, who has the same father as I, and asked if he wanted to talk to our older sister. He said yes and had an awkward first conversation with her before hanging up.
Afterwards my brother and I spoke about eventually taking a trip down to Grenada to meet our sister and nieces and nephews. Being 10 years apart, we’ve never really spoken much about our father or sister but it was good to see that we were on a similar page and he was open to doing that “some day.” My youngest brother, however, who has a different father, simply asked, “Why do y’all want to go down there for? You don’t even know these people.” He’s only 16 so I’ll give him a pass on that, but I looked him in the eye and replied, “Because it’s our family and to know them is to know ourselves.”
…A journey still in progress…
I’m sure I’m not alone; how has coming from a broken home affected you? How close are you with relatives outside of your immediate family? Do your parents’ issues with different relatives have an adverse affect on your relationships with them? For those that come from large families, what are some of the benefits of having that kind of built in support system? Are there people in your family that you feel you have no connection to at all?
Speak your piece…