Our culture has brainwashed us all to worship at the altar of family kinship. Why? No innate reason exists for loving your family, or even liking them, except for genetics. And that’s a shitty reason.
Mainstream media bombards us with images of happy families, traditional or otherwise. We’re taught that we have nothing without our clan. If you don’t spend every Christmas with your extended relatives, then you must be a crippled alcoholic, popping Vicodin until the holidays end so you can go back to work. Wrong. Some of us just don’t feel anything toward our families, one way or the other. With mine, the good cancels out the bad. That should be okay.
This friend of mine, her entire family pitched in and bought her a wedding dress last Christmas. The problem? She’s not engaged. I mean, she had been. The family all knew her fiance, and blamed the relationship’s failure on her. Her mom said, “We just thought we might as well give you some motivation.” My friend is great, practically my sister. When she told me, she cried a little. But then we realized that it was typical behavior for her family. No surprise here. My friend was hurt because she thought her family was supposed to love her. When you realize that maybe your family doesn’t love you, then a light opens. You no longer feel betrayed.
If your family does love you, great. Good for you. But some of us just have shit families, and inner peace depends on releasing the expectations of unconditional love.
I’m not sure why I don’t love my dad. Logically, I know he’s worked hard to provide for us. He’s helped me in lots of ways, mostly financial. I feel indebted to him, I admire him, I respect him, and I’m definitely going to buy him a fantastic headstone. His funeral’s going to totally kick ass. Why am I thinking about his funeral? He’s a big smoker. I’m pretty sure he’ll die of cancer. He already has the gut-wrenching cough. When he goes, I’ll be there at his bedside. I’ll tell him I love him, because that’s what he deserves. But do I actually love him? I don’t know. Most of the time, I’d rather not talk to him. Growing up, he made fun of me a lot. He judged me constantly, and more than once he said some cruel things that I’ll never forget.
What things? Oh, you’re so curious. He described my writing as garbage once. Called me fat. Useless. Dumb. In a strange turn of events, he later told me I was wasting away, too thin, unhealthy. I’m over all that, but consider: Would you want to hang out with someone who said that shit to you? Highly doubtful.
Does pretending to love someone count as a kind of real love? I guess it depends on what you get out of it. If you pretend to love someone so they keep you in their will, I guess not.
Don’t even get me started on loving my grandparents and uncles. Fine, get me started. Here’s how my last conversation with my grandma went before she dropped dead: She asked me how my classes were going. (It was my third year of teaching.) I told her great. She answered: “I hope you don’t have too many blacks.” I answered: “Actually, I have five black students and they’re amazing.” I would’ve added a “fuck you,” but I didn’t want to be directly responsible for her death. Anyway, I hung up and we never spoke again. About a year later, she died. I skipped her funeral.
In the south, skipping your grandma’s funeral earns you black sheep status instantly. To half my family, I’m one of those liberal professors now.
One of my uncles is a motivational speaker. His website makes me squirt beverages through my nose. He claims to be an internationally renowned life coach, author of five best-selling self-help books. How bad is he, you ask? Image a real life Stuart Smalley, who makes videos on his smartphone, and bares absolutely no resemblance to Al Franken. When I’m feeling bad about myself, I visit his website. My self-esteem rises immediately. Anyway, the real reason I feel nothing for him: he’s a selfish ass wipe. Whenever he visited us growing up, he always asked my dad to invest in his latest crazy idea. He bragged about himself all the time, and he did everything possible to avoid getting a real job to support his own kids.
If you can’t even respect someone, you probably can’t love them. Love requires dignity, I think.
Let’s turn to my brother, five years my junior. If I’m honest with myself, I’d describe him as a lucky loser. He lives at home, has never attended college, and he’s only ever had one girlfriend. What makes him lucky? Well, he has a home at least. He’s managed to catch a couple of full-time jobs, and his one girlfriend is pretty fucking hot. They’re still dating. She’s shy, like him. I’m pretty sure they’ll get married. My brother’s pretty good looking; he’s just really fucked up in the head. Figures. We were both raised by our schizo-mom. Yes, actual schizophrenia. Violent, unpredictable, dangerous mom. I’m fucked up, too. But somehow I managed to play the game of life a little better than him so far.
Why don’t I love my brother? Like with my dad, I always feel like I’m faking everything when I’m around him. I hold back a lot, hardly ever tell him what I really think about anything. For instance, he voted for Trump because he thought Hillary was dishonest. When I try to express myself to him, he starts to freak out, like I’m in a coven or something.
If we lived 300 years ago, I’m convinced my brother would’ve sold me out as a witch. He probably would’ve attended my stake-burning. You can’t love someone if you think that, in another era, they might’ve rounded up a mob to burn you alive.
Foremost, I doubt his intelligence. For chrissakes, he voted for Trump. Last visit home, I tried to figure out why over a game of Foosball. I hate Foosball, by the way. Reasons he voted for Trump? They fell apart after 15 minutes of talking to me, and he was left speechless. Sad.
My real family are my friends, people I can talk to without fear of judgment, people who I can let my guard down around. These days, I tend to spend more time with them over the holidays than my “real” family. All of them have similar situations to mine. Dysfunctional drunks for parents. Evangelical monster siblings. Abusive step-dads. We seem to have sought each other out, and we love each other. I’d cry harder for one my friends than I’d ever cry for someone in my immediate family. They have flaws. My best friend has hurt me deeply at least three times. But I forgive her (and that’s another blog post altogether.) Despite those painful moments, I can love my best friend(s) because they give me something I can’t find anywhere else. If it’s not unconditional love, it’s unconditional acceptance. Sometimes, your true family’s not the one you’re born with, but the one you make.