On birth and family
Sometimes a topic just rattles around in my head until I get it out. Today is one of those days. A friend recently decided to cut ties with some toxic family and it was probably well overdue. I’m happy for them and I think they are making the right choice, but I know not everyone would see it that way. Sometimes people confuse the idea of family and romanticize it, but the truth of the matter is family isn’t the people who gave birth to you, it’s the people you choose.
I don’t know a lot of my family. I have exactly one single photo album my mother put together that chronicles the first few years of my life. I have decades of my life without a single photo, but somehow this photo album found me and despite the turmoil of my earlier years has stuck with me. I’m thankful for it because it’s the one connection I have with my mother, the one thing I own that she’s touched. Photos with her handwriting on the back, notes about how she is happy and wants a dozen children if she could have them. I know of the woman who wrote those notes and I can see her in the photos, I even know what may have happened to her, but I have only a single memory of her leaving me as a child.
The short version is she went crazy. Like literally hearing the voice of god, afraid the government was after her crazy. I worry that I carry some of that inside me, maybe another reason for the blog name, maybe just deflection. In any case, she left when I couldn’t have been much older than four. I never saw her after that and while her sister, my aunt, put some of the story together for me about a decade ago, no one has heard or seen her since. I have family on my mother’s side that I know nothing about.
My father’s side is a little different. He was abusive, a once drug addict, and had no reservations about hitting a child, woman, or just anyone smaller than him. I moved around a lot thanks to him, no one in that side of the family wanted to raise child so I was passed around between family members every few years because people get tired of being stuck with a kid that’s not there’s or with grandparents who thought their days of raising children was well gone. It was a hard, cruel life and the only type of love I ever felt was the hand (if I was lucky it was just a hand) across the face. Most people miss being a child, I wouldn’t go back for anything, not even for a chance to see my mother again. Being a child was hell, in fact if there is a hell that was it. As an adult I have the one thing I never got growing up, agency.
People will argue that parents do their best, blah, blah, blah. Giving birth to someone doesn’t make you a good person. There are plenty of examples of this and I’m not going to bother listing them. There is no magic bond between parent and child. It doesn’t hurt less to be used as a punching bag by a family member. Bleeding isn’t an expression of love when it’s your father causing it. And the first time my father actually said he loved me? I was well into adulthood and so confused when he said it that I just hung up the phone.
There is a difference between parents who do their best in hard times and those who just don’t care. When it finally occurred to me that I had a choice to not deal with these people again, I didn’t hesitate and I’ve been better off for that choice. I don’t talk to anyone on that side of my family and I haven’t for basically a full decade now. It’s probably been one of the main factors in my stability. In short, it was the best decision I could’ve made after a lifetime of watching my family make the worst decisions. People don’t change, but circumstances do. Sometimes good people make crap choices, but crap people will constantly make crap choices. Probably not the most eloquent way of putting it, but talking this makes me angry.
Removing the dead weight that was my father and that side of the family, you may think I would be left with a hole where they lived. That’s partly true and if I am honest it’s sad that I have no birth family, no one who watched me grow up, no one who cheered me on. The one person who fit that, my uncle who despite having the same upbringing as my father and also had lupus was still a decent person, killed himself. That would be the real hole in my life that I wish I hadn’t lost. So yes, there is a part of me who wishes that I had family, but I can’t control that. What I can control is what happens now.
We can’t pick the people who birthed us. We can’t change the circumstances we were born into. With all the things we cannot change, it’s easy to feel helpless, but as an adult we do get some power. We can pick our family. It doesn’t have to be blood that makes a family, it can be good friends, close relations, and basically just anyone who cares about you. Your family can be whatever you make it with whomever you want to make it with and that’s real power.
When I get my degree I’ll have family there to celebrate with me. Not birth family, but people who I care about. People who’ve known me and while we’re not the closest, we still keep in touch. People who opened their homes to me during holidays or when I really needed help. Good people without whom I’m not sure I would be here.
We don’t get to pick who gave birth to us, but we do get to pick our family. It’s easy to forget that when you’re told you can’t get rid of your parents simply because they are your parents. If you’re in that group, the I need to get away from bad people group, you’re not alone. It’s a hard choice and it’s not right for everyone, maybe I’m jaded, maybe some people change, but I’ve made my choice and I’m better for it. This post is just a friendly reminder that you can make the same choice if you think it’s the right one and your life can be infinitely better because of it.
Because in the end, I have a good family. It just took us awhile to find each other.