I thought I could do without family and be fine with only my brother, father, and mother. It seemed that was enough but I can see now that I have been extending that family all my life.
This weekend my daughter had her Bat Mitzvah and our extended family came to town. My wife’s uncle and aunt flew up from Florida and, in the process, messed with all my thinking about family. They have me wanting a different family life for my daughters.
Their visit reminded me of the things I’ve felt, if not known, for a long time.
I was reminded of Thanksgiving at my mother’s brother’s house. I went to there with some trepidation, having had little contact with our cousins, not knowing our aunt and uncle well, and sensing our mother’s hesitation. There’s history there. However, once we arrived I knew I was welcome and was lost in a sensation I couldn’t name then but know now is called family. That feeling was such a wonder.
That aunt and uncle from Florida, they’re big on family and some of that rubbed off on me. I marvel at how bonded they are to my children. How many days have they spent with my girls? I can count them on one hand. Yet, there is no denying their love of my kids, my wife, and even me. The realization of it knocked me back and I am still happily reeling. Or maybe it was the surprise confirmation that I have been craving and creating more family for years.
I was born with one brother ready and waiting for me, but despite our bond and love, I needed more. Just a couple months after I was born, I met my best friend and we have stayed together for forty-six years. His wife said to me at the Bat Mitzvah that he and I have something special. It’s called brotherhood. It’s called family.
Also at the Bat Mitzvah were two dear friends who lived across the street from my childhood home. In middle school, I adopted them as secret parents, turning to them for guidance, trying to listen, desperately hoping to measure up. They gave me what my immediate family could not provide and knowing that as a child filled me with guilt thinking that it was a betrayal of my brother, father, and mother, to need more. That guilt was false and wrong. Enlarging my family wasn’t betrayal, it was addition. I’ll make sure that my girls know better.
My girls spent time this weekend with their aunt and her boyfriend, three sets of grandparents, their great-grandmother, and more extended family from my wife’s and my sides. They brought friends, some of whom they’ve known from second grade, kindergarten, or before. They were with the parents of those friends, people who have become my wife’s and my family. And they were with their uncle and aunt from Florida from whom they can’t help but feel the strength and warmth of family.
The Bat Mitzvah was just this weekend. Family has just gone back home to Florida, to Spring Glen, to DeWitt, and across town in Syracuse. Three days have passed, but I’m ready to call them back for a family reunion. I’m ready for family.