Wednesday, December 09, 2009

On Family

Doing the graveyard shift with a sweet little newborn in my arms has given me plenty of time to think about things. Tonight, the topic is family.

The first presidential election I was really politically aware of was the 1992 election, in which Bill Clinton was facing off against George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot. During this election season, Vice President Dan Quayle made some sort of disparaging remark about Murphy Brown, a woman in a white-collar job who had a baby out of wedlock on the eponymous television show. He questioned whether the unit formed by Murphy and her baby were actually a family.

Naturally, the definition of family has evolved over time -- the so-called "nuclear family," the alleged backbone of American society, would have been decried by politicians a hundred years ago just as Murphy Brown was criticized in our time. In earlier times, it took more than a mom, a dad, and their 2.5 kids to create a family. People had always lived in extended family units -- and still do, today, in much of the rest of the world. So, family is a fluid term.

I define family as a set of people who love and take care one another. These people may or may not share genetic ancestry, although often they do.

I've been rather oblique about it in the interests of their privacy, but I am at the home of my sister and her partner. The baby in my lap is no more genetically related to me than your average person on the street. But he, and my sister's partner as well, are more family to me than many folks with whom I share ancestry. My dad's wife, or, as I call her, my Bonus Mom, is also family. Her love for my son is indistinguishable from her love for her biological granddaughter. And Vinny's godparents, although they are no biological relations, are the family members who live nearest to us. They are wonderful to him and to Jeff and me as well.

To me, family is all about the love. I have some biological family members who don't share my values and seem to be too full of fear and insecurity to be able to operate on the basis of love. Those folks I regard as relatives, but not family.

I don't have a coherent end to this discussion that ties all the threads together, because it is 3:30 am and I am sleep deprived. But basically, a family is created by the individuals within it, and not the other way around.

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