I want to give my kids everything. Whether emotional support or material things, there is nothing that I don’t want to provide for them. As I tell many people, I feel like I was waiting my whole life to be a father.
There is one thing, however, that I felt I couldn’t give them. That one thing is family. Perhaps not “family” in the sense of me as a dad, but family in terms of extended family. Since 2012, I haven’t had a relationship with the family I grew up with. I’ve alluded to it here, but have strayed from going into details for the privacy of others. I will be straying from details today too.
Forgoing those details in these blogs makes it a difficult thing to get into because most of us are conditioned to accept whatever slings and arrows are thrown our way by those who brought us into the world. Rest assured, however, that even the most ardent of familial supporters understand my situation before I even get through the opening to my explanation. It’s not a small thing. It’s a series of major things.
My ex-wife provides my children with family on her side and, for that, I am eternally grateful. When I was divorced, I lost that outlet for myself. Phone calls stopped and texts went away. That’s all fine. Most I once broke bread with nod at me if we pass in a supermarket or make small talk at what little family functions we might share. However, I don’t expect them to send me birthday cards. It’s a good thing too, because they don’t.
While that stung a bit at first, I’ve gotten over it. I understand that what’s right for one person often differs from another. Personally, I would probably keep a departing relative, without family of their own, on my Christmas card list. But I guess card stock costs money or something. Whatever. My job isn’t to get into the heads of others.
For a while, I was overly concerned about my lack of family. I searched everywhere for it. To quote a rather obscure song that repeated on my Spotify playlist, I was looking for love in the trash. Whoever offered me a glimmer of kin was welcomed with open arms.
That’s when I discovered that, for some seeing me, “family” was a bargaining chip. I was no different than someone who yearned for food, shelter, or money. Knowing a person needs something can be a welcome act of kindness for some and a selfish target of pain for others.
Some people dangled it in front of me. Promises that were always just short of coming true or potential holidays that never happened all played out before me. I watched from the outside, at a constant arm’s length, like a ragamuffin in an overdue Dicken’s novel. I’d convince myself that what little scraps were available at the table were enough. I watched in stunned silence as the meals were eventually given away to others.
While some used it to keep me waiting, there were others who used it to lock me into places I didn’t belong. They portrayed themselves as family like bad actors in a play that they knew I was desperate to cast. They’d send cards and texts proclaiming to be the tribe I hoped for when they thought they could get something from me, but stopped when they knew they couldn’t.
Those people weren’t family. Looking back, it wasn’t even about wanting them to be. It was about wanting anyone to be. That’s a tough thing to write and a tougher thing to realize.
Sadly, red flags look white through rose-colored glasses and, if you don’t know what constitutes a red flag, you can’t see it anyway. People who cut to the bone and use your darkest pain against you aren’t your people. Yet, that’s happened throughout my life.
Imagine telling someone your deepest secrets. You explain the ways in which the boogeyman hurt you. Stories saved for supposed loved ones come out and details, far deeper than you’d ever write in a blog, are shared. You are vulnerable on the most sensitive of levels. They listen. They nod. They seem to care.
Then, the first time you do something that goes against their wants, they scream at you, “You’re just like the boogeyman!”
Terrible, right? Who would say such a thing?
Many people. Many people would say such a thing.
As I came to grips with who I really am and stopped creating narratives about how I had filled my table with surrogate relatives, my mentality changed. I began to grow stronger in the words I let bounce off of me. They stung less and I took them less personally. It’s a good thing too, because seeing that, those hurling them tried even harder.
Walking out of doors that should have been opened years earlier, you’ll hear all sorts of terrible things from those who are desperate to keep you locked in the room. There will be guilt. There will be shame. There will be anguish. They will literally scream, “you’re going to die alone.”
To that I say, I’d rather die alone than with the wrong people beside me.
It took over a decade to realize that I shouldn’t create family for the sake of family. I don’t need love for the sake of love. That isn’t how any of this works. You find people who you want to make family with. You find people you want to love. You don’t go out looking to fill those roles in your life and allow anyone willing to play them in. You shouldn’t be in love with being in love. You should be in love with people.
As far as my kids, I already give them everything. I give them family too. I’m their family. Holidays don’t need to be stuffed with bad actors pretending. Holidays need to be filled with love and support. That’s what I give them. Today, we couldn’t be happier. If anyone else ever joins in, they’ll fit here and not be wedged here. That’s what giving my kids family truly is.
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