Large family photos like this one are often captioned with something sweet like “All because two people fell in love”. But let’s cut the crap. This family looks like it does because of a lot more than two people falling in love. It was love, sex, babies and one broken condom fifteen years later to complete our original family of five. Add in husbands, wives, ex-wives, more sex and babies to create the grandchild generation spanning 17 years and voila! This is what you’re left with. But I suppose—however honest—that caption doesn’t set the same sweet tone. But families are complicated.
At least in my experience families are complicated. We grow up and figure out who we are in the midst of these other people who are figuring it out just the same. You see each other in your most vulnerable, angry, personal and heartbroken moments. You share the same home, the same parents and the same childhood. Family is where we learn to push boundaries—push buttons—argue, defend, apologize and forgive. Through it all you create a bond of shared history and an expectation of unconditional support and forgiveness.
We are taught to forgive our siblings the first time we hit them for taking the toy we were playing with. Our parents’ unconditional love and forgiveness creates the safety of home. But we grow up and all have our own threshold for forgiveness—a limit to what we can process and move forward from without harbouring resentment. However the boundaries are flexible—able to stretch depending on the circumstances and the people involved. And it is our family members who will often not get us at our best, simply because we trust in that unconditional aspect of our relationship.
But I wonder if—in our family—we have truly forgiven eachother for all our big and small transgressions over a lifetime or if we have just gone through the motions because we’re family. I wonder because I think forgiveness is entangled in tolerance and patience. And tolerance and patience is something I’ve noticed we don’t always have for one another.
We all know we cannot choose our family. Our mere existence is due to circumstances beyond our control. Each one of us is a different random mixture of the same two people’s DNA and yet we were expected to grow up and harbour a close relationship like we had some sort of say in the matter. But the older I get I realize we do have a say. Even though families are complicated, we have a say in the way we interact, the way we treat each other and the way we react to one another’s individuality and idiosyncrasies.
We may not have handpicked each other and we may have all grown up in different directions, raising families with different beliefs and ideas, but our parents have instilled a very strong sense of family in all of us. It’s why we always come back. We don’t always attack life from the same direction, but you better believe that if someone was attacking any of us we would cross enemy lines to fight for them.
In the end I suppose I wrote this because I’m curious. I want to know what is really underneath our family dynamic: the love, support, occasional awkwardness and the overall enduring faith we have in one another to always show up. I may never have the answers but now, at least it’s out there.
I didn’t exactly ask anyone’s permission to share this post. If you come looking for it in a couple of days and it’s gone, it means I’ve had to apologize. Here’s hoping that unconditional forgiveness is still alive and well.