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December 28, 2014


To paraphrase ACOA maven Janet Woititz children of wrecked families guess at what “normal” is.

At Holiday Time social networks are choked with projected images of familial normalcy in extremis. Complementing the ephemeral are endless cards of smiling faces that often grow beyond children into entire family celebrations. Closing in on 60 I know the unspoken complexities of any image. The projected visual love is an oil slick over some pretty complicated seas in every family.

But those families are still families. They effort adjacency for any number of motivations, but, ultimately, for whatever reasons they care enough to be together over this 2 week season.

Whether its a Pinterest Pin, Facebook Status, or jolly Tweet displaying glowing images of old, young and in between, large and small, coifed and grungy, fat and toned, hairy and hairless, these humans cluster in a gravitational pull I have never experienced.

The “coming of the light” in this post-solstice fortnight catalyzes its meaning in religious ceremony and the naming of years. It also serves as the touchstone for our common biological realities now that life expectancies have topped 2 generations. As the connections now grow to 4 generations and those connections find infinite exposure on the wings of kilobytic angels, those without them have an uncertain response.

Our immediate family does drive hundreds of miles to eat and drink with people during these times of ritualistic gathering, but other than our family of 4 no one shares our genetic characteristics.

Before finding my spouse I fell  in love with several families that happened to have very attractive daughters in them. The reality of personal misfit of the unrelated did ultimately overwhelm the extreme appeal of minimally conditional love, saving me from alcoholism and/or divorce had the Family Imperative fully blurred my focus enough to call the question.

I last saw cousins over 30 years ago, and have never met most of them. I only saw one aunt and uncle through high school, and then only once or twice again in the 40 years since, at my parents’ funerals and brother’s weddings. No grandparent was alive to see my wedding, let alone our sons.

This is not whining, its the reality of my being the youngest child in a parent pool that smoked and drank themselves to early deaths, and we boomers made a tradition of getting pregnant at the last possible biological moment.

We had elders who died younger than they could have and we spawned later than any previous generation: the Extended Family Gap has combined with ever smaller families and a majority of single family households to discourage reuniting.

The demographics aside, humans need personal contact, so if not obligatory, many of us who have no family simulate it. We create contact when none is required. “You have a lot of dinners and parties.” noted one son who has only known loving, fully functional parents.

Mimicry of family has a quiet desperation that diminshes the depth of devotion we all experience beyond genetic ties. The Solstice-focused ritual gatherings provide the money shot for familial love, but the love I felt playing alongside the scholarship kids and scions of intact families at my little private high school was intense and sustaining – sports, the arts and politics are affinity love – ’tis the season of familial love: the bedrock of the rest that some of us have simply never experienced.

Filling the void left by the absence of family are relationships of opportunity: my dorm in college had a Misfits Thanksgiving tradition that was deeply moving to those of us abandoned by circumstance. As sports and school left my life, it became clear my human connections would have no genetic relationship.

These image captures in cyberspace are of lovely folk, in nice places, giving and receiving extreme food and cool gifts. For me, and I know many others, the collected jolly family images are portals to memory moments of anguish and fear. For those who are broken in childhood, the composed 2 dimensional illustrations of Perfect Love gatherings are reanimated long dead hopes.

Reliving sadness may give present and future joy perspective, but it is, in the end, sad. Seeing edited photo realities in a soulless medium where strangers are “friends” may give solace, but the sweetness is of the aspartame variety: wholly created and false -unless you were there.

Devotion by choice is a gift, not an obligation, but the absence of biological connection to anyone you ever see beyond your children makes for a life in uneasy float, where there is always the option to just say no.

The reality I am left with is also created. My wife and I chose each other and to have children, but the devotion we have is not optional, its who we are. For we the simulators, long lost childhood hopes are freshly present in overwhelming quantity this holiday time.

The hopes of the powerless are often based in faith that fails. It is the unmerited reward of faith that is present, every day, that makes sense of imponderable purpose.

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