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What is Family?

by The Next Family July 08, 2011

By: Heather Somaini

I was with my family this past weekend for the 4th of July – hopefully you were with yours. On the way home as I watched our babies sleep on the plane, I started to think about how much I miss my family, how much I need them and how much I want them around more.

We’re an odd bunch, our clan. My grandparents were products of the Depression and had an unbelievable work ethic matched with a strong sense of humor. They believed that you could be anything you wanted but hard work was the only way to get there. They passed down a strong sense of self, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. They all picked themselves up by their bootstraps and when they made mistakes, they picked themselves up again. They suffered. They fought back. They came from hearty stock.

Growing up in this family had its fair share of knocks. I always knew I was loved, deeply, and that every single one of my relatives would kill for me. We can pick on one of our own but if an outsider even looked sideways, let alone had something critical to say about one of us, the wagons would circle. My family is an impenetrable force that no one can pierce. I know that when we’re together, we are a force – probably a force to be reckoned with (as I say with a grin).

Families are sort of amazing when you think about it. In my family, we’re all stuck with each other no matter what because blood means a tremendous amount to us. My mom and I were talking about a family that disowned one of their own for being gay. She was in shock because to her, blood is blood. You don’t get the option of rejecting your own. You’re stuck with them for good or bad, and you’d better start figuring it out because they’re not going away. I mean if you could reject a relative for being gay, why not reject the one that drinks too much or makes bad financial decisions or the one that got pregnant way too early?

Oh wait; if we did that, then we’d all be rejected! The beauty of my family is that they accept me. It has not always been easy and that’s probably more my fault than anyone else’s, but as I’ve come to accept who I am, it’s been easier to see that they’ve always been there for me. They’ve always wanted the best for me. They’ve always accepted my choices, even if they were looking at me sideways the whole time.

As I watched my baby boy and baby girl sleep next to me on that plane, I thought about what I would do for them as they grow older. How I am already so fiercely protective of their future selves, how I want them to experience life in all its complexity and make decisions that in the end they will be proud of. I want to be there to watch them fail and then pick themselves up again. I will whisper in their ear all the encouragement they need to stand up again and when that doesn’t work, I’ll bark at them until they get up just to make me stop. I can only hope they are the best parts of me.

My wife Tere was out of sorts as we prepared to leave my parents’ house in Tennessee for the trek back to Los Angeles. She seemed mad or upset at me. Eventually she broke down and told me she was sad about going home, how my parents feel like family to her and that gives her hope. Hope that she has a place in the world, a place that is bigger than she. Hope that her children will have those same people around them to make sure they are loved with big, all-squeezing arms. Hope that in this odd clan of ours, she will be as fiercely protected as I was. Hope that she will one day be whole. I think that’s all we can ever hope for – being whole…or maybe just a little less broken than we are today.

I wish I could convince Tere that she needn’t worry. No one gets rejected in our family – even the ones that marry in. We have a number of in-laws that are still with us long after the marriage ended. Her place is secure. My family has actually confided that they’d probably keep her over me in a divorce. See, that’s how they keep me on my toes, right when I was getting comfortable. We’re an odd bunch.

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