Family


I have been in Kansas.  I’m not there, anymore.  (Guffaw.)

For a long weekend, I returned to the state of my upbringing to attend the ‘marriage ceremony’ of one of my oldest and dearest friends.  She and her husband had married in Las Vegas some months back, but this was their opportunity to hold a small, semi-formal ceremony with family and friends present.

The trip back afforded me the opportunity to spend time with my friend, her husband and her family.  I also found a day to visit with my own family, my mother, two brothers and their respective significant others and my nephew.  It should be no surprise that with the way I live my life, such meet-ups are rare events.

My Grandfather

The day before I flew back to Kansas, I received an email from my father with the not-unexpected news that my grandfather had passed.  My father has been letting us know for some time that his father was not well and that doctors did not expect him to live much longer.  The question was not so much, ‘When?’ but ‘How soon?’

The passing of my grandfather is a moment that brings into stark relief how distant I am from my biological family.  My father’s family mostly all lived in California, and his parents in particular never left the city of Los Angeles.  Though they immigrated from Mexico I know very little about their past and have found myself on multiple occasions being stumped by someone asking, “Where in Mexico did your grandparents come from?”

The truth is, I know next to nothing about the side of the family that gives me my surname.  This is, of course, a fault of my own, having never invested much time in getting to know them or even asking my father about his family’s history.  At the same time, it also represents the peculiar temperament of my immediate family, a group of five kids who have always seemed most comfortable disconnected from a whole, like islands in an archipelago.

I can’t speak for my other siblings, but for me, relating to my extended family has always felt perfunctory.  I am the youngest cousin by some years on my mother’s side, and I am one of the youngest on my father’s, and generally removed from all by both physical distance and social placement.

The passing of my grandfather stirred a sense of melancholy in me, but I know it stems not from a sense of personal loss (as the tangible hole in my personal life is unfortunately minute) but because I know my father and his siblings are feeling an acute loss and I have little to offer in terms of comfort.  Another familial trait: We do not mourn publicly.

Whatever little tribute I can give to my grandfather, Juan, it should be known that from him has come offspring of great diversity, children and grandchildren who are living lives that bespeak the American Dream, that same dream that presumably compelled him and his wife to move to the United States in the first place.

May that be his legacy.

Back To Kansas

With the knowledge of my grandfather’s passing fresh in mind, I boarded a plane to return to Kansas.  I spent the majority of my first three days there with my friend and her parents.  Being an outside observer of a family is always fodder for interesting rumination, particularly when that family is in the midst of a high-stress situation, like, for instance, preparing for a wedding.

The little things that are done or said may appear small and insignificant to the outsider, but these seemingly petty slights are magnified by the proximity and familiarity that exists in a family.  I came into a house where the parents and the children were clearly frustrated with each other and even the natural pairing of married couples didn’t insulate each individual from at times being clearly flustered with their partner.

At the same time, the loving fellowship between these close family members was a totem on a shelf meant only for me to view from a distance.  Unless I was there for the creation of a joke meme or had participated in some piece of mutual history, mostly I had to enjoy their revelries through a telescope.  They are a family, with all the requisite ups and downs.  But they are not my family.

The Sunday following the ceremony, I spent entirely with my family back in my hometown, Lawrence.  Longtime readers of this site may recall that my returns home have not always been the most successful.  Arguments, blizzards, missed flights, freak cat attacks have all found a way into the reunions.  Any return to my hometown is always overshadowed by a aura of possible (probable) doom.

But we’re getting better at mitigating the more avoidable disasters.  Political talk, even in this election season, was kept to a minimum.  Other than an unfortunate conversation with my mother that took a turn for the contentious (for no reason other than the train took off and I never took the prudent move to jump off), the interactions between our family as a whole were remarkably amiable.  It probably helped that we only saw each other for one day.

I have had various friends/girlfriends be the outsider on my family gatherings (including my recently wedded friend) and I can only imagine what kind of perverse Reality-TV-cum-Court-TV world we must look like when we get going at each other.  I don’t feel particularly close to my family yet, in the sense that I can’t imagine being a part of any other family, there is a peculiar and deep closeness to the way we butt heads.  Yeah, we’re miserable sods, but we’re miserable sods together.

My Family

But I left Kansas as I always do, as I always will, and returned to New Orleans, a new home, but my home nevertheless.

Traveling as I do can be exhausting and nerve-wracking and frequently lonely, but make no mistake: I lack not for family.

Family is the partner who drinks with me until the sun rises.  Family is the cohort who eats shitty-but-delicious nachos from a dive bar not because it’s the only food that’s available, but because why would we want anything else?  Family are the coworkers who hang out together long after clocking out.  Family is the friend who confesses a past she’s never told anyone else about because she knows secrets are always safe with me.  Family is a woman who makes me smile from 1,000 miles away.

And, yes, family is the people whose political, religious and musical opinions makes me want to scream.

Because despite everything, it’s all relative.

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4 thoughts on “Family

  1. Greetings Joseph, I doubt that you will remember me. I appreciated reading your story, sure can relate, due to the fact, I have lived your life as have millions of others. The old sad story of (life in a bottle). Spent years loving the Fonseca Family, praying together, worshiping together and working on the church together. Yes, people fail each other & have since Adam & Eve, we even fail God, but that is precisely why we have Jesus. The eternal forgiver of our failures. I also failed God, family & myself. Sucked my life out of a bottle and then the bottle sucked the life out of me. Poured my soul into a bottle and lived my life of self pity and sorrow. Remember the old country jingle (tonight the bottle let me down), or Rod Stewart’s lyrics (it’s a fool’s game)? Bottom line Joseph, “it’s your choice point”. It’s entirely between you & God. You are not waiting on God and your family in a bottle, God is waiting on you. He will let you go as low as you want in this life, or He will lift you up as high as you want to soar. God is not in the punishment business, God is in the forgiveness business. God forgave you the moment Jesus died on that cross. You are not living Joseph, you are existing. Believe, receive, give & live. It’s your choice Joseph, I pray you will make one you can live with.
    bob fisher

    • Hello Bob, I of course do still remember you. Your thoughts on ‘life on a bottle’ seem rather out of place and not in relation to this post at all. Unless, of course, the mere mention of alcohol means that a person is an alcoholic. I always suspected Jesus was a lush, you know, since he drank wine.

      But, I appreciate your thoughts. I’ll share some of my own:

      Bottom line Bob, “it’s your choice point.” It’s entirely between you and your ability to reason. You are waiting on an invisible being in the sky, the invisible being is not waiting on you. Your faith will let you go as low as you allow it in life, or you can lift yourself up with reason, self-respect and the end of illusions. God is not in the reality business, God is in the fantasy business. God ceases to exist the moment you accept it. You are not living Bob, you are existing. Question, receive, give & live. It’s your choice Bob, I hope you will make one you can live with.
      Lyttleton.

  2. I want to say I am sorry about your Grandfather. He must have sacrificed quite a bit to allow his family to live a good life.
    Such honest observations of family interactions and probably shared by most everyone to some degree. Families are complicated. My own family growing up was no different. I met a guy who shared my desire to create our own family in a way that loves and appreciates one another after the trauma of our childhoods. But you are right, family consists of who you bring into your world, for a moment or a lifetime. I prefer the lifetime type, but it involves mutual respect and kindness and the ability to overlook slights. Just celebrated my 40th wedding anniversary to a man I am still in love with. My children are very much part of our lives every day. My youngest is 30 today. It is possible. But it takes hard work. My husband’s pick for best man backed out the day before our wedding believing we were too young and we wouldn’t last. But we have had the last laugh.

    • Thank you Karen, and I appreciate it. Despite everything that happened in my family and my general cynical view on lifetime monogamous relationships, I actually do want that. I want to meet someone who is a partner for life. Whether or not that’ll happen, I don’t know, but I’m open to it and I will never stop looking for it.

      Congrats on the 40th.

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