Sunday, November 1, 2009

The most important thing

I grew up in a household that prided itself on the emotional distance that prevailed among family members. I can recall my mother actually telling me that she was very proud of the fact that we were all so independent, she, my brother, my father and me, that we were "just four people who happen to live in the same house."

She felt this way because she had grown up in a family that used emotion as a bludgeon and family ties as a garrotte. Battered and strangled emotionally, she sought to create a family that chose to love each other. Her legacy is a family that never communicates at all, because without that common roof, we seem to have nothing in common, to the extent that it takes conscious effort to remember that I have a birth family at all, let alone cousins, and uncles and aunts.

And inadvertantly, I seem to have repeated the pattern, marrying into a family that mistrusts strong emotion. In contrast to the lack of emotional communication, myown strong emotion seems a pathology. I talk to other parents whose children have left, and they speak of phone calls their children have made-- I can count on one hand the times my son has picked up the phone to call me since he left home for college, and I believe the count is never for his having called just to talk, rather than for a birthday or to report specific news.

You cannot undervalue the importance of the people who share your memories. Losing your birth family is like losing yourself, your childhood. It is hard to recreate a family anew with each generation; you'll just be a skiff on an unknown ocean, without anchor, port, or origin.

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