Family has been on my mind as of late. One of my multitude of younger brothers returned from serving his mission for the Church in February, which means there was a weekend trip home. It was nice to have most of the family together again. Two years is a long time to be away. (If you have questions about what a mission is you can find answers here) And then we found a long lost brother.... we think. My little sister has been searching for a year now to find my older brother who was given up for adoption many, many years ago. And she succeeded (DNA pending). Building that new relationship is really cool, and so family and what it means has been floating around in my head for weeks. But to define family for me, I have to go back about two decades.....
When I was 11 and 1/2 my parents divorced. My mother quickly remarried and we relocated across the globe, literally. We went from being a small family of four children living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia to a large family of nine children living in a tiny house in Provo, Utah. I distinctly remember our first family meeting with my new step-father's parents. It was just before the wedding, and my new grandmother looked at each of us and said, there is no step in this family, you are brothers and sisters. (or something close to that). It was firmly ingrained in us that we were a single unit.... and that grew to include the added half-brothers and half-sisters that came through the years. Even now, I don't use the terms unless they are needed for clarification. Which usually means someone has asked. Of course it wasn't as simple as that sounds, but that is not today's topic.
What is on topic, is that in my mind my family was all inclusive. A quick break down of the family logistically (i.e. technically): I have 1 older "natural" sister, 1 younger "natural" sister, and 1 younger "natural" brother (that makes up the 4 of the original family). I have 2 older step-brothers, 1 younger step-sister, and 2 younger step-brothers (that makes up the other 5 that married into our family). I have 3 younger half-brothers (they added to the existing 9) and 1 older half-brother (this is the long-lost brother we just found). And finally I have 3 half-sisters (these are Dad's kids). And a partridge in pear tree... For those that didn't want to add as they went along: There were 12 of us growing up with my mom and step-dad, add the other half-siblings and that makes 16... Yes, I am one of 16 children. No, I don't know all of their birthdays, but I have them written down with addresses somewhere.
Back on topic. As adults, I thought we had reached a definition of family. In our faith, we believe in the eternal family. That after our death, we will get to live with our family again as long as the family is sealed by the proper authorities (again, a longer Mormon discussion. You can find information here) So you can imagine my surprise, when in the last month, I felt my definition of family challenged. I grew up in a house full of children and life, and my siblings are all connected to me in some manner. In my mind, my biological parents didn't stick around, but I could always count on my siblings. Even when we were fighting. As an adult, that has only grown. It now also includes my in-laws. They are sealed members of my family now. I have always known that my siblings (at least the 11 I grew up with), will always be there for me, even if they don't agree with my opinions, or my politics, or whatever.
So the trouble began with my father. As I said, my parents were divorced, Dad re-married and had three daughters, all of which are much younger then his first family. As they were not in regular contact with us, they are some what of a separate family. Yet, as an adult, I try to keep in touch, because regardless of all else, in my mind, they are my sisters. So, a while back, I got a call from an upset sister to tell me that my wonderful father had told her that he was taking his "whole family" on a trip to Florida. I tried to make a joke and ask where our tickets were, but it really fell flat. I felt bad, but there is not anything I can really do to help her feel better. What do you say to a kid (even an adult one), when her father's word choice admits that he doesn't think of her as part of his family. It's kind of devastating. I would say that I am used to it, but I'm not. Even when you expect it, it still hurts. But more I was frustrated. This didn't fit my definition of family.Though, I will admit this was an expected frustration; it has been ongoing since I was 12.
Then came the long-lost brother. It was amazing, the first few days and nights, there were phone calls and Facebook messages. It has been awesome getting to know him. And then came another call. This time a sister-in-law. And this time, I was informed that yet another member of my family (oddly my step-dad this time) had asked her not to friend the new long-lost brother on Facebook because it was a special time just for the original family to get to know our new brother. And I got angry. And I mean really angry, my hands were shaking type of angry. Phone calls made, back and forth, between me and siblings, and me and my step-dad. In my opinion, this one act had set out to re-define what I had always believed about my family. For if just the four us us needed time to get to know this brother before everyone else, it implied that the familial bond, which we had always been told existed, was nothing more then a figment of my imagination. We were not a single familial unit, but different families living in the same space and pretending. I thought we had worked past these questions years ago. Especially my step-dad, who I have considered to be my dad since I was 12. He was the one who went to my father/daughter things when I was young. He was the one who taught me what a good man acted like. He is the one that taught me about my faith, and where to look for solace in the chaos that was my childhood. Yet, in one moment, he destroyed that by implying the bond only existed in my head. And I'll be honest.... I was devastated. The words of my biological father to my sister were expected, but these, these caught me off-guard.
And so, now here I am. In a limbo of sorts. My family hasn't changed, at least in my definition. But I now fear the definitions of those I call family. It has already been noted by some that they do not see it as I do. And that is what breaks my heart and keeps me up till 5 in the morning these days. That is what I am ignoring, by pouring myself into my school work and reading anything I can get my hands on. I don't want to have to face the fact that my brothers and sisters might not see me the way that I see them. And to be honest, if they don't, I am not sure I want to learn the truth.
I know that birth families are important, but to me, biology and genetics are only a portion of what makes a family. The bonds that created between family members makes up the rest. Nature vs. Nurture. We aren't just our genetic code, we are the community that created us. My brothers and sisters and I have shared experiences that no one else can understand. Even though each of us is unique (some more then others. :P), those experiences defined us and drew us together. Therefore, to me, the words step and half have no meaning. Regardless of whether or not we are best friends with all of our other siblings, we survived our childhood; and therefore, we are family. I don't share those same bonds with my half-sisters or with my new brother, yet. I hope to have the time to create them.
There is more flitting through my head, but I think this is enough for tonight... Sorry for the unload, but it has been eating at me. Family.... maybe I really just don't have one. Only people that were forced to be around when I was younger.