Helping an aunt move from her Selma home the other day, joined by a few out-of-town kinfolk, caused me to ponder on the big, beautiful, complex, messy thing we call family.
We all belong to a family, large or small. And the members are diverse. Some of us are polite, some are profane. Some of us are beautiful, some not so much. Some live together in harmony, others cannot live together without fighting.
And the honest truth is, we have no choice. Sure, we have a lot of options in life — friends, schools, homes, cars, hobbies, careers. But family? Sorry, mate, you’re stuck with us.
Families can bring us out of our comfort zones. That totally gross dude you would never choose to hang out with? There he is, across the table from you at Thanksgiving. A distant cousin, or something.
Admit it, there are times you look around and ask, “Am I really related to you people?” Followed by, “Do I have to be?”
But looking deeper, you also will see that families make us who we are and what we become. They have the potential to uplift or destroy. They bring out the most extreme emotions in us.
At their finest, families make us better, more tolerant human beings. Look around at your extended family. Are you all alike? I doubt it.
Let me fill you in on our extended family, which includes siblings, parents, grandparents, children, tios and tias, cousins and other assorted hangers-on.
This is us: Political liberals and conservatives. Meat-lovers, vegetarians and vegans. White, Latino, Asian. Male, female, gay, straight. Married, co-habitating, single. Church-goers and atheists. Home-owners and apartment dwellers. Thin, chubby, tall, short, fit, frail, outgoing, introverted. Cat people and dog lovers. Financially secure and financially precarious.
I imagine that most of you have similar flocks. And you understand when I declare that despite our differences and our bickering, most of the time we are all one big, loving, supportive clan.
OK, I know we all have other “families” beyond the kinfolk. Political and faith connections. Neighbors and co-workers. Business and labor organizations. Artistic and recreational compadres. Care givers.
They all contribute to our well-being. But the kinship of blood relations should be the trump card in our full deck of support.
My father, a banker, served for many years on the Board of Directors of the Union Rescue Mission in the “skid row” neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles.
I remember, as an inquisitive teenager, asking Dad why he volunteered there. His answer was simple and compassionate: “If it wasn’t for a supportive family, that could be me on the street.”
Many decades later, those words have stuck with me. That’s why I value my family more than anything else, no matter how exasperating we can be to each other.
And it is why I continue to ask my grandson, “Joaquin, what is the most important thing in the world?” And he answers,“family.” And then I make him recite the names of every person in our immediate family. (He usually includes the dog and cat.)
It that’s all the kid ever learns from me, I’ll have done my job as Grandpa.