Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Men of Spirit: Journal #1--FAMILY

"Familiarity breeds contempt" --Aesop, The Fox and the Lion

When I committed to this project, focusing on family was one of the elements that I knew would be an important facet of this examination. I have always placed a large part of my own self-identity into family. It is a source of my pride--for all of the good that comes with pride and all of the danger that pride can also give.

I have always been proud of the strength of my family. When I was growing up, I knew that many families were not as "good" as mine. My parents loved one another. I did not face divorce and those stresses. My two brothers and my sister and I got along. At times we were even friends. We definitely did not actively dislike one another or dismiss each other. We had family jokes. We held onto stories that united us. We were, in the best sense of the word, a family.

This unity and love, I believed, set us apart. It made us unique. And I was proud of that unique quality. I held onto it within myself and helped it make me a family-focused person. Being part of my own family was always a strong goal of mine as I grew. I might not know what job I wanted, or where I might live. But I knew that family would always be a critical part of who I was and who I would become.


And I'm happy to say that this has come to pass in the years since I was a narrow-minded, introverted boy. I do have a family. And it is strong. And that family-centered pride remains wihin me, defining me.

But . . . why did I choose that quote above as the first one that leaped to mind as I was thumbing through Bartlett's Familiar Quotations? (Yes, I do have a hard copy . . . sixteenth edition!) The reason, I think, is because I take my family for granted. My familiarity has bred contempt. And I am losing sight of my family's strength and its power within me.

Because they have always been there. Perhaps because I haven't had to confront my family in significant ways . . . they are a soothing presence. But things that soothe are things that soften. Things that soothe are things that make you sleepy and drowsy and sluggish. I have allowed my family ties to slacken. And they may break if I don't pay attention.


Maybe a reason why my childhood family was strong was that we were separated from other families. Mom's Carter family was largely unknown to me. Her father Joe died before I was born. Her mother Hazel died when I was in elementary school. Her sister Cissi lived outside the country and then far away from Georgia.  My dad's family was more close together, but not close to us. They primarily lived in Kentucky when I was a child. Of all of my larger relatives, I knew the Martins the best. We took one to two trips to Kentucky a year--either in the summer or at alternating (?) Christmasses. There I connected with my cousins and my aunts and uncles. But these were only for a week at a time. Nothing long term. Even Uncle Dwight and Aunt Shirley's family--who at the time lived close by in Americus, Georgia--were not seen that often. Sometimes as a Thanksgiving trip. Sometimes they would visit during the summer holidays. But these were always special trips, not regular occurrences.

And so my life, that daily part of me that shaped who I am, was only shaped by my nuclear family. And maybe that is not unusual at all? But to me, it meant that family was defined a certain way.


Now I am like my father. I and my nuclear family live distantly from the rest of my siblings and my parents. Now my children only see family on holiday occasions or during the occasional summer trip. How do my children view family? Is it the same as how I did?

There is some chance that opportunities can change. Lynda's mother now lives in Westerville and we see her throughout the week. Our family circumstances are changing and the routine of family life is not the same as it once was. Will that have an effect on how Grace or Hannah define their own meaning of family one day? Might it even affect Sarah--who started her own life away from home when this new family experience began for the rest of us?


"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, Anna Karenina.
Perhaps I overthink it? That is probably true.

But the root of my original impulse for this essay remains true--even if the rest of it is overblown psycho-pop. My family--those people who have helped mold me and make me--they are not here and I (too often) treat their love and their presence with contempt. It is a contempt built on confidence and comfort. But it is still an assumption that time lasts forever.

And Cheri's presence here with us should prove that assumption starkly wrong. She is here because Bill died--before Lynda expected it and certainly before she was ready for it. I need to learn that lesson and eliminate the comfortable contempt that surrounds my attitude toward family.

I need to speak to Mom and Dad more frequently. I need to reach out to my brothers and my sisters on more than birthday phone calls. I need to find a way to make them all less distant in my life before I start losing the chance. When Mom and Dad are gone I will only have my siblings left. And how will I treat them? How will we relate to one another when we have so often been strangers living apart from one another--except for when we relocated to Mom and Dad for holidays?

If we don't have any sort of adult relationship, then how can we make one if we don't know how?


Lord, your second commandment tells us to honor our father and our mother. You know the central importance of family to our understanding of who we are and who we want to me. Your church is another family that helps guide us on that journey.

Help me to remember that my family is important to me. Help me to build in the space to make reconnecting with them an important part of my life from now on.  Amen.



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