248. The Family

Families don’t stay together so much any more. We probably aren’t going to go back to a time when they did. My parents live in southern Florida. I have one brother in northern Florida, one on Long Island, a sister in upstate New York, and I live in western Massachusetts. If you go a generation further, our offspring live in Vermont, Washington (the state), New Mexico, and transit. If we ever have a total family reunion, it’ll cost a lot in airfare.
We stay in touch, and send each other cards on birthdays and holidays, but for the most part, the pretend family (real people I pretend are related to me) I’ve created for myself works more the way the old-fashioned family used to work. I spend good time each week with two of my pretend grandchildren. Their parents are a little too close to my age to be my pretend children, but no matter. I have pretend brothers and sisters whom I see more often than I see my real brothers and sister. And I even have a few pretend parents.
I’m not under any illusions about the degree to which these pretend relatives can be there for me in times of crisis, although I wouldn’t be surprised. They have real relatives to whom they feel connections and responsibilities, and my real relatives and I feel those connections and responsibilities, too. And I feel much more commitment to my real daughters than to any of the many pretend relatives I have who are their age.
This can be seen as a semantic game I’m playing; my family really is scattered around the country, as many families are. In some ways, I envy people whose families have stayed together. In some ways, people whose families have stayed together envy me. People who know what I was like at age seven know me, in some ways, better than anyone who met me as an adult. But in other ways, people who have only known me as an adult know me better. And likewise, my daughters may feel ambivalent about me. I have to work to remember that they’re adults. The people who met them four years ago don’t have that problem.
The proverb “blood is thicker than water” never quite works for me. Whenever I hear that proverb, I think, so what? Does the proverb imply that my friendships with people who are not related to me are somehow similar to water? That they’re thinner, and more likely to evaporate? I don’t like that image. And for what it’s worth, blood is mostly water, anyway. If blood evaporated, the red crust that was left wouldn’t be so valuable.
But I do understand, to some degree. I know that my pretend relatives may move away, and we may lose touch. There are family members that lose touch, too, but the connection is always there. The prodigal son may or may not return, but he’ll never be the prodigal stranger. So maybe, though people would often rather deal with a fluid that isn’t so thick, blood is ultimately thicker than water.

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