The Definition of Family

Fam-i-ly: 1b. Two or more people who are or are not related by blood that share common goals and values and have long-term commitments to each other.
For so much of my life, the word family had a negative connotation to it. Both of my parents are one of five children, and I have 24 first cousins. I grew up knowing all of them, but there was constant turbulence with people in my bloodline. So many of my relatives on both sides were and are complete jerks.
I always said to myself, “Why should someone be obligated to love another person just because they are biologically related?” To this day, I believe that they shouldn’t — true love is never an obligation, and should never be automatically granted for any reason.
To me, love is a lot more valuable than a default emotion.
As I grew older, I realized that I was taking the word family too literally (Fam-i-ly: any group of persons related by blood, as parents, children, uncles, aunts, and cousins).
So I asked myself, “What does family really mean?”
Using definition 1b, I found that I did, in fact, have plenty of family throughout my life, both blood-related and not, and I have plenty now.
One of the closest people in my life, Hyang, has been with me and my family since I was in third grade. She had been a foreign exchange student who had stayed with us during her studies.
My parents, siblings and I moved around the country a lot, but it never deterred our relationship or our love for each other. She came to visit us at least once a year with her parents, boyfriends or best friends. She even made flights from Japan (where she lives now) to come see me in college. We still talk regularly and remain a big part of each other’s lives.
When I was young, I asked her once, “Why do you call my parents Aunt Rence and Uncle Joe? We’re not related.”
And she said, “Because we’re family.”
It confused me at the time, because I was just a kid. Hyang — being 7 ½ years older than me — was leaps and bounds ahead of me. But of course, I fully understand now.
Another quick example: One of my father’s best friends Jerry — I grew up with him and to this day, I call him Uncle Jerry. The same man who fed me as a baby was the one who bailed me out of a couple very bad situations in college and was with me every step of the way during my mother’s death. He has been much more of an uncle than some of my blood-related ones — he’s my family.
With this new perspective, the word family became something I cherished, instead of a word that made me want to puke. My fiancé is my family. My best friends are my family. A few of my relatives are my family. And there are many others who fall into this category.
At this point in my life, things are starting to come full circle.
I turn 27 years old next month, and my best friends are beginning to have kids. I may have taken the relationship for granted when I was little, but I grew up with a lot of my own parents’ best friends’ kids, who I called my cousins, even though we weren’t related.
I now realize how important these relationships were to have as a kid. From the time I was born, I learned to deeply love people who weren’t my relatives. I learned how broad the word family was. I learned what family really meant.
My point: In this life, there are relatives and there are family members. It’s the same as the difference between a house and a home. Relatives are those that carry our bloodline. Family members are those that will love us unconditionally and be there for us for the rest of our lives. If we’re lucky, the two words will align. But even if they don’t, there’s a world full of family members out there.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Be the first to comment on "The Definition of Family"

Leave a comment