Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Meaning of Family

     The definition of family is 1:  a group of individuals living under one roof and usually under one head (household)   2:  a group of persons of common ancestry (clan)  3:  a people or group of peoples regarded as deriving from a common stock (race)  4:  a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation (fellowship).

     I have struggled with the understanding of family most of my life.  My mother married three times.  (Household had several heads to live under.)  Most of the family was of common ancestry.  (Our clan was dominate of a Southern Heritage of unwritten but strictly obeyed rules.)  We were all of one race.  (That would be Southern.)  As for the "united by certain convictions or common affiliation" well, I tested that out most of my teen years.  (Fellowship was hard when you have father-figures that changed three times.  It doesn't help fellowship either when you question the female head of household over insane reasons why I couldn't do most things I wanted to do when I was age 13 to 15.)

     My birth father I have scant memory of.   Few photographs as well.   He was in the Air Force and sadly he was stationed away from us during a time when it possibly could have changed the outcome of my parents relationship.  Possibly not though as well.  After their divorce I rarely saw him and heard less from him.  I don't honestly know why.  Seeing him the few times I did brought me to tears and confusion over who and what he was to me.   He was my dad.  I knew that.   But what memories or stories did I have of him in my life?  I could think of none.  When I was in my senior year and having turned 18 he suddenly wanted to be a part of my life.  It shook me to the core.  I was afraid of him because of not knowing him.  My love and I went to meet him in San Francisco at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, a neutral spot I selected.  I could hardly stop from shaking because a part of me longed to have my father in my life but a huge part of me was angry that after all this time NOW he wanted to be a part of my life.  Like he could just pop in and we could be a father - daughter unit.   I explained to him that what I wanted was to get to know him.  What his favorite things to do were, what hobbies he had, what he did with his new family.  We parted with the agreement of him not calling me but to write to me.  I was not yet ready to open my life to him at that point.

     It still haunts me that we never moved onto the phone calls.  He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1983.  He respectfully honored me all those seven years by not calling me except for a few times when I called him.  I am saddened that he never got to see his first two grandchildren except in photographs.  I think that I am like him in more ways than I realize in that he too regretted not having tried harder to see my brother and I when we were growing up.  My father died on his sailboat, alone, but doing a hobby that he enjoyed.   A hobby he never told me about.   How is it that I never found this out?

     Bill was my first stepfather.  He was a handsome man if you like the tall dark type.  He was a ladies man through and through.  He really didn't parent me as my mother took that role one hundred percent.  Bill was the nice guy with the smile and laugh.   I never had an attachment to him like my brother.  He didn't do much with me except to drive me to my horse or just him living under the same household.  They lasted nine years and then he was gone.  I was surprised how his being out of my life left me without any sadness.  Maybe it was because I had my own personal life that was in need of living.  Having been uprooted from my friends to move to a place I commonly called "a hell hole" I really didn't care about anyone except my horse and our dogs.  I never saw or heard from him again.  

     The man who left his mark in my life was Rock.  He was there for this tribe of three women in a calm and constant way.  My Grandmother thought he was too old for my mom as there was a 20 year difference in age.  She liked him alright but wasn't sure if this was a match for her daughter.  She proceeded to go visit family in the south for awhile and let what would happen happen.  Did she think it would end?  It didn't.   My mom and Rock flourished.   My mom's Southern charm worked magic and before long they were married.   Rock had his own children and then he had me.  We became a part of the same fellowship of family.  We sailed on his boat and skied together.  It was through him I met my love.  He was an amazing Papa to his grandchildren.   There was nothing about him I didn't love and with all my heart wished that he had been my real father.   I preferred calling him Papa than Rock as I felt it was my way of defining him more as my father.  He alone could quiet my mom's stormy behavior towards me.   When he passed away after twenty-four years of marriage I knew it would be a rough sea to sail without him.  He was a gentleman unlike any I have ever known.  Honest, kind, loving, artistic, wine lover, food lover, interested in any new gadget and he never stopped learning if there was something to learn.   He and my mom were a special couple that many looked on as meant for each other or were "The Couple".  For me he was what it meant to have a father.  I felt secure in his gentle bear hug.  His short phone calls to ask about the kids or my love and I.  Going against doctors orders and going on roller coasters with us and laughing the whole time.  His laugh, his smile, his berets, his ascots, him.

     So what is family?  I certainly have had an odd arrangement.  I have more though.  I have left out the part that really is on my my mind of late.  My father had two children with the wife he married after my mom.  Yes, I have two half siblings.  I met them once a couple of years after my father passed away.  An odd visit as I was still so young that I really didn't know what to say or do with them when my father's wife called to visit.  Elizabeth and Matt.  I wanted to know what they knew about my father that I didn't get to know.  What was he like as a father?  What did they do together?   Yet here they were fatherless as I had been.  Looking at it now I wonder what memories as adults they have about him.  They too missed all the years when you remember the most about a life.  Do they have a foggy memory of what they think happened when he was alive?  Does their mother tell them about him and what kind of person he was?  I wonder do they wonder about me like I do about them?  I want to know them.   In some scary way I want to know them.  Then a part of me is afraid of rejection.  Why would they want to know me and if they did why have they never looked for me?  I mean I have tried to look them up from time to time without avail.  Will my life go by never knowing them, they who are a part of my father and me?  Do they resemble him?  Or me?  Just a little bit?  What is family?   I see my life with my love and our children and feel so much.   I feel so much....I feel so much I ache with the encompassing love I feel.  I feel like I can't tell them enough or show them enough of my love.  My consistency of love that I want them to know, I need them to know.  Loss makes you feel this.  As my life moves on I am awash with the swells of love that roll over me, like when Papa would take us out on his boat.  


Ginny said...

Ellen, your writing really touches me. It is all so interesting as well, as I know both Rock and your Mom. I didn't know them well, but hearing these stories fills in lots of spaces for me.

Your writing makes me want to write.

I wish you a blessed and joyous new year and I am very happy to be a part of your life in some small way again. Love,

Glimmer said...

This is a beautiful blog. I don't know many things. But one thing I do know, now, is that writing about yourself in this way, about those you know, about those you don't know, can bring you back to yourself in a way that nothing else can.

It can bring you home. Even if you've never been there. I promise you that much.

Anonymous said...

Ellen, what a great story! I love reading about your life; it's a way of knowing you more and understanding the great woman you are! I also enjoy your pictures; this one looks like one from one of those movies I've seen. Hugs ~ Ana Bertha

Ellen said...

You each have touched me by your comments. Thank you...It can be a bit hard to open up and write from the heart yet it feels so right.

Sara Louise said...

Opening up like this is a brilliant way to start a new year, thanks for putting it out there and inviting us in. And I love the photo, I wish people still dressed like this :-)

Hero Megan Elizabeth Frasheski said...

i love you more than words

Caroline of Salsa Pie said...

I love the photograph in this post...

And, I must say, your post really moved me. I am also originally from the south (South Carolina) and could totally relate to your comment that you were all "of one race" and "that would be Southern."

Anyway, I saw you on a comment page for Flux Capacitor, clicked over and felt the need to comment.

Happy New Year!

Maggie May said...

this was wonderful to read, so interesting. how lucky that the man your mom married and stayed with finally was a good, loving man who was kind to you.

Ellen said...

Family is a topic that feel strongly about as you each can see. Thank you all for your comments on this!


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