Shape of Families
When allison asked me to make this presentation, I hagreed immediately.
It seemed a relatively simple task, to talk to you about my family. But,
as I began it, I was struck by a persistent and annoying question. What
does allison expect me to say? If I'm introducing my family, there must
be a point to the introduction. What is it? The question paralyzed me. I
know what my family says about me. I know what it says about the three of
us who make it., but what does it say about family itself?
To answer that, I had to pause and consi! der the components and
mechanics of our household. I had to consider how three people--me, my
boyfriend Dwayne and my best friend Kelly--have become more than
roommates, more than three people who merely get along. How did we become
Kelly and I have the advantage of time on our side. We've known each
other for more than thirty years. We met as children when she came to
visit her grandparents who lived close to my home in St. George. Over
that time we've been pen pals, colleagues--we've worked together twice.
We've lived together on three separate occasions. She's become my
sister more than my friend. There's nobody I'd rather sit up all night
with talking about boys. But--every good story has a complication. What,
you might wonder, happens when the boy I'm up all night talking about
You should understand that the current living arrangements have as much
to do with the way Dwayne and Kelly get along as it ! does with the
relationship I share with him. You can't legislate affection. Thinking
about it, it seems that our progression to
family was almost
inevitable, very much meant to be. You can see it in the way we were all
looking for a place to live at the same time. The way that Dwayne and I
didn't at all approve of the unsafe and unsavory place Kelly had chosen.
The way she said, finally, that we would all take a chance on living
together, keeping faith that if it were meant to be a suitable place
would come along. The very next day, one did.
The story of our becoming family is in the story of that place now. The
way we have dealt together with water heaters that don't heat, freezers
that don't freeze, sinks that fall off walls and cupboards that leak.
It's in the way I come home to find Kelly and Dwayne chatting in the
kitchen--and not just about me anymore. It's in the way we define our
choice to live together beyond circumstances or economics. The way we!
live together because we like it. The way we recognize ourselves as
family by the things that bind us--things also outside of love. The
things we're making and the things we share: our traditions, our values,
our beliefs, our loyalty and our faith in each other.
Now, as I wrote that , as I considered my little family in that light,
two things happened: First, I became extremely proud of us. Second, I
thought, our becoming had come so naturally and easily, surely there must
be others like us. The state of the family was changing every day wasn't
it? Surely somewhere the
traditional family was adapting its definition
to include families like mine. It turns out it wasn't. Not at all.
When I GOOGLEd
family I received what I found to be some rather
discouraging results. FOCUS ON THE FAMILY and FAMILY DOT.COM--- child
rearing advice from the good people at Disney. Obviously, I wouldn't
find my family on these web sites.
The results of a deeper search were more encouraging. Statistics Canada
now makes questions about same-sex relationships and households part of
its census. I also learned that the traditional family--mom, dad and the
kids--has not been in the majority since 1967. Sites like Family Pride
Canada bolstered me with stories of gay couples successfully adopting
children. They showed me an emerging family ideal with kids, mom and mom
and dad and dad. But where was my family in all this? It seemed the
shadow of the ideal still hovered and those who cast it still denied me
the right or the confidence to call my household a family.
Perhaps, then, it wasn't. It certainly wasn't by traditional, nor even
more modern standards. We lacked the usual components. There' no mother,
No father. We lacked the new modern components. We were not a couple
alone who wants to marry and adopt--successfully or otherwise. What were
we? In the face of defin! itions that don't include us how could we say
anything about family at all? Then I remembered something.
When Dwayne and Kelly and I began discussing ways to decorate our
apartment we agreed that we wanted to apply text to the walls. We wanted
to paint something on the walls that said something about ourselves to
our visitors. We flipped through magazines and books and finally found
the perfect sentiment.
Everything in this apartment, it read,
is not about me, me, me. Wait a
minute. Yes it is.
We chose that phrase because it pokes fun at and defies the difficulties
inherent when three strongly individual people decide to share the same
living space. The same bathroom. The same cluttered fridge. The same
small kitchen with three cats, two fish-and at the time-two birds. We
picked that phrase because it speaks to us about us.
Remembering that reminded me that a family isn't d! efined by its parts.
Ours isn't. Mine is a family because of what it does. How it functions.
How it makes me feel. I recognize family that way. The way I miss these
people when I'm away from them. The gasp of recognition and rightness
when they reappear.
Considering those intangible qualities of family did not make the task at
hand easier. It seemed to make it more difficult because when I thought
about what allison had wanted me to say, I thought I remembered her
wanting some words about the way this family had been constructed. And I
was just realizing that it hadn't been. The family I'm in has just
If you want to understand what makes us family, you'll find it in the
way these two people have reduced the world to its simplest points for
me. The way they connect me to them. The way I can't wait to see them in
the evening, to gather them up and tell them things.
You'll find family! in the comforting chaos of our home, three
households of belongings piled up like moving day
for months now. You'll find it by chance, the way we did. Maybe it's
family as we typically think of it. Maybe a family requires a
deeper history than ours. Maybe families do require parents and in-laws
and full tables at Christmas--ours has those, too, peripherally. Whatever
we have between us is a great thing. And, while I'm not generally
encouraged to use the word
precious in our house, it's a precious
thing, too. I'm glad I had a chance to show it to you.
Does it answer the question I began with? Does my family story say
something larger about our concepts of family? Does it redefine the term?
That seems rather ambitious and optimistic. And I suppose that there are
many who would say that simply calling ourselves a family doesn't make
it so. And they'd be right. It's not the term that defines a family.
And it's not the people! or the titles they carry within the household
that makes family. Family is as family does. And our does just fine.
I had planned to give the final word to poet Ruth Pitter and the last
lines of The Lost Tribe:
...be they few, or be they far/ Would I were
where my people are. But I'll end this with something Dwayne reminded
me of this morning. The adage that you can choose your friends but no
your family, is not true at all.
Bruce Allen Lynch