I spent the holidays with a wonderful assortment of my real family members. By “real” I certainly don’t mean blood kin. Having been adopted at two months of age, I’ve only ever had one blood line: my amazing daughter and her five utterly outstanding children. They couldn’t be here for Christmas, but two of my daughter’s cousins (on her mother’s side) brought their spouses and children, so the house was filled with the spirit of the holidays and the chaos of youth. A wise friend once told me that “family is where you find it.”
Now my niece and nephew are very special to me. They always have been. When my late, ex-wife and I divorced (amicably) many years ago, both her family and the church my family had belonged to for four generations turned my daughter and I out like suspected terrorists. I exited as graciously as I could, chalked it up to my failure to measure up, and noted all the relieved faces of my “brothers and sisters in Christ” as I backed away. My daughter simply refused to let them off that easily, and relentlessly holds up a mirror to their “family values.” She left that denomination, but not their lives. Her cousins were far too important to walk away from, so she just didn’t.
As it turns out, the two oldest cousins apparently tossed the memo about me being off the Christmas card list, because they never let me go. I was kept in the loop about moves, jobs, marriages, etc., I got frequent phone calls through the years, and they visited me (with or without my daughter) whenever they could. You’d be hard pressed to find two more beautiful hearts. Sadly, their parents, grandparents, and church disapproved of their various life choices, so they were shown the door too. They left, and got on with their lives. Their life choices became part of my real family, and I sometimes feel twinges of guilt for the sheer joy they all bring to me . . . joy that they would undoubtedly share with their blood kin if they weren’t being judged and shunned in the name of God.
The “Cousins’ Dinners” my daughter started many years ago have been an amazing thing to watch. When the two next-oldest kids became mobile, their first flight of freedom wasn’t to the mall or the video arcade. They joined the cousins’ dinner club. They were toddlers when I left town, but one of their first solo cross country trips was to my house in Florida. I was stunned when I heard that they wanted to come, and overjoyed when their parents let them. It was my daughter’s doing of course, and her insidious weapon is a simple one: unconditional love.
There’s one last cousin in that family, and I’ve enjoyed watching him bloom on Facebook. Perhaps he’ll join the revolution too, and hopefully when he leaves home, he too will leave bigotry behind and grow into an adult unafraid to love and be loved. Regardless, there will be a small and relentless group of rebels who will never shun him nor let him fade away.
The older I get, the more chaotic Life, the Universe and Everything seems to me. I find that I must slow down and focus on one thing at a time, always leaving time for a siesta. But my young family strides through the chaos with great vigor, infecting everyone they meet with the hope that humanity can learn and grow, that we can discover the best within ourselves and within others. I don’t know about the rest of you, but that’s what my Christmas was about this year. Am I a lucky old bastard, or what?