Family Ties That Bind


I haven’t written much here in the last while because of my other commitments. I chair a Museum board of directors and we’re very busy right now with governance reviews and all kinds of other activities. I’m also involved in an affordable housing nonprofit and other community organizations. It’s funny, but, on the one hand, when I don’t write for a while I feel restless and more anxious than usual. On the other hand, when I do write or draw or paint or sculpt, I often feel guilty for being so self absorbed. It’s not rational to feel this way, but that’s the way it is and I’m not about to get psychiatric help for it. At my age, I’ve learned to accept some of my more irrational feelings knowing that my frontal cortex is not completely in charge of my feelings and behaviour.

Besides, there are great alternatives to psychoanalysis or psychiatry, family time being one of them. I know that family time for many people means tension, pain and sorrow. That’s not true at all for me. My family is the glue that holds me together. We don’t always agree on everything as a family but on the important things we do agree. We absolutely all agree in the healing power of family connection. As a sociologist, especially one influenced by Norbert Elias, Thorstein Veblen, and Emile Durkheim among others, I understand the power of human connections. The absence of closeness, touching (physical and psychical), and interdependency can lead to early death in children and lifelong stress and anxiety in adults. We need other people, it’s as simple as that. Elias goes so far as to say that we as individuals don’t exist. We exist only on the social level. Everything beyond our most basic physical, tropismatic activities like peeing and pooping are social and even those activities are shrouded in social valuation. We don’t exist in society only in the present either. Our social connections go back a long way and often in ways obscure to us in our current mindscapes.

All that said, for two weekends in a row now, I’ve spent time with family. We don’t live close to our daughters and their families so if we want to get together we have to travel or they have to travel. It takes a substantial effort and it costs money. This past weekend my daughters came over from Vancouver with their families to where we live on Vancouver Island. We have three grandchildren under the age of ten and they make great house guests. One of our daughters and her husband also brought along one of his brothers and his wife. They all came to help us old wounded elders get a new porch built on the house and do a lot of gardening and related work. Without them our acre of gardens would soon revert to a natural state and we would be compelled to seriously consider downsizing. I’m just not yet ready for that.

The weekend before, Carolyn and I travelled to Vancouver to stay with one of my daughters and her family so that we might all attend a Mother’s Day Brunch event that one of my older sisters puts on every year for the family and friends. The whole family was not in attendance (I still have thirteen brothers and sisters as well as countless nieces, nephews, cousins and assorted other relatives) but it was well attended. My sister puts on a spread fit for kings and queens. Lots and lots of great food on offer. So much love goes into that event. My grandchildren had never experienced it before so this was a first for them.

I could go into more detail about each event, but the point is that on both weekends the spirit that reigned was one of helpfulness, caring and sharing. I’m not the most effusive guy out there, but I know that even if we’re not always on the same political wavelength, we know the value of family solidarity and togetherness. I’m also not given to maudlin outbursts. This is as close as it comes. However, I need to acknowledge my deep-seated need for human connection and love. That need, my family fulfills to my heart’s brim all the time, every day but especially on weekends when they come to help build a new porch! I pity people without family support no matter how one defines family.

Unfortunately, when our natural families do not or cannot provide us with the love and support we naturally crave as humans, we sometimes turn to other types of family in the form of gangs, politically or religiously extreme groups or we turn on ourselves and die inside like children in orphanages who literally died from emotional deprivation, neglect, or suffered hospitalism (See Rene Spitz’s study of Hospitalism). That’s the downside to our craving for connection.

2 thoughts on “Family Ties That Bind

  1. Ah, but old school England was so different. No touching. Much personal information was regarded as “private” and not to be shared with children or siblings, let alone parents. Boys shook hands with their fathers when greeting. This persisted even among my aunts and uncles who migrated to the United States as a number of my American-born cousins will attest. Of course, the Methodist religion reinforced this tendency. I greatly envied my friends who had sprawling, brawling, hugging, shouting and singing southern European families. Martin Luther et al were responsible for generations of unhappy children in my book!

    1. Hi Marilyn,
      Well, in my early world there was lots of physical contact between us kids and my parents and just between us kids. We were always tangled up in each other while watching TV or sitting around the living room in our small, three-bedroom home that housed twelve people at any given time. That contact wasn’t always pleasant, mind you. My father could get angry and violent on rare occasions. He was also the enforcer in the family and I was subject to ‘the strap’ more than once for my ‘unacceptable’ behaviour (or their unreasonable expectations). Still, there was love there. I never doubted that my parents loved me. They were working class but from a family of artisans and craftsmen. My father always wore a suit and tie for mass on Sunday. I always found that ironic. Business attire was the only suitable attire for mass.
      In any case, I didn’t want to overly idealize my family and our closeness, but we were and are close. My eldest sister is blatantly racist towards ‘those Indians who get all the best land’ in Campbell River, but she is also generous and kind. It would be great if only us humans were consistent all the time. As you well know, that’s not the way it works.

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