When I was 18 I went away to college. I never returned home to live even though I had many opportunities. I had to leave two colleges, one closing down unexpectedly, one because I ran out of money. When I finished college I had to choose where to live and the choices didn’t include moving to my parent’s town. When my first wife and I had to return to California from Graduate School, we had to choose between the town where my parent’s lived or hers. We chose hers.
Why didn’t I want to return? Because I didn’t want to be like my parents. When I returned to visit I always remembered why I didn’t want to be like them and moving close to them seemed in my mind to be a recipe for being influenced to be more like them. Be far away and that won’t happen was my thought. And to some degree it was true. I was influenced by other people, other families, by being far away. It really is an important element to many people growing up and into their own unique selves. However, no matter how far away I was, my family was still with me.
At that time, those family traits included alcoholism and a short temper, among other things. And those things stayed with me whether I was 3,000 miles away or right next door. I was still a product of my parents and my upbringing and no amount of distance was going to remove that. What did remove much of it (not all) was hard work. Was being deliberate about wanting to change and doing the work necessary to make that change permanent. That included stopping drinking in 1993 so I wouldn’t travel down the same road my mother did. It included working consciously to reduce my anger, frustration and annoyance with the small things in life that bedeviled my father for most of his life. That sort of change is always conditional. There are things that can make me crazy, but they are few and far between. I don’t think my reputation as an adult now would include having a short temper.
Keeping The Good
But there is another side to this and that is no matter how far you travel, you also won’t completely lose the wonderful parts of your family either. I stayed away but I still had my mother and father’s easy-going ability to befriend anyone and everyone. I still had her sense of humor. I still had my father’s intellectual curiosity about the world. I am glad I carry those things with me, no matter how far away I am.
How far have you traveled from your family, and have you been able to really get away?
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“They who fly from their own family have far to travel.” – African Proverb
If you don’t think this is true in your family, I humbly suggest you probably don’t know much about your family. In that case, You probably want to look at ‘Family #1’ in the series. That’s about family skeletons.
In my family we have very sweet people and they are all a bit nuts as well. I am completely and utterly thankful for that. My mother was the epitome of the loud-mouth broad. First, she was loud. Second she was really funny. Third, she didn’t give a hoot owl’s ass if someone liked her that way or not. She made fun of pretense and absurd efforts at self-righteousness. She was unabashedly sentimental, crying a river each and every time one of her grown kids returned home. Have them all together at the same time? She was a blubbering mess. She could make friends with the least likely of strangers in the most unlikely of places. I mean, come on, she met her best friend in a grocery store line. And I am proud of that. It’s the thing I love most about my sister’s and myself, that we can, and do, make friends with strangers almost every day. My mother is the reason for that. Do I think some people think that is a bit nutty? Yep. Do I care? Nope.
My mother’s brother, Uncle Bunny (born on Easter), had this dry sense of humor combined with a absurdist’s ability to connect completely disparate things together. He was the founder, for example, of the Marin County Zeppelin Society. It was open to all survivors of lighter than air crashes. Since anyone alive has obviously not died in one of those crashes, it was open to anyone. It really was just an excuse for him and his pals to get together every Saturday for coffee and brunch, but he went so far as to convince the County to put an official emblem up on the board leading into town, alongside the Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs. Why did he do that? Because it was funny. It cracked him up and he figured it would make others laugh too. And it did.
My Father meanwhile, didn’t have the same sense of humor as my mother’s side of the family. But he did have something I treasure, and that was his embracing of the new and different in the world. He wasn’t afraid to bring things back from foreign lands for us to wear, use, ride. He brought back from Peru a ‘Ruana’ for each of us. It is an outer wool garment, like a shawl, only thicker and more substantial. We wore those things for all our childhood. He imported 2 Solex Mopeds from Europe for us to ride. They are motorized bikes and once again, we rode them everywhere for years and years. We were the only ones to have either of those things and I thought that was very cool. Those are just two examples of how my father was. He loved to find great design and bring it home. He didn’t care if it was something everyone else had, as a matter of fact, it was much more interesting if no one else had it.
Those are just a few examples of the sweet nuts in my family. Our daughters and my other sister, Jackie, also have that same trait of loving their individuality, easily make friends, and have a great time exploring the new and unique offerings the world has to give.
A few examples from my own life. I once went through a fast food drive-through and was so taken by the beauty of the person’s voice talking to me through the speaker that I got her to come into the software design studio I was working at to do voice-over work. I didn’t have anywhere to display my daughters’ ceramics so I hot glued them to the ceiling in my kitchen (yes, they stayed up). I painted our white picket fence with black splotches so it would match our dalmatian, Oreo. I once did an art project on tan lines. I went to the beach, found people whose tan lines were showing, and asked them if I could photograph them. The vast majority said yes and the resulting art piece, which was those photographs collaged onto a striped beach towel, was in my Master of Fine Art Exhibition at San Jose State University.
Can this sound strange to some people? Yes. And I wouldn’t change it for the world. Embracing that heritage has made all the difference in me being a happy and creative person. I know I am always able to find humor and beauty in my life, am always going to be open-minded and curious about the world around me, and can make good friends and keep good friends, no matter where I meet them.
I highly recommend a lot of sweetness and a lot of nuts!
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman
“Families are like fudge. Mostly sweet with a few nuts.” – anonymous
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It used to be that families would do anything to hide the people and events that embarrassed them. But now we live a culture of exposure in America and it is much more acceptable for the world to know about these things. In some cases it’s become ok because we’ve come to realize it isn’t wrong or bad. Homosexuality is seen like that now much more than just 20+ years ago. In my mind that is a good thing. In other areas we realize that biology and chemistry plays a much bigger part than we used to believe. Diseases, mental and physical, are understood to not be an indication of a moral failure.
My Family Skeleton
Sometimes we know something; a criminal past, an addiction, an affair, or an abusive relationship for example, is bad. My parent’s generation would have done anything to keep those things quiet. For example, I didn’t know my father had been married to someone else before he was married to my mother until I was 40 years old. Why? Because it was shameful in the Catholic church in which he was raised and it was a spot on the family reputation in my mother’s mind. The fact that he kept it secret all those years was astounding to me and my sisters. We couldn’t figure out what the big deal was about it. But that is because we weren’t raised in his world, we were raised in a world he worked to created for us instead of that older world. He just wasn’t able to completely free himself from it.
Entertainment vs Education
In the quote above it can be seen as a family putting a skeleton in the closet on display, as if they are proud of it when they really shouldn’t be. And in the Social Media age some do exploit them for money or fame, a sort of perverse pride that says ‘Hey, look at how screwed up we are!’. But I don’t think most people take it like that. I think most just want to accept that this is them. Then they are saying, if we are going to have these skeletons we might as well make them have some value. but I think most of us just want to accept that they are there and find a way to learn from them, to have the skeletons help us and others become better people.
What do you think?
Drawing and commentary © 2017 Marty Coleman | napkindad.com
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.” – George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950, Irish Playwright