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I’m a bad family member.

Filed under:General — eric @ 10:43 am

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It was my father’s birthday this month. I don’t really know when it is, but I think it’s on the seventh. Maybe the ninth, but I don’t think so. Sixth? I don’t know when my mother’s birthday is, either. It’s sometime in August. Perhaps it’s the twenty-fourth, but I’m really at a loss. Some would say that I’m a bad son. Maybe so, but I’m hoping not. I don’t mean to be, anyway, and I’m trying to improve with age.

So my dad’s birthday has recently past. [If I don’t talk to you before you read this, happy birthday dad. I’m sorry I’m so late.] Not only do I not know when it was, but I don’t even know how old he is. Based on family anecdotes, I could make a guess… Fifty-two? That’s probably within two years. My mom’s a couple or three years behind him, I think.

I’ve been made aware this past year just how much I don’t know about my family. For every five questions Chris has asked me about them, I’ve only been able to answer two. At best. Her family is very close. Her extended family all hail (mostly) from the same small town in Minnesota. Even the cousin’s grandparents are like real grandparents. They’ve since spread around the world, but they keep in close contact.

Things are different with my family. My immediate family was very close-knit, but there are members of my extended family I don’t think I’ve ever met. I’m comfortable with that — it’s a feature of my family. There are extenuating circumstances, of course. My mother’s side of the family is large. She’s the eldest of nine, so that makes for lots of aunts and uncles and too many cousins to count. And there have been marriages and re-marriages. And I spent most of my childhood several states away from “the action”, so it was easy to go several years (now it’s fifteen or more) without even seeing my mom’s siblings. And it was another extreme on my dad’s side. The details are murky for me, but my grandfather married and had children. At some point, his first wife died and the children became adults. He married again, to my grandmother, but she died when my dad was small. He was mostly raised by his already-grown half siblings. By the time I was born, they had moved away and I hardly ever (if ever) saw them and their families. My grandpa, by now an old man, remarried again (I took my first steps at that wedding). This wife was the woman I know as grandma. She had a whole grown family, too, but they never became my family. That’s a very short description of my family tree, but you can see why my extended family was a distant group to my immediate family.

And then I moved far away to go to college. Far enough that I couldn’t afford to go home more than once a year, and then just for a quick visit. My sisters were younger than my, so I missed their adolescent years when they developed their adult personalities. My youngest sister is similar to me, so it’s easy for me to relate to her. But things are different with my other sister. When I see or talk to her (far, far too rarely — I make an even worse brother than I do a son, perhaps), we spend so much time catching up on news that I don’t really get to discover who she is as a person. That troubles me, I suppose, but I haven’t done anything to correct it.

So now, having been away from home for thirteen years or so, I can’t answer any but the most basic questions about my family. I counter the disbelief at my not knowing these things by saying “that’s just how things are with my family. We’re OK with that. We don’t need to keep constant tabs on each other, and we know (roughly) where everyone is, and we’re there for each other when the need arises.” But that defense only lasts so long.

Now, to further the point, let me say that I don’t know when my parentsí anniversary is. I know it’s in July sometime. Right about now, in fact. And, I can’t say for sure, because of “how things are with my family”, but I’m pretty sure that it is their thirtieth anniversary. Thirty is a nice round number, and given society’s preference of round numbers, I guess that thirty is an important one. It probably has a traditional gift of molybdenum or sapphire or something [note to self: research this.]. Thirty years is a long time, and I’m mighty proud of them for making such a difficult thing as a marriage (especially when you’ve got such a bad son) work for so long.

Friday night I’m leaving Georgia with Chris for Missouri to visit my family. The immediate family, anyway. My youngest sister is having her second child this weekend, and I’m going to be there for the event. I know my sisters’ birthdays (even though I’ve been known to be late recognizing the dates from time to time), and I know my niece and nephew’s birthdays. I’m trying to be a better uncle and sometimes even send gifts. Chris is looking forward to seeing everyone again (or, in the case of Adrienne, for the first time), but I don’t think she’s looking forward to it as much as I am. It’s my chance to convince everyone that I’m not really as bad a son/brother as some would say. At least for another year or so.

Mom and dad: Happy Anniversary. Every day I’m thankful for the lessons you have taught and the gifts you have given.