God Does Love Ugly - Examining What Compels People To Remain Unloved & Bound By Family

Until recently, I thought I understood the intention behind the phrase family is family. Recently, it has been used in the context of some new associates, but, in a manner which diverges greatly from my concept of family. It invited me to some soul searching. Especially since it's that season.

Over the next two months, thousands of people will resent feeling coerced to suffer time with their family of origin. They will politely (or rudely) endure relatives who impolitely deny the essential essence of core of their identity. Abuse will be tolerated. Or it won't be tolerated; screaming matches will occur; and the family member with the least standing (youngest) will be made to feel guilty for breathing. This same abused member will be threatened with shunning, at the worst , or threats to their ongoing physical wellbeing in the form of food and shelter. Coping mechanisms will be triggered. There will be anxiety. Depression will follow. It's ugly.

And yet, so many people do it. I don't understand. I wonder why. So, of course, I turned to the dictionary. What is family? It had a whole lot of definitions, most of which deal with biology. But, the section that caught my eye read "also denoting the servants of a household or the retinue of a nobleman): from Latin familia ‘household servants, family’, from famulus ‘servant’" In other words, the retinue attached to one dominant person.

I began to think about that one dominant person. They say God don't like ugly. Why would God force someone to remain attached to one dominant person if that dominant person is abusive or harmful? And even though I am not Christian, the Bible to mind. It's command "Honor thy father and mother" addresses the household part of the dictionary definition of family. But, why? Where did that commandment come from?

It quite literally says "father and mother." That's where I took a wrong turn.  Because full examination of the quote in its entirety, in combination with other references in the same text goes on to address the treatment of slaves and the importance of fathers, specifically, to not exasperate their children. This makes me say hmmmm, like Arsenio Hall.  So, I looked deeper.  I am returned to that idea in the Latin familia of a singular dominant person, usually male, around whom all others congregate.  

What is worse is that while reading interpretations of the Talmud and the Bible, I came to the conclusion that God does love ugly.  One argument for honoring one's mother and father consists of an assertion that to honor God, one must honor their parents because the three of them are who caused you to come into being.   But, the actual real reason any of these attitudes are in place is to uphold the State (Israel in their case) and the status quo. There has to be a hierarchy and in order to maintain dominance, the chain of command must be clearly established. By extension, this attitude extends to assgrabbing, homophobic Uncle Bob and Grandpa.
So my confusion about why people stay in unhealthy family situations is partially alleviated and explained. The concept of family being more important than self is ingrained and enshrined in the very structure of our society.  

In my family of origin, there is no dominant person. I return often to an article titled Who's Boss? Executive couples find balance is the key, in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 15, 1985. My father is quoted as saying: 

"There is a high level of trust between us. We don't bog each other down with details. We value each other's judgement. One assumes that on a serious issue, serious judgement has been exercised." - Eric W. Springer

I keep a copy of the article in a frame, hung prominently in my home to remind me of of everything my family believes about how to be in a union.   

My family of origin, while far from perfect, remain committed to participating in the on-going evolution of a person towards their highest self. We are concerned for each other's well being. There are rules. The rules are clearly communicated along with any consequences for breaking them. Live by the rules or don't, we still make sure the rule breaker knows we'll still be here when they figure it out. That comes with a certain amount of trust that they're smart enough to figure it out for themselves.

In addition, lifelong learning is a family value. Growing up, we engaged in lively and polite debate. We cited our sources often. More importantly, we actively listened to each other. (Actually, my parents actively listened to me as a teenager and young adult. I didn't learn to actively listen until I became a parent.) There was an element of fairness. If you could present an orderly and logical explanation of your reality, they would agree to honor it. Any cogent presentation of one's personal facts are at minimum entertained; and at the most, examined in a rigorous and collegiate manner. Sometimes, we agree to disagree.  I had been taught that respect is reciprocal.   It's that simple. 

Every young adult struggles with the process of individuation. I have to admit, my process of individuation was loud, ugly and marred by a very bad case of White-Girl-Syndrome*. Regardless, my parents stood by me, never once becoming violent, abusive or threatening my physical wellbeing in the form of food and shelter. My father had so much patience and wisdom. He was like a storm chaser to my hurricane. I think it was because he integrated a Quaker boarding school in the 1940's. He knew what White girls looked and sounded like and he was unafraid. This is actually one of the favorite stories he tells. 

"It wasn't until I went away to boarding school that I ever heard someone say, 'I hate my parents.' I was shocked. Absolutely shocked. I couldn't imagine anyone ever thinking such a thing about their parents. . I thought, how could you hate your parents? What evil could a parent do to make one hate them? Surely parents are difficult. Certainly they can foil your plans. But, hate them? The idea never crossed my mind that a child could do such a thing." ~ Eric W. Springer

Regardless of how differently we interpreted the data, we both experienced family as a source of unconditional love. The 1940's were different than that 1980's which are not much different than 2019. But, our family has not changed much. My father talks fondly about the deep and profound discussions he had with his parents. 

"I remember one Easter, I wanted a zoot suit. More than anything I had to have a zoot suit. Now, when I was young, you got one suit and it had to last you the whole year. You wore it to church, if you went to church, and special occasions. My mother and father weren't to keen on this idea. We had a few discussions about how quickly fashion can change. We had a conversation about quality materials. But, the day we went to the store, I still wanted a zoot suit. And so they bought it for me. It wasn't long thereafter that zoot suits went out of fashion. Other boys my age snickered at me. Oh, I hated that suit. I tried everything in my power to destroy it. But, my father was the son a tailor, he'd patiently patch those holes as if they never existed. I wore that suit for every agonizing special occasion for a year. " ~ Eric W. Springer 

I understand that many families can be violent and abusive. In my young adulthood, I learned more about the idea of family in my gay community at Antioch College. It was my turn to look in the world with shock and amazement. I had been kept separate from the reality of the truly dysfunctional and abusive families so many other people experienced. To learn that children were put out on the street because of their sexuality shocked me. To learn that people grew up watching their father abuse their mother - and that she stayed - shocked me.  

It was when I was in college that I learned about chosen family.  This idea was an extension of what my family of origin already practised in some form.  Every holiday, we always gathered people around us.  They could have been too far from home to travel, or had lost their family.  In hindsight, I realize some of them were very likely gay and had no other healthy family.  My mother collected quite a number of sort of sisters. These were young Black women that she mentored.   I used to refer to them as my better sisters behind their backs But, I was quick to clarify that because I have them, I'm free to be me - hard headed, rebellious, edgy, artistic and somewhat wild.  I was grateful to them for making sure my mother had something she needed. 

Because of the necessity in the Queer community to create families (due to violence and abuse) and the restructuring of what it means to be family, I was one of the first lesbians to be part of the Gaybie boom of the 80's and 90's. We asserted not only our right to choose who we love, but also, our right to redefine family.  Most Gaybie Boomers were modelling heterosexuals and focused on marriage equality.  But, at the time, I was more interested in in expansive families.  I was particularly enlivened  The Gay Liberation Front's Manifesto written in 1971 and updated in 1978.  (Even though I didn't quite understand it fully the first time I read it.)  If you've never read it, you should.  Interestingly according to them, gay oppression begins with the family "consisting of the man in charge, a slave as his wife, and their children on whom they force themselves as the ideal models. The very form of the family works against homosexuality."

As a result, I no longer want to use the word family to describe those people who are committed to one's on-going self-discovery, growth and well-being.  The word itself is too loaded.  The only difference between, what I am now calling, Kinship Circles we formed in college and my parent's kinship circle was that we my queer friends spoke openly and frankly about why we had all come together in the same place to form a lifelong bond. 

Over the years, I have come to realize what a special family we are.  How fresh and new we have been for generations.  And now I am beginning to understand why we, as a society, think it is normal for family gatherings to be something one endures.  It also makes me even more disdainful towards the Religious Right and those who are calling for family values.  I understand what they mean down to the very root of the word.

The very structure of family is a top down hierarchy in which respect is not reciprocal.  Any belief that it is responsibility of the individual to return to situations which cause them harm or to maintain order for the sake of order under the subjugation of a dominant person (usually a man) is flawed. The way we have done things is not, nor will it ever be, a reason to justify wrong.

Given that information, I can't imagine why anyone would want to be in a "family."  There is no healthy way to respect someone who does not respect you.  There is no way to honor someone who does not honor you.  Love is a choice, not an obligation.  Sometimes, the most healing thing you can do for people unworthy of the gift of you is to deny them the privilege of your company. 

 & in the spirit of God is love, and the inalienable fact that you deserve to be loved - if you are being caused harm, break away. 

Find those people who are invested in you.  Take the time to work through the process of growing along side of each other.  Learn how to trust and teach it through example.  Honor them.  Commit to triple vision - see them for who they were, who they are right now and as the highest self they will become...all at the same time. Expect the same in return. Then, gather them to you.  Make up your own holiday traditions.  But, if they abuse you - even once - walk away and don't look back. (Easier said than done.  These are ideals by an idealist.)

I'll be returning to this line of thinking over the next few months. There is so much to unpack.  Next up, how do we find ways to create Kinship Circles rather than families.

* White-Girl-Syndrome was unheard of when I was a teenager. Probably because it didn't emerge until desegregation. It happens mostly to Black girls who have been assimilated into (typically) elite White environments. This syndrome is usually inflamed and made worse by the additional pressures of Respectability Politics. (Hood Feminism's The Politics of Respectability is not Revolutionary. is a good read on this subject.) In adolescence, children with White Girl Syndrome mimic the disrespectful attitudes White children exhibit towards elders and there is no system of measurement large enough to communicate their sense of entitlement. They also blame their parents for making their lives miserable based upon the failure to deliver material goods or services. They tantrum even though they, unlike White girls, will get their asses whooped at which point they will catalog and refer to it as child abuse.


Nekbone69 said…
Love you, Christina! I was really engaged with this piece as an adult adoptee. I often feel like a Temp with a standing reservation. Especially this month with word of two major deaths of matriarchs on each side of my families. That love is a choice not an obligation is a point I learned the hard way. Family, as I take it, is something one has to work on consciously, as one would a perspective partner or new friend. It seems to me many people take their closest familial relationships for granted. God is love, apparently. But family is work. My best to you and yours!
Thanks so much! I am so sorry for your losses. I agree God is love. Love takes work. Family should be worthy of love. Time is everything in those equations.

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