May. 7th, 2009

druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)
I never thought much about Dad's family when I was growing up. In the back of my mind, I suppose I decided that they weren't as important as Mom's family; after all, Mom's family has the more interesting legend (The Right Hand of Ulster), the more frequent family gatherings*, the more open storytelling about what it was like growing up**, and I physically resemble them the more. Most of all, though, I pay more attention to Mom's family because my father was physically abusive when I was young, and I didn't want anything to do with that part of my history. But that was more than ten years ago now. I'm sometimes still angry about it, and it's not resolved, but my father has worked hard for most of my life to not repeat his father's mistakes.
Saturday we went to my Aunt Donna's for a Derby party. Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob were there (of course, since it's their house), and so were my Aunt Judy, Aunt Mary, Uncle Dennis, Aunt Erlene, and my cousin Lonnie and his wife Cindy. Not present (at this, nor so many other family gatherings) were my Uncle Tom and Aunt Charlie or any of their kids and grandkids. After dinner, Cindy asked where they were, and Aunt Donna and Aunt Mary and Aunt Erlene explained that they were almost never at any Newton gatherings, and hadn't been since Grandma Newton passed back in 1995. I have cousins I haven't seen in almost a decade, and they wouldn't recognize me (or vice versa) if we were in the same room. They are strangers to us. And it's because Uncle Tom doesn't believe that the relationship between him and his siblings is all that important in the scheme of things, especially not compared to his relationship with his children and his in-laws. After Grandma died my dad's brothers and sisters promised not to drift apart, but Uncle Tom and Aunt Charlie are more concerned with their descendants than with his siblings. (I say "his" because as far as anyone knows, they're still concerned with her siblings.) And it hurts the rest of them deeply. My Aunt Donna says she's closer to her brothers and sisters than she is to her kids, and she's involved with her kids. When my Aunt Mary needed a place to stay after things went to shit for her, she lived with Aunt Donna and Uncle Bob. Those two are best friends, even into their 50s.
But until Saturday I hadn't really thought about where my immediate family fits into the Newton dynamic. Stephanie gets mad because the Newtons get together and don't invite us--I think now that what actually happens is that they do invite us, but Dad makes excuses to not go. My Aunt Donna tries really hard to keep the family together despite the flakiness of Aunt Mary, the absentmindedness of Aunt Judy, the apparent indifference of Uncle Tom, the sheer busy-ness of Uncle Dennis, and the avoidance of Dad.
Daddy can be unintentionally cutting, vocally critical, is sarcastic more often than not, and in general is kind of a hermit. He'd do anything for his family, but my dad is also a severely depressed individual who has unresolved issues with his own father and family dynamics, and is defensive and passive-aggressive to boot.
In other words, he's a lot like me.
I realized Saturday where I get a lot of my self-defense mechanisms, and also some of my more unhealthy coping strategies. (Not all of them, mind you, not by any means; some I get from Mom, and a few are all my own, but some things: avoidance of my family, tendency to retreat from the world, using sarcasm as a shield--all those I get from Dad.) How often have I made the claim that I love my family dearly, but I like them better from a distance? How many things do I keep from my family to avoid hurting or worrying them, even (especially) the things I need to share to keep from buckling under the pressure? How much important news have I conveyed via a throw-away line in an email? For the first time on Saturday, I realized how much I'm like my father beneath the skin, and it's not a bad realization, just one that brings into perspective how much frustration Daddy must feel with the world (and how much frustration the world must feel with me).
From now on, I resolve to do as much as I am able to keep either my dad or myself from alienating ourselves from our most valuable support systems. We don't have to be alone, and neither of us is broken beyond repair. We just might need some help making the necessary mends and modifications.

*This is false. The Newtons get together a LOT. We just don't go very often.
**This not true either; Dad's family are a bunch of born storytellers, and have hundreds of stories that I've not paid enough attention to to recognize.


druidspell: Me, bowling at a family reunion, with my username inset in the bottom right corner. The blurriness is intentional. (Default)

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