Finding My Extended Family

Rekindling relationships from my past.

Rekindling relationships from my past.

I’m a very lucky person when it comes to family. For most of my childhood, I had both my parents, my grandparents, and a slew of Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins on both sides. There was even a good ten years where I was able to sit and listen to my great grandfather tell his war stories.

At fifteen, my immediate family and I moved from Canada to Arizona for my Dad’s job. Although I was too young to realize it at the time, the geographical distance put an emotional one between my extended family and myself. It didn’t take long for ten years apart to pass and other than the occasional visit, most of my communication with my extended family had stopped or was only relayed through my parents.

Then, one year at Christmas, we came back for the holidays and went to the annual family Boxing Day party. Although the details are a little fuzzy, due to a college aged alcohol abuse mentality, I remember seeing how close everyone was and started feeling like I was missing something. I left Canada with a yearning to return. What I didn’t realize was how much of a gap ten years really can put on relationships, even familial ones.

The decision to move back was easy. The feeling of missing out on more shared memories was a powerful one. With the wheels of the airplane barely touching the ground in Phoenix, I had already put a plan to move back to Canada into action. Within two months I saved up some money, packed everything I wanted to keep into two suitcases (they actually used to let you bring two suitcases on international flights for free!), and booked my flight back to my homeland.

I had an expectation of how things would go regarding my family upon my return. The fantasy had an unimaginable sense of adoration by my relatives for making this bold choice to return. My voicemail would be full of invites to hang out with my cousins, go on their yearly golf trips, and be begged to attend all the family events. What my naive, twenty-five year old narcissistic self failed to realize was that these people had their own lives and traditions and I probably wasn’t as important as I thought.

As you can imagine, my expectations fell flat, and worse, I became bitter. The blame for my failed fantasy was thrust upon them.

It wasn’t my fault my family moved us away. It was never my choice! My relatives should be working harder to get to know me, I made the effort to come back. It’s their responsibility to reach out!

When we would get together, I felt like an outsider. The guy at the office Christmas party wondering between groups, only to have them disperse whenever I’d approach. Even though as kids we all played and laughed together, the lack of communication and mutually shared experiences of the past ten years, left me on the outside looking in. By no direct fault of either party, we no longer knew each other by much more than name.

And that feeling sucked and the bitterness grew. I couldn’t process the experience and failed at trying to reconcile my past memories with my new reality. The desire to rekindle relationships faded and I started believing that it would likely just be awkward forever.

Luckily, before it got to a point of no return, someone entered my life who makes time for everyone, especially family. I honestly don’t know how she does it. When we had been dating for no more than a month, she was aggressive in making sure we spent time with my immediate and extended family. Even when I still felt a little awkward around everyone, she would make plans with them to ensure we got together.

It made me realize that my bitterness was unwarranted and also a waste of energy. I starting thinking about how selfish it was to have expected my relative to alter their lives for me when I wasn’t doing anything to get to know them again. My effort towards them was being mirrored and I didn’t like what I was seeing.

My wife helped me erase the bitterness and showed me the value of putting in the effort. This has been the greatest gift (other than our beautiful son) my she has ever given me. With each family get together, I feel closer to the people I used to know. The feeling of being a stranger and outsider continually shrinks and I am happy that we get to share our new family with theirs.

My wife still puts in more effort than me, but I’m thankful she’s given me the opportunity to rekindle something important.

I hope you are all making time for your “family”, especially at this time of year. And more importantly, I hope that you continue to share experiences with the people that matter long past this holiday season.

If you are wondering why family was in quotes there, it’s because this story may be about my blood relatives, but family is whoever you choose it to be. No matter who you consider family, the lesson remains the same: making time for the people that matter in your life is a two way street, but that doesn’t mean the traffic will always flow evenly. It’s up to you to make the effort.