My dad passed this year. His passing has brought a lot of reflection. And it’s brought home something I took for granted: family and how it comes to be. Love. Love is what makes a family.
We choose who we marry, and that brings people into our family. We (mostly) choose to have children, and they are brought into our family. But for the rest of our family members, they didn’t choose those people that we bring in. They get to choose whether or not to love them. But families grow and strengthen through choosing to love those new people.
Choosing Family Starts at Home
I found out late in my childhood that my mother was not my father’s first wife. And that my sister was not born of my mother. You would never know it. The bond between them was formed early and is one of the strongest I have ever seen. From my grown-up vantage point, I realize that I was a witness to something incredibly beautiful. My mother chose to love this child as if she were her own, and in reality she is.
My sister may have been brought into my mother’s family through marriage. But also very much by choice.
As I look back through the old family photos, there she is. On my grandfather’s lap, helping him blow out the candles on his birthday cake. He’d have to have known her less than a year. But as my grandmother once said, “the divorce wasn’t her fault.” My mother’s family embraced that little girl and made her their own. They loved her from the beginning. In the 60s when divorce was not common. She could have been left on the outside looking in, but they chose to love her from the beginning. They embraced her and made her their own. Because LOVE is what makes a Family.
Life Brings Lots of Chances to Choose Love
As I sat at my father’s funeral and looked around the room at people shedding tears, it hit me. Many of those we call family, have always called family without hesitation or even questioning, are not actually biologically related to me.
Love made them family.
There were friends that had become as close, if not closer, than family over the years. My father’s best friend of over 50 years spoke at the funeral. I know for my father, this friend was family. Because Love is what makes a Family. Mike and his family were family to my father.
One of my aunts raised 9 children. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that hers was a blended family. Again from a time when those were not common. He had a few children, she had a few children, and they chose to bring a few more children into the family. No steps, no halves, no division—just family. Love made them one family, and they chose to ignore where everyone came from. I’m not sure if you asked them today, 60 years later, if those siblings even know which ones come from where. They are one family. Beyond the deaths of their parents, they are still one family today. As adults, by choice.
My grandparents (this time on my father’s side) chose to embrace all who came into their family. They chose to love them all. Love is what makes a Family. Biology never mattered. Was pretty much ignored, in fact.
Sometimes, Family is a Consciously Choosing to Love
As my father’s health declined, we learned even more about his family. More about him that we never suspected. In the year before he died, we found out that he had another child. It was quite the shock. I thought I knew all there was to know about my father. Apparently not.
But the one thing that was the hardest to absorb was that he had a child that was let go.
For a family that viewed family as everything, that chose to embrace so many not biologically connected whole-heartedly, it was so incredibly hard to wrap my head around the idea that they allowed one to be let go.
Given, it was the 60s and times were different. An out-of-wedlock child was a very different thing in those days than it is now. And (as has been pointed out to me) in those days before the internet, someone moving away and telling no one was a pretty easy way to disappear.
But, through incredible luck, I found that child. Finding out in my 40s that I have another sibling, was a lot to wrap my head around. But I wanted to find that child, that missing limb in my family tree.
I’ve talked with her. He parents chose to bring a child into their family through adoption. She had a beautiful, wonderful upbringing filled with love. They built their family through adoption. They chose to love a child and make her family. Because Love is what makes a Family.
Moving Forward, Choose Love, Choose Family
This year, I am going through a divorce. The family that I so carefully built over the last 24 years is changing. It won’t look the same the next Holiday Season. But as I look around me, I see hope. I have so many examples right in front of me of how Choosing To Love transforms regular, ordinary people into a Family. How we bring in people we never knew before and make them Family, and how the people around us can choose to embrace them and make them family, too.
I am hopeful that one day my children will get to experience this. How the circle of love can grow and strengthen a family. Not by biology alone. Choice is a big factor. We choose to love. We choose to embrace. We choose Family.