Monday, July 11, 2011

Family and friends

Your family is probably the most influential group you’ll ever belong to. But they are a strange, arbitrary beast.

A group you became a member of purely by the dumb luck of your birth, with no more than shared genes and ancestry. Not that there was ever any chance of being born into a different family.

Of course, for most of us they become more than that over time; as we grow up they’re at the centre of much of our learning and life-experiences. The bond becomes one that usually endures throughout a lifetime, while friends come and go.

Friends are the ones you get to choose though. Finding the people who inspire you, make you laugh, challenge you, understand you, provide comfort and support; you can build your own, perfect ‘family’!

I knew someone who has done just this, somewhat cutting herself off from her biological family, and truly considers her core friends her real family.

On the other hand, I have a friend who often prioritises time with his siblings and parents over socialising with friends – even leaving the farewell drinks of an old friend, who is heading overseas indefinitely, for a couple of hours because the drinks were down the road from his brother’s house, which is only 20 minutes drive from his own. I, personally, found that bizarre, especially as someone who agonises over missing a chance to hang out with my friends if I’m tied up with family, and will actively seek reasons not to visit my folks for dinner twice a week. It’s absolutely not that I don’t love them, just that twice a week is just more than I can handle right now.

At the moment friends are more important in my life than family. They’re the ones I look to not just for fun and socialising, but for inspiration, learning, new experiences and the exploration of life in general. And also for support and comfort. My good friends get me in a way my family don’t. That’s not their fault.

I don’t think there’s anything outrageously unusual in that, but I’d hate for my family to read it and feel more than a twinge of guilt saying so. But I’ll still hit ‘publish’ when I’m done writing this.

Fact is I’ve become somewhat of the black sheep in recent years among my fairly conservative family. I’ve become more outspoken and challenging in my outlook on life. Discussions often quickly become arguments, and I dislike myself when I get defensive and argumentative. I much prefer open discussions with particular friends where our purpose is not to win an argument but explore ideas.

Conservatism lives in my family both politically and the general attitude to life. The Liberal Party were supported in our house like a sporting team, although Mum has a progressive streak on issues such as the environment that she kept well hidden until I brought some similar, new thinking to the dinner table after starting university.

At this time, one of my brothers asserted that I had been brainwashed. A few years later he moved to San Francisco and now we actually agree on most issues! Our relationship is interesting in another way. Growing up it was he who – as the middle child – was the black sheep (maybe now there are two of us, which in a family of five really only takes one more convert to swing around the whole colour scheme) and we argued and fought like bitter enemies, and I spent a lot of time and energy brooding hatred for him; five years younger I couldn’t win a fight, but I sure as hell persisted in trying. We are both Scorpios after all.

We are also both quite independent and strong minded people. So I find it strange, but it probably makes sense, that as soon as he moved out we started getting along much better and have hardly argued, and never fought, in more than eight years. In fact we probably have the best relationship of anyone in the family and I do consider him a good friend as well as a brother. There’s a different level of understanding, and – dare I say – respect that comes from that understanding.

To his credit (credit in my opinion) Dad was somewhat open to the views I brought home, and at least admired my passion, and has abandoned the Liberals at least once in the last three federal elections, possibly at all of them, and, like Mum and the Frisco bro, is a strong supporter such things as environmental protection. So while they may be somewhat conservative, they are not nowhere near the ‘evil’ end of the scale.

In terms of life, my parents persist in pushing me to invest in property and (more) shares, while any money I have I just want to spend on travel and digging life around Melbourne. They get offended when I choose to decline an offer for them to go 40 minutes out of their way to drop me home from a family event, when I’d actually prefer a short stroll, and time reading on the train while I fare evade.

This needy generosity drives me mad at times and is a pertinent current point of tension as I assert my need to challenge myself and learn through good and bad experiences. I’m the youngest by five years; they still want to protect me I guess.

And so I look to my friends to find the adventure and exposure to life’s riches that I crave.

I love my family dearly. They will always be there for me, always have been; I know that they will provide me with anything I need (‘need’!) as far as they can if I ask, and I would do so for them.

For me that’s what family’s about. Not everyone is so lucky to have such support and love, but that’s how it should be. No matter our differences, or our arguments, we will always be tied not just by a biological, but also an emotional bond.

And when/if I have my own children I will learn from my parents – both their mistakes and their wisdom, and I will most likely take a somewhat different approach and make my own mistakes. But hopefully they’re around long enough to offer an additional, alternative approach as grandparents well into my children’s lives.

1 comment:

  1. Family is a funny thing. Like you said, dumb luck who you get. I am adopted, so the whole nature over nurture once consumed me. But my adopted brother and I are so very different I know it's nature with a hint of nurture.

    Friends are wonderful things, you're right, they are who you choose. You end up surrounding yourself with the ones you (and this is my definition) you can ring in the middle of the night for any reason. I'm lucky to have three I would say without a doubt, I could do this with.

    This is a great post and you are a great writer. x