Family Ties

Family Ties

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” –James Baldwin

There are many books out now about the subject of family—against the background of the pandemic; or in other centuries; perhaps within different cultures; or at different times of one’s life. Clearly this is a structure people need in order to feel safe and whole, and to understand their own life story better. Family, either prescribed by shared DNA or those people we’ve chosen, is the key to how we see ourselves, even though we perpetuate fictions about our ethnicity rather than deal with the facts of it. We don’t have to wait for science to edit the human Genome. We already do that when we write our own narratives.  A lot of denial and wishful thinking inhabits our family histories, but when reality crashes up against the stubborn facts, there can be a painful reckoning before we pull ourselves together to start again. And when we look out to see what’s there when the tide recedes, do we deal with it or pretend it’s something else, yet again?

This human dilemma of the meaning and importance of family plays out in various ways. I’ve explored the questions surrounding familial ties entangling my protagonist Emily Alden in the third book of her family history. And I think we can’t realize our full potential until we’ve dealt with the truth about those who came before and those who are yet to come. Do the family stories need to be backed up with incontrovertible evidence or will the memories of others fan the imagination into flames?  If the embers have been cold too long to self-combust, will hard facts in the form of letters, pictures, and personal handwriting serve as catalysts to carry our stories to a new level of authority? I think so. And as I present these proofs to my protagonist, her father’s keepsakes, her mother’s portrait, and her lover’s letters rewrite her life in ways no one could have planned, least of all her.

Please, let me know your feelings about the impact of family stories. We all have different ways of hearing them, just as we vary their telling to suit our own needs.

4 Responses to Family Ties

  1. When I spent many years working with young people in foster care I came to realize how essential family stories are for forming one’s identity. No matter how challenging or some would say dreadful a young person’s life had been with their biological parents, they held onto what few stories they had retained from their biological families as their singular north star. Perhaps it’s one of the few distinctions between us and other animals is that we can and find it essential to carry the thread of our existence over multiple generations.

    I have come to the conclusion that those of us who are older, have a responsibility to transfer our stories and those of our own ancestors to the next generation.

    • Agreed, of course. But what happens when someone doesn’t like the stories they inherit? Do they find a way to live with them? Or do they change them to suit their own image of themselves? And if they choose to accept them do the new narratives alter their understanding of who they are? It’s a topic worthy of many books, not just one. But that’s all I’ve got energy for this go-round. Thanks for you comment, Paul.

      • Even the best of us have inherited stories we don’t like, but that’s the point. We learn from them and better to make our own story, our own identity. I would go further and suggest that stories we don’t like make us better people because we are freed to make our own life rather than living off the status and accomplishments of our inheritance.

        • Yes, but that’s the point. We ‘inherit’ the bad stuff too, and have to live with it and acknowledge that’s also who and where we came from. NO, we don’t have the high exalted position to deal with, but we may have a very low and demeaning one we don’t want to admit to. Sure, we can make our own way, but not without fully embracing the story we don’t like and admitting it’s part of us. That’s certainly what my character is needing to deal with. Read on to find out why!

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