When I was young, I really dreaded any of “my days.” Meaning, any days that were supposed to be about me. I didn’t want the attention or pressure. I didn’t want to be put on the spot and cause everyone to be disappointed. Days like Halloween. I did not want to dress up in a costume. I did not want to go trick or treating with my parents. I did not want to have to talk to strangers and endure their comments about my costume; to pretend to have fun; to pretend my parents knew how to make me happy. Because I did not have a voice. I was a puppet and I did not yet know how to play my part.
For this same reason, when I was young and thought about my wedding day, I dreaded it. I dreaded being in front of my family, in my family’s church, saying the standard vows. Doing all the bog-standard wedding rituals. The reception, the cake, the dancing. I did not want to do anything of the sort. I did want to get married. I did want to indelibly tie myself to the love of my life. I had no reservations in that regard.
I finally realized years after the fact--years after my actual wedding--that the reason I did not like the days about “me” is because they were not actually about me. They were me filling familial obligations. I was a game token for my parents, to be moved about the board--graduation, check; college, check; marriage, check; grandchildren, check. My progress through life was not my own, but my parents.
My wife and I eloped. We were married by a female, non-denominational officiant in the butterfly house at a science museum. My wife’s mother, brother, and childhood best friend were there and no one else. The day was actually about me and my wife and I felt no anxiety, only a nervous eagerness, only anticipatory excitement. It was exactly what I wanted, what I needed to be happy and to be able to enjoy myself, to be happy instead of apprehensive, on the defensive, dealing with my parents sniping comments and silent accusations and judgments.
The day before I got married I received an email from my uncle, chiding me about hurting my parents by excluding them. The email, in its entirety, verbatim:
This is your uncle Andrew. I am sending you this note to ask that you reconsider your decision to have a wedding that excludes your father, mother and grandfather.
Your parents love you and deserve to be part of this event. Yes, this day is about you and Hanna. It is also a very important day for those reponsible for bringing you into this world and helping you grow to an adult.
Whether you intend it or not, excluding your family is hurtful. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for you....to reach out to your family in a way that they will appreciate for the rest of their lives. My advice is that you not let this opportuinty slip away.
Never before had my uncle in any real way been involved in my life. I did not go to him for advice. He had not proffered unsolicited advice ever before. My entire life he’s lived in another state and seeing him was a holidays and birthdays sort of affair. Simply put, he was not and is not in a position to offer advice or insight into my life. I have no idea what kind of conversations he may have had with my father (his brother) or my grandfather. I knew my father and uncle spoke infrequently and my grandfather and uncle a little less infrequently--but even so, any information about me relayed through my parents would be unreliable to say the least as they only have had a very small, partial, and distorted picture of who I was as a person.
I read my uncles words now and I’m still angry. I’m still incensed. So pervasive is this idea of filial loyalty, fidelity, and gratitude in my entire family. I suppose from his perspective, assuming he was ignorant of the abuse I received, I was simply being a callous son. Even so, there is not the slightest benefit of the doubt. There’s no questioning if I have good reasons. No one in my biological family has reached out to me to do anything other than lay blame at my feet. To wound me is to heal me--is that their logic? Clearly, that is the problem in their eyes. I am not emotionally invested enough to be guilted into doing (according to them) the “right” thing.
So I say to him, how dare he. How dare he miss an opportunity to listen to me. To hear what I have to say. To acknowledge I am an individual distinct and separate from my biological family. He missed an opportunity to connect with his nephew in a way no one else in this family has.