“Where’s my brother?” I asked him.
“Um .. I dunno” he replied. He was four. Making it to two-syllable words was a major achievement on any given day.
“Your brother’s in school. So where do you think mine is?” I pushed.
“In your house”. It made sense to him. He looked at me in anticipation of getting the answer correct.
I pointed over at the man at the end of the garden. “That’s my brother over there,” I confirmed.
“No! He’s my dad!” he laughed, at the ridiculousness of my statement.
“Yes, he’s your dad. And he’s my brother. He’s both those people.”
** Silence **
Family connections are a mystery to children.
Nobody’s born with an inherent understanding of who their parents and siblings are.
It’s only until our social circle – the family that raises us – explains who our family is, do we start attaching meaning to it.
As we grow older, movies, music, media all add to this image of the man-made institution.
It can kill you if you let it
Like it did to the boy who grew up being told he had to be the man in the family. That he, just like his father, would one day have a wife and children of his own.
Images of masculinity only had room for the stereotype: emotionless, stoic, rescuer.
And so when he first felt attracted to another man, he was confused by it.
When it happened again, he tried to make sense of it.
When he understood it, he buried it.
It didn’t correspond to the notion of family he’d been raised to believe in. He heard the homophobia his parents and brothers voiced. He became afraid of what they’d to do him if they found out.
So he went through the motions. He had girlfriends at university, one of whom he married.
Together, they jumped on the socially-approved treadmill that involved a job, a house and children. His life became so routine that, momentarily, he thought he could make it.
You know the deal: one day, he had the strength to realise his feelings count. So he voiced his strength:
This isn’t what I want
And the taunting began:
You’re not a real man
Hell has a special area for people like you
I didn’t raise my son to behave like this
You’ve betrayed us
The tables had turned
He lost count of the number of times he cried because he felt alone.
Sure, friends understood and supported him. But they weren’t his brother.
The one that used to stay up until 2am with him so they’d both tiptoe their way to the living room to play Streetfighter as their parents slept.
They weren’t his sister. Who soothed him after every relationship breakup and taunted him for his eccentric shoes.
The one who said she’d always support him.
But when it came down to it – when the real test of support arrived – they were the first to reject him.
Rejection breeds addiction.
And he became addicted to the quest for their approval.
Even when his father told him never to come to the house again, he’d still go every weekend. If I just show them I’m still me, they’ll start to come round.
Despite his sister telling him he wasn’t welcome in their home, he’d phone her every few days and leave her a message. When she hears about my life, she’ll open her door to me again.
No matter how many times they threw his gestures back in his face, he still went back. He believed he had the power to make it work with them. If anyone could, he could.
But they continued to reject him:
You’re not wanted here.
You’re not one of us.
We don’t recognise you.
Rejection. It wears you right into the fucking ground
There’s only so much of it you can take before you reach breaking point.
You eventually stop enduring it.
The constant pounding of judgement can be tolerated for so long … until you either allow it to define you, or you break out of it.
As for our friend, he gradually weened himself off the addiction to rejection.
He put physical distance between him and his family.
They made him who he is, but he wasn’t willing to change for them.
He wasn’t prepared to invest in relationships that weren’t supporting him.
So he created new relationships that did.
Family has whatever meaning you attach to it.
How’s your meaning serving you?