How many times have you encountered someone and thought, ‘wow, their family seems so perfect, I wish my family was like that’? That illusion causes you to feel badly about the shortcomings in your own family life. You ponder what choices you could have made to be more like that family.
Eventually you find out that your friend’s father is an alcoholic. He is estranged from his cousins, who he grew up with, over a nonsense argument. His sister has a mental health issue…
When I got married, I entered into a family that was very different from my own. My in-laws are Staten Island Italians. This is a very special breed of people. They fight hard and love harder. They are loud and gregarious. This WASP was terrified. Picture Bambi slowing ambling into Tony Soprano’s house.
Over the 15 years that I have been a part of this family, I have learned that though I will never be the Meadow to their Tony, there is a place for me here. Though it hasn’t always been easy.
In 2009, a minor miscommunication turned into a major family rift. This resulted in 6 years of anger, resentment, strife, deep sadness and estrangement. For a long time, no one had any idea how to mend this fence.
Unfortunately, I was a part of this disaster. Being involved in this nightmare of a situation caused me intense grief. It also caused marital strife for my husband and I.
I deeply regretted decisions I made that at the time, I felt were warranted. When life gets that messy, you lose all perspective as to what is right and what intentions are pure. It becomes a vortex of muddled memories.
This weekend, my father in law turned 70. He is a man who may come across as tough, with his white ribbed tank top and thick gold chain, but inside, he is as mushy as those giant teddy bears they sell at Costco.
The family rift has caused him an incredible amount of pain. All he ever wanted was for his children to be as close as they were growing up. For them to all be estranged cut him to his core.
Over the past year, the broken fences stared to be mended. Slowly, and in tiny increments, but progress, nonetheless.
This weekend we all came face to face. I can only speak for myself, but I was extremely nervous. I was nervous for myself and nervous for the family. Now it wasn’t just us. There were children involved, too. There was a lot on the line.
I am relieved and beyond pleased to report that the weekend was terrific. More than that actually, it felt productive and, dare I say, healing?
The first night we were all together around the dinner table, my father in law raised his wine glass to make a toast. Before he even began speaking, tears welled in his eyes. He was overcome with the emotion of a family coming back together.
In the time the family was fragmented children were born, a divorce occurred, someone had a heart attack, jobs changed, people celebrated, people mourned, I got cancer.
All of that was wiped away as he stood with his glass raised, looking lovingly at his family, whole again, and seated around the table.
No one’s family is perfect. Mine isn’t. My husband’s isn’t. But if you are lucky, there will be moments that were worth the fight. Moments when you can look at each other and remember why the drama was worth it.
If I could go back in time and erase my part of the breakdown, I absolutely would. But that is not how life works. We all gained something from this debacle and what I gained is the ability to look at the other side of any argument. This is a lesson more valuable than anything I ever learned in school. It has made me an infinitely better person, friend, co-worker and family member.
We can all look for reasons to reconcile. Reasons like watching your father in law cry with joy at the gathering of his children and grandchildren to celebrate the life he provided all of us.