Tag Archives: Ruth E. Renkel

We Are Not “Family”

There are dysfunctional families. There are dysfunctional functional families. There are good families. There are good families with bad moments. I belong to the second group which sometimes lapse into the first group.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day–I am not in love. Not romantically. I love my family and it is they who sometimes have me questioning the meaning of that word.

What is a family? What does it mean to have one? Should all be alike?

I remember reading Jane Howard’s essay, All Happy Clans Are Alike, In Search of the Good Family. The opening lines go like this:- “Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. You need one because you are human. You didn’t come from nowhere.”

Yes, we all need one, but are we happy with the ones we have? In her piece, she also hinted that not only blood relatives can make up a family, sometimes those that are not related by blood make up the better ones.

I do not agree that all families should be alike. I am not ignorant of the fact that each one has its own problems and situations. Not high and mighty to think that we ourselves sometimes are not the reasons for conflicts within them. Not living on a cloud where disappointments will not happen. Not foolish to think that it is always bad, sad, or unhappy.

But to think of the ones where love is absent and anger is constantly present, even when living far apart, is not what I consider units, not a wholesome body. Maybe I am wrong, just maybe . . .

“Sometimes the poorest man leaves his children the richest inheritance.” Ruth E. Renkel 🙂

By the way, I really loved her essay. She listed ten definitions of what a good family should be. You are free to disagree.

1) Good families have someone around whom others cluster and who sets an example.

2) Good families have someone who cannot help but keep track of what all the others are up to. This role is assumed rather than assigned.

3) Good  families are much to all members, but everything to none. Good families are fortresses with many windows and doors to the outer world.

4) Good families are hospitable.

5) Good families deal squarely with direness.

6) Good families prize their rituals. A clan becomes more of a clan each time it gathers to observe a fixed ritual (Christmas, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and so on)

7) Good families are affectionate. This of course is a matter of style.

8) Good families have a sense of place, which these days is not achieved easily.

9) Good families, not just the blood kind, find some way to connect with posterity.

10) Good families also honor their elders.