If one were to describe this life in one phrase it probably should be something along the lines of, “it’s all a big, fat lie.” From the moment we are born we are told lies and at the end of our lives those lies are still perpetuated despite the fact that really we should know better. These lies may include the fact that the sky is blue, the grass is green, and our family is designed specifically to help us, love us, and comfort us.
For the most part I don’t believe that lies hurt small children. This world is horrible enough that believing that there really is a forest of animals that will help you with your chores probably doesn’t hurt. It’s right up there with Santa, the Easter Bunny, and all the other magical creatures that visit you in the night.
But the truth is that the sky isn’t always blue; sometimes it is so dark as to allow the millions of stars to be seen and sometimes it is so angry as to be gray and threatening. The truth is the grass isn’t always green; and I am not talking about the age old idea of the grass is greener on the other side; I am talking color here. If you go down a highway in a part of the country ravaged by drought, you probably won’t see green; the color is rather a straw like brown. And despite all the readers, the worksheets, the funny little cartoons fed to us, families are not always specifically designed to do anything other than destroy us.
I grew up in a home that believed absolutely that family was and would always be the end all to everything. The importance of family was placed up there next to the importance of homework and learning. It didn’t matter how old you were, how many hormones were raging in your system, or even if you landed in jail, family was it and they loved you. To this day I can hear my mother lie to me as she so resolutely stated that it didn’t matter what I was in this life, she would be proud of me.
Maybe our lies about family are necessary for the growth and ultimate dependence on our family. I freely acknowledge that not all families hold up the very concept of the thing in the same way my parents do. I understand that there are families that simply can’t work with the premise that in all the horror you can always turn to the familiar. I know this. But what I think most people don’t know is that it is very rare that any family can hold up to the hype born in those fairy tales read late at night.
We can’t blame Disney or Universal or any of the other major corporations for our belief in what family should be like. We can’t really blame the stories, the books, the little readers that our kindergarten teachers give us in our study of our own belief system about family. Because the truth is, the vast majority – and I am talking about pretty much all of us – need the illusion of family in order to walk through the minefield of life. We need to believe that are parents like us. We need to believe that are parents are proud of us. We need to believe that the family that we have is the best there is to have.
The truth lies in the humanity of families. I believe with everything that I am that the single, biggest problem with our vision of a family is the realization that families are made up of humans. And no matter how we slice it, no matter how many times we deny ourselves the truth of who and what we came from, the humanity of families are always going to be destructive to the fairy tale given to us at such an early age.
For the truth is parents aren’t always supportive. The truth is parents aren’t always proud. The truth is in our parents’ humanity they feel and believe the exact opposite of what they promised us so long ago. If you are a parent yourself you can feel this, you can see this, you can hate yourself for this. But it is there. The perfection of families can not stand up to the albatross of humanity. For in all of our fairy tales there isn’t one mention of the reality of a human’s ability to be great; it doesn’t exist.
I just spent a week with my extended family including my mom, my aunts and uncles, and my cousins. I spent a week watching as this unit was destroyed by the hormonal destruction of a teenager. I spent a week watching as this unit was destroyed by the selfish and spoiled actions of those that believe that family requires no punishment. I watched as brothers and sisters fought, despite their advanced age, despite the fact that they hadn’t seen each other in a very long time. And during that time it came to me that it didn’t matter what kind of family we were talking about, there was more cracks than glue to hold them together. It simply isn’t possible in all these truths that the simple lies of our youth can remain.
For all the reality of each family unit and ultimately the larger unit that was represented, the truth was there was nothing holding each other to the belief that family was greater than our individual themes. We are a family of twenty-two people, and not one of us can find within ourselves the ability to see past the horror of our reality into the incredible possibilities of coming together as that fairy tale family.
I learned long ago from my family that my disease, my medications, my whole self was so much less than acceptable from what my family hoped I would become. I learned long ago that the lies taught in kindergarten can break you if you aren’t able to simply accept that life is made not of groups with one goal but of humans.
I learned long ago that it was impossible for my mother to stand up for me, she is simply too much of a coward; and my father is simply too much of a narcissist to notice I needed his strength to fight the disillusionment of reality. My parents aren’t capable of being that which they taught me to expect from them. Maybe this is because they couldn’t anticipate the diseases I would one day suffer; maybe they lived in a world that believed their children were the exception to every rule. Whatever the truth they thought around that dinner table each night, their humanity made it impossible for them to keep the promise.
Whatever it is that happened between my younger years and today has caused me to understand that the lies we tell our children while maybe right for the age in which we tell them, does not excuse our duty to make sure our children know that we aren’t always the heroes in the great story. As people who have to bring another life in this world, I have a responsibility to make sure my children forge their own paths and never, not once, believe that I am so infallible as to belong in the fairy tale I read to them.
The lies of family. The lies that we are given about this institution does us no good when we have to realize that the lies are heavier than the realization ever could be. I am not what my parents want me to be. I am not a part of a family that exists in any book. I am a part of a group of humans that will never have the characteristics that we were once promised: they are not heroes, they are not brave or courageous. They are not solid or even all that accountable. They are human and therefore, while flawed, also the destructive realization that there are so many lies and that those lies begin years before we are able to understand even the simplest of truths.