You Can’t Pick Your Family

Like it or not, we’re all born into a family comprising of parents and siblings we are expected to love even though there are times when we don’t like them.

I’m number six of ten children. Coming from a large family must not have been a big priority for my siblings and I because none of us followed our parents’ example. Five is the most children any of us have chosen to bring into this world, the result perhaps of the way we were brought up.

Being in the middle made it easy for me to relate to siblings on each end of our family tree. I believe there are just 15 years between the youngest and the oldest in our household, which is a lot of children to keep track of. My youngest siblings know little of the oldest children’s time at home because they were on their way out of the house when the young ones were just coming home from the hospital.

I spent a few days with my youngest brother recently and as brothers do, we spent time comparing the kind of family each of us grew up in. There are eight years between Jody and I, but it could have been one hundred years between us when we compare the differences in how we were raised. I grew up in a family where money was tight, where there was almost no attention paid to the older kids because there were four small children younger than us to care for. Born in quick succession, the last four children needed lots of TLC while we were left to our own devices.

Life for the final four, my designation for the last four siblings, was much different than life had been for the rest of us. Money wasn’t as much of an issue for them and the consequences of straying out of bounds was much less harsh for them as it had been for the rest of us. My shoplifting experience led to a serious spanking followed by a summer of being grounded to the back yard while the last four got away with just a talking to. If we came home late it was met with a spank, while the youngest four had no consequence because our parents had already gone to bed.

The youngest child, Jody, thinks by the time his group came along our parents were so burned out on raising children they had essentially given up. With more time on their hands, my parents actually attended a basketball game where my brother George was one of the stars. Clearly not very knowledgeable about the game of basketball, our father was cheering loudly whenever my brother was in the game. It was so embarrassing for George that he asked our father never again to come to one of his games, and he never did.

As siblings, we are pretty good at staying in touch with each other but there are things we know we can’t share because they would turn into an inquisition. One of my sisters recently built a new house and sold their business, but none of it was shared with our oldest brother, John, because the questions would never cease. How big is their house, how much did they sell their business for, how much did they get out of their old house, etc. would have been just a few of the questions he would want answered. While none of the answers to these questions have any bearing on his life, they are things he wants to know. Should the tables get turned, John becomes mute, not wishing to share his business with anyone else. We love our older brother John, but he can make us crazy!

In addition to the family I was raised in, I have another family that I feel a part of. My best friend in the world has adopted me into his family and we have adopted him into ours. I am referred to as Uncle Jay in their family and for the longest time his children thought that I was a blood relative. A little over a year ago my friend’s uncle passed away. His name was also Jay, and when my friend told his kids about Uncle Jay’s death they really freaked out. “How did he die?” was their first question and when they were told that Uncle Jay passed away from old age they were in disbelief? “He was your age,” they told their father. Only then did my friend, John, realize that his kids were better acquainted with me as their Uncle Jay than they were their actual blood relative, also known as Uncle Jay.

One of the benefits of being adopted into a family, legally or not, is that it’s a family you can choose to be part of. Each of us gets to do this when we marry into a family although we are often more interested in who we are marrying than we are those that come into the marriage. I was sort of sold on my mother-in-law long before I married my wife because she had been overly kind long before I had any interest in her daughter, but I would count her as my equal in the years after I married her daughter.

I would like to think that we all had a say in which family we were being sent to in this earthly existence. Maybe it’s like the NBA draft where our progenitors are in heaven bidding for souls to come down and be a part of their family. For my part I must have been a disappointment to those who bid on me because I didn’t become that tall basketball player they might have hoped for. Nevertheless, here I am, for good or for bad, part of the Lenkersdorfer team for life.

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