I believe in families. I have faith in families. My family brought me into this world, nurtured me to the best of their abilities, and I enjoy my family now. I know that is not everybody’s experience and it has not always been my own experience. I know for some people that families mean hurt, abuse, neglect, or abandonment at many levels.
I have had unpleasant family experiences ranging from my own adopted brother telling me “I don’t want to anything to do with you Neel children”, to my cousin who told me essentially to “go to hell …”, to my work as a social worker in a public child protection service agency where you see the really bad ones. I know that family experiences can hurt. And I understand why some people may want to give up all hope of getting their needs met from their own families.
But I have not given up hope. In fact, I am very hopeful in the healing potential of families. I love my family that I live with. I miss my extended family that I don’t live with. I grieve my family that has passed on. And I embrace my chosen family - my friends and spiritual brothers and sisters, and even some of my co-workers that I interact with regularly.
I have seen the healing power of families from a professional point of view where old patterns can be changed, old injuries can be taken responsibility for and the recovery process can begin. I have seen and been a part of new generations become healthier and less damaging to the next generation.
And I have experienced my own family-of-origin healing from where things seemed pretty hopeless, to where we have moved to stages of healing, and we now seek one another out and regularly gather together again and have re-established new traditions of family gatherings.
I recognize my own needs for human interaction and my needs that are met by my family (including my chosen family), for the most part.
Motivation, Intention, Needs, Wants
My journey to write this book has literally brought me to tears with anticipation and excitement of discovery of my living relatives and ancestors, and those emotions were sometimes confusing to me. I was not clear on what I needed or wanted when I started this journey. While my motivations haven’t always been clear, my feelings told me this is important. Motivations are related to intentions. I will write more on the role of emotions later.
See the title of this book? I ask you: What are you hungry for that made you pick this up and read this? Do you recognize what you are longing for? What nutrition do you need? What do you want?
It is important to know that there is a difference between “wants” and “needs”. What we need are basics like food, water, housing, stability, belonging, security, etc.- things we need for our survival. What we want are metaphorically like frosting on the cake of life that we can survive without but which makes our lives richer - things like the desire for creativity, beauty, peace, balance, connection, purpose, and deep meaning. Wants are things we want that help us thrive, beyond mere survival. Maybe some of what we want are just distractions, but we need those for respite or rest sometimes (like “mindless” entertainment). (from “Introduction to Psychology” Sixth Edition, by Ernest R. Hilgarrd, Richard C. Atkinson, and Rita L. Atkinson, Harcourt Brace Javonovich, Inc., 1975).
Is family a basic need for you? Family may not be a basic need, but family is one of the ways we get our basic needs met, a means to the ends. Have you learned not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg? Have you learned that access to the resources that allow us to fulfill our basic daily needs - stable relationships - is much more valuable over the span of our life time than winning the lottery?
Speaking for myself, I have my basic needs met, AND I want the full course meal! I want to taste that desert! I want to survive, and I want to thrive in the richness of life! And my family can help me do that. (I define family as those significant relationships who are kin by blood or marriage, as well as “fictive kin” who are friends and sometimes acquaintances who are my chosen family).
Home and the Dinner Table
Where is your “home”, the source of what you really need? What does “home” mean to you? Expand on the idea of “home” to include this question: What did your dinner table look like when you were a child? What does your dinner table look like now? Do you sit down together as a family tradition, giving you all a chance “be in relationship” on a regular basis that you can count on it most evenings, giving you all a chance to talk about how your day went or what your hopes and dreams are? Or are you isolated with your dinner plate on your lap and the television on or cruising the Internet on your smart phone?
Maybe you’re gagging on my attempts to link family genealogy work to eating, but I am trying to speak of “home” as the source of the emotional food we need, as well as the source of our basic material needs. This emotional food is the desire to know who we are, to know that we are OK and are loved and have a place where we belong, to know where we come from, to be connected with our sources, and to know where we are going to, including questions about what we leave behind. Some believe that without healthy emotional attachment to at least one secure adult when we are children that we will shrivel up and die.
Coincidence and Commitment
Why did you pick up this book (or click on this site)? How did it end up in your hands? Was it just a coincidence? What motivated you to read this far? What will keep you going? Can you tolerate this if it gets messy or uncomfortable or painful? Can you stay committed to this process and keep eating your vegetables and fruits and all of the food groups for a balanced diet, even when you get tired of chewing, chewing, chewing, before you can get your dessert that you deserve (your “just desserts”)? Will you be too full to continue?
Maybe you don’t want to eat your vegetables right now, but maybe later you will understand how important they are to a balanced diet, a balanced life.
Do you feel that you belong in your family tree? Is your family committed to you? Are you committed to your family? Do you feel you have a right to sit at your family table or state your need to do so? Are you committed to claim your place at the table of life? Do you make welcoming gestures to include others at your table?
Can you tolerate this if it gets messy or uncomfortable or painful?
There is a saying that goes “Thoughts in mind produce likeness in kind”. Nothing begins without a vision. The chair you are now sitting in began with someone’s vision. That you are reading my words is my vision. My vision is influenced by the one in the movie “Antwone Fischer” where the main character finds his long lost family, and he is welcomed to feast at their table. I have a vision of my family being whole and complete and welcoming to all, including guests. What is your vision?
Toot Your Horn - Beyond Dead People!
This is a book mostly about dead people, and a little bit about the living people looking for the dead ones. Not everyone has an appetite for this. Are you one of them? It takes living people to find dead ones, and it takes living people to leave footprints … or fingerprints … or even smaller traces like DNA. What kind of prints will we leave behind?
I write and share these words with mixed feelings, as it may appear I may be trying to “toot my own horn”, inflating my own ego (a potentially dangerous thing for some people), or trying to extend my own life into immortality in the printed word. But by sharing these words my hope is that you are moved to get up and do what needs to be done and to toot your own horn, and toot your family’s horn.
Garrison Keillor tells us about the fictitious Powdermilk Biscuits on the public radio show “Prairie Home Companion” which “gives us the strength to get up and do what needs to be done”. (I used to listen to that all the time with my Dad.) It does take strength and backbone to break the old family rules of “Don’t Talk”. It takes respect to not hurt other people while doing so.
Carl Sagan writes in Cosmos “A book … One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person— perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennium, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic … Books are like seeds. They can lie dormant for centuries, and then flower in the most unpromising soil … If I finish a book a week, I will read only a few thousand books in my lifetime, about a tenth of a percent of the contents of the greatest libraries of our time. The trick is to know which books to read”. Is this one of them?
I am not a dead person, yet, and I don’t want to be one of the “walking dead” like in the zombie movies, or like some practicing alcoholics or addicts. This is about who I am, my right to speak up and state what is important to me, and to claim where I came from. This is to understand and claim who and what was necessary to get me here, and consider what remains of me after I’m gone, which I have conscious choices in. Do you consider these questions for yourself?
Inspiration and Perceptions
I was inspired to do this genealogy work by others. Most of this research has already been done by others before me. I am just re-gathering it, re-organizing it, and sometimes reflecting my own perceptions, my own experience, strengths and hopes which come from the seeds of original creativity. This is the Big Bang still expanding!
This is my own point of view which I hope will be fresh enough to your eyes, your heart, and your mind that it will appear original, or better yet to inspire to create your own fresh, unique, original family story. (Your his-story or your her-story?)
It can be reassuring for you to know that you are not alone. Others have been here before you, and you can stand on their shoulders. Others are standing on your shoulders, believe it or not (whether you have children or not). This reassurance can be like going to the security of home again to a welcoming table full of comfort food!
As stated in the preface, I like this interpretation of “inspire”, which is: “to breathe life into”. Are you inspired?
But first, are your basic needs met? If this work causes you to neglect your basic needs, you may need to look at that … Some people may be living lives of desperation, scrambling for survival, and be unclear about their motives and the battles they are fighting.
When I spend times of intensely diving into my genealogy work, I do neglect some regular, daily activities, like reading the newspaper or responding to e-mails. I’m not neglecting to eat yet, though, and it hasn’t caused me to be homeless, yet. But I do wonder sometimes if this work has caused me to be alienated from some family members.
When people are pre-occupied with their struggles for survival, they may not have anything left for reading, writing, education, or researching their family history. But sometimes without insight or reflection, we may be repeating family history unknowingly, interfering with rising to our highest potential.
Legacy and Impact on Others
I continue to think about what I want my sons and my family and my friends to know about me and what difference it will make. What is the purpose of all this? As I make statements like this, I suggest that you turn the question around to ask yourself: What do you want your family and friends to know about you?
I am as conscious of my own behaviors and words and their ramifications as I am able to be at this time, and I try to be sensitive about my impact upon others. I desire to be “awake” but I know that I do “sleep” with my eyes open sometimes, and the result has been at times that some people thought I was disrespectful. I do have my own blind spots. I do not want to be disrespectful. I want to be responsible for my own behaviors, thoughts and feelings. If I have stepped on your toes, I apologize. Please let me know. And I want relationships with others who want to be responsible for their own behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. Do you have any blind spots?
I want to do no harm. I want to leave the world a better place than I found it.
I know that my children’s sense of who they are is affected by what I show them on a daily basis by my words, my actions, promises I keep or have not kept, my achievements and failures, and our every-moment interactions and experiences together.
As the psychologists tell us, I know the foundations of my children’s sense of security, attachment, appetite for and ability to have relationships, and their personalities are already laid down (especially since they are in their early 20’s now). There is not a lot I can do to change their character or personality, now. But our hearts are still beating, we are still breathing, and we are all still developing. I have hope that seeds of passion for their family hunger may take root any day now. Life is a Process!
What legacy will we leave behind?