Christmas came and went and as the sun set on the big day, we put our daughters on a plane to Houston to visit with my family. They’re there five days.
It feels strange for a couple of reasons.
First, there was a long stretch of my life when I didn’t so much as speak with anyone but my mother back in Texas. It was nothing personal, I just left home early in life and never really settled down until after getting sober in New York, many years and miles apart from people I called family.
As l began picking up the pieces at 27, my life became my life and, thanks mostly to proximity, I wasn’t close with my family. Then of course I met my wife and we began our own family together.
Family has always been an interesting concept for me. I have a step sister, a half brother from my father’s side, a half sister from my mother’s side, and a regular sister with all the DNA and stuff. My last name changed when I was eight. I grew up outside of Jacksonville, Florida. We moved to Louisiana for a year in 9th grade, then Houston the next year. I couldn’t focus in high school, turned to drugs and alcohol, and ended up graduating with just enough to get into the US Air Force. I joined at 17 and was in basic training a month after my 18th birthday and at the time I wasn’t on speaking terms with either of my fathers. I did return to Houston for a spell after my 4-year enlistment was up, but only before setting off on a multi-year bender that found me at the edge of my life in Hell’s Kitchen in 1991.
As I worked on myself the first few years of sobriety, I made amends with everyone in my family. Because the truth was, I was a real dick as a teenager. I was even a dick as a 22-year-old boy who only survived the Air Force by staying sedated. So I made my amends and moved on with my life.
I was raised conservative republican and didn’t think much of liberals. Until I married one. Then I went to college and got even more liberal. At some point I became so liberal that when we did begin visiting with family in Texas, I noticed how little we had in common. And it wasn’t just the politics or lifestyles–I was just a completely different person than they once knew. I was resigned to the fact that, mostly because of proximity, there was just no way for us to get to know each other. Plus, my life was busy. And they were way over there.
Then smart phones and texting and social media came out. Suddenly there was no reason to pretend I was a lone wolf. Still, it would be hard work to reconcile to the point where I was comfortable around people who were technically family, but who were really familiar strangers.
As our daughters grew, they wanted to know more about family. My wife’s side is pretty much her and her mother. When I was between fathers as a kid, my grandmother helped raise me and my sister and so after my wife’s mother sold her house in NJ and moved to NC, I invited her to move in with us. We built an apartment on our property and she’s been here for about ten years. And that was pretty much our family. But the kids knew I had some too. And the older they became, the more curious they grew.
I wouldn’t say that we’re helicopter parents, but until the summer of 2016, we’d never spent a night apart from our daughters. From the day our first was born, we did everything together. We were the Four Amigos. In my mind, it was perfect. But then in 2016 we put them on a plane to Houston for a week to visit with my family—people who were mostly strangers.
And they loved it. They loved meeting relatives they didn’t know. They loved connecting with cousins who, thanks to social media, they’ve remained in contact with. They loved the idea that they belonged to a big family.
This year for Thanksgiving we even flew to New Orleans for a family reunion. It was great. Afterward, the girls were at a point where they knew they had family apart from our little core.
And on Christmas Day, we put them on a plane back to Houston for five days of family bonding. When I step back, it feels a little like a miracle.
The second reason it feels strange is because … the letting go.
In the week leading up to this trip our youngest kept saying how much she was looking forward to getting away. Because she’s 14, it was hard to know whether she meant getting away from me, or to actually visit with her (new) extended family. I’m guessing it was a little of both.
But the getting away from me part is a real thing. Because I’m a parent. And kids change. It’s true! There’s a ton of science on it. One minute they’re climbing onto your shoulders via a foothold on your belt, and the next they’re driving themselves around town and taking community college classes. Toys on Christmas turn into lulu lemon stretch pants. Disney movies become Pulp Fiction. And then you look in the mirror and realize that the last sixteen brilliant years have taken quite a toll, and that your life is changing quicker than you realized.
Both girls will be gone in four years. Off into their own life adventures.
So you put your kids on a plane on Christmas Day to a place where people treat them as their own. And you’re happy. Because it’s beautiful.
Even if it is all a bit strange.