TRAVEL THERAPY #6:
Accepting Your Family
In this sixth Travel Therapy session after wandering with my father to Poland in search of his family, I do some thinking about the importance of accepting your family.
“…if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the eons, it’s that you can’t give up on your family, no matter how tempting they make it. | RICK RIORDAN
Arduous. That’s how it feels to spend time with my biological (American) family. I had to dig deep, but I resisted the temptation to write them all off and focused on the importance of accepting my family.
When I’m with many of my immediate family members, I am not just walking on eggshells—I’m buried in them. In order to survive the two week wander to Poland with my father, brother and stepmother, not only did I have to relinquish control over most everything, but I was in constant peacekeeping mode.
I’m damned proud to report that I did it! (Barely.) It was a high price for my feisty independent self to pay, but it bought me a precious once-in-a-lifetime experience with my father. Seeing him practically giddy is something I will forever treasure.
I may share genes with my bio family, but that’s about it. Our interests, politics, priorities, spirituality, and the way we treat others are pretty polar opposite.
From Day 1, the need for them to be in control and to be right was in high gear, resulting in tension, bickering, and one pressure releasing stand down midway through the trip.
Who the hell cares how the car is driven, or how lost we get, or exactly when, where and why a monument was resurrected? Where is the gratitude for being able to share this incredible opportunity together (half of us for free), to experience our heritage firsthand, and witness our patriarch’s dream be realized? Where is the LOVE???
I…just…don’t…get…it. (Note to Self: Watch yourself. I don’t ever want to see you consciously or unconsciously pulling the shit I have seen on this trip. And, never forget you have your “French family.”)
After decades of simultaneously craving emotional connection and distance from my father, I reached a peaceful place of forgiveness about seven years ago while working on a family history scrapbook. I found a picture of him as a little boy—and it hit me like a bolt of lightning.
How he was had absolutely nothing to do with me—it was the only way he knew how to be.
Growing up, he had been surrounded by angry family members with volcanic tendencies. There were very few solid familial bonds in his family, which I knew was the real reason we went searching for family in Poland. When you don’t know better, you can’t do better. For whatever reason, my dad never could figure out how to do better. It sucks, but I forgave him.
When I met Stefania, my first cousin twice removed, I felt a connection to her that had no rational basis. Maybe it’s because I saw myself in her feistiness. How fucking bittersweet. I will never see her again. I will never have the opportunity to talk to her woman to woman or to soak up her personal feminine wisdom. But, I will never forget her. And, for some odd reason, this brings me a sense of comfort. She was family. This trip made me realize that there is definitely a value to the biological connection—despite the dysfunction.
My solution will be a visitation quota. I will visit them, but only in short bouts. Anything longer and there’s bound to be damage.
So, that’s it. As tempting as they manage to make it, I won’t give up on my bio family. And, of course, I will continue to nurture my relationship with the friends who I choose to call family.
Now, about a few words about Auschwitz. Most intense experience of my life. The air vibrated with a horrific energy at a level I’ve never experienced before. I struggled to keep it together and to put one foot in front of the other under the weight of my emotions. Evil, despair, indescribable soul pain.I searched for kind eyes to make contact with to stop me from dropping to my knees and weeping. It changed me. How cliché and utterly insufficient that sounds, but it’s true.
In my next Travel Therapy session, I realize what a thankless job being a mom can be after a family vacation to Quebec and New York City.
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