I keep starting a post about my father and then stopping. Like most father-daughter relationships, our relationship is a puzzle. We've had our fair share of ups and downs over the years and even though we now have some sort of understanding, he still leaves me scratching my head in bewilderment quite frequently.
My mother had a falling out with my dad's parents when I was still in grade school. I don't remember it, I just remember they flew back to Turkey and we never saw my grandfather again. I saw my grandmother once more, when I was 14 and went to Istanbul for the one and only time. I met some cousins there and my paternal aunt and that and that was the extent of my relationship with my father's family.
We grew up in the yards and kitchens of my mother's siblings and relatives and that's the way it was. They lived here, making it easier. But I think my mother's attitude towards my father's family really robbed me of a proper relationship with them. Why did I never write my grandmother or try to call her on the phone? My mother vilified my grandmother, telling us horrible story after horrible story and we believed her. My mother was God in my eyes and anyone who would wrong her got a big giant X in my mind.
When my grandmother passed shortly after Christmas 2001, I felt numb. I wanted to feel something but I didn't. Maybe an ounce of remorse at not trying harder to know her. She was my last surviving grandparent. The other's had passed in the 80s. It was a long time to have so much silence in our relationship.
My mother's family is great. They are warm, gossipy and love to eat. They will put two heaping spoonfuls on your plate when you only asked for one and in the same visit tell you you're getting fat. I have a love/hate relationship with them now that I'm an adult. My cousins are much older than me and all males (my sis and I are the only two girls) but I get along well with their wives (one way more than the others -- Hi J!) and their kids hold big spots in my heart. The older generation are harder to get along with now that I'm older too, but growing up they were the superstars of my life. My aunts and uncles were like celebrities to me: people you look at through a special lens and only see as pretty and fabulous.
But I always felt like something was missing. In trying to look at these people and find answers about myself, I only had half the picture. Until this past week.
My dad's first cousin, Ani, came to visit us. She lives in Berkeley and has done so for a few decades now. She got a second degree, married a nice American guy, and had a son when she was nearing 40. Her son has Touret's syndrome. He has some ticks, but other than that he's a pretty typical 12-year-old and totally loveable. (He has a highly evolved sense of sarcasm that spoke to my jaded heart.) I absolutely fell in love with them. And for the first time, I got a window into that part of myself that I always thought had come out of the sky.
I don't look like my mom's side of the family. Looking at Ani, I saw so much of myself. Her dark hair and super Armenian features, her super smart feminist demeanor, her taste in gentle and sensitive men. We had never met before, but the instant we set eyes on each other it was like I'd found my long lost big sister. I was like, "Hey my family's a little weird, your family's a little weird, let's just let it all hang out." When you have issues (like we do with my dad -- I'll explain soon) it's hard to be yourself around people. To find people you can be so open with makes it easier and I think we all felt that way instantly.
Ani and Chris live in the Bay Area in a quirky house. They like museums, etc. They eat vegetarian, organic, local. Their lifestyle, though busy with work and a son who has his fair share of special needs, does not seem so different from ours. Let's face it -- the Bay Area is full of lefty hippie types, and Jan and I are pretty much the Toronto version of that. Bohemian Bourgeoisie as the French call it. (BoBos -- think of that next time you watch Diego.)
Interestingly, when I told Ani about my regrets about my relationship with my paternal grandparents and how I resented my mom a bit for ruining that for me, she kind of shrugged and said, "They weren't easy people to get along with. And I LOVE your mom." Instantly I felt better about the whole thing.
I was always told I had more in common with my dad's family, but never really got that. Now I do. I can't really explain it better, but I could not stop staring at her. She is my new rockstar. It's like she explained the Matrix to me. My Matrix. My genetic code.
What about you? Have you had a similar experience reconnecting with family? I'd love to hear about it.
I am headed to San Fran next week (Sheesh! Could she possibly talk about the damn SF trip any more?) and it looks like being bumped to the red eye will be a good thing. I'm spending all day Sunday with my new family members on their home turf. I can't wait. If only SF were closer and I could go for Sunday dinner more often.