The latest family wedding: questions

My father had twenty-some aunts and uncles, and my mother had ten, so I have scads of distant cousins I don’t know well or at all, but the Servetus family in my generation is small, tending smaller in the next. Of my brother and four first cousins, only three of us have reproduced, and even those who are perpetuating their gametes are doing it at lower than the replacement rate. I know this goes contrary to the common wisdom, but I think that’s not such a terrible thing. So far, I’ve never been sorry not to have children. On my mother’s side, there’s a weird proclivity toward multiple cancers that tends to kill quickly. At 47, I am now the third oldest on that side; while mom was dying, a perspicacious and annoying medical researcher picked up on us and is bugging all the survivors for blood tests. Servetus: obstacle to science! She’s not getting mine. It obviously hasn’t been enough to create a reproductive disadvantage, but at times, given all the sorrow, I’ve thought it should. And on my father’s side, well. It’s hard to know what to say.

Last weekend, my first cousin once removed was the bride at at a wedding of about a hundred, a small one around here, and the only relatives of the father of the bride were my father, my uncle (her grandfather) and his wife (not the bride’s grandmother), and me. But there were only four others who even could have gone: my brother and his wife (who were milking for neighbors on vacation) and the bride’s aunt and her son (who stayed away due to bad feeling, although too long of a drive was given as the reason).

Four of us came for the ceremony, and my uncle and his wife did not stay afterwards at all; they drove straight back. My uncle had a slightly unpleasant exchange with his son, the father of the bride, and they left shortly after the ceremony, but they hadn’t planned to stay anyway. We were lucky that my uncle and his wife were there at all; they weren’t planning to come, and apparently dad pointed out to my uncle that he only has two grandchildren and he shouldn’t miss this, so they made the drive. His wife has twelve children, and I think that played a role in his decision — he’s occupied with and been assimilated into her family. My father and I thus spent three hours in the resort bar, knocking back one beer after another, then wobbled upstairs for the cocktail reception, where we had two cocktails each and ran into a friend of the father of the bride whom we know slightly, along with his daughters, and spent most of the evening talking to him. We left shortly after dinner, which was accompanied by an unreasonable amount of wine, as we don’t dance and didn’t know anyone else. We went back to the hotel and dad was able to soak in the whirlpool to his heart’s content. At least based on what he’s said, he had a good time, and I know he wouldn’t have gone by himself, so it was a “good thing.”

I always forget how much people drink at these things. I’m no lightweight and I put away more than I would have had I been driving, but I would estimate my consumption at a third of the average guest’s for the evening. That wasn’t a factor in any of this, though.

We had to drive back and forth four-and-a-half hours each way. It was a gorgeous drive: Wisconsin colors are at their peak right now. Contrast that with the ubiquitous roadkill. Going back we saw seventeen deer dead on the highway — thank heavens that the harvest is only a month away because I really don’t want to hit one. So I had a lot of time to think, and to ask my dad questions on Sunday, although I don’t always know how to interpret the answers. Does he not remember certain things (because his personality is such that he erases or minimizes unpleasantness — it may also be a learned skill from his childhood — or because he has forgotten them), or does he just not want to tell me (see note about personality aversion to unpleasantness)?

I know the origins of my cousin’s problem with my uncle; apart from general circumstances, my uncle did something truly horrible to his son in his teenage years. It was negligent, not malevolent, but it was part of a pattern of negligence and it had serious consequences. I also know why my other cousin didn’t come — she, in turn, is angry at her brother because of his more recent behavior(s) toward their father. And at least some of it, from everything I know, he probably deserves. I sympathize with his anger over what happened thirty-five years ago, but that doesn’t mean I love everything about him.

But I wonder. About the whole ceremony of weddings, and the way that they reflect tensions and, in some cases but not this one, their resolutions. About how who gets what they want in a ceremony and who doesn’t (key point: this was not a Lutheran wedding and I wasn’t the only one surprised). About traditions and why they are maintained by young people who have little investment in them. About the identity-maintaining level of conflicts and people’s need to express and sharpen these at prickly points — something I’ve also been guilty of at times in this family. About why someone chooses to estrange themselves from their family — or move back in. Apart from environmental factors (“nurture”), is there a genetic predisposition to dysfunction?

~ by Servetus on October 18, 2016.

26 Responses to “The latest family wedding: questions”

  1. Ah…family dysfunction, I know it well. I am just on the cusp of the annually unpleasantness of Thanksgiving-gate.

  2. I’ve always thought dysfunction was learned and never forgotten until someone broke it on purpose.

  3. Weddings, funerals, and Christmas are revealing times for many families, I think (I know in the U.S. that Thanksgiving is a big one. Not so much in Canada.) I agree that weddings are interesting because the couple getting married are making a lot of choices about so many things: guest list, religious ceremony, etc, all of which open the Pandora’s Box of family feuds and relationships that are maybe more tenuous than people want to admit. It’s nice that you and your dad had several hours to talk in the car. Sometimes I think it’s easier to have those “travelling conversations” when you don’t have to look at each other face to face . It sounds like your dad, like most men I know, has either decided he doesn’t wish to remember certain things or has genuinely (maybe deliberately ) forgotten them. My late father was very similar. There were a million things I did not know about my dad. But I don’t carry regrets about it, because I know if I had the chance to “do it over” with him, the result would be the same. Some people just will not speak of certain things, and I find that a certain generation who grew up in a certain area of Europe during the 1940s are pretty reluctant to talk about the past.

    • We also had a really interesting discussion about why people who are getting married are so optimistic about it, and whether it’s justified or not, in the bar. In addition to not having to be face to face, alcohol can help.

      I think (for whatever reason, I could speculate at length about why but will skip it), he’s not especially self-critical. If he wasn’t hurt by something, he doesn’t really get why other people should be. He also has the typical male low attention span. It has its upsides. If he and I fight at night, he’s forgotten it by morning most of the time.

  4. ‘Thanksgiving-gate’, I like that turn of phrase! our winter holidays are gearing up to be “gate” worthy already, and it’s not even November yet.
    as for weddings, I tried to have a dry wedding but my parents were worried no one would come. my reaction: it’ll weed out who really wants to be there to share my joy and who just wants to get drunk. I’m a nefarious tradition breaker 😉

    • wow — a dry wedding! yeah, I would think that could be a challenge for a lot of families. OTOH you would definitely know why people were there.

      • My nephew had a slightly damp wedding. One glass of champagne per guest to toast with. It was in a park and about 90 degrees. But we were not informed of the dryness and not prepared. Could have put a cooler in the trunk of the car, and had a jolt between the ceremony and the reception. They only had water, no ice.

        • One glass?

          I don’t suppose they passed around a joint afterwards 🙂

          • lol Not a chance. But what a great idea. Wish I had thought of it. The bride’s parents were hippies back in the day, and lived in a teepee for many years. No lie. They would have been up for it.

  5. Ahhh, the geneticists and their study subjects! !!! We are currently in this milieu, as our blood has been studied, as well as our HLA markers for bone marrow transplant. Feeling a little too pricked and prodded for research sake, but there’s no inherent harm, it’s just that my feelings are already raw. Who needs another reason to hate their sucky genes? And oh, could I empathize with you on the family “offenses” that have driven the 2nd cousins on my mom’s side far, far away from my nuclear family. Thankfully, we have Dad’s side, though smaller (we had to distance from the 2nd cousins years ago as there were too many Italian weddings, funerals, christenings, etc to keep up with ), they’re genuine. We have a funeral coming this week and I am grateful to have been excused…not because I didn’t love the departed, but because it will mean seeing cousins I haven’t seen in 30 years. No, thank you!

    • This jerk showed up originally to pester us while mom was dying, which doesn’t help, but I have two issues. The first is that while they may use it to try to find a cure, they also may feed it into some insurance database somewhere and use it to prevent me from getting health insurance or to raise my rates. The second, though, is that she keeps telling me that this is an important predictor in extending my life, and I keep telling her, I don’t think you have a clue about what I think is important about my life or how long I live, and she can. not. hear me. She keeps saying, this could help you live longer and that’s what everybody wants. It’s like she doesn’t realize that not everyone has longevity as a value. And frankly, if they do come to some conclusion based on this data, the odds that would it happen in enough time to help me are low.

      I’m sorry for your loss — and understand your desire to avoid the situation.

      • I currently have a grandma who’s 108…no kidding. It’s her son we’re laying to rest, my uncle. When it comes to longevity, we have that. Considering that she’s spent the last six years in a home where she recognizes us only in glimpses, I too wonder why everyone values living long lives. Give me one that is valuable in love, health, ability to make a difference and then let me end peacefully in repose. My heart breaks for her, yet she’s living. After the suffering my uncle endured, his passing is met with relief for his peace. The geneticists are worried about protecting my family from other cancers. I get it, but I don’t want us living in fear or living a hollowed out life, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Let’s just move forward day by day; there’s no cure. So, if it happens I’ll deal with it then. They offer no prevention. ..just labeling the demon. No thanks.
        Thanks for your condolences.

        • I’ve been parked at a lot of deathbeds and frankly, I don’t see perpetuating pain and unhappiness as a worthy goal. I don’t want to murder people in bed, but I think people should be able to go when they are ready and that is not always at the absolute longest possible endpoint. I’ll die when my body wants to die, I’m not planning to interfere.

  6. I think that every family has some issues, I know there is in both sides of my family, oddly on my mom’s side because someone’s child was not invited to a wedding. My husbands family what a mess. With that said there are some very nice people on both sides of our families and others who are not so nice.

    • yeah, you have to hang onto the nice people, that is for sure. I also think there’s a difference between people I don’t like (find them in every crowd) and people who create concrete problems.

  7. I think dysfunction is genetic if insanity is hereditary. Sorry, just thinking about my own family. Dysfunction is our middle name although some branches of the next generation seem to be doing okay. Major holidays can be trying which is why I have created a family of friends. To be honest, I think every family is dysfunction. It’s just some are farther along on the spectrum than others.

    • Maybe, although I think that there is normal family friction and dysfunction and they are two different things. Like, it’s normal to disagree with a parent or not get along especially well with them, but can be dysfunctional to behave in ways that worsen or exacerbate a problematic interaction.

  8. 1st NOMFB, but don’t Lutherans dance? One of my nieces married the son of a Lutheran minister, and his family does.
    Per longevity, I lived with my parents, and kept them each home for as long as possible before a nursing home. It went on for fourteen years. When a person has no quality of life, and in my father’s case, Parkinson’s with dementia, keeping them alive for the sake of keeping them alive, is not kindness. It is making them live less than. Advancements may help people live longer, but won’t necessarily make that time worth living.

    • It’s a long explanation but the punch line is: depends on the Lutheran. I think most Lutherans in my generation and younger dance. My mother’s family didn’t, my father’s family was okay with social dances like the polka but not with slow dancing or stuff that is more intimate.

      I’m totally with you on this. I’ve read a lot of articles about how they find these treatments that will extend your life by eight months but you’ll be miserable the whole time. Everyone needs to know themselves what they want.

  9. Oh, dear. I’m sorry about this and for you. My family on both my parents’ sides are fairly ‘functional’ in the sense that they are well-behaved. I never really encountered dysfunctionality until I met my now husband’s family. A lesson to be learnt: Walk away in time…
    Dysfunctional family relationships are not hereditary, but taught through manipulation IMO. I flew through the roof a couple of years ago when I overheard my MIL ask my daughter who she liked the most: Her mum or dad. Sad, really.

  10. Just a note on inherited family dysfunction, and going by my own family – don’t forget the impact of the in law – who brings his/her own dysfunction and personality issues, foists them on your family member (spouse), and then creates the problem. Just saying . . .

    • that’s a good point, and frankly, I wonder how much of this was all created by my late aunt (uncle’s first wife). But again there’s no one to ask. She’s been dead a long, long time.

  11. […] I hadn’t seen my eldest cousin since last summer, because she boycotted the wedding. There’s always a charming moment where she signs my ASL nickname — it’s the […]

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