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?