By Nick Metcalf
What Families Teach Us About Love
February has become my favorite month. Why? Because LOVE is everywhere. The commercial symbols of love are plenty. Red hearts. Valentine’s. Flowers. Everything that symbolizes love is everywhere.
The art of love is difficult and confusing. This is what I’ve learned, learning to love yourself is essential. Love must always begin with you. Also, families are the first places where we learn about love. We watch it demonstrated around us. We watch our parents. Our aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents embody love. What happens when that doesn’t happen?
My parents fought hard to protect us. As a child of parents who were not supposed to be together, it was hard. My Mother and Father did their best to shield us. My parent’s families hated their union. Their ugliness seeped into the crevices of our life.
When we were left alone with either of our families it was then that the adults would find the opportunity to chastise us. They reminded us that our parent’s union shouldn’t have happened. They told us how dirty we were. They shared how unwanted we were in their lives. They laughed at my parent’s hope. Ultimately, they found ways to emotionally terrorize us children.
According to my Father’s family, my Mother was a City Indian. She was less than. He could have married better. She wasn’t enough for him.
I remember many family functions in which my Mother would physically fight my paternal Aunts. They would beat her – sometimes one, sometimes all three of them. My Mother fought. She went toe to toe with my Fathers family. She went down fighting. All because she fell in love and had children.
They terrorized my Mother until the day she died. They found any opportunity to remind her she wasn’t welcome. Even at my Father’s funeral, we were referred to as ‘the other children’. There was no mention of my Mother. We didn’t exist.
Even after her death, my Father’s family speaks horribly of her. They call her a whore. They don’t lay claim to us. They look past us. Everything my Father left to us, they’ve taken, or continue to take.
My Mother’s family are good Indians. Some of them left the reservation during the height of relocation. They stank of Uppityness. Class. Privilege.
Many of them spend a great deal of time looking down on those people. You know over there. You know them ones.
My Mother and Father’s family were amongst them.
Yet I found solace amongst my Mother’s family. They were the ones who gave hugs. They were the ones who were gentle with me. They were the ones who made sideways jabs that I didn’t understand at the time. I lived amongst them as a charity case.
Do I wish for something different? Honestly, sometimes. Yeah, sometimes. It would have been nice to have been a part of a family that embodied appreciation, love, devotion, kindness, and the value of children – a family that fundamentally knew that families are safe places for children to thrive.
We don’t get to choose our families. We are born into them.
Do I carry the hurt from feeling unwanted as a child? Yes. And, I’ve reconciled the reality of my childhood. I spent the time healing. I had to sort through what happened. I let go of what was. I let go of my longing for something different.
As an adult, I choose what part of my biological family my son is exposed to. I make sure he knows how much love he has. I remind him how much he was wanted before he came into this physical world. I tell him often how much hope he bears. Ultimately, I remind him how much majesty there is in him being here.
I choose who has access to my life now: who has the ability to influence me as an adult; whom I allow my kid to know; when I experience joy; and where I am at in the world.
I’ve come to acceptance. From my families, I fell in love with politics. They taught me about public service. Both sides of my family love community: loved the people; ;oved Sicangu Oyate (The Burnt Thigh People). They spend their lives working to make a difference for them.
That’s what I’ll take from them. I’ll leave the rest of all that other ugliness. It’ll die since I’ve spoken it into the Universe. It’s not mine to carry any longer.
By writing this I hope that people realize how critical healthy, safe families are for children. Children know when they are loved. Love them regardless of how they came here. Remember, families are our first teachers when it comes to love. Be that safe place for them to thrive. They will thank you for it.