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Life Without A Family

Updated on March 27, 2015

There are over 300 million people living in the United States. A majority of these people have mothers, fathers, siblings, grandparents, and others whom they call "family". Having been ripped from my own family at the age of five, I never truly got a sense of what that word even meant. I hopped around from foster home to group home to behavioral facility and even a mental hospital at one point in my journey through life without a mother's love nor a father's teachings. I didn't grow up aspiring to be/not be my father, I didn't spend summer vacation wrestling the video game controllers from my older brother, I didn't wake up from nightmares and get comforted by my mother... I had none of that, but not for a lack of trying. Foster families, group home staff, and even social workers all tried stupidly hard to fill the holes in my life left by those people called "my family". And this brings me to my first point...

What is "family"?

I was a fantasy child, always living in some other world, some other time. Ungrounded, unrealistic, unbound by the laws of the world, every corner turned was another adventure. A walk down the street became a high-speed chase from monsters. A ride on the bus became a trip down Willy Wonka's bad-trip tunnel. Every night was a new story, a new quest, a new world... And it scared the living hell out of my caretakers. I was unknowable, uncontrollable, but entirely and completely manipulatable. If you know the effects of a certain affliction, you can usually direct that pain toward your own goals. And the system did just that; my fantasies and mysteries, the stories I told and the worlds I created were slowly morphed to include a passively participating mother, a willing, even servile sister, and a misunderstood, exploited father. My dreams and imaginings almost got half of my innocent family lumped together with the sickest of sick men, a pedophile control freak... My father.

But that never affected me. I never knew that that was happening, so why should I care? Each foster home was another safehouse from the bad guys! Soon enough, my mother and my sister would come back and we'd rise up and fight and free the land from... Who again? Whatever, let's play video games!

This type of situation can skew a child's perception of what a family really is. Even now, the word "family" means very little to me: it refers to related products, (the GeForce family of NVIDIA graphics cards, for example); it is a word used to describe linked networks and channels, (such as the Discovery family of television networks); it's a main word in multiple television shows and other media, (Family Guy, Modern Family, Family Matters, etc). But the last thing I think of when I hear the word is my mother, or my brother, or my sister, or my father, or anyone else. I first think of Carrie Underwood when I think of "family" before my own blood relations, and I already know that I'm not linked to her family tree any more than I am to Bill Gates or Barrack Obama.

But, if I don't know what it means to have a family, then how am I qualified to discuss it?

Two words: different perceptions.

Different perceptions...

I have a unique perspective on familial relations, having never had first-hand experience of my own. I see brothers fight, parents worry, and that strange, half-love people have with their cousins. I've seen families come together, fall apart, and everything in between, all from the outside -- never from within. So I know quite a lot about how families interact within themselves, since I've never been bound by moral bias or what have you. I've always been on the outside, looking in, and seeing how this family cries together for their collective loss, or another family shuns the drug-addicted son in his time of need. I've seen family meetings, and family interventions, and family stress, and even family death. Being in an emotionally unbiased camp for such happenings has a way of opening one's eyes to the true politics of things.

For me, a family is a group of people whom you are blood-related to, have inexorable ties to, and obligations to protect and comfort, even from themselves. That might not be what it means to most, but that is how I view familial bonds. However, this is actually how I treat my friends: if a friend is hurt, I am there for them; if a friend is overjoyed, I celebrate with them; if a friend is in love, I am there to support them, no matter the outcome. My friends ARE my family. In fact, it's small wonder that my "sister", whom I mentioned before in my Call of Duty article, is not actually my blood-related sister; she's simply a very, very close friend who is there for me, and I am there for her.

This view of "family", my perception of what the word means, and how it affects my interactions with my friends and others' families, gives me certain perks, but also introduces some interesting setbacks...

Pros and cons of having no family...

In the interest of brevity, here is a list of all the things that I gain from being unaffiliated with my own family...

- More freedom with friends: Without family approval to worry about, I can have whatever friends I wish, even if those friends are of a potentially unsavory description. Alcoholics, druggies, the mentally ill, homosexuals, transgenders... All of the types of people a family might shun or disapprove of are open to me, allowing me to find allies in the most unlikely of places.

- More freedom with hobbies: I have no obligations with my friends that I don't plan for. With family, something important might come up that requires my presence or two cents' worth. With my friends, I can choose what to do, who to hang with, and when to do things. I'm not obligated to go to lunch with my buddy unless I say that I will. I'm not required to go to the store with a friend unless I want to. Where I would have to drop everything and take my younger sibling to soccer practice, or whatever, simply because my mother wants me to, I can CHOOSE to take on such responsibilities with my friends.

- No random funerals/weddings/whatever. If a family member gets married, even if you don't know/like them, you are still expected to go to their wedding. If a random uncle dies, even if you never met them, you are required to go to their funeral. Failure to do so marks you as a black sheep; an insensitive prick with thoughts only of yourself. If a friend is getting married, you'll likely already WANT to go. If a friend's family member or friend that you don't know passes away, you can be there for your friend without obligation; you'll already WANT to comfort them, as their friend. No out-of-the-blue, third-party obligations -- just you being a good friend.

Now for cons...

- No family support. When you need help, you can't tap into the same level of support that a family provides if you don't have one. All the obligations you avoid by having no familial connections are also denied supports to you, on the other end of things. Where you don't have to take your little sister to ballet, you also can't as easily get help with homework, that would-be-fun project you're working on, or whatever. If you have a breakdown, and all your friends are unreachable, you're on your own. Without family members to tap into, you might end up in a dark place with no support, simply because your buddy is on the phone and feels no obligation to put it on hold for you.

- Markedly less material perks. Having a family means Christmas and birthdays with people whom you care for and who care for you. Having no family usually means that you're stuck spending holidays with friends' families, or by yourself. On top of that, the same obligation of buying presents for family members that you avoid becomes a lack of presents for you from your non-existent family. This might sound petty and materialistic, but I challenge you to tell everyone in your family on your next birthday to not give you ANYthing; no cards, no gifts, no money. You'll have the saddest birthday of your life, and you'll instantly feel depressed and unloved. Having no family for so long has numbed that feeling for me, but it's still no less depressing.

- No legal backup. If you die, who gets your stuff if you don't write a last will and testament? If you become a hospital-bed vegetable, who has the right to pull the plug? Who can legally speak for you when you can't speak for yourself? Having no family means that you need to plan for every dark eventuality and possibility. I've already mocked up my last will and a list of dark situations in which I lay out steps to take should I become incapacitated. I'm only freaking 25 years old. If that's not a weight on the heart and mind, I don't know what is. But it's something I have to do, just in case; I have nobody to pick up my rights of choice if I don't write it all out. Take five minutes to write out what would happen if you died, or lost part of your brain in an accident, or went into a coma. It's depressing and really drives home the point that you could die today. Now pile on the whole, "I need to do this, or shit gets real." and you've got a big, heaping pile of sadness to stare at.


At the end of the day, my life isn't too bad, having no family. It's definitely a double-edged sword, make no mistake. But with a lack of obligations, paired with a freedom of lifestyle, I'm really okay with it. Perhaps some others are more affected by the affliction, and even I have times when I wish that I was unconditionally cared for by a mother, or a sibling, or whatever. But without the love of a family, you'll find that you love your friends all the more. You build friendships faster, and that last longer, than if you had to worry about if your mother would approve. And in today's world of social media and online gaming, it's easier than ever to meet others and form those bonds that are all the stronger without familial disapproval to dull them down. So, stay strong, my fellow lone wolves! And take time to tell your friends how much you care. And to all my readers with families who love them, make sure you do the same with them. A family might be a burden, but it is also a blessing. If you can make friends with your family, then you'll have the best of both worlds.

Keep livin', folks. And keep lovin'. Cheers!

D. Underwood

- 2br02b, 2015


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