Following are comments that I made at the wedding reception of our son Miguel to Hao Nguyen
Tonight we gather to celebrate a transition. Two young people have made the decision to go off on their own. An era ends; another one begins.
Although they will have their own household with a unique set of challenges and rewards, by committing to each other they join a larger unit that we call “family.” Miguel will forever be part of Southeast Asia history; Hao will learn all about the stars and stripes.
It is unclear at what time in history human beings decided that they would be better off if they congregated into discrete units based on genetic commonality. Clearly it had something to do with making sure that we had someone to watch our backs if some form of disaster overtook us. There are indications that women may have been the drivers of this movement; some matriarchal primitive societies made sure that sisters took care of each other’s children should there be the need.
We have evolved, but the concept of being there to cover for your relatives remains alive. It is almost a given. Although there are times when it becomes emotionally challenging to adhere to the “family comes first” commandment.
Like when you drive to the airport to greet your twin sister that you haven’t seen in a year. You had to take off work, and traffic was a mess, and you are a bit concerned that for the next few days your household will have to be organic and vegan. But what the heck: she’s family, and it will be great to sit on the front porch with her, have a couple of beers (the expensive, gluten-free variety, but she’s your sister!), and remember the old days.
You park the car, which will cost you money, because your sister has anxiety and is not capable of finding her own way to the baggage return area. There are dozens of clearly marked, easy to follow signs all over the airport that lead to the baggage area, but she has trouble understanding that an arrow that points to the left means that this is where you turn. You wait just outside security, and you are happy that you will get to see her soon.
Not so soon. Your sister likes to sit at the back of the plane, in the last row. She has irritable bowel, and she never knows when she will have to dash from her seat to the safety of a toilet. You have already warned your family that they will only be able to use one bathroom for the next few days, because the second one has to remain free of any occupants in case that she has a spell. This will cause monumental traffic jams in the morning, when everyone is trying to get ready for work or school. But you have planned ahead: all of the alarms will be set an hour early. And the lack of sleep will be worth it, because she is your sister, and you love her, even if she is a bit of a bother.
Finally, you see her: five minutes after the last passenger got off the plane. You were beginning to worry that maybe she had missed her flight. This happened five years ago, when an episode of nausea and diarrhea hit her just as she was boarding her flight. But no: she is here. She just had to spend a few minutes thanking the flight crew, and offering many pieces of advice as to how they could do a better job of catering to the passengers.
She has not changed. You run to her; you want to hug her. As you open your arms she hands you her heavy carry-on bag.
“Here; take this for me. I can’t believe that I packed this much.”
You do not get a hug, but she is your sister, and you love her, and you are happy to see her.
“I am so happy to see you,” you say.
“You have gained weight,” she answers.
Yes; it is true. You had a not insignificant respiratory issue, and your lung specialist gave you a two-week course of cortisone so that you could breathe. You did gain seven pounds. But your sister is thirty pounds overweight, and until she got on her organic kick she ate Twinkies drenched in honey for breakfast. You want to remind her, right then and there, that she is the one who’s fat, but you remember that last year, for just a short while, you lost your cool after she said something mean about your waistline, and you told her that she was the fat one, and she vehemently denied being fat.
“I’m just big-boned,” she said.
So you figure that this is a road you do not want to travel on. And, after all, she is your sister, and you love her, and you are happy to host her, and you begin to count the days until she packs her bags and goes back where she belongs. You understand why you only see her once a year.
Family. Although what I just told you is fiction: who doesn’t have a story like this?
Your son in diapers, who, when you slither into a crowded elevator at the luxury hotel, loudly says:
“Dad! My penis is stuck.”
You have an aunt who likes to make her special rice just for you any time that you come home on vacation. You are unable to digest garlic well. It makes you sick. She pours half a pound of garlic into her cooking pot, despite the fact that you told her, last year and the year before, that you cannot tolerate the stuff. When you refuse to eat this special meal, she is hurt and offended.
“What are these Americans doing to you? You used to love my cooking!
A father who wears the same pair of pants for two weeks at a time. He gets angry if they are sent to the cleaners. Your mother buys a pair of pants exactly like the ones he favors. When he is fast asleep, she places the clean ones in his closet; she sends the worn ones to the cleaners.
He wants to burden the trash man as little as possible, so he burns all paper trash in the back yard. He walks you to school every day, while he’s loudly singing the Davey Crockett theme song, for dozens of people to hear.
A mother who loudly berates two attorneys that are arguing a case in front of the judge, who happens to be your sister.
I could go on and on. Maybe we would be better off if the law required that everyone be raised in an orphanage. If this were the case, we would not be as embarrassed if our caregiver acted in a weird fashion.
Then the plusses come into view. The time that our sister was desperately ill and the whole family descended into her small townhouse, within 24 hours, ready to help. The way that everyone came together to do what was best for our parents who could no longer care for themselves. The unanimous warm and enthusiastic response that our new daughter Hao has received.
It is family. Despite the frustration that we sometimes experience, we would not have it any other way. It is all about trust; love; intimacy.
Today Miguel and Hao start their own story, at the same time that each of them joins the other’s traditions. I am confident that it will turn out well.
Thanks to all for joining us on this special moment. Enjoy.