I Keepz It Real

So I reached out to my family to retrieve some things.

There were a lot of nasty things said over the 42 minute phone call, but one revealing comment could be overheard on the phone:

Get over all your "problems" and come back to the family.

This will be a repetition for loyal readers, but I've forgiven my family already. I'm not holding any grudges. I am unhappy about how we related to each other growing up, but I'm not bitter. I'm actually quite happy right now. The reason I don't continue talking to my family isn't because I'm mad at them, it's because the relationships are one-sided. I don't receive any real comfort, warmth, or support from them, but they expect me to listen to their problems, give them advice that they can ignore, and share my struggles with them so they can solve my problems by pointing out how everything is my fault. I wouldn't mind so much if they contributed anything meaningful to my life, but I don't really gain any value from interacting with them. I've made my peace with whatever happened in the past, but moving forward, I just don't see what I get out of those relationships.

If I had had that phone conversation a couple of months ago, I would have crumbled during the call and hidden away from the world in response. But in reality, I actually stood up for myself quite well and responded to the situation at hand. I'm making progress, and it's mostly because I have one less family to please.

There aren't a lot of people who can truly relate to my situation. One friend has gone through something similar with his family, and he shared an insight from his experience. My family is fighting for the status quo. We hit a certain rhythm over the decades which they're hanging onto. There are familiar dynamics: asking for romantic advice, getting feedback on fashion, rolling our eyes at things our parents do. Some of them live in the past, and this is just one example of how they do that. I get it. Nostalgia, remembering when things were easier back in the day. These days, I try to stay grounded in the moment, living in the present, and I don't mind taking a trip down memory lane. The difference is I don't live there, I don't yearn for a return to those days. The present reality I'm living in now is pretty sweet. I have tons of products covered in brushed aluminium, I have my own peaceful little home with a sexy roommate, and I can 3D print objects to enhance my life, eg. Pokémon. I think I'll stick around in the present for a while.

I don't often like to talk in person about my family break-up (I'll write about it, no problem), but when I do, it's not helpful when people tell me "you can't choose your family." While it's technically correct that you are born to the people that fertilized an egg with a sperm, you can still choose any family you want. One life narrative that has resonated with me over the past few years is free will, risk, and responsibility. We admire individuals who achieve a level of control over Life that we can't imagine, eg. Elon Musk, Stephen Curry, schools that host large dodgeball games. In the same way, I'm taking control over my life and selecting people who get to be close to me. It's not that I'm so special that it's an honour to be my friend, but everyone gets to choose their inner circle. I want to be happy, so I let people draw near to me who support that goal. If I wanted to reduce the size of my gut, I would surround myself with cardio enthusiasts; I guess my current friends are making me fat.

I'm also a lot less pretentious than the other Lês, as they're fighting for the vanity of appearing like one big happy family (OBHF). You don't have to know me very well to see that I don't care much for what people think of me. Yes, I do feel self-conscious and socially awkward sometimes, but not to the same degree as "most" people. (Some of you are thinking "Come on, Jon, don't understate it. You're just a weirdo." Fine, fine, I'm a weirdo.) When Calgary's downtown offices are populated with suits and fancy shoes, I wear sweats and sneakers and I get dirty looks from the professionals. In my personal life, I want to be honest, authentic, and happy, and I'm just not pretentious enough to keep contact with my family of origin if I don't enjoy it. I don't care about the image of being OBHF. On the other hand, Carrie and I fight too, but I don't blog about those matters because she's reasonable. We can reach an agreement even if we're both wrong. My family of origin likes to pose for the camera.

People commonly say that "blood is thicker than water." Most interpret this to mean that family bonds are stronger than those of friendship. However, the original meaning of this phrase refers to blood covenants being stronger than the water of the womb. It means that choosing your comrades in life forms a stronger bond than being linked by DNA. You know this already because some of us have friends that are "like family," brothers from another mother, sisters from another mister. I have an adopted brother, so he would understand. Closeness is a choice. When you're forced to physically coexist near other people, that provides opportunities for relationships, eg. school, piano lessons, prison. A lot of the time, you're close because you have to be, and you simply get used to each other. Isn't that a love story for the ages? "They didn't initially want to be together, but they eventually stopped resisting and got used to it." The strongest bonds are the ones you choose to strengthen, not the ones you're forced into.

I imagine what our children will think about "missing out" on knowing their extended family. We'll tell our kids how their uncles and grandparents hurt us a lot, and they'll hurt our kids too if given the chance. Abusive relationships aren't always abusive, but that doesn't erase the pain.

I'm proud of the way I handled myself on the call earlier this week. It may not have looked pretty, even to me, but it's a lot better than how I used to handle them. One of their classic tactics is to stick their fingers in their ears and shout "LALALALALALA." I flipped it on them, and it's actually great to give them a taste of their own medicine. I didn't falter by negotiating with myself. I held my ground and didn't back down. I was told to get over all my problems, but in turn, when it was pointed out how I hurt them by not showing up to a wedding or how I embarrassed them publicly, I just said to get over all their problems. That's what families do, right? They sweep things under the rug, even after it stops pulling the room together. This passage from "Creativity, Inc." stuck out to me about how Ed Catmull manages at Pixar:

My aim at Pixar...has been to enable our people to do their best work. We start from the presumption that our people are talented and want to contribute. We accept that, without meaning to, our company is stifling that talent in myriad unseen ways. Finally, we try to identify those impediments and fix them.

With my family, they don't acknowledge that they were stifling me, intentionally or not. They haven't accepted responsibility for the hurt they caused, and they certainly don't put enough energy to fixing those impediments. They choke the life out of me. They don't want to meet me in the middle, they want me to reach 100% to their side. The stock market values companies based on future growth, and I just don't see any investment into my family appreciating with time. I sold my shares in the Lê Family.

I keepz it real. The Lês just want to be OBHF without putting in the work. They aren't interested in my well-being insofar as it affects their family photos. I want my happiness to have meaning, to be robust and self-correcting. So far, they are the disasters in my life that would make me lean on family, so they're not the right people for me. I have a real family, people who appreciate my existence and contributions, people who I can depend on and who depend on me. I've grown tons since cutting out my family of origin. I'm becoming more of my authentic self.

Jonathan Phan Lê @jon_le