Monday, November 10, 2014

After Years of Separation, It’s All Relative

Three Friedmans (Eric, Gwen, Michael & me) and a baby. 
It’s been almost two weeks since I “met” my nephews, niece-in-law and grandniece. And, I must admit, I‘m still somewhat euphoric.
For more than 20 years, I was cut off from my three nephews not long after the sudden death of my brother, Mark, from an asthma attack in 1988. Subsequently, due to a strained (more like strange) relationship with my sister-in-law, even a distant association with them diminished, since I was unwilling to put up with her attitude toward my parents. After attending my middle nephew Eric’s bar mitzvah in Phoenix 23 years ago, I steadily forfeited any opportunity to be part of their lives.
A year ago that abruptly changed. Social media is often condemned as invasive and frivolous, but sometimes it offers the prospect to revive dormant friendships and distant family contacts, which is what happened.
Out of the blue, I received a lengthy Facebook message from my youngest nephew. Now 34, Michael explained that he reached out to find out if the criticism about my family that had been indoctrinated in him and his brothers, by their mother, was justified. He also revealed that he had recently severed relations with his mother when she failed to accept his homosexuality, a decade after he acknowledged it. Furthermore, in a vile e-mail, she also referred to him with a common homosexual slur, which she also uttered to his face.
I was happy to reconnect, yet not too surprised — although appalled — about his mother’s disapproval. His brother Eric unequivocally supports him, but their older brother, Adam, defends their mother. Subsequently, I stayed in touch with Michael and Eric via e-mails, Facebook and an occasional telephone call. Last February, Eric’s wife, Heather, gave birth to a baby girl, Gwen, whose progress I’ve kept up with through almost daily Facebook updates. That’s another positive social media aspect when long distances separate family members.
Being single, with no children, I am now a proud great uncle. (How “great,” pardon the pun, remains to be seen.)
I soon grew eager to turn our electronic bond into an up-close-and-personal one, so two weeks ago I traveled to Phoenix and spent three days with family — a term I rarely used in recent years. On my first meeting with Michael, we firmly embraced and whatever anxiety I felt promptly vanished. That reaction recurred the following day when I met Eric, Heather and eight-month-old Gwen.
A generation after my brother and parents passed in a ten-year period, I again have family. Mind you, I have relatives — aunts, uncles and cousins — scattered near and far, but, at best, we’ve have minimal contact. My closest and oldest friends have always treated me like family, but that is certainly superseded by blood kin.
My grandniece Gwen and me.
My nephews were obliging and drove long distances to chauffer me around. For my stay I selected a hotel close to Eric, who resides in a distant suburb of Phoenix, knowing I’d spend as much time as possible with him, Heather and Gwen.
I took over 100 photos of Michael, Eric, Heather and Gwen, which, after posting, have gotten generous comments and “likes” from Facebook friends.
Due to the distance, I won’t see them as much I’d prefer, but having a family again makes me feel more complete than I have in quite a while.
Reuniting with my nephews and putting an end to our unsolicited separation was beyond my expectations and initiated a new chapter in the autumn of my life. Nonetheless, the Book of Life has unexpected twists and turns.
Moreover, when it comes to relatives, it’s all in the family.