The Definition Of Family

Family means constantly wondering about the argument of nature versus nurture. It means thinking to yourself, “Did we really come out of the same vagina?” It means feeling like The Other, like you’re truly adopted and must find your birth parents.

Family means feeling safe and loved, like a back rub on a late night car ride. It means holding your father’s hand in public when you’re a 25 year-old male and refusing to feel weird about it. It means sleeping in their bed and having somewhere to go on Thanksgiving no matter what.

Family means never holding back, unless you’re stuck in a family of WASP’s. In which case, you’ll spend your entire life holding back. Family means being able to be the most disgusting version of yourself. You can cry, fart, burp. Ain’t no shame in the family game! They have to love as you are. Wait, that’s actually not true. Your family judges you for the littlest things but at least you can get away with clogging the toilet.

Family means holding a grudge. These are fragile relationships we’re talking about here. They’re nuanced and have a unique set of complications. Resentment is the currency. Not writing a “Thank You” card for a gift, feeling slighted for something that happened ten years ago—these are the things we sometimes choose to hold on to. It’s a shame to spend all those years not talking to each other, it’s a shame to be estranged from someone who has seen and loved all of you. What wasted years.

Family means change. It means not being invited to Christmas at your uncle’s house anymore because you’ve drifted and time has killed any closeness you once had. It means crying about those changes and then accepting them for what they are. It means having traditions and then losing them. You have to make your own now. You’re an adult and have to find a way to not feel alone.

Family means loving someone in a way that’s almost indescribable. This love has its own set of rules. I think it’s actually the most vulnerable kind of love you can have for someone. Because when things go wrong, when there’s a fight, it wrecks you in a way that’s worse than any break-up. It cuts you off at the knees. If or when it gets resolved, it will feel like your life is full again and you can go on not answering their phone calls like you always have.

Family is weird. Family is hard. Family is beautiful. There’s no escaping them. As much as you try to run away and build your own life in a major city (Have you noticed that all famous New Yorkers seem to have no families? They come from a place like West Virginia and never speak about their upbringing. It’s very sad and Carrie Bradshaw.), you’ll always feel a need to fill that void. You’ll always need a mother and father. Hold each other tight this year, no matter how much they upset you. The alternative is much worse. TC mark

Ryan O'Connell

I'm a brat.


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  • Annahme

    thank you, this is wonderful, and needs to be said.

  • ASA

    Ryan, I am glad you have a good family but not all of us are so lucky. My family and my childhood were awful and my definition of family is vastly different then yours.

    Family means learning to live with people who you can’t stand.

    Sad, but true.

  • guest

    Good, but you’re a bit off with the comment about WV. People from WV have family no matter what, because the moment they find another West Virginian outside of the state, they adopt one another. I ran into another woman from WV in New Orleans who I had never met. We found out we were from nearby areas. She gave me her card and told me to call her if I ever needed anything at all.

    That’s not to say something like that always happens. But the entire scenario was not that surprising of a West Virginian.

  • lianne

    “It means holding your father’s hand in public when you’re a 25 year-old male and refusing to feel weird about it.”  I remember reading about you doing this in another article and thinking it was the cutest thing in the entire universe.  I still think it’s adorable.  I text my mom everyday and talk to her pretty much every other day — I know what it’s like to be loved by a parent so much.  It’s the best feeling.  But I know that there are a lot of other people who aren’t as lucky as me and it’s just not fair to them.  I wish everyone had my childhood.

  • Rebecca

    Ahhh, so refreshing after the articles about i-hate-spending-four-days-with-my-family-for-thanksgiving-and-i-avoid-my-mother’s-phone-calls etc.

  • Deirdree_lynn

    this was beautiful, you’re the best

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