I’ve been taking in family experiences of others these days. In a few cases I’m struck by a kind of family belonging feeling among these family members I observe. And for the first time I recognize the unfamiliarity of this family-belonging feeling in my own growing up. Growing up in my family in Quincy, Illinois, we were all together for meals, played games in the evening complete with popcorn and Pepsi, went to church functions together, and to extended family functions for holidays, but something was missing that I see present in some of the families I see.
This missing ingredient is hard to put into words, but on one level it was like the four of us, Mom, Dad, brother Paul and me, were all present as family objects, but in me there was not a belonging feeling. I can’t speak for Mom, Dad, and my brother, but I did not experience a felt sense of us being a family where everyone belonged just because we were family. Just being family somehow was not enough to make my life rich and meaningful. This now seems off. Something important was missing. I wonder if “just” being family is not only enough but even if being family on a deeply felt level is actually a primary ingredient of a fulfilled loving life.
I recognize that I carried this not-belonging feeling into life as a kid at school, into social settings with other kids, into church, and then later into life as an adult. I could play the role of son, husband, dad, co-worker, member, and so on, but there was no sense of bonding that glued us together at a level below doing. Going golfing with the guys at the office or men at church did not attract me. And more importantly hanging around my own family just because we were family didn’t attract me either. I just didn’t get what the big deal was in hanging out together. Perplexed and mostly unconscious about it all, I stayed at the office or worked on projects around the house or at church, or had a few hobbies I enjoyed. But connecting or belonging, that was just a missing gene in my makeup.
What I now begin to see as at least one of the missing elements was the intimacy among family members or friends or colleagues. We did not share where we were hurting, what was alive in us, what brought us joy. Each of us did our thing, our chores, our tasks, or played our role or were even responsible, sometimes very responsible. But to be intimate and vulnerable, that glue that binds family, colleagues and friends together, these ingredients of life were just missing.
I carried these distancing qualities into my first marriage, through the death of my parents, and into my own family. I just didn’t know any better. And even now this vulnerability and intimacy are my edge in my current relationships. It is as if I am walking around in a meadow alone and off in the far distance I see groups of people mingling, laughing, chatting away, crying together – all an entirely new way of being, of belonging. I can’t yet make out what it is all about, but it feels very important to find this important missing ingredient in my life. It seems that this missing ingredient is actually what life is all about.
Not having this ingredient has made me somewhat ungrounded and unstable, not able to be true to my own being or connected to others in a real way. From this place I have betrayed and hurt people closest to me, sometimes badly, including my own being. This was certainly not intentional, but was just an out-picturing of my missing ingredient.
Aware or unaware, intentional or not, the pain my behavior has caused others and myself is something to feel into and experience deeply. It motivates me forward in new directions with new possibilities. With increasing awareness of what’s been missing, I am now beginning to move toward the other side of the valley, to open to deeper relationships, true and loving relationships, grounded in my heart. I want this with Pat, with my kids and grandkids, with my many friends and colleagues – and with myself. It is a new space for me. It frightens me a bit, but on some level I know this new space is what my soul, my heart, my very being has longed for my entire life.