• Melissa Kartini

#MyFamBam: Endlessly Searching for Family

Updated: Jun 19, 2018

“I’m home.”

“Oh, you’re back? Welcome home.”

I scroll through the manga, a Japanese comic. The speech bubbles I just read are related to a Japanese custom used for when a family member returns home. Why do those words feel so warm?

People say family is associated with love and I believe the feeling of warmth through the manga I read. Then, I searched for the definition of family, looking through the Oxford dictionary and Merriam Webster. Unfortunately, I failed to find the word “love” or “warm.” What they define family as is “a group consisting of two parents and their children living together as a unit” or “a group of people related by blood or marriage”. In my mind, it is no wonder I have not once felt warmth because that is how it is defined. I am writing this article, (ironically) filled with emptiness, knowing that my youngest sister has been dismissed from school. Well, I suppose it’s no surprise, because we’ve never had a family that can wrap us with love and kindness. Somehow, I feel as though my parents were together out of a sense of responsibility before they eventually divorced a few years back. So I’d say that is it not much different from being forced to live together. If that is how family should be, then I would rather not have one.

Objectively, I believe that each of us have a family we were born into. But what is more important is to have “family” defined in a subjective way to enable us to live happily, which many of us fail to do. Interestingly, Paul R. Amato, the President of National Council on Family Relations also got tongue tied when asked about the definition of family. That was the impression I gained from his article entitled “What is a family?” issued in the summer of 2014. In all honesty, I feel the same way. That explains the reason why I used to keep silent when my friends talked about their dinners, holidays and family events that they are grateful for.

Before I wrote this article, I came across my friend’s Instastory. Somehow, I felt jealous of her for being able to proudly say that one of the simple joys of her day is to talk to her mama.

My friend Amira Aisya's Instastory (posted with her permission)

I have never had such a mother-daughter moment. Not because there is and was no time; rather, it is because she doesn’t listen. Do I have to blame fate for my parents’ separation when I was 17 years old? I can’t even remember the last time we sat together as a family after my heartbroken sister decided to distance herself from us. My youngest sister has been mute since then.

Because of that, I started to understand why Paul R. Amato said that there are different ways to define family. Logically speaking, it depends on how a person defines family and we are the ones who should struggle to find one. From my experience, the only person I consider as real family without any problem is my late grandfather. How was it possible for him to care so much about me? It must have been from his unconditional love for his grandchildren. But since his death, I’ve struggled to find anyone to call family.

My late grandfather who taught me what is love. (Photo by Nik Nur Syazwani)

Since I rarely spend time with my blood relatives, I started to appreciate my friendships more. To my surprise, they are the ones who listen to me and lend their shoulders for me to cry on. I found a study discussing the importance of friendships over family on the Science Alert website. William Chopik, a psychologist from Michigan State University, figured out from the survey he made that valuing friendships serves as a stronger factor for health and happiness rather than valuing family. Thus, I am of the opinion that what we truly want is happiness and stability in emotion.

A few friends who (literally) have my back. From left, Shazziera, Balqis and me. (Photo by Nik Nur Syazwani)

I am impressed with what was mentioned by Ellen DeGeneres, an actress and talk show host who discusses the topic of family. When she took on the role of Dory in the animated film “Finding Nemo”, she was able to relate with Dory’s character who was feeling lost while finding her family. She said that family is not about blood relations but about a place of support. I realised that in that story, Dory was the one who created a family with Marlin and Nemo. I remembered reading an analysis by William Chopik where he found that when friends were the source of support, participants were happier.

In the end, the thing that each of us search for is not the common definition of family but the family that can relieve our thirst for happiness. To realise that dream, what matters is how a person defines family. To me, family has to be those who support you the most.

The family that supports me. (Photo by Nik Nur Syazwani)

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