“The family”, like all dreamy ideals is said to be a place of love, laughter and safety. I grew up looking at the “perfect family” from the outside. They were and still are, everywhere. They’re in Myer and K-Mart catalogs, McDonald ads, Billboards, Newspapers and Magazines. They jump in sync, hand in hand, from green hills up against blue skies. They pose in front of their picket fenced homes in freshly pressed polo shirts and OshKosh B’gosh overalls. They’re seen running down a golden beach, dressed in cashmere with perfectly trimmed hair, eating ice cream.
I wanted that family.
My biological mother, Letty, left when I turned 3. I was left in the care of my Grandma while dad built his career. Then he took me “home” when he remarried my stepmum, and left me in her care. I was then sent to boarding school abroad when I barely turned 14. My nomadic self was further scattered when Dad’s second marriage broke down. I came back for summer holidays one year and was greeted by my dad standing alone at the airport, stepmum and siblings were no where to be seen. I asked where everyone was, he shrugged and loaded my luggage into his new car and we drove back to a new house. We never spoke about it and somehow, I managed to deal with the silence while the walls slowly crumbled around me.
Few years after, my Grandma passed away. Letty reappeared in my life, fading in and out intermittently, once every couple of years. My nanny of 14 years who was like a surrogate to me, went home to Philippines to be with her own family. Everyone had their own lives. I continued living apart from them, coming home twice a year while I pursued my education from secondary to university abroad. Dad remained alone for 10 years before he remarried my 2nd stepmum, further expanding the number count of siblings from 4 to 6. Shortly after, he retired and moved to Sydney to be with her. My sister joined me in Melbourne for 3 years and eventually my brother came for Uni 2 weeks before I decided to quit my job and leave Australia. As things turned out, they would all move to Australia and once again, I find myself alone but this time, in Malaysia, my supposed ‘home’. The throbbing pulse of irony.
Now I see my family at different intervals of the year, be it for festive reasons, Uni breaks to attend funerals or to sort out some legal documents, they come in spurts and they go in a rush. I remain, waiting for their next visit, whosoever comes my way, whenever they do, however long they stay or quick they scurry off. I miss my family.
When I was abroad, my friends were my family. I spent more time with my roommate in one semester than I did with my father all year. When I came home, my nanny Gemma, spent the most time with me while siblings were coming and going between two homes and dad was busy with church and Christian friends. She comforted me, nurtured me and to a certain extent, loved me. My conception of family constantly changed, depending on my locale and I quickly learned to adapt to the changes, only accepting what I can, demanding nothing more.
I knew from a young age that my family didn’t fit that bill. We didn’t have the pristine building block for a Utopian society. I accepted that a family might not always consist of a mother and father with kids, a pet kitten under one roof. I’ll admit that the frustration of alienation and detachment became a cause for rebellion. It took me years to accept that there is no definitive components that forms a family and naturally, I became highly cynical of marriage and the high ideals it often holds against the crucible cross of religious codes.
Sometimes my friends ask, how amidst the complicated nature of my upbringing, did I manage to retain a somewhat ‘normal’ existence. Social science and statistics often diagnose children of broken home as definitive proof that the nuclear family is the only assurance to shaping a functional member within the fabric of society. It is infuriating to me when people assume that children from a broken family will grow up and use their experience as a template to find a life just like the ones their parents had – perpetuating that cycle of destruction.
I’m not gay because my mother left me, I didn’t get a tattoo cos I had father issues and I certainly did not cut my hair in freaky ways because I didn’t know how to deal with my anger. I refuse to use my past as a crutch. My family might be scattered in different cities and countries and there will always be fights and misunderstandings. We may not see each other for months sans the brief Facebook updates on our news feed. We might only speak occasionally through 160 characters within an sms’, birthday wishes over a 10 minute conversation and irregular ‘warm regards’ via email. We might feel claustrophobic when we’re all suddenly gathered under one roof and dislocated when we once again part, have money squabbles and broken promises but these are realities of life.
Despite it all, with a flat wheel and a broken headlight, this family rattles on, and I miss it, in all its cracks, chips and dents. I miss my family.