Monday, February 18, 2013

Family ~ Toward The ~ Day

 

(photo description: Three children holding hands, in a family style pose: an older brother and two younger systers, both with Down Syndrome. Pitcture found on web, no copyright infringment intended, if a problem simply notify and it will be removed.)

Family Day.

Today is a holiday in Ontario and it's a day designated to celebrate the family. I enjoy the holiday part of the day but ... family? I'm not so sure of that.

The big push for 'family values' came as a concerted response against the gay community's growing demand for recognition, for rights and for respect - the three 'r's of any civil liberties movement. We all heard, constantly, about how the family was threatened by the demands of son's and daughters, uncles and aunts, parents and grandparents to be considered an equal part of any family. It was disconcerting hearing society talking about gay people as threats to the family as if we were part of no family. It was disheartening to see that many parents tossed children out of their homes and their lives, paradoxically, in defence of the family.

It was made clear, family doesn't include ... me.

Money was raised, significant money, to protect the family and to lobby politicians to ensure that laws would be passed that disallowed gay people the right to love, the right to participate and the right to belong, the three rights at the core of any civil liberties movement.  That money was spent on bumper stickers, on rallies and on election campaigns. FAMILY VALUES became a ubiquitous call for repression, rejection and repudiation - it became a term that froze my blood.

And yet ...

All the while ...

I worked with many people with disabilities who were abandoned, dropped off at institutional doors by families who didn't return. These families, who I misunderstood for years, often made the decision to do what they did on the advice of those who were paid to know better, know best. They were told that their child with a disability would destroy the "family", there's that word again, that the needs of the infant child, the needs of the growing child, would be too much, the family would suffer, the child would suffer, the parents would suffer. To protect the child, to protect the family they were told to make a decision in the best interest of child and of family. And they did. They said goodbye to a child that somehow, in someway, had been defined out of the word "family."

And yet ...

All the while ...

Statistics continued to pile up. A log jam of numbers. A tsunami of statistics. Dad's were sexually abusing their children, Mom's were violently physically and psychologically abusing their children. No where near all of them of course, not by a long shot. But research made it clear that the family may be the least safe place for children to be. Lost and alone on a city street is often statistically safer than bedtime at home for some children. Research looked for reasons that the unreasonable could happen in this house, and maybe that one over there. Children were being hurt. A mother twisted her baby's legs until they snapped. A father breaks trust in the most vile way possible. Hurt happened.

And yet ...

All the while ...

The family is under attack. The family needs defending. But gay people are used as distraction, disabled people are pulled away when parents arn't looking. Something was apparently being done about the family - yet nothing actually was done about the family. Dollars are needed not for lobbying but to provide support, to provide education, to provide resources ... to parents who struggle to make ends meet, to make the right decisions, to be able to juggle time. The family, the precious, precious family is being destroyed by the idea that some aren't family. The precious, precious family is being destroyed by the idea that it can take care of itself. The family, the precious, precious family, is looking out at difference rather than in at the hurt and harm that comes from unbridled temper and unwanted touch. The family needs attention. The family needs protection.

The family needs some values.

And yet ...

All the while ...

There are those who want to be family. Those who want to participate. Those whose desire to BE family honours the ideal of what families can be. Home and harbour. Welcome and warmth. Safety and serenity. The family doesn't have enemies from without, it has enemies from within - each of us, each one of us, need to protect this thing called family by ensuring that those in our care, those needing our care are kept safe from our tone and our touch, our words and our way, our manner and our manners.

Because you see ..

I've seen, with my own eyes, this thing called "family" ... seen it do what only "family" can do. I've seen families embrace gay sons and lesbian daughters. I've seen mothers at weddings of their transsexual sons. I've see it. I know what it can be. I remember, clearly, being in a pride parade years, and years, ago when the only corporate sponsor was the corporate body of the gay community, and seeing an older woman standing with a middle aged couple. The couple held between them a sign saying, "We love our gay son." Beside them the older woman held a sign, "I love my gay grandson." I walked the rest of the march in tears. Their boldness and their love seemed to embrace all of us who wanted a parent whose love was big enough to include our identity.

Because you see ...

I've seen, with my own eyes, this thing called "family" ... seen it do what only "family" can do. I have been privileged to spend time with a few families who stood against the punishment doled out on parents that didn't listen. The lack of service, the lack of support, the lack of schooling ~ all those things, I believe, were both part of the persuasion (your child will get special services in that special building we call an institution) and part of the punishment (you chose to keep your child at home now do it without a single bit of support ... we didn't build schools for YOUR kid). These parents, and the love of their children, single-handedly built the agencies that now support community living. They say that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. In my work, I don't think that's true, I think we stand on the edge of the most powerful agent of change that there is ... defiance that drinks at the well of love.

And now ...

And in the future ...

I will turn from my anger at the use of the word "family" for the political purposes of exclusion and work to make the word "family" a word that is instantaneously recognised as the starting place of all things that have value in the world.

Family values family.

Now there's a bumper sticker I could put on the back of my wheelchair.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes and yes again!

When true love is embraced everyone can be part of a family.

I might not be anything related to the eight month old boy of friends but his mother recently said I am his "aunt of the heart"....

Julia

Jayne Wales said...

I just find that so sad that people can deny someone the ought o family because they are gay. I know it happens but I find it so sad I could cry for anyone who that happens to. Like I could cry for unwanted kids or those abused by their families.
Lets bring the love from family not the prejudice and heartache. Lets bring the loyalty and pride of our family members to embrace the whole of mankind. The family of man as the little hymn goes.
If you guys were part of my family I would be boasting about that to everyone. I would be so proud. My cousin is gay and I love him for everything that he is but especially because he makes me laugh so much. He is a well admired, looked up to older cousin, held in high esteem by us alll.

re-fresh said...

Thank you Dave, I was eager to read this morning's blog...and you have voiced my thoughts and far beyond. Your "bumper" sticker summarizes it well, let's use it! have a good day,

Belinda said...

I love the bumper sticker. I'm not into bumper stickers but I would buy a wall plaque with those words!

And great post. Happy Family Day!

Shan said...

In many ways our culture is incredibly primitive and backward. Like a bunch of cave dwellers grunting suspiciously when they see something new, then banding together to drive it over the nearest cliff.

It's amazing how many people bought/buy that brainwashing, glossy, Cleaver image of a family, and honestly think there are no dark waters under that surface.

Happy Family Day, Dave and Joe! From your niece.
XO

PS: I love that photo of those three happy children. Matching sweater dresses and Ugg boots, too!

Baiterboy said...

Spot on!

Lisa Gleeson said...

I know that family!:)As a matter of fact, their Mommy just had a set of twin boys this week :). They are a remarkable family with enough love to adopt a little girl who was destined for a life in an institution.
Lisa

Thelma said...

Speaking of family day and disabled folks, Dave, have you gotten down to the Young Centre for the Performing Arts to see Rare? I just saw it tonight and it was incredible, the performers are amazing, and they had incredibly poignant things to say about family. The run has been extended for a few more days, and if you haven't seen it... well, you should really see it.

Mike said...

I think "family," like "health," is a functional concept. And the phrase "family values family" really gets at that meaning, I think. Family is functional and nothing dysfunctional is genuine family. The hypocrisy of trying to strip basic rights and dignity from some people but not others is so blatant that it almost defies imagination.