Looking after family ties

It’s true, I have thought for years, and sometimes said aloud, that when I retired I’d get more involved with the extended family, particularly my children and grandchildren. We are a blended family, (do people still say that?) me with two adult children, Charmaine with two, so I slip in and out of ‘my’ and ‘our’, depending on the context. For example, when I’m in Bali, it’s just too complicated to explain that Charmaine and I are not married, let alone whose grandchildren I’m talking about. It’s just one big family with four children and four grandchildren. Then there’s our unofficial ‘foster child’, Dana, who has married Kim and they have two little boys. So I often say six grandchildren when I’m in Bali.

Anyway, back to the family ties. Yes there is more time now, and change for the better is coming slowly. I’ve seen all six adults and six kids most weeks, and a modest increase on that seems likely. The grand-kids range in age from one to eleven years old, and it is an absolute joy to be among these very young people again. In general I find I get on easily with all of them, with the huge advantages that grandparents have—we are a novelty for the kids, a break from parents, easy to put up with for a few hours, so pleasantness abounds. Zapha, four years old, just said ‘David, you’re a really funny guy’—what more can you want?

Of course there are protocols to observe. Parenting methods are not to be commented on, unless genuine praise is on offer. Favouritism is to be scrupulously avoided, especially where money or gifts are involved. But the rewards of loving diplomacy are many, and in general our offers of socialising, baby-sitting and other practical assistance are much appreciated. I look forward to many years of mutual pleasure in the company of both generations.

My original family is more difficult to talk about. I have no parents now; haven’t had for twenty five years or more. But my two brothers and I are still here, and their five children, and we have hardly any contact. I’ve been thinking about them lately. Is it too late to make an effort to get to know each other better? We three are all over 70 now, after heading in entirely different directions for the last fifty years. I visited my older brother the week after I got home from our year in Bali. It was pleasant enough for an hour or so, but we have so little in common to build on, no shared activities or plans for the future, and only a friendly warmth, not an affection born of shared experience. I hug many friends, male and female, yet I shook hands with my brother. And I haven’t even spoken with my younger brother for a couple of years. I’m not sure what I want to do about all this.

It’s not that we dislike each other, or have any unresolved family feuds—or at least none that I’m aware of. We just aren’t close friends, even though we are brothers. It feels as though this should be deeply unsatisfactory—is not brotherly love supposed to be one of the strongest bonds? One of my nieces contacted me while I was in Bali, suggesting a get-together sometime soon. Maybe that’s the way to see if a page can be turned. She will invite her father (my brother) and I’ll get to meet her two children for the first time, except for a brief glimpse of a baby some years back. I think it’s my move.

Postscript four days later: It’s all going to happen. In about six weeks’ time there will be a multi-generational get-together, including my brothers and their children and grand-children and all of mine. I think the last event like this I can remember was in about 1992, when my father was still alive. So writing is not an isolated act—but of course why would a form of talking not be linked to subsequent action? There’s a thought: writing about it can change it.

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