Sunday, March 11, 2012

La Familia Es Todo


            While speaking with my brother Brad on the phone yesterday, the conversation turned to our other brother, Greg. Though we are different in many ways, the one common trait that we all share is that we’re driven. We’re determined to find a solution to any situation, even when one doesn’t seem evident. Brad and I discussed how we became this way and the best answer we could agree upon was simple and straightforward: our upbringing, our family. This left me thinking about how crucial family is and how it shaped me into who I am. At one point in my reflections, the title of this letter popped into my head because it was a poignant line spoken by Hector Salamanca, a character on AMC's Breaking Bad; it means “family is everything,” a sentiment I now share yet took me more than 30 years to truly appreciate.

            If you had asked me 25 years ago at age 11, the boy I was at that time was disillusioned with family. My parents were on the verge of a then-bitter divorce, but as a child I didn’t—perhaps couldn’t—comprehend their reasons. To me all I saw was a family imploding. Perhaps it was this time period that planted the seeds of my cynical worldview that I carried as my own personal cross, coloring my (mis)perceptions in the process. As I began to see my life and the world differently after meeting Erin, I realized the error I had made so long ago—I had let my heart become calcified. It took wedding my wonderful wife to teach me that it wasn’t the institution of marriage that I distrusted, but my own capacity to love. As I learned to open up my heart again, it helped me realize that the divorce that I saw so much as a curse when I was 11 turned out to be one of the greatest blessings of my life. I have two sets of parents, Dad and Kim, and Mom and Gerry. While Dad and Mom might not have been right for one another, the people they ended up with certainly are. Erin’s parents are divorced, too, so I have multiple in-laws as well. I’ve also gained brothers and sisters by way of marriage, and all of them have also contributed to my life in many ways.

            While my immediate family has certainly shaped me into who I am becoming, the same is true for my extended family as well. My Godparents were instrumental in seeing me through at two crucial points in my life: the summer of the divorce, when their home was a safe haven in tumultuous times; and when I dug myself into deep debt in my late teens, during which they instilled the values of hard work and thrift. My other aunts and uncles taught me responsibility, as I was the oldest grandchild and the go-to babysitter for many of my younger cousins. My grandmothers instructed me in the art of patience, even in acts as simple as stirring a couple of ice cubes into hot soup as Mémère Ward used to do. Now that many of my cousins are grown and married, I see the love that has been instilled in them being passed on to the next generation as they have children of their own whom they nurture and teach in turn. It is for all these things and more that I thank and celebrate my family. They have had a helping hand in who I am becoming and for that I will always have a tremendous debt of gratitude that I hope one day I can repay in some way or another.

            I think what’s more important about family is what it teaches us—how to love. My sister-in-law, Joie, once remarked that we are lucky to have come from such a good family that strengthens one another. I understood her point and I think it underscores how fortunate I have been to have won the family lottery in some sense. As a teacher, though, I know that we all learn from examples and non-examples alike; perhaps even those of us who come from families that aren’t as strong or close will still learn how to love in time because they’ve unfortunately learned what love is not. I believe in the capacity for any single one of us to render great change in our lives if we are willing to make consistent efforts. It certainly has been made possible and easier in my life by the family into which I was born. And while there is no way for us to ever repay the generosity of our forebears, the best way we can try to do so is by paying it forward. The love that my family has shown me is best reflected in the love that I have for others, whether my wife, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, students, strangers or anyone else. While family teaches us how to love, it cannot stop there. We must learn to widen the circle to encompass everyone else with whom we come into contact. Not only will this help us become better individuals, but it will help us become a better global community by integrating the lives of others into our own and recognizing the value of interdependence.

            Brad may be right that he, Greg, and I are all driven. But we might not have been this way had we not been born into such a copious, caring clan. I’ve achieved several awards this year that never would have happened had it not been for the constant support, encouragement, and love of my family. Though I don’t often have the time or means to visit and spend quality time with them (especially my RI family), I think of them fondly and often. If anything, I want them all to know that each in his or her own way has made an indelible contribution to who I am and the better person I know I am capable of becoming. It is directly because of your influence that I have learned to let go of my cynical worldview and a past that I once viewed as a burden. The wisdom I accrued over the years has taught me to be positive and to believe in myself and my ability to effect change in my life and the lives of others. For all of these reasons and so many more, I sincerely thank each and every member of my family. Know that I will do my best to always live out the lessons you have taught me—especially the most important lesson of all…how to love.

Be thankful for your family, NIP, they’ve helped make you who you are.

- Ryan


  1. H, I need to thank you for making this entry. For as long as I cab remember, I have been harboring anger toward some of my family members who, in my opinion, have greatly wronged and continue to wrong myself and my immediate family. Instead of realizing that they, in their own, convoluted way, have shaped me as a person, I decided to fester in my frustration and allow it to consume me. Es la verdad que la familia es todo. Without my family, I would not be who I am. Although I haven't completely shrugged off my cynicism, I hope to work toward that goal. Thank you, H.

    From just another NIP

    1. Glad to know that it helped. Just keep doing what you're doing: take life in stride, one day at a time. It's good to stop and acknowledge all that has made you who you are up to this point. But then we have to press on and decide whether to let our past / relationships with others hold us back or give us strength, and it all comes down to perspective. Give it time and I'm sure your life will blossom, NIP.

      Pax vobiscum.