My Father’s Advice

One of the last pieces of advice my father gave me was that “family will always be there” and he was right. But his definition of who makes up that family was completely wrong.

A family is a place where minds come in contact with one another. – Buddha

“Friends will come and go, but a family will always be there. Never forget that Jeff.” I am paraphrasing his advice, but this was one of the last pieces of advice my father gave me in a letter after I confronted him about my abuse. He was quick to dismiss specific friends of mine in his letter, ensuring to place doubt in my mind of who would be there for me. Thankfully to this day, each friend he mentioned is very much an important person in my life. Although at the time, that piece of “advice” rattled me for many years. It fueled my mistrust towards humanity and inflated my ever-growing guilt and shame toward my family.

Growing up I was raised to believe that those who share DNA are my only family and that I could trust nobody else as much. I was taught to defend my family, regardless of the situation. Even if a family member were to commit a crime, I would never go to the police and rat them out. Family sticks together, like a herd, and we protect one another no matter the situation. We all get automatic immunity, a free pass within the confines of our family name.

Yet, even though we were supposed to love each other, I witnessed many arguments where hurtful words were exchanged between various family members. Common respect and decency were thrown aside as the bonds that hold us together are forged in the ironclad belief that we are all given automatic love. Family members would take cheap shots and create life-sucking drama just because their family card gave them a free-for-all. I could never get used to this philosophy, It never made sense to me. I am not that kind of person. I don’t give away respect and loyalty for free, they must be earned; no matter who you are. My DNA shared family does not get a free pass to my trust.

I have been very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive “friend family”. My closest friends have been there by my side during my darkest days. They stood up with me during my Victor Walk, they helped with guidance and support with my TEDx talk, they encouraged me to continue my fight when I felt like giving up. All of them were there with an ear to listen and a mouth to offer wisdom.

I realized early in my healing that I would have to find my own family, people who I could trust, respect and love. To my God-given family, I was attacking one of our own; I was going against the creed; I was the “black sheep”. I understand that most my family didn’t know what to say to me, but I really didn’t know what to say to them. While I never easily opened the door to allow them into my life, they never really reached for the handle.

Life is too short to waste precious time on people who tear you down or are indifferent to your needs. Just because you share blood with another human being doesn’t mean you must continually seek their approval, love, and support. It also does not mean you must open yourself up to be freely attacked, chronically disappointed and frivolously demeaned. I see many people tirelessly give up their happiness to please their appointed family. Yet, they are left without a soul when the fruits of their labor are never realized. We are only given so many days in this life and we shouldn’t spend them tirelessly trying to convince anyone to love and accept us. It is just not worth it.

I have spent years choosing my family and it has become the community that I have surrounded myself with. I learned to trust in humanity for the first time and have accepted only those who accept me. I know that none of them are perfect and neither am I, but each fit perfectly in my life. I am grateful for their loyalty, trust, support, and love; I never take that for granted. I love my chosen family…

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