Family Ties

October 2, 2017

A week or so ago my dad, sister and I were talking about the family, not simply our immediate or extended family but our entire lineage as far back as we knew it. My dad held a lot of people in his memory, my sister had done some extensive research. Family trees go something like this, first you pick a parent, then you look at their parents, their parents’ siblings and their parents’ parents, once you look at their parents’ parents and their parent’s siblings you can either briefly avert the ascending order to go down and discuss your parent’s cousins or continue up. We could also simply start with my sister and me’s generation including all siblings and cousins they proceed upward to our parent generation continuously until we get as far as we can, or we can start from my niece’s generation —which would be the youngest generation, explore cousins then move up to parents —essentially start with the youngest, move one up through parents note all peoples (cousins and siblings) of that generation then endlessly move upward in the same manner until memory and research wanes. So there are two things we use when exploring lineage: Relation through marriage and relationship through blood. But what about when the first begins to fall apart?

Looking back at our lineage there were two categories of people that didn’t quite fit, “Outside children” and adopted children. These are only a few instances but they stood out —the first had blood relations but were produced outside of marriage, the second had neither blood nor marriage relations but was chosen to be part of the family for one reason or another. Adopted children, though notable, aren’t alarming. Adopting a child is a noble act whose good deed will always be remembered, however simultaneously it’s understood that though this person is a chosen part of our family they technically aren’t part of our family, they have their own parents, their own siblings and their own roots. But “outside children,” feel like a stain on the family name —a permanent reminder of one person’s misstep, disloyalty, and sin. The mother or father of the child born out of wedlock and not related by blood will more than likely be remembered as a ghostly figure from an incident everyone wants to forget —they conjure up images of a sneaky, deceitful, lying family member whose sin was brought to light through the birth of a child. One incident disrupts the entire family tree.

But “outside children” were an anomaly as far as we know —one or two names could be recalled as ancestors born outside of wedlock. And despite its mark on the family tree, the lineage continues since there was at least still a legitimate family, the “outside child” stands outside of the legitimate family. But what about now? Again, lineage is through two things: Marriage or blood relations. It started in my parent’s generation and to a greater extent in my own generation, blood relations continue i.e. people continue to have children, but creating relations through marriage is nearly disappearing.

One parent’s parent has children out of wedlock, that we still haven’t met. We don’t know who these people are and they remain shadowy figures. On that same parent’s side, all siblings are married, though most had children before wedlock and later married the parent of their children, there is no divorce in that generation, in the following generation (mine) only one has a child out of wedlock with plans to later marry the parent of that child, everyone else is either married with children, married without children, or still single —and two were previously married before their current marriage —one with children from that marriage one without children from the previous marriage. In my other parent’s generation (siblings and cousins), most are divorced or never married, those who are still married with kids are in the minority. In the following generation (mine), of people with children there is an even split between those who are married with children and those who are not married with children (and have never been married, i.e. had children out of wedlock), people divorced with children and people who are single with no children are in the minority.

As I thought about all this I began to conjure up an image in my mind of all these newly nonexistent horizontal relationships, all we have left is vertical. This is how my mind saw it, horizontal is marriage, two people choosing to come together, two people choosing to continue their family lineage together. Two people making a choice to choose each other in the union of marriage that will produce a new generation of children (that is the vertical relationship). Think of how powerful that is? The horizontal (marriage) is the only relationship in our family we get to choose, we don’t get to choose our children, our siblings, our parents, our cousins, Aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. but we get to choose our spouse (which also means actively choosing the person we have children with since many will consider whether or not someone will be a good parent before committing to them in marriage whereas that consideration doesn’t often take place when people have children out of wedlock). And that spouse leads to a connection with an entire lineage of their own. And even more powerful than the individual choice, we bring this person into our entire family, this person becomes —simply through marriage, they become someone’s Aunt/Uncle, Cousin, Granduncle/GreatAunt, Son (in law), Brother (in law), and Nephew (in law). But what about when you simply have a child with someone? That person becomes nothing to no one, s/he is simply the mother/father of that child. More than likely we won’t even remember their names. Admittedly I didn’t have a big wedding myself but I do appreciate what big weddings do, they explicitly bring two families together through the union of two individuals. But even without the big wedding, marriage still holds the same weight, when you get married people rightfully want to know who is this person that you’ve brought into the family —what’s their name and when can we meet them? We don’t take the same interest in the parent of someone’s child not linked through marriage. We take some interest if the family member is in some kind of relationship with that person, but without marriage, we unconsciously note that this relationship isn’t serious enough to take a real interest in —one year they’re at the family gathering, next year they’re not and no one will think much of it. That person was never a part of our family, only the product of their union is. Blood or marriage, nothing else.

In the conversation of marriage, divorce, children out of wedlock, and “outside children” we can’t fail to include the larger picture of ours ascending and descending familial connections, people who never marry or produce children don’t add to our family, people who have children out of wedlock passively add to our family, those who divorce with children break family ties and those who have “outside children” create a black spot on the family name that people would rather ignore. Only the people who marry and produce children through that marriage actively shape the fate of our family.

Is it any surprise then that in many other cultures families involve themselves in choosing the spouses of younger generations —that they want a say in the shaping of their family? It’s also why divorce, out of wedlock births and “outside children” are taken so deeply personal by every family member (dishonor, disgrace, shameful), in reality, they’re not the ones in err, we are for not realizing how impactful marriage is for the entire family.

One of my uncle’s recently remarked at a family gathering how important education was to our family. His parents were educated, instilled education in him and his siblings and they instilled education in us. Looking around the room at our family we could all feel proud of our educational backgrounds, some with college degrees and others in the process. For at least three generations the importance of education was actively instilled in our family, we already know the importance of having intergenerational values yet somehow forgot to pass on the importance of creating a family in and of itself.

There have been black families in the U.S. that actively decided —generation after generation, only to marry light skin people. This wasn’t internalized racism, this was a matter of survival. Back then and there are still remnants of it now, having lighter skin could not only give you better opportunities, it could save your life. And so they preserved their light skin, in order to protect their family.

Kings and Queens have, for time immemorial, only married other people of royalty. Not because there weren’t beautiful kind people among non-Royalty but because they wanted to continue the legacy of royalty for their entire family lineage.

Many of the prophet’s marriages, peace and blessing to him, actively linked together warring tribes —in one such marriage immediately after his marriage every single bondsman from the tribe of his new wife was freed. His cooled tensioned between the tribes and linked them together for all time to come.

Black Muslims often view the Pakistani imperative for their children to become doctors and lawyers and only marry Pakistani doctors and lawyers with disgust. Yet, however racist or elitist it may be, at least they understand what exactly the point of marriage is —actively choosing who becomes a part of your family and making an effort to shape their family as they choose.

Black people in particular and slowly American society at large, have forgotten what marriage is for and what it can do. Marriage creates a family, people who are a part of your family through marriage are the only members you get to choose. So why are we so mum on this issue? Why are we passing up the opportunity to create the family we want? Why don’t we have a vision for the kind of family we’d like to create? That doesn’t mean adopting the ways of Kings or discriminating cultures, but it does mean taking family very seriously. That starts with ourselves, we can continue to talk about how “unrealistic” abstinence before marriage is -for instance, or we can begin to understand how damaging having children out of wedlock is, not merely to the products of that union but to our entire family lineage. We need to understand how grave a mistake it is to not actively establish a family instead of passively having one (having children out of wedlock), and we need to think about what exactly our contribution to the families going to be.

When we discuss the breakdown of the family in the Black community and society at large we can’t forget the magnitude of what that means. We are failing to actively create our families we are failing to shape our future —we’re failing to even have a vision for what we might want it to be. Passively adding to the family instead of actively establishing a family is a dishonor on the entire family —immediate and intergenerational, precisely because the one who does so passes up a powerful opportunity to shape our legacy. We need to instill intergenerational values in our families —like education, honesty, and hard work, but the most important thing we can instill is the value of family itself. We should tell future generations to find someone out there in the world that will add value to their lives, a positive contribution to your entire family, and someone whose family would greatly benefit our own.

When we talk about what we want in a spouse we should be focused primarily on the things that will have a positive lasting impact on generations to come. If we considered the reality of our interconnectedness as a family we’d think twice before stepping out on our spouse or engaging in pre-marital sex, really wouldn’t seem worth it. The reason so many people are divorced, having children out of wedlock or outside of one’s marriage is that we’ve made marriage into a selfish act that is solely concerned with the happiness of two people but that was and never will be the reality. It’s no wonder God calls divorce the most hated of allowed things —there is a need for it, sometimes things just don’t work out but the destruction it causes becomes perfectly plain when you consider the consequences on the entire immediate family, extended family, and generations to come. And it’s no wonder one of my shuyukh compared a child being born out of wedlock to death itself if we could see long-term fruits of its destruction we’d run away from it quicker than we’d run from a blazing fire.

We don’t have to refine our marriage choices as much as Kings and Queens do, nor do we have to engage in honor killings to understand the grave importance of marriage selection and reserving one’s virginity until after marriage. All we have to do is think about the family tree, what would we like it to look like? Do we want our lineage filled with vertical lines of child to parent but missing the horizontal lines that should go from husband to wife? Do we want our descendants to have second-hand shame because distant relatives didn’t honor their marriage? Do we want there to be a ton of blurry parental figure whose names we don’t know because they and our relatives never married? And do we want broken horizontal lines from failed marriages? And though it is no sin to remain unmarried and childless, do we really want no part in shaping the family lineage? Our lineage, these vertical and horizontal relationships, are the very core of who we are. We have complete control over the latter —so why aren’t we using it?


Leave a Comment

All rights reserved © Fig & Olive 2015 · Theme by Blogmilk + Coded by Brandi Bernoskie