You ask someone to describe their family and they’ll probably talk about their mother, father and siblings. Maybe they will also describe their cousins if they are very close to them.
But when I asked Eman* to tell me about her family, she replied, “it has always been her [Eman’s late mother] and my younger brother, Ahmed.”
“Now it includes my mother’s twin (my aunt) and my maternal uncle, his wife and two daughters (he doesn’t have sons).” But she made no mention of her father. In fact, she made no mention of anyone from her paternal side of the family.
Eman has lived nearly her entire life with her late mother and younger brother. Her father actually has two wives and spends most of his time with his other wife and children. And she has never felt comfortable being around her dad’s family.
She grew up knowing of them, rather than knowing who they are. The first time she met them was when Eman was 12 years old and only sporadically after that.
Her father, the one who connected the two families together, only came into “the picture” after Eman’s mother was diagnosed with a serious illness at the age of 15. He was not the kindest of husbands to Eman’s mother which Eman disliked him for.
Often there is an instinctive reaction from society that says Eman should make the effort to have a relationship with him because he’s her father, but often times this reaction is a baseless and uncritical definition of what a family is.
Essentially, families are people who raise you, live with you, people you grow up with and people you stand by. And Eman’s father fails to meet all of these conditions.
“I remember as a child, I had friends talking a lot about their paternal uncles and aunts, but I never really cared for it,” Eman told me about her childhood.
“I understood that while some families have two parents, I have one. While some families had their fathers married to one wife, mine had two. And while some families only had full siblings, I had half. I knew I was different from a young age and I accepted it from a young age, too.”
And like the instinctive reaction from society that expects people to make an effort in building family relationships, there’s also a belief that single-parent households are “missing” something. People see these homes as “broken”, but the reality is, sometimes, very far from that idea.
When I asked her if she believed that one could choose their own family she said no, “they choose you”. But I disagree; I think she has chosen her family. And it’s in a society where the family is ultimate and choice is often not a factor that Eman’s choice is made all the more powerful.
My mother and brother are the most important people in my life. She for being my best of friend, my psychiatrist, my psychologist, my doctor, my guardian, my guide, my financial provider, my first love and my parent and him for being my little monkey and support system. They have shaped me into who I am and are my “raisons d’etre”.
*Names have been changed.