That Family Feeling

There are very few things that are as intense or more primal and complicated as family. You can’t choose your family members, yet you are connected to them for your entire life. Otje van der Lelij ponders the question: What can we realistically expect from family? You can read about it in our newest special Love & Life. Here’s an excerpt of the feature.

I love David Lynch’s movie The Straight Story. It’s a road-trip film that tells the story of 73-year-old Alvin Straight, a friendly-looking guy you’d adopt as a grandfather in a heartbeat. Alvin is estranged from his brother Lyle, but when he hears that Lyle has suffered from a stroke, he decides to go see him. “My brother and I said some unforgivable things the last time we met,” he says, “but I’m trying to put that behind me […] a brother’s a brother […] I want to make peace, I want to sit with him, look up at the stars… like we used to do, so long ago.” As Alvin can’t drive a car, he goes by lawn mower and the trip takes weeks as he slowly makes his way from Iowa to Wisconsin.

On the road Alvin meets a young girl who has run away from home. While talking to her, he uses sticks as a way to describe the importance of family: you can easily break a single stick, but tie them together and you can’t. “That bundle… that’s family,” he says. I love that description. The tie with family members is unbreakable. Even if you’re the black sheep of the family, even if you’re living far away in a foreign country or if you only see each other at funerals, you are always your parents’ child and you will always have that sister or brother. You carry your family members in your genes, in your memories and in your thoughts.

That’s what makes it complicated, because what do you mean to each other? What can you expect from your family members, and at what point should you let each other go? I find it a tricky balancing act. I expect my parents to be involved with my life, but there are also times when I get annoyed by their well-meaning advice. I want to be able to be myself completely, but also crave the recognition that the choices I’m making are okay. What are realistic expectations and what aren’t?”

  • You can find more about family, love and friendship in our newest special Flow Love & Life.

Text Otje van der Lelij Illustrations Ruby Taylor