I believe the strength, love, and meaning of the word ‘family’ extends beyond the branches of a traditional family tree. I believe that family is not confined to the connections of whom your parents are, or of what a court document may have written on its fiber. Bloodlines, marriage, or legal guardianship can indeed extend our genealogical story. But, it is unconditional love that defines what family is for me. Family members’ love inherently allows you to be ones true self, without any anxieties or stigmas that our culture may impose.
It was only after my personal journey down the road to adulthood that I realized there were people in my life I sincerely considered family who were not on my “family tree.” This extended family includes individuals for whom most people would label as best friends or mentors. My personal journey took me down a long and arduous path. The people I think of when I say ‘family’ were not only observers of this journey, they also walked along side me for parts of my pilgrimage. All of those teachers, guides, and fellow travelers that are still part of my life today, whether physically or in spirit, I call my family.
As I continue to grow, even today, as a husband, father, and member of my community, my personal family grows, as well. This family includes those dear people in my life who know the true John. Not the John that is defined by his resume, what clothes he wears, music he listens to, or what political ideologies he subscribes to. No, they are those people in my life I have exposed my inner self to, and for that, they have opened their arms to give me an embrace. And for these people in my life, I cherish the moments I can return the embrace. Whether it is in their moments of need, or in their moments of triumph.
My family tree includes lifelong members in which I am truly grateful are there due to genetics or the beauty of life long love and marriage. But I believe it is also the family that my life journey has given me, for which I feel so blessed. For it is this new family of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, and grandparents who help me to be who I am today. Not just in the eyes of our culture, but where I believe it is most important – the inside of my heart and soul.
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