How does one define the word “family”? It is a word with a multitude of meanings, a word that is the essence of self-identification for many, while for others it stirs memories of experiences they would rather Forget.
I have often heard people say that being “family” is more than blood and that blood isn’t compulsory to being a family member. I don’t believe I’ve known someone in my life who is not a blood relation whom I have the same level of emotional bond and connectedness that I do with my biological family. So, what is “family” for me?
I was fortunate to have been raised in a home with both biological parents and a sibling. My parents loved me, provided for me, educated me, protected me and so much more. My sister was 5 years my senior and in her own ways did much of the same. The intangible gifts I was given became the cornerstone of the man I have become. Love, honor, truth, compassion, integrity often can’t be seen or touched however they are virtues that are revealed in character. For me, these gifts were revealed when I married. I took vows to honor, love and protect this person all the days of my life. Thirty nine years later, I am still committed to those vows and to the same person. In a world driven by superficiality, split-second gratification and disposable relationships, I realize I am part of a minority because of my long-term commitment.
Marriage redefines “family”. For me, marriage was a milestone and a crossroad in life. Standing on the threshold of a new journey. It invited me to look back at where I came from and the man that I became and that enabled me to look forward at the possibilities of who I was to become. Family evolved and transformed. It expanded and included new people, new perspectives and sometimes new priorities. The virtues and commitment were stronger than ever only now they were focused on someone new. I actively choose to be intimately involved and focused on my wife and she does the same. There is no question or doubt, it’s that simple.
It’s a bit strange to wonder how life can get better but in fact it did when our children were born. We witnessed the miracle of birth and were blessed to experience this within our own home. We continued the cycle and our family was transformed again. To hold and gaze upon this innocent newborn is a feeling words cannot express. There is an intuitive bond that part of me is in this child. We experienced this three times and our family became a living experience where my wife and me became as one and dedicated our efforts to the growth and nurturing of our children as our parents did with us.
Life does not always treat us fairly and we are no exception. As a family we move together through peaks and valleys, trials and tribulations, heartache and heartbreak. We prepare our children as best we can for life ahead. We teach them what we believe to be right from wrong and yet at some point, they make decisions that can be in total contradiction to those teachings. What then? Do we abandon them, or turn our back because they didn’t listen to what we said? Or, do we stay near in their time of despair?
Many families in today’s global community are struggling with issues of addiction, mental health and criminal justice. Most often all three exist on one level or another. This family experienced all of these on a large scale. When one family member struggles with these issues, the entire family struggles. These are some of the darkest periods of the family experience. Every member of the family changes their behavior in an effort to cope and function in the face of these issues.
Watching a loved one slowly destroy life through battles with addiction, or driving nearly 500 miles to visit a loved one who is incarcerated and then drive home feeling as if I left one of my limbs behind are indeed painful family experiences. They are difficult to describe and leave lasting wounds. I know too many families experiencing this pain and helplessness. Some families have suffered the ultimate…the loss of a family member to these struggles. I know too many of them as well. These issues divide and destroy some families while others unite and stay strong. For me, I usually ask that before passing judgement or opinion, you spend some time walking in these shoes. I believe you will be enlightened.
For me, family is organic. Family is a living entity. It ebbs and flows and constantly evolves. Sometimes parts of the family dynamic will die in order to give life in new directions with new meaning and understanding. I have experienced and witnessed all of this. I believe my family will continue to travel new paths, hit high peaks and lowly lows, yet always offering an invitation to broaden the Faith, Hope and Love that family can bring. I remain committed to that process and look forward to continuing the journey.
I have attached the official trailer for my documentary; “Walking Through Purgatory”. I believe it gives an example of some of the struggles many people experience in their own “family.”
Michael Spaccarotella has been a counselor in a correctional facility for 15 years. Prior to completing his Masters work in counseling, he had a successful 25 year career in the business world. Additionally, Michael spent 6 years of study in spirituality and prayer in the Catholic seminary. Michael is also a lifelong song writer/guitar player. He is about to release his first solo album. Michael is also the co-producer of, “Walking Through Purgatory, An Ex-Offenders Struggle With Reentry”, a short documentary that looks at the connection between; mental health, addiction, criminal behavior and the justice system.