What Is Family?

What Is Family?
M.D. Wright

What Is Family?
You ask this question to 50 people, and you’re likely to get 50 different and distinct answers. Some peoples’ definition is biblically-based. Some base theirs on the qu’ran. Some according to mythology, ancient customs or even more recently, neighborhood customs. However the case, family is the central unit to any society, and ours in the United States in 2010 is no different.

I have observed some interesting dynamics within the family unit structure in my 31 years. I’ve seen a great number of people represent four generations in my lifetime. And it is interesting (to say the least) how morals change (read: ERODE), values, beliefs, standards, gender roles and everything else has changed generation to generation (generally speaking) since The Great Depression. The earliest of the four generations I’m referring to were mostly born slightly before or during that 1929-1939 period.

Before I delve into the differences, personally, family is supposed to provide a manifold example; providing a backbone for every member of the unit, whether it is a father, mother, son, daughter unit, grandparents/grandchildren being raised as children of the grandparents or any other combination that is much more prevalent in 2010 than ever before. I was always taught both by my parents and older relatives and the Bible that family looks out for one another. If one suffers, all suffer. When one succeeds and triumphs, all triumph — and not vicariously. There is a genuine sharing of the successes and pains in a true, healthy family unit. If a family member, whether immediate or extended (especially with some families of color who come from poor backgrounds) needed medical attention, a relative would go and attend to that relative, nursing them to health, sitting with them and boosting their morale until they were feeling good again. If a family member was going through a rough period financially, there were plenty enough relatives able to rally and help that family member out. This is the example I grew up with even as late as the 1980s, three generations into the 4-generation nexus that I am working with here. So things hadn’t changed all that much in 50 years, to bring things home.

Fast forward 20 years or so, and almost nothing appears to be what it used to be. However, it does not have to remain this way.

The Depression-Era generation (for the most part, poor Whites and almost all Blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc.) HAD to stick together just in order to survive. They ate dinners together. They supported one another. If a relative (especially a parent) were sick or passed away, one of the older children dropped school to work and support the family. Not out of spite, but out of love and because it was the right thing to do. It was also obviously a means of survival, as there was no other recourse in such situations.

Outside of the Elite, most did not attend colleges and universities, and many barely got to high school, much less completing the 12th grade (who needed an education to work a farm in northeast North Carolina or on a dock off the Atlantic Yards in 1940?) Gender roles were understood, and although overtly patriarchal, were not detrimental to the family unit. Indeed, if anything, this provided stability for each member of the family as sons had tangible and healthy examples from their fathers, grandfathers and uncles, as well as older brothers — as to how to progress from boyhood to true manhood. They also had strong mothers who were their backbone, moral foundation and source of moral support, as well as excellent models for what to pursue in wives. Likewise, girls had the healthy fatherly examples and had their mothers to mold them into womanhood. For the most part, that is considered the Gilded Age in my book. My grandparents’ halcyon days, basically. Once they came of age and their children were coming of age (Baby Boomers) things really accelerated.

The Baby Boomer age saw a rise in technology with the invention of television, modern automobiles and air travel, as well as much more in the way of moving by families during this period from 1945-1965. For all the great inventions, ups and downs and new findings that occurred during that period, one thing was constant — liberal uprisings. Personally, I do not condemn these, as there were some actions that were NECESSARY (movement to begin working towards — keyword working towards, because 40 years later, we’re still not there — giving women equal footing in the workplace through the Women’s Liberation, obvious Civil Rights inequities, the Vietnam War, etc.) but one thing that Women’s Liberation did, for better or for worse, was to disrupt the aforementioned family structure. Sure, some feminists love to [attempt to] lambaste me about this, but this is my blog and I will say what I want — Women’s Liberation is a concoction of the Jezebel Spirit and a lie from the pits of hell designed to destroy the family unit. Without being preachy, Satan knows that by destroying the family, he can corrupt millions upon millions who will have a distorted moral view in life, and half his battle is already won by achieving thus. Again, some inequities needed to be addressed with regards to the perception of men and women/men vs. women, but Women’s Lib took it too far. That’s about the point where things can be drawn back to as an origin for many of the plethora of social issues we have today: staunch, covert racism, color caste, internal issues between Black men and Black women (contemporary versus those that extend back to slavery) and the gradual corruption of the generation that followed and the near TOTAL absence of morality from the current generation which knows not its history (and, as the saying goes, is — and most likely WILL BE — doomed to repeat it).

The 1960s were fantastic; in the purest sense of the word — not “fantastic” as if to say, it was peachy-peachy, Shangri-La, Utopia City January 1, 1960 – December 31, 1969, but that there were extreme and unforeseen highs and lows alike. There hasn’t quite been a decade like it since. All of the aforementioned events were taking place, presidents and prospective presidents being assassinated on live television, a man walking the moon (if you are one to believe this wasn’t some bait and switch maneuver staged in the Four Corners area of the United States), Black people were finally getting one piece of the pie that had been repeatedly stolen from them for centuries previously and now had a voice with leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, the music industry was just getting into full swing and professional sports were blossoming at a rapid pace with several new expansion teams in all of the major league sports in North America.

With all this, the good, the bad and the ugly, there was a different dynamic developing (you love the alliteration): Race relations were changing, Black women finally had a voice and felt empowered to express themselves in many ways, White women were also given some footing in the workplace after being domesticated for the most part in every class status and there was a deepening divide between cities and suburban areas, as many Whites moved to suburban areas coinciding with forced integration of schools and government institutions. This is a wild dynamic that led to so many different things subsequently that they cannot be covered in one blog.

However, sticking with the theme of family, and from a personal standpoint and what I have observed everywhere I have lived and visited, I believe this is the generation that led to the “Miss Independents” that exist today. My generation (the 3rd in the chronology) were the product of these 60s and 70s Baby Boomers who had come of age, experienced things their parents before them never had the opportunity to, but were still cut off from a great deal of opportunity themselves. These parents pushed their children (myself and my contemporaries) to higher heights and told us truthfully there was nothing we COULDN’T achieve. To a great extent they were right, but the one thing they failed to instill (largely, not ALL) were the very basic fundamental concepts of FAMILY. We know how to make money, make music, excel in sports, profess in a variety of occupations and invent anything the brain can conceive…


The Baby Boomers generation were the first to truly have a taste of the “do you, take care of first, and don’t worry about the needs of others” mentality. My generation just took it to a new level, as people became more and more selfish, seeking their own instead of the betterment of others. More families were spread out due to the demands of jobs or relatives attaining opportunities to travel with the military, academics in higher education or what have you. What entailed was a generation-long divide where whole families have been born, lived and died and never met entire sectors of their family. This is not being written as if to blame any generation, or group of people — but merely a blatantly true observation. So many of my generation’s parents absolved to “give them more than I ever had”. Almost ALL parents from the generation before mine has uttered that phrase at some point (unless they’re of the Elite). And many were able to do so.

Ohhhh but that Pandora’s Box that was subsequently opened…

Now that my generation’s members are having children (many of whom have children approaching teenage years in some cases) I shudder to think what the family unit will look like. There have been drastic changes just since my childhood as an 80s baby. I saw the last remnant of the Gilded Age as their values were passed down to those of us willful enough to accept them. Most grasped what is now referred to as “Old School/Old Fashioned” values and standards, there were some who did not.

So now we stand in 2010, with technology through the roof, innovation taking place with light speed daily, women at least now at 3/4 of what men earn in the workplace (whereas most were barely making 1/2 of what men did when more women began entering the workplace in the 50s and 60s — for doing the same work in most cases), education available at almost every turn, the one constant that should have withstood all the changes is fading just as rapidly.


For some people, it is already too late. I PERSONALLY know several people who do not have living parents, siblings, known aunts, uncles or cousins to call family. They began to refer to longtime friends and neighbors as family, because that is all they have. It is not their fault. But what about those of us who have HUNDREDS of family members that we actually know of by name? And many more outside of those who we have never met and have been out there 30+ years? Isn’t this a shame? I believe so. I have cousins and other relatives my age, even a few years older, who I have NEVER met. Some I don’t even know exist, others I have never even heard of when I hear them mentioned by name. I feel like a Horse’s Neck when I realize I live mere BLOCKS from some family members of mine and have never met them (although I have been a vanguard and always sought out my family wherever they are, some aren’t so eager).

What will we do to change this? Can we get back to the way we were like Gladys Knight used to sing? When a family member is downtrodden financially, and they have hundreds of family members, should they spend years suffering while their family (knowingly or not) look on and shrugs instead of helping? If a relative is sick and cannot afford prime healthcare, should they just whittle away because their immediate family doesn’t have the funds — but they have many relatives who can pool together funds to at least attempt to help? I’ve seen quite a bit that disturbs me in the past 15 years. The first 15 years of my life were my halcyon days. Almost all my relatives from the Gilded Age were still around and I had great memories with them. I appreciated them, sat at their feet and listened to them talk. One of my grandmothers was very pensive and offered such sage advice about things that she had never experienced herself, but you would have thought she had, because it was so accurate. My other grandmother had a home remedy for any ailment it seemed, and was a walking history book for the ages — recalling birthdates, events and family history at the drop of a dime. I learned quite a bit from her as well, as well as sharpening my now-notoriously accurate memory for which I am well-known by some family members and close friends. One of my grandfathers passed away before I had a chance to be around him much, but the other one, who passed just 9 months ago, had stories for the ages. And we had similar senses of humor. I benefited a great deal from them and their peers from that generation. Likewise, as a wise person should, I learned from the generation immediately preceding mine and listened more than I talked. I don’t know what I know today because I thought I knew more than they. I learned through listening, reading and paying attention. I was blessed to have that.

What happened to THIS?

The generation of today comes from so many trying situations. Broken homes due to drug addiction, HIV/AIDS, homicides, heinous crimes and divorces due to a multitude of causes. Again, no finger pointing, but this generation is up against unheard of challenges, mostly because the two generations before them (especially MY generation) has failed them miserably by providing little/poor to no example of what family consists of. We can critique them as “willfully ignorant”, “being stupid in the face of having the most information available to them of all times” and all the other criticisms that are out there, but when are we, those RESPONSIBLE for raising them, going to own up to the fact that we have failed them by presenting a poor example of what family is?

Just something to think about…


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