We are family - Part 2

There’s a bit of advice I’ve always taken throughout my life, passed on to me by my mother. Whenever my siblings and I would fight as children, she would pull us aside and remind us:

“One day, someone out there might hate you for absolutely no reason at all. You won’t be able to do anything about it and you won’t be able to change it, so you best make sure you treat your family right because they’ll be there, no matter what.”

I’d brush her words off, apologise half-heartedly to my younger brother and quickly move on.

You can’t pick your family, right?

Here’s the thing, I picked my life-partner; his family just didn’t pick me.

Olly was my first serious boyfriend and I was his first serious girlfriend. We worked together like lemon juice on watermelon; sure, we didn’t look like we worked, but we were an unexpected ka-pow of sweet and sour that made it seem like we had been made to be together (He’s the sour one, by the way).

When I met him and our relationship began, he was going through a few major life shifts. He’d just finished his Masters degree, but instead of becoming a scientist, he was determined to join the Police. He was also becoming an adult in his own right and wanted to leave home and go flatting. His parents disapproved of both of these decisions.

Then I came along.

Very early in to our relationship, while he was at Police College, we did the long-distance-relationship thing. I fell in love with him over the phone and - because we had no choice but to talk for hours on end - I got to know the true Olly. I would put my phone on charge and lie on my side with it resting on my ear because I was too tired to hold it; countless time we fell asleep still on the line to each other.

This was before social media had made it easy to keep in touch so a phone call was really all I had. Every night, around 8pm, I’d wait.

One night he called me and told me about what was happening with his parents. They had told him he had a choice. He could stop seeing me (even though technically we weren’t “seeing”, we were “talking on the phone”) and move back home, or he could continue seeing me and they would remove all contact and financial support.

He wanted to keep trying in our relationship, but I couldn’t go through with it.

My mother’s words kept coming back to me: “Make sure you treat your family right because they’ll be there, no matter what.”

So that was it. We broke up for three months while he was still away. When he returned, we tried the “friends” thing. Life started to get back to normal for me.

For him, life had been turned upside down. He’d started a new, full-on career and had moved out of home despite his parents disapproval. He’d salvaged a little of the relationship with his family, but what was done was done and things weren’t going to be the same.

Day by day, we started to text each other again, then the phone calls started back up. He promised to take me to Snowplanet one day and teach me to snowboard (what a sight!). Afterwards we walked up Mt Eden and kissed on a park bench. Hmmm… That’s not what friends do.

We’d originally had no intentions of getting back together but because we’d let other people call the shots in our relationship our feelings for each other had never really ended.

When he finally told his family he was seeing me again, the tiny threads that had been keeping things together finally snapped.

I get it - they felt they were losing him. They tried to pull him back with threats like he would suddenly change his mind to put an end to all the drama. It just pushed him away further. He was never coming home.

We decided I would stay out of the picture to give the relationship a chance to heal on its own. To be completely honest I was terrified of his family. I’d only met his mum on one or two occasions and she’d told me I would never be welcome in their family. I knew they were ferociously determined to hold on to Olly and they saw me as the person stopping them, so I stayed away.

After every family dinner he’d come visit me and every time, he was crushed. My dream man, told he wasn’t good enough, told he wasn’t welcome. I saw his heart breaking every single time he saw them. I couldn’t stand it.

The family that was meant to be beside him, no matter what, was no longer beside him. But I was, and I knew he was beside me too. We became an unbreakable force to be reckoned with.

Time has healed a lot of things but there has been no resolution with Olly’s family. It’s weird knowing there’s a small group of people who genuinely think I shouldn’t be with the man I love, even though they don’t know me. It's frustrating that they never gave me the opportunity to change that.

His attempts to patch things up lessened and lessened as the years went on. By year two he decided he would stop trying to see them, because every time he did things would get worse.

We’ve sent cards and made several phone calls where no one picked up. They’ve missed his 30th birthday, his Police award ceremonies, our engagement and our wedding. When Olly called them last February to let them know I was pregnant, his dad pretended he had called the wrong number.

Now they’re missing out on our beautiful little boy.

That’s the hardest thing about broken relationships, right? Neither side can force reconciliation, but both miss out on so, so much.

You might have a few questions that I probably haven’t answered here.

“Why haven’t you forced a meeting?” “Have you had someone else intervene on your behalf?” “Do they really know about your son?” “How could a mother not want to know her grandson?” “Do you see them around Auckland?” “Are they super traditional?” “Why haven’t his siblings said anything?”

“Is it just because you’re white?”

I could go through, answer and write probably another few thousand words on the topic, but it wouldn’t change anything, would it? It’s not really about the “he said”, “she said”, “what if”, “how come”. It’s been seven years, it really is in the past now.

We're more concerned with the “what next?”

We’re determined, Olly and I, to give our boy enough love for both family’s combined.

We’re determined to always talk about where and who he comes from, no matter what kind of curly questions it might bring up.

We’re determined to move forward with forgiveness, even if it hurts.

We’re determined to teach our son about the importance of family, loyalty and most importantly, unconditional love.

That’s the thing about family, right? You can’t pick it. But you sure as hell can choose how you want to live with it.

Epilogue

Perhaps someone from his family will stumble upon this blog. If they do, I wonder what they will make of it. I wonder what it’s like to be on their side, what it feels like, whether the feelings are similar. I wonder whether they want reconciliation but don’t know how to go about it (or feel too proud to start).

Let’s say Olly’s mum is reading this.

If so, I’d want her to know this: You have raised an amazing son. He is fiercely loyal, headstrong and protective. He is courageous. He is honest. He treats all people with respect. He is loving. He is a damn good dad and husband. He takes the baby at 2am when I am no longer coping. He stands by my side, he encourages me. He still cooks dumplings just the way you taught him.

I might never belong to your family, or understand the Taiwanese way, but I do understand why he meant so much to you. I understand how much you put in to his life and I know how much it must hurt to lose your son, especially to lose one like him.

You have done an amazing job raising him. I still hope that one day you will help raise our son too.

Rachel Chen