Family at a Distance

Last weekend my family had a reunion.

It was in upstate New York. I am in Kansas. I was unable to go.

The last family reunion I went to was almost 20 years ago. I have not seen my aunts and uncles in that time. I have numerous cousins that I have not seen in as long or longer, and many that are reaching adulthood that I have never met outside of fleeting interactions on Facebook.

I have an uncle and a cousin that live here in Kansas City. I haven’t even seen them in several years.

I suppose that in our modern day society, it isn’t that unusual. Families split up over large geographic distances, and their children and children’s children don’t get together that often. And as older generations that serve as the central focus for reunions die off, there is less incentive to get together. And when my grandmother died, this is what happened.

But here’s the problem. I practice Religio Romana. Filial piety is a religious obligation.

What obligation do I have to relative I haven’t seen in decades? Who don’t share my religious inclinations or responsibilities? Who haven’t sought me out either?

Do I have an obligation to contact them and establish deeper relationships? To visit them? Should I have made greater sacrifices to travel up to New York and see them? And there are several relative I have never met. How obligated am I to them? Should I stalk them down and impose a relationship with them?

And what of my son? Are my inactions denying him an opportunity to develop more meaningful relationships with his family? He regularly interacts with his mother’s side of the family, but not with mine. Do I not have an obligation to him as well to foster those connections?

And here’s the thing: I am of Italian and Irish heritage. These questions arose from cultural considerations, and not the religious ones. The religious obligations simply adds more imperative to the question.

Because I do think that I owe it to myself, my son, and my relatives to establish more meaningful family relationships. In general we’re a pretty well adjusted family and don’t have large amounts of dysfunction or drama to deal with. I think I have a responsibility to not allow that to go to waste, especially when so many suffer because they can’t foster healthy relationships with family.

And this isn’t a matter of support. If a cousin I had never met showed up at my door lost and in need, the shirt off my back is theirs. I’ve done the same for friends and certainly wouldn’t turn away family, even if they were dysfunctional and untrustworthy.

But I don’t really know these people, though I love them. And while I wouldn’t hesitate to fulfill family obligations with aid, I wonder how much of an obligation developing friendship is?

I welcome thoughts and comments on this issue.

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