Millennial Life: The Frayed Ends of Family
I paced the outdoor pathway around my apartment complex. My husband was fixing something on our old car outside, and I wanted him in sight for emotional support. I placed my hand on my third-trimester belly, trying to calm my nerves as I dialed the number I had received from the private investigator. I would be speaking to my uncle for the first time.
Millennials are gaining infamy for cutting ties with family. There are various reasons: divergent politics, past traumas or misalignment of values. I haven't cut any of my own ties -- my mom lives next door, so it hardly gets tied closer -- but it's a topic whose devastating effects I've seen near me. But the first example of cutting ties with family wasn't from a millennial. It was from a baby boomer, my dad.
With my small nuclear family, just me and my parents, and our frequent moves through his career in the Air Force, it took a while to question why I didn't know more about my dad's side of the family. His father had passed away when I was a toddler, and over the years, I would receive sporadic packages from a grandmother who was first a groupie for Elvis and then a traveling fan of Billy Ray Cyrus. His tours, however, never seemed to align with where we were stationed.
Information to my questions came in random drops, usually from my mom, whenever I would get rebuffed by my dad. What I knew: he had a brother and two sisters. When I was a teenager, I caught him taking a hard look at me. He told me I looked like one of his sisters. End of conversation.
My uncle didn't know his younger brother had died when I called. The image I kept in my head of this uncle came from the stories that had rolled out of my dad when the morphine flowed. True joy had come from a summer in Nebraska with his brother. They smoked weed while lying on the hood of a strategically parked truck to indicate the right field for the crop duster.
He sounded like his brother. He used the same odd, archaic phrases I culled from my dad and scattered through my speech as subconscious and conscious tributes. The private investigator had given my uncle a heads-up that I would be calling, but shock and hesitation still colored the conversation.
"The fact your dad didn't tell you about us should have been enough," my uncle said and explained that even he might not be willing to continue a relationship. It brought up too much hurt and woke the past that he also had fought to put to rest.
The closure the call gave me lingered, even after I knew that would be the only time we spoke. My dad had made that choice for me, but even with his recalcitrant stance, there were signs of monsters under the bed. For example, my dad warned me about alcohol, about how his line might have an addictive personality, and how his father had been an alcoholic. He tried in his own way to break the cycle. Whatever unknown trauma he had did not extend to me.
The infamy of millennials may be warranted as they reflect on their childhood experiences and make choices for their future. Through boatloads of therapy, if they're lucky, or a ton of self-help books if they're not, millennials understand that reflection can be a path toward healing themselves and breaking the cycles of abuse considered normal, like parenting through guilt, fear or domination.
Plenty of videos and think pieces show parents of millennials feeling disrespected, and millennials continue their clarion call that it's just a redirection of respect. Millennials are learning to respect themselves, their boundaries and their mental health. Yet many millennials would extend a rope of connection for those willing to reflect on their actions, and, better yet, go to therapy. But, often, all we see is that dismay and hurt being sharpened into the shears of dismissal and rejection.
Cassie McClure is a writer, millennial, and unapologetic fan of the Oxford comma. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about Cassie McClure and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.Copyright 2023 Creators Syndicate Inc.