I recently came across a fraught and troubling term: the “original family”. Apparently it’s a term of art among therapists to distinguish family generations: for example, my dad, mom, brothers and I from, say, my sons, their present and future wives and my grandchildren. What’s implicit, though, is differentiation and exclusion, an assumption that the “original family” – mom, dad and siblings – stands separate and apart from an adult child’s immediate family, as if conflict and choices about priorities were settled in favor of immediate family. The catch, as always, is how to think about the priorities and when one – say a parent’s illness – demands time and even more potently, responsibilities. It is a category error that may make it easier for therapists to classify issues and to disregard the real, deep and emotional relationships between generations. It obscures the personal baggage we all carry and, frankly, excuses neglect towards elderly and extended family and relieves an adult child of responsibility and guilt in the face of negligence. The stresses of modern life, the constraints on private and immediate family time are real and ubiquitous. We may live in a time of loose definitions and easy categories, but “original family” is one we should be rid of. Family, original and immediate, is family, with all the collective varieties of personalities and their human limits implicit and with the unqualified love that binds generations together.
About Visions Before Midnight
"Dreams out of the ivory gate, and visions before midnight"
My purpose is to post my own thoughts and others' articles, quotations and miscellany that resonate.
The title's been used: by Clive James in an early, badly received novel and by J.B. Priestly in a long forgotten one. James was grabbed by the comma separating the phrases. I was grabbed by the music of the words.
The line is by Thomas Browne, 1605-1682, a minor English poet who came in our time to be valued for the compression and clarity of his language and who is the subject of a fine essay by Clive James in his quite wonderful (and much underlined and dog-eared by me) book of biographical essays, "Cultural Amnesia".
It's sandwiched between an essay on Robert Braisillach, who perverted language in the service of violence and murder while keeping his hands clean, and a different sort of essay on Albert Camus, for whom language was the hand-maiden of conscience.