In search of a definition of family, I turned to Merriam-Webster online, which told me that family is “a group of people who are related to each other.” That decidedly vague definition prompted me to look up the definition of “related.”
Again, I turned to Merriam-Webster, which offered three definitions of “related,” one of which was “connected in some way.”
I smiled, because for me, “connected in some way” perfectly defines “family” as I have come to understand and appreciate it.
It wasn’t always so.
In a high school English class, we were reading aloud some play in which family played a significant role. A classmate asked how distant cousins had to be before they could marry. I quipped that if they came to your grandmother’s house at Christmas, you couldn’t marry them. The quip got a good laugh, but it also came close to explaining how I understood family.
To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about family in the many intervening years. I would take a bullet for anyone named Bolejack, but truth be told, I’m closer to my closest friends than I am to close family.
But when my daughter told me about a recent classroom discussion, I started thinking about what defines family.
Whatever the class was, my daughter’s classmates were adamant that people couldn’t be family unless they were related by blood. My daughter begged to differ. She rose from her seat to say she was very much part of a family even though she was adopted and therefore unrelated by blood to her adoptive parents.
It had never occurred to me that someone might think my daughter and I were not family; of course we are, because we are connected.
I get that some people are wary, even fearful, of redefining family. A man and a woman get married and have one or two kids; everyone agrees that’s a family. A man and a woman get married and adopt a child? Of course they’re family; my daughter’s chagrined classmates didn’t really mean to suggest otherwise.
But what about two women who marry and then one has a baby with sperm from a college friend who plans to be a father figure to the child? That definition of “family” is a lot for some people to wrap their brains around. But not so much for me, because they are all connected in some way.
If that doesn’t meet your definition of family, I get it. But as the father of a daughter who shares none of my DNA, I can tell you that for the Johnston County Bolejacks, family is more about connection than blood.