Growing up I was in a bit of a no man’s land. I was my dad’s 3rd child, my two sisters being almost 20 years older than me. With my mom I am her only child. My first cousins on my dad’s side were all old enough to be my parents. With my mother being the eldest of 11 children it meant that for much of my childhood the closest cousin to my age on her side was nearly a decade younger than me. I was alone.
A cousin on my father’s side in looking back on my childhood recently asked me “Who lied to you so badly that you withdrew so much?”. Good question. I was made to feel ashamed of my Chinese heritage. I have since learned better. I was made to feel bad about my weight. I have since learned better. My teeth apparently were too big. I have since learned better. Add to all of that being naturally introverted and painfully shy as a child and it really isn’t a surprise that I separated myself from my family by the time I was 12. I had nothing to do with them really and that suited me just fine. I made my duty-bound appearances at Christmas and stared at the clock longing for time to fly by or at least pick up it’s painfully methodical pace. As the bumper crop of younger cousins grew and grew up together, whether real or perceived, self-imposed or otherwise, I felt an even greater divide between me and my family. They had what I never did — a connection with their own. In fact I was convinced, and without a trace of bitterness I might add, that once my parents died my ties with either side of my family would be permanently severed. My time served.
On the contrary it has only been in the last few months, since my father’s death, that I have gradually made more of an effort to reach out to my family and to respond to their efforts to reach out to me with something other than my normal cordial but clear rebuff. If personalities are like tennis playing styles, I am by nature a steadfast clay court baseliner. I camp out several feet behind the baseline and doggedly rely on defense to keep others at bay. Should they approach I would hit a pass, a lob, or if feeling particularly threatened, aim directly at the oncoming person with a blast that would make Ivan Lendl smile with genuineness.
But something changed with my father’s death. On the one hand, no matter my initial misgivings regarding my family I had to respect the fact that they all were very lovingly genuine in their grief for my father, their support for my mother, and for me. On the other I now felt that as the “Man in The Family” it was my duty to do my father proud and make more of an effort to embrace the ones that he too had embraced.
So the introvert is working on being more forthcoming. The baseliner is learning how to approach the net or at least not be so far back from the baseline. It’s all a little new but as with most baseliners I’m finding that my groundstrokes actually make good approaches and I’m feeling more and more comfortable coming forward.