When my friend’s close-knit Italian family was surprised with the news that they had an estranged adult cousin, they didn’t react as one might have expected them to. This story is an interesting glimpse of how people think about their families.
A friend of mine recently told me an interesting story about his extended family. To understand all the aspects of this story, it’s important to know that my friend’s family is very family-oriented in general. They come from a line of Italian immigrants, and they still take great pride in their Italian heritage and in their close family ties. Every family is different, but this particular family is remarkably tight-knit. My friend has family members who are so distantly related that he isn’t quite sure what to call them, but they are no less members of the family, and all relatives are welcome at large family gatherings.
A New Family Member
My friend recently had an occasion to consider the closeness of his family in more depth when an unexpected family member arrived on the scene. This isn’t about a surprise pregnancy or a shotgun wedding, but rather the arrival of a cousin no one knew existed. One of my friend’s uncles, the oldest son in a family of 4, had a wild and crazy youth, and liked to enjoy the company of women when he was away on business trips early in his career. Of course, no one knew about this uncle’s wild way until about 40 years later, which is when this story occurs.
One day, my friend’s family got a call from a strange woman none of them knew, but who claimed to be the daughter of this oldest son. At first, no one could believe it, since they knew that my friend’s uncle (let’s call him Joe) had been married to his first wife at the time this strange woman (we’ll call her Linda) had been born. The whole family thought Joe would never have been unfaithful to his first wife, so they thought Linda must have made a mistake in her paternity research. When they asked Joe about it, he denied the possibility that he could have a daughter he didn’t know about. Still, Linda insisted on meeting the family, so she traveled a thousand miles to visit.
The family didn’t know what to think about Linda coming to visit, but they all agreed there would be no harm in it, and they assumed it would all blow over soon. There was one small problem with their skeptical attitude, though. Even though it was my friend’s great grandparents who moved to the United States from Italy years and years ago, this family still has some unmistakable physical characteristics. My friend’s father used to say that you can tell a member of this family from a mile away, and he wasn’t far off in that remark. When Linda finally arrived to meet the family, there was no longer any denying that she was one of them. She wasn’t exactly the spitting image of Joe, but she had those strong Italian facial features that have persisted in the family through the generations.
A Surprising Reaction
The family’s reaction to meeting Linda is what makes this story really interesting. Considering that all the family members are so close, even with distant cousins, you might guess that they would welcome Linda as a member of their clan with open arms. In fact, exactly the opposite occurred. They all agreed, although maybe they never said so in these exact words, that it would have been better if Linda had never shown up. They did not like her, and they did not want to welcome her into their family.
To this day, my friend’s family has a strained relationship with their new cousin. Linda wants to be a part of the family, to be invited to weddings and birthdays, and to feel like a part of their long Italian family traditions. Sometimes the family invites her to gatherings, but more often they conveniently leave her name off the guest list. She shocked them with a revelation about Joe’s character and invaded their family, as they see it. This makes for an interesting lesson about family ties.