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A Condition of Unconditional Love: Surviving a Family Reunion

todayJuly 13, 2015 8

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by Jimmy Preston
Blog Content Contributor

Unconditional love is a sticky widget. The concept is explained to us in childhood, normally during a squabble with a sibling or close relative. We are told by our parents that we have to love the person we are fighting with, because they are, “family.”

We do not choose our family, we are born into it. So it makes sense that we have been conditioned by our elders to just accept these people in our life, love them, and turn a blind eye to any faults they may have. We “love” them, and despite anything they do or say, we have to sweep it under the rug, because we love them, because they are family.

This weekend I will be attending a family reunion… and I’m terrified.

I’m terrified that I will not be able to navigate this event and come out the other side with my dignity, and self-respect intact. The onslaught of comments, with hidden meanings, or unintentional jabs will be merciless. I’m terrified that I will be reduced to a puddle of tears, and self-loathing after just a few hours spent at this joyous occasion.

The ladies in my family are not mean people, they mean well. But they have known me since I was in diapers. They have seen me grow from a boy to a man. They have celebrated my triumphs and helped me through my darker days. They remember me before a single hair grew on my cherub face, and they have an idyllic image in their mind of a clean shaven and short haired young man. But I am no longer that little angel, I’m a man, a man with a beard. And there is one thing that love can’t conquer unfortunately, and that thing, is my beard.

jimmy preston's beard
Photo courtesy Jimmy Preston

You may say, “Jimmy, it can’t be that bad.” Let me just recount the comments of the family members I have encountered in the last 12 hours since I’ve been in town. Please keep in mind I was asleep for eight of those hours.

  • My Aunt in the lobby of the hotel as I walked in: “Hey, I didn’t know the Duck Dynasty  guys were invited to our reunion.”
  • My Nephew: “Daddy said that I can’t grow a beard, because I have to get a job when I grow up.”
  • My Mom: “Do you need to borrow some money to get a trim or a style for all of that.”
  • A Cousin: “Oh hey it’s Grizzly Adams.”
  • My other Aunt: “If you shaved that beard maybe you could find a nice girl to settle down with.”
  • My Mom: “Do you want to go with dad to pick your sister up from the airport? Maybe you can stop by a barber shop on the way back.”
  • Another one of my cousins: “Did you read that article that was going around on Facebook about how all beards are filled with poop?”

The reunion hasn’t even started yet.

I’m not trying to fight for the rights of men around the world to grow and maintain their facial hair as they wish. I’m not a martyr, I’m just a college senior that feels that shaving is a burden, and I’d rather use the $30 I would spend on a haircut towards other things.

I guess what I’m saying is that we should be more mindful of the things we say to the ones we love.  I’m just trying to shed some light on how family can be unconsciously cruel to those that they love. Many of the folks that I will be reunioning with this weekend, I have known my entire life (39 years). They know me, and I know them. They love me, and I love them. We share blood, and of course, an unconditional love. So I guess what I’m saying is, if you wouldn’t say it to a stranger on the street, then maybe it shouldn’t be said, even with love, to a family member.

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