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Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Home Stretch 2005: Unification, Families, and Holiday Cheer?

I am in the midst of a whirlwind of shuttle diplomacy. The close timing of our engagement with family holidays means we have to solve the geopolitics of the extended relationships on rather short notice.

Here are the constraints:

  1. There are three sets of parents (A, B and C), and therefore three sets of planned family vacations. Due to overlap these had to undergo some rescheduling.

  2. There is a traditional ceremony with extended family (three sets, A, B and C) to celebrate an engagement.

  3. There are four anchor holidays: American Thanksgiving at the end of November, Christmas at the end of December, Julian Calendar New Year, and then Lunar Calendar New Year at the end of January.

  4. With a two month gap between the three holidays, one parties might be put out by having to wait an entire two months after the first party has already welcomed us.

  5. There should be a mixer for close family to acclimate individuals and expose issues.

  6. And Jenny and I should have some fun, too.

So we plug this into the hairy constraint calculator and out pops a plan:

Jenny & I
Family A
Family B
Family C

Vacation

France, Canada, Australia
Canada
SE Asia
New York

Holiday

Mexico Julian New Year
Los Angeles Thanksgiving
Asia Lunar New Year
New York Christmas

Ceremony

Los Angeles
Asia
New York

Mixer

Hawaii
Mexico
Hawaii
Mexico
Hawaii
Mexico
Hawaii
Mexico

The travel alone is daunting. Starting in home in Asia in early November we go to Aix en Provence by way of Italy and Monaco, then to Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Kona, home, New York, Singapore, Australia, Mexico, SE Asia, and back home at the end of January.

About a dozen locations in about ten weeks. As I write this I am in Hawaii.

But the travel is hardly the stressful part, given first class and private jets. No, the stress is from the family dynamics and expectations, and the desire for some level of unification and, dare we wish, holiday cheer?

Standing in the way are two major issues on my branch of the genetic tree. The first is that Jenny spent time as a hostess at a drinking establishment. Because she worked at a very high end establishment, she is known to highly-placed, rich and famous family scions (and no, not in the biblical sense!) Just imagine how others in my family never would be able to look the rich and famous straight in the eye! How terrible.

And that’s not even the biggest issue. No, the bigger one is, to quote a movie: “The doctor explained that her insides were a rocky place, where my seed could find no purchase.”

Yes, Jenny is barren. (And, yes, I have permission to write this.)

She always planned to adopt in an odd sense through her education startup. In fact her condition was a primary motivator for her to quit her professional career in favor for starting a school oriented toward underserved children. Moreover she focused on gifted children since as a child she had always hoped to have intelligent children in union with a smart and kind husband, and to give them access to all the resources they needed to reach their full potential (access that she felt she was denied by her less fortunate upbringing and culture.)

But my family is not interested in leveraged long-term positive impact on part-time adopted children, and, apparently about twenty eight generations of my ancestors are against it as well (I have to take their word for it; the ancestors have not deigned to speak to me directly.)

After all, what is the very purpose of marriage if not to genetically combine?

Indeed, the cultural imperative is so great that even Jenny has confessed that she feels that she wants me to have a child, to propagate my genes forward into the world, and that she is denying the world the joy of my genetic progeny. It’s a nice sentiment, I suppose. I think she’d draw the line on the implementation, though.

Side note: There is an appropriate scene from an old movie based on a Harlan Ellison novella called “A Boy and His Dog.”

A horny young man living in a post-apocalyptic female-scarce wasteland finds his way down to an ensconced antiseptic paradise where, to avoid inbreeding, they need his genetic material to mix in with their very healthy young women.

Although initially quite excited by the prospect of genetically mixing with the many nubile and arousingly-hygenic women of this arcology, he later discovers, after being strapped down to a table, that the path for his seed to their ova involves the intermediary byways of mechanized tubes, hoses, and pumps.

Infertility is not a unique issue to us. Now while a variety of biotechnological approaches come to mind, somewhat more likely to be available in Asia than in the United States, these are considerations for the future. We have gone through many thought experiments, scenarios, scenes, possibilities and permutations, but there is, in the end, nothing more than this: there are acceptable options.

Acceptable to us, that is.

As far as acceptable to my progenitors? Well, their Occam’s Razor would sever the bond that connects me to Jenny.

Ah, perhaps this is one of those issues I will understand better “when I grow up.”

Comparatively her side has few issues. Other than her father being a former chief of police. In a small town in the country, kind of an Asian hicksville. Who recently told me, “You better not make her cry. Ever.”

So such issues have been top of mind as we seek a path to unification, or redefine our goals accordingly.

My increased presence in Asia the last few years are an ironic background to this stage of our relationship. Asia is plagued by unification struggles new and old, whether between Taiwan and China, North and South Korea, the rich and poor provinces in mainland China, or many examples in Southeast Asia or the Sino-Indian area. Cultural divides can run deep, both in parallel and intersecting vectors.

Our own miniature version of these issues, a cultural divide between our approach and that of our families, between acceptable conventional marriage and a modern one, and even between the social and intellectual classes our parents represent... there is much potential for problems here. The matrices of alignment on issues — some where we have parents against us, parents against parents, and every other possible permutation including us against ourselves — is quite politically daunting. But an interesting challenge nonetheless.

And stated that way — as a challenge to us, a problem to be solved — that has been an enormous help to our mental ability to manage the emotional side effects of many of the issues.

So far, at least.

Will we have unified families? Probably not. Miracles can happen, but we’ll dial down our expectations to ‘realistic’ and try our best. Is it more likely (without creating a self-fulfilling prophesy) that we will achieve détente, a demilitarized zone, a buffer of allies, a peace-keeping organization, or a federation of policies? Unclear. But we have a strategy for feeling this out. The brutal itinerary we are on now is an example.

Again, the honesty component is crucial between us. It is easy to become defensive about ones parents and background; even if I am comfortable criticizing my parents or my background, it is different if my partner does. But during our “honeymoon period” is the best time to air out these issues, and to unify in implementing a clear and consistent policy for the new federated family. If we do not set precedents early, it is unlikely we can later on, at least not without creating even more angst and suffering.

I’ve quoted more movies than usual here. I’ll end with perhaps the most apt movie reference to the situation:

“I think you're all fucked in the head. We're ten hours from the fucking fun park and you want to bail out. Well I'll tell you something. This is no longer a vacation. It's a quest. It's a quest for fun. I'm gonna have fun and you're gonna have fun. We're all gonna have so much fucking fun we'll need plastic surgery to remove our goddamn smiles. You'll be whistling 'Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah' out of your assholes! I gotta be crazy! I'm on a pilgrimage to see a moose. Praise Marty Moose! Holy Shit!” Clark Griswold, from Vacation

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