Visiting my Thai Relatives

One of the biggest highlights of our vacation was spending time with Tawn’s relatives.  Some time ago, I wrote about the complicated relationship I have with Tawn’s father.  While he has acknowledged that I exist and we met on two occasions before I moved to Thailand, he doesn’t want to confront that aspect of who Tawn is.  This is, broadly speaking, a typical “Asian father” sort of mindset. 

Because of that, we have had no interaction in the nearly six years that I’ve lived here.  Tawn’s mother is very welcoming but around here, the man rules the roost, so I only rarely manage to see Tawn’s mother or any other relative.  This has left me feeling a sense of disconnection from Tawn’s side of the family, a stark contrast to the very close relationship Tawn has with my family.

P1140184
Tawn’s cousin and his family, me and Tawn, and my sister and her family.  When considered as a whole, I would call it “my family”.

One big exception to the gulf that keeps me away from my in-laws is Tawn’s aunt and uncle in Los Angeles.  Tawn’s aunt is his father’s older sister.  She and her husband moved to LA more than four decades ago and raised a family there, three boys who are around our ages, and now five grandchildren.  Since first visiting them almost a decade back, they have been very accepting, supporting us, welcoming us into their family, and advocating on our behalf.

Two of their three sons still live in Los Angeles.  I hadn’t seen them since that first visit but we stay in touch regularly through Facebook.  This vacation presented the perfect opportunity not only to see them and meet their children, but also to introduce their family to my family and bridge that disconnect I feel.

P1140171

We were able to meet with one cousin, Pete, and his wife and two girls Saturday afternoon at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.  (A mighty fine aquarium, I’ll add.)  The girls are roughly the same ages as my nieces (although Emily is a head taller than Jessie), so it provided them some new friends to meet and made it easier to break the ice.

Both Jessie and Sydney are very cute and outgoing.  After about a half-hour of walking through exhibits, Sydey tugged on my pants leg and asked if she could hold my hand.  Later on, Jessie stopped me and said, “Can I tell you something?  You’re really nice.”  I’m not sure what she expected, but am glad I made a good impression.

P1140163
Lots of interactive exhibits kept Sydney, Jessie, Ava, and Emily entertained and engaged.

After spending several hours together, we met up for dinner with the other cousin, Don, his wife and three children, and Tawn’s aunt and uncle.  Spread across a very large table – we ended up being 17 people! – I got to know Tawn’s cousins better, seemed to be the center of attention for their children, and for a few hours felt less disconnected to Tawn’s side of the family.

Unfortunately we didn’t take a picture as I’d love to show you that lovely group.  But picture or no, it was still a wonderful opportunity to get together and, for me, helped a bit to bridge the gap that I feel.  I know many married couples don’t have close relationships with their in-laws.  Ultimately, though, I’d like to have as close a relationship with Tawn’s family as he has with mine.

 

Innocence Lost

This is a story of innocence lost.  It is also a story of hope.

Five years ago, when I moved to Thailand, Tawn’s father established a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy with regards to me.  He acknowledges that I exist as a part of Tawn’s life, but he doesn’t want to know anything more about me and he doesn’t want me involved with his life.  I’ve made my peace with that.

The story of hope is that while Tawn’s father isn’t warm and cuddly towards me, plenty of other members of his family have been.  Over the eleven years we have been together, Tawn has introduced me to many of his relatives and I’m friends with what seems like half his cousins on Facebook.  Of all these relatives, one family in particular – an aunt and uncle in Los Angeles and their three sons – have been particularly welcoming, ever since Tawn first brought me to dinner with them some eight or nine years ago.

I keep up with those cousins, their wives, and children (who are about the same age as my eldest niece) as regularly as I do the cousins on my side of the family.  Especially with regards to the joys and challenges of parenting, I follow along, offer my support and encouragement, and laugh at the pearls of unvarnished truth that tumble out of their children’s mouths.

And that is where this is a story of innocence lost.  One of these “first cousins once removed” is eight-year-old Jessica.  She’s just a little too sharp for her own good and is ceasing to believe in the things that make childhood such a magical time.

On Sunday, Jessica lost a tooth.  As her father tells it, before she went to bed she started questioning the existence of the Tooth Fairy.  Last November when she lost a few teeth, she wrote a note to the Tooth Fairy asking for a photo of her.  Thankfully, her father explains, the Tooth Fairy produced the evidence in a future visit.

Tooth Fairy Receipt

When Jessica’s father went to look under her pillow Sunday night, he found this note asking the Tooth Fairy to sign her name in receipt of the tooth.

So while I get the joy of being a part of Tawn’s extended family, it seems that at least one of them is growing a bit cynical with age.  And it isn’t Tawn’s father I’m talking about.

Are you my first cousin once removed or my second cousin?

The family reunion’s first full day went very well.  We had about fifty people in town and started with a reception in the afternoon at the church, a chance for everyone to visit.  It is kind of funny that when I’m at these events with extended family, I’m sometimes confused with my brother-in-law, who also has a goatee.  If I’m standing near my sister and nieces, people will come up and say, “Hi, Kevin!” 

Usually, I just play along.  The next day, one of my great-uncles came back up and complimented me on being such a gentleman and not correcting him.  I guess someone else corrected him.

After the reception, we gathered in the church sanctuary for photos.  This is always a fun process.  Several family members also had their cameras so I was able to quickly capture images without having to take any on my own.  How convenient is that?

IMG_4306

My grandparents with all of my cousins, minus two who weren’t there.  I’m the oldest of the bunch.

IMG_4371

One side of the cousins – Bradley, Kelly, Kari, and Silvia.  Brad and Silvia live in New York City and we visited them there in March.

IMG_4354

The great-grandchildren, Tommy, Emily, and Ava.

IMG_4360

The entire extended family.  I won’t give you the names and relationships of everyone because you probably don’t want quite that much information.  But, to tell you the truth, I wasn’t always clear on those details.  This led to a conversation with some of my cousins, trying to understand the difference between first, second, and third cousins, and relatives “once removed”, “twice removed”, etc.

So we googled it.  And it turns out Wikipedia has a very useful article and a great graphic.

Cousin_tree_(with_genetic_kinship)

So you if you were confused, now you know the difference between them.  More later…