You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
I was wearing a red-and-white striped nightshirt, my hair still wild from sleep. My aunt Lynn, a teenager then, finished peeling an orange, ripped the translucent, veiny globe down the middle and handed me half for breakfast’s first course. After fruit, we each usually had a bowl of cereal in front of the beat-up television my grandfather had done his best to repair. Ivory masking tape kept the dial cover in place. A hanger assisting the antennae usually mitigated the snow threatening to cloud the picture. Suddenly, Lynn hit me on the leg with a soft slap as I finished chewing an orange wedge.
“Look at them!” Lynn pointed to the television as if she were identifying fugitives. Up until the slap, I hadn’t paid any attention to what was on.
I tuned toward the TV. I did think it was notable that black people were on this episode of "Family Feud." Was that what the big deal was? Well, as it turned out, kind of.
“They’re your family,” my aunt said.
I became puzzled. “You’re my family," I answered.
“On your mother’s side. They’re from your father. Look at their name."
Yes. There it was: on the board behind them: Bond. For the first time, I think, my name took on significance. Yes, it belonged to me, but I shared it with strangers, too. And not just strangers I didn't know, but strangers with whom I shared blood.
It goes without saying I grew up being gently teased by kids with silly James Bond quips. Even now when I have to present my identification at an airport, occasionally a TSA officer will ask me to say, “Bond. Victoria Bond,” after they have already said it themselves. I’ve also learned I share my name with a contemporary conductor and composer, and a porn star among others I’m sure.
I found out in my late teens that my parents had never been married despite the gold wedding band my mother wore. Twenty years older than my mother, my father had six children with three different women when I was born, besides still being married to one of them. Despite all this, my mother legally changed her surname in order to create the charade that she was legally wedded to my father; her effort ended up mattering little.
Around my second birthday, my father went to prison for charges connected to his drug dealing. With little to show for herself after my father's wealth evaporated, my mother left California and moved home to New Jersey where I grew up in the loving home of my grandparents.
Now though, I imagine my own kid four or five years into the future innocently watching television one morning only to be informed that they have an entire family that they have no idea about. And frankly, I am stumped for a meaningful, honest response that a kid at that age could fully wrap their mind around. In my own case, I don’t recall anyone going beyond my aunt’s real-time explanation with me, which never struck me as neglectful, by the way, until my current pregnancy with my first child gave me occasion to think about this incident from the perspective of a parent.
Everyone has strange or funny experiences during childhood. In the best of all worlds, these memorable moments occur on a family vacation, a school trip, by way of a curable illness, breaking an arm in a neighbor's yard or performing well or horribly in a sports match, or spelling bee. But how many weird moments of self-discovery, or alienation, will I set into motion for my child that have more to do with how my life unfolded and not a thing to do with theirs? Until, that is, something like an old photograph, or an email, or a text, makes visible a layer of experience that they were formerly unaware of, but that does sincerely impact them.
I have no idea if the collection of my half-brothers and sisters won against the other family, or if I even watched the entire episode. However, I do remember meeting my father for the first time when I was 12, and the people I saw on "Family Feud" shortly after that, eight years following initially seeing them on TV. The thing that impresses me now about this strange family introduction is that my half-siblings all knew each other and represented as a family on national television.
My own idea of family happens to be extremely small. Some people consider their friends family and I understand why, but internally, I have never fully shared this feeling. Now that I have a family extension pending, I understand better why. "The Family Feud" episode set off a feeling of exclusion in me I am certain I was unable to process as a child. In part, my adult response has been to close my personal circles very tight.
But as s this baby begins to stretch my body, I have to wonder what else in my life this little stowaway will also expand.