The American Family Diaspora

On a radio call-in show recently, I heard from a man whose parents had immigrated before he was born. In his big family, everybody is always in touch-the grandparents, the siblings, the aunts, the uncles, the cousins and the grandkids. They look out for one another. Always. If the caller is in a city where one of his cousins lives and he doesn’t have time to visit, he’ll still phone to say hello. The distance between many American family members puzzled him. He wondered what was wrong with American families.

There’s nothing wrong with American families. But there are at least two distinctive family styles. In the “regular” American family, relatives live all over the country; they love each other but don’t yearn for each other’s company. They meet on family occasions, and keep in touch, but they aren’t comfortable with the intensity that intimacy brings. They believe they couldn’t survive in the same town as their family.

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