2014.07.09 Where does it come from?

During summer vacation, many immigrants head back to the countries from which they came; to visit family if they immigrated recently - to get to know the "old country" if their ancestors were the ones moving to Far-far-away.

Why do we want to know about our ancestors? So many people can't be amateur genealogists just to see if they are related to Queen Elizabeth or Barack Obama. Is it to better understand why we think the way we do?

As much as we share our cultural values with our fellow countrymen (or not), our picture of "what is normal" stems from the very unique stories that are in our families.

When we discussed moving to another country, my father encouraged us to "get out and try it." I don't think he planned that we would stay away for good. But would his attitude have been different, if he had not himself lived abroad for a number of years? Would he have ventured out so readily, if family members in the previous generation had not been travelers?

How much are we influenced by these intra-family norms?

A lot. What we think is interesting or boring; what careers we chose; when and if we marry and when and if we have children (although not having children seems generally to stop the pattern, at least among direct descendants.)

Role models in the family strongly dictate what is "normal" behavior - even if the behavior is sometimes not acceptable. And having family members living abroad says that going abroad is not weird behavior.

"The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children for three or four generations."

Couldn't this old wisdom be taken out of it's religious context to simply state, that our family norms and family lore will color what our children, grand children - and evidently even great-grandchildren - will think of as normal? If you married at 18, your children might start to panic if they have not found a partner when they are 25. But if you married at 30, they probably wouldn't. If you beat up your wife, husband, or children, your children will do likewise - unless they make a conscious effort to break the pattern. If you have a university degree, your children will feel that university is an expected path for them. If you travel to another country, so may your children.

I am very much in favor of conscious efforts. Fortunately, beating up family members has not been one of my bigger problems. Education has been a choice that I wish all could have - including time to meander. And if my kids should decide not to live on different a continent, I will be very relieved. But if they do, I hope that I will accept it as gracefully as my parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents before me.