I had this great piece I was writing for the past few weeks that started over an email I had received from a disgruntled member of the swim team for which I’m the director. The reason I spent so much time “working” on it was that I was never really sure that it was something that needed to lie anywhere outside of my laptop. A wedding my wife and I went to this past weekend solidified my instinct to not publish this scathing retrospective on how I reacted to the email (scathing towards both the person who sent me the email, and towards myself).

If you’ve been reading my posts for a while you will not be surprised that my attendance at a wedding made me become quite introspective. This wedding, however, was different: different in a good way. The wedding was of one of my wife’s colleagues, and considering the wedding was an intimate affair of principally family, both my wife and I were very touched to have been invited.

Further underscoring the affair was the recent passing of the groom’s father, and the bride’s mother: the former from suicide; the latter from cancer.

The event was not one of the typical, overblown affairs of an immature twenty-something couple. The bride and groom are not youngsters, and their recent losses have further wizened them beyond their years. They are not, however, bitter or closed off. This couple, who I only had the pleasure of meeting recently, are wonderful, warm, open people.

The ceremony was short, meaningful, and fun, punctuated by a vocalist from the San Francisco opera singing an impassioned version of Besame Mucho. It was so impassioned that it almost verged on campy, but the vocalist was enjoying himself so much, it was hard to not become swept up in his joy.

But what really set this wedding apart was the overwhelming feeling of the importance of friends and family, with a particular emphasis on family: the family that had been, and that which was newly forming. The food was served in an open setting: no assigned seats, servers passing around tapas-style dishes, not even enough seats for everyone to sit. The room was not too large, but large enough to not feel cramped. It was just large enough to feel…intimate.

And of course there was a video. But it wasn’t the self-indulgent, oh-weren’t-they-so-adorable-when-they-were-kids kind of video; it was a video of their late parents. And it was done very well. Not too much. Not sappy. It was reverent. Caring. It was the ultimate touchstone for the wedding: the great reminder that marriage is the formation of a new branch of family.

Family is our locus. Family – that which is defined by blood-lines and marriage contracts – is, ultimately, very important, and it’s only now that I’ve started to comprehend how important it is.

Four years into living in a totally new region of the country, thousands, not hundreds of miles from our extended family, our nuclear family has taken full advantage of what we have learned about over the past few decades: that “family” can be more than blood-lines and direct relations.

Many different societal factors lead to people moving away from the classic, 1950s definition of family, recognizing how it takes a village to raise a child, and all that. For our family, we have an intimate group of wonderful friends who have become our surrogate family here on the West Coast: people we trust with our own kids, and who allow my wife and I the luxury of getting away for a weekend wedding without our kids in tow.

Attending a wedding like this one, however, presented me with that stark reminder that my parents are not here, are not close by, are not involved on a daily basis with the development of my kids: their grandchildren. It was a stark reminder that unless something radically changes with our nuclear and extended family, that the word “surrogate” carries a heavy significance that I’d rather it didn’t.

Using the word surrogate for these dear friends who have become our extended family here on the West Coast does not diminish the significance of the relationships, or dilute their intimacy. Recognizing, however, that these people are surrogates is important for me; it allows me to recognize and embrace that I really miss my family. My sister. My mother. My father. My nephews and niece. My aunts and uncles. My cousins. My in-laws. All of those relationships who are family and are mine.

I miss them. I miss the birthdays. I miss the ease of gathering for holidays, and vacations. I miss the 4th of July, and Veterans Day, and those lazy, easy afternoons of gathering at my aunt’s and uncle’s house where an afternoon walk meant a quiet meandering through the neighboring apple orchard.

And of course through this moment of discovery I wish I had figured all of this out long before we had moved 3000 miles away.


RJ Lavallee is the author of IMHO (In My Humble Opinion): a guide to the benefits and dangers of today’s communication tools on sale at, Barnes and Noble, and