Family Relationships from a Distance

Family Relationships from a Distance

 By Molly Quell 

“I don’t know how to do this,” I finally admitted to myself. I was trying to remove small bits of rusted metal from the brick facade of my house. A previous owner had installed some type of net which involved 28 small hooks (I counted). Those hooks had now rusted and were damaging the brick and, according to the building inspector, needed to be removed.

I know who would know how to do it. My father. Too bad he lives nearly 4,000 miles away.  

I moved out of the house at the age of 18 and only returned for a brief stay, nearly ten years later, while I was waiting for a visa to be processed. I’ve certainly lived in places closer to my parents then I do now. They have been involved in helping me move from one awful college apartment to another. My father was the one who helped me treat the cockroach infestation in my first apartment.  

But, during my adulthood, most of their aid has come from a distance. I’ve called home, asking for advice with job hunts, graduate school applications, relationships, cooking, plant care and an uncountable number of other things. They’ve sent money, first in the form of checks and now the occasional sum turns up in my bank account with no warning. They mail physical presents. My stepmother has kept me supplied in socks for nearly my entire adulthood. They keep my pantry stocked with American staples I can’t find in the Netherlands. We text and video chat and send cards.  

The distance normally isn’t something that bothers me. I am of the generation that grew up online. I have friends whom I have never met in person. I’ve dated people who I met online. I now work at a job entirely remotely. It sometimes takes me years to meet new colleagues face to face, if we meet at all. As such, I was undisturbed by the adult relationship I have with my family existing through a series of tubes.  

Until I bought a house.  

If you had told me three years ago that I would have been settled in the Netherlands with a serious partner and owning a house, I would have laughed. My parents probably would have too. The serious partner wasn’t a surprise, I had been married before. Or the Netherlands, I was already living there. But homeownership was. Even to me.

But like many thirty-somethings, I now own a home. And that home needed a lot of work to make it habitable. Fortunately, both my partner and I are fairly handy. I learned much from my dad growing up. My partner spent eight years living in a historic building, above his student fraternity, which meant a lot of repair work on a shoestring budget. For what we couldn’t handle ourselves, we had a terrific contractor.  

Even with this solid footing, there were still many, many moments of frustration, tears and anger when we hit snags, partially because our house was nearly 100 years old which means 100 years of surprises. But also because sometimes we just didn’t know what we were doing.

My brother also owns a house. As does my sister. On weekends, I would call to update my family about the construction and find my parents were visiting for the weekend and helping with cleaning out the gutters. Or helping my sister set up her classroom for the school year. When my sister and her family were recently evacuated due to a hurricane, my father joined my brother-in-law in securing the house. When my brother mentioned wanted some planter boxes, my father built them and delivered them to his house.  

Planter boxes, it turns out, don’t fly well. So while they got hands-on assistance, I got a lot of thumbs up emojis.

I don’t intend for this to sound like sour grapes. I made the decision to live where I do and, while I love my family, I can’t think of anything that would make me want to live where they do. Suburban America isn’t a place I can thrive in. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be jealous of the relationship my siblings have with my parents. Or that I can’t be sad that I don’t get to experience renovating a house with my dad. And, of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t be envious of that sweet, sweet free labor and deliciously prepared food my parents offer.

I did, in the end, get the metal out of the wall. Our contractor took pity on me and gave me some tips. After first mocking my struggle.

And honestly, that’s what my dad would have done too.

[Delft image courtesy of Holland Media Bank; house image courtesy of Molly Quell]

Molly Quell is a thirty-something American, currently living in the Netherlands. She has previously written for Undark, Think Progress and The Outline. If she’s not working, you can probably find her drinking a craft beer. Possibly somewhere far away from home. You can follow her on Twitter at @mollyquell.  




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