Una Familia by Fernando Botero
One fateful Christmas, I wrapped up this masterpiece in Christmas paper and put it under the tree for my husband. It wasn't clear to me why I gave him this picture, but his disdain was plenty clear when he opened it. He looked stricken. As if the red snake in the background had leapt from the canvas and bitten him on his aquiline, no-hump nose.
"It's titled, The Family!" I cried. "Don't you LOVE IT?"
"But they're FAT!" he said. "And they're ugly, too!"
When we divorced a couple years later, this painting was one item he didn't include on the list of stuff he wanted. There was absolutely NO FIGHTING over Fernando Botero's portrait of The Family. ('Lest anyone assume my spouse had been gifted with an original Botero, you can shatter your fantasies right now. It's a print and no, it isn't even signed. Well, other than JCPenny's signature on the back plate.)
This painting now hangs in my family room, reminding me that family is often the center of life's dramas. For many 'seekers' at midlife, we spend the second half of life working through the damage done the first half. Some of that damage was other people's fault because we were vulnerable children and could not protect ourselves. Some of the damage we did to ourselves by viewing life through childish perceptions. Questioning immature perceptions and beliefs is the maturing work of a lifetime encouraging us to know the self and accept human nature as fallible and therefore: lovable.
Maybe this painting tells me that human beings can’t love a perfect anything anyway. All we can do is admire it. Or possess it. Love requires vulnerability and that in itself is an imperfection.
Because the healing process invites us to examine our childhoods for clues about where our perceptions might have been skewed, I’d venture a guess that most folks'll have plenty to do during retirement…if they're so inclined. Midlifers and retirees will never be bored if we accept self-awareness as an adult responsibility, and then trust that our self-examination will be accompanied by sufficient rewards compensating for the pain of breaking through fears, uncertainty and illusions.
So thank you, Botero. I'm sure the family sitting for this portrait, is pleased with themselves. 'Cuz nobody without healthy self-worth would be confident enough to hang a picture like that over their fireplace. Maybe in their kitchen as a reminder to stop eating the cheesecake; but definitely not in the 'gathering room' for guests.
Accepting ourselves for who we are and allowing other people to be who they are, demands conscious restraint from the impulse to pick up a paintbrush and beautify imperfections so we can see what we want (re: NEED) to see.
I was ruminating about this portrait while cleaning my family room today and realized that for me, it signified honesty and humor about the imperious seriousness of The Family as an IDEAL. An ideal to work towards, but a state of being no family achieves. When we’re reviewing our familial relationships, it's all-too-easy to unconsciously leap from one extreme to the other and assume there are faultlessly-functional-families setting the standard and gosh, did ours ever fall short.
If we cannot accept the truth about our family-of-origin or accept the dysfunction in our family-of-creation, we’re subject to airbrushing contradictions by pretending a Perfect Image is less painful than reality. When we do that, when we refuse to see people for who they are, we not only hold them hostage, we hold ourselves hostage to a false idol of our own creation.
I guess the point of my commentary is to remind others and myself that a flawless family is the figment of a wounded, perhaps frightened imagination. To see family as the human organization it is, breaths life into dead images constructed as defenses against the pain of an unexamined and unhealed past.