WOJTKOWSKA: A more universal family

When I was 15, my parents got divorced. One night during that particularly turbulent time, I told my father that I still loved him. Despite the divorce, despite all the bad things in the world, I believed there was still this thing called love that could and would hold our crumbling family together. (I can only imagine just how naive I sounded giving lectures on love to a twice-divorced man.) My father gave me a look that was both bitter and patronizing, and spat back: “There is no such thing as love. There is sex, and loyalty, but there is no love.”

I recalled this exchange in a moment of psychoanalytic insight while sitting at the YPU debate on Tuesday night, straining to understand former senator Rick Santorum over the echo of Woolsey Hall and the hisses of my fellow Yalies.

In his speech to the Yale community, the senator talked a lot about family. That was to be expected. As several friends of mine pointed out afterwards, the motion he was defending — “Resolved: Government is destroying the family” — more than invited his commentary on what he termed the ”foundational building block of society.” According to Santorum, the family is comprised of a mother, a father and children. And they all apparently go to church.

I would define family differently, and not just because my parents are divorced, leading me, according to Santorum, to have “mental and physical problems” that children from two-parent families don’t have. I would define family differently, because to me, family is not something that people have or don’t have.

Family is a flexible term you use for the people who hold a particular kind of relationship to you, the people who fulfill a certain function in your life. You may not have parents, but you have people who inspire you, people who mentor you, people who love you at your worst as well as at your best. You may not have siblings, but you have friends whom you can call at any hour of the day or night with a problem, a concern, a question, a happy moment. Your blood relatives might be gone, toxic or simply uninterested, but wherever you are, you are part of a web of relationships that holds a community together. Those relationships — that community — I believe, can and should be called a family.

Santorum’s speech made me angry, and not just because his definition of family was both narrow and narrow-minded. Santorum made me angry because he defined family as something that either exists by his definition or doesn’t exist at all. He did not allow for all of the important relationships that help everyone navigate their lives. These are the fundamental building block of society. And they come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, colors, genders, ages, places and times.

In his speech, the senator talked a lot about “the facts.” I would ask him, rather, to consider realities — the realities of people falling in and out of love, the realities of pregnancies, abortions and births, the realities of diseases nobody plans for, the realities of immigration which rarely goes as planned, the realities of people living messy and complicated lives that, for the most part, they do not anticipate.

My parents did not get married thinking they would divorce, just as I later did not go to music school thinking I would end up in African studies. In many ways, we do not choose who we become, what happens to us or the resources available to us to take the courses of action we’d like to take.

To me, family means the people with whom, and for whom, I will go a very long way. The hard truth of life is that I can’t always be sure they will be there for me. But in this way, maybe, I am different from my father. I believe in a love beyond sex, loyalty and blood — a love that I can act out toward the people around me.

Is this a kind of love the government can support? I don’t know. But I know this is a kind of family the government can do little to destroy. This kind of love and these kinds of families are ultimately what pulls people up and gives them the strength to go on when life does not go according to plan.

Klara Wojtkowska is second-year master’s student in African studies .


  • The Anti-Yale

    Mr. Santorum needs a good dose of the teaching at that liberal indoctrination center called Yale Divinity School——one of whose faculty, Sister Margaret Farley, was castigated last Spring by name by Pope Benedict for her liberal thinking in her book, A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics.

    The best course I ever took at Yale was called ” Psychoanalysis, Parents, and God” taught by psychoanalyst and minister, Tom Brown. One of Prof. Brown’s assertions has haunted me all these 35 years since: “At any given moment all people are doing the best they can with what they have.”

    Mr. Santorum, on the contrary, believes that only those who abide by the ex cathedra pronouncements of the Pope on matters of private body parts (especially WOMEN’S private body parts) and their functions (especially those which bring ecstasy) are doing the best they can with what they have, and are therefore worthy of filling the definition of “family.”

    Some people need the approval of divines in order to feel valid. They need a sanctum sanctorum.

    I attended Yale Divinity School for four years in order to find out if divines have any more access to ultimate truth than I do.

    They don’t.

    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.


  • RexMottram08

    Ms. Wojtkowska writes nothing new. We have tried easy-divorce. We have tried to substitute government checks, programs, foster homes, and schools for family. We have engineered alternatives involving all sorts of M+M and F+F configurations. We have even tried private-market alternatives, like full-time daycare and nannies.

    They have left behind nothing but dysfunction.

    Mr. Santorum is right. I hope we relearn the value of the traditional family before it’s too late.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Try shaming those who love money more than their offspring

  • The Anti-Yale


    I don’t usually criticize YDN which does a superb job of reporting but I just published a post in The Anti-Yale asking this question:

    ” Is Yale Daily News Blind to Religious Story?”

    I have written a letter to the editor YDN about the Pope’s censure of a longtime Yale faculty member, Sister Maragaret Farley, for her book on Sex.

    It missed the last edition of YDN in the spring, but the letters’ editor asked my permission tpo publish it in September It hasn’t made it so far.

    I referred to the censuring of Sister Margaret again in my letter above in this post-thread today.

    Wassup YDN?

    Click link above.


  • The Anti-Yale

    Wassup YDN?

    (The following is taken from today’s post in The -Anti-Yale http://theantiyale.blogspot.com)

    I don’t usually criticize the Yale Daily News which does a superb job of reporting, but they seem to have a blind spot to this story about a longtime faculty member at Yale Divinity School, Sister Margaret Farley, censored and censured by the Vatican. I wrote the Daily News when the story first appeared last spring, but my letter missed their final edition and the Letters editor asked my permission to print it at the beginning of September when the News resumed publication.

    It hasn’t made it so far.

    I reminded them indirectly in a post about a Rick Santorum story in today’s Daily News, that when the Pope censures a Yale faculty member, THAT’S NEWS.

    Is YDN blind to religion as a “newsworthy” item?

    We’ll see.

    Paul D. Keane

    M. Div. ’80

    M.A., M.Ed.

  • The Anti-Yale
    • RexMottram08

      Farley’s ideas were worn out and exhausted decades ago. Liberal Christianity as an intellectual movement is deader than dead. You would do well to move on.

  • River_Tam

    As far as I can tell, the point of this piece is “Rick Santorum can’t ban my FRIENDS”.

    I think Ms. Wojtkowska is confusing ‘family’ used in the anthropological sense and ‘family’ used in the Godfather sense.