Intro to Nonfiction and Journalism
Blood Is Thicker Than Water
Proverb: relationships and loyalties within a family are the strongest and most important ones.
When I was three, my father left and never came back. Once a week, I would wait for him to pick me up at my grandmother’s house. I knew he was coming, not by the day, but by the car seat that my mom rested by my grandmother’s door when she dropped me off. Over the past seventeen years, the details of that car seat, along with the memory of my father, have faded gradually and then all at once. Like when a child loses a balloon and locks onto it with their sight before it becomes a speck that vanishes into the atmosphere. Scientists say that each time a person remembers something, they’re really remembering the last time they remembered it. And with each remembrance of a memory, the details gradually dissolve. Maybe that’s why some days I’ll swear the car seat was gray and others I’m certain it was black.
But what I do remember, and what will never fade, is the feeling. It was the first time that I ever remember feeling true disappointment. Not just the childhood disappointment of losing a favorite Barbie, but the kind that ages you more than the passage of time and begins to chip away at the naivety that the world is a perfect place.
The phrase blood is thicker than water first appeared in John Ray’s work “Proverbs” in 1670. “Kin-blood is not spoilt by water” (Ray). However, the creation of the phrase was accredited to Sir Walters Scott after it appeared in his novel Guy Mannering in 1815.
I don’t know how old I was the first time I heard it. I don’t remember who said it, whether it was uttered in conversation or heard on television, but I remember how it intrigued me. The talk of blood was usually something deemed too inappropriate for children, something we were normally sheltered from. I remember the day I asked my mom what it meant, and how a feeling of inadequacy began to fester inside me. Maybe it was the way that she explained it as fact, something that was so true it was almost taken for granted. Of course blood was thicker than water.
Only mine wasn’t.
I felt inherently different, and inherently lesser, because my own blood rejected me. I became obsessed with the need for blood relationships. In third grade, before I knew how DNA worked, I convinced my friends that I had a blood transfusion, and my stepfather donated so much blood to me that he became my biological father.
Like most things, the original meaning of this proverb was lost in translation when carried over to the western world. The phrase believed to be invented by Sir Walters Scott was actually an adaptation of an earlier proverb dating back to biblical times. “The blood of the covenant is thicker than water of the womb.” Meaning that bonds made in covenants or contracts are more sacred than familial bonds.
When I was five, my stepdad adopted me. I never understood why he kept the adoption a secret, locked the documents in a file cabinet in the back of his closet. Or why he always shushed the people who commended him on stepping up to be a dad. Or why he kept it a secret from my younger siblings for so long. At first, I resented him for it. I thought he was embarrassed, ashamed of the non-existent blood relationship between us. But maybe he was longing for the same thing I was, for people to not belittle our bond to just stepfather and stepdaughter.
I may not have a biological father, but I do have a dad. He taught me to stick out my tongue in every picture, a habit that ruined my first grade photos. He woke me up at six in the morning to do math problems when I was failing because he believed in my potential. He calmed me down before prom when I didn’t feel beautiful. And when we got into a fight and I threatened to move out, he told me he’d always let me come back home. I don’t know if blood is thicker than water, but I know that the bond between my dad and me is thicker than any substance.
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Scott, Sir Walter. Guy Mannering, or the Astrologer. Vol. IV. Harvard Classics Shelf of Fiction. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1917; Bartleby.com, 2000. www.bartleby.com/304/. [Date of Printout].
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