I had a professor when I was an undergrad–I no longer remember his name or what he taught, just that he had a beard–who released us from our final class before Thanksgiving break with firm instructions to ignore the advertising we would be seeing on TV. We would be shown, he told us, an illusion of what families should look like. Screw it. We should go home and love ours, no matter what they looked like from the outside.

I think of him every year as we hit the U.S. holiday season. Advertising hasn’t vanished in the last twenty years. It sells just as many lies as it did then. It insists in just as many ways that our lives don’t measure up.

This is what I believe. The one thing, the only thing, that makes a family real or not is the love at its core. Families are the same as people. They come in all sizes and shapes, they believe many different things, they pass through periods of functioning well or less well, they compensate for injuries and adapt to permanent change. They may never even come close to looking like the confections designed to make us believe we are lacking. It makes no difference.

If you have a place of love and caring in your life, whether it comes from blood relations, or those you’ve collected close over time, you have family.

Love them.

With love, from me.