Remember how we were this close to getting married without any of our family there? And what a calm joy that might have been. Not that we don’t love our families to the edge and back, but holy Hannah Montana, our collective family drama is what Shonda Rhimes is basing her new prime time drama on; How to Get Away With Murdering Your Entire Bloodline. But as we both learned long ago and are relearning every day, calm and quiet isn’t always what joyful moments are made of. And it’s definitely not all a loving family is made of.
Sometimes familial joy comes disguised as a father who refuses to wear pants in the house or a brother who farts in your face or a sister who has no qualms about breastfeeding in front of you while also handling raw meat. All true stories. But whatever the makeup of brothers and cousins and mothers and step-whatever, family is proof that the messy way is usually the more rewarding way. And it’s certainly the funniest.
Since we were both going to write a detailed account of our wedding day for “posterity’s sake” (which I put off until now), here’s my behind-the-scenes account. And as I’m writing it, I’m reminded how our day could not have been even half as magical as it was if our beautiful mess of a family wasn’t there to keep it real. I’m glad we invited them.
Friday, August 7th, 2015
I slept on two couch cushions placed on the floor of a hotel room we used to sleep nine people (#Tonganstyle). And I woke to the sound of my dad brushing his teeth in the kitchen. Normally a gentle man, my dad becomes the Tasmanian Devil when brushing his teeth; swift, punctuating movements with guttural heaves. Seriously, it’s a Discovery Channel special. But he’s still rocking his original teeth, so heave on Pops!
Ma’ele and Nia and I went out to get breakfast for the crew. We came back with hot chocolate and about 92 sunrise selfies. Also, listening to my sisters trying to navigate unfamiliar streets in a rental car is the best. Zero to Name-Calling in 60 seconds.
Flat irons, his and hers Spanx, McDonald’s breakfast wrappers, and tears. All the while, Lia was in the bedroom watching her twelfth Kung-Fu movie of the trip.
My dad gave a barely-audible family prayer, of which he only remembered half of our names. God bless that man. Amen.
11:30 – ish AM
I met you outside the temple on the most beautiful Hawaiian day in history and we both couldn’t stop commenting on how crazy this all was. Our wide smiles and outbursts of unsolicited laughter made us seem like toddlers at a Wiggles concert. We took our last picture as singles near a slightly confused gardener, who turned out to be a distant cousin of mine, and we walked into the temple. We were so delirious by the surreal nature of the occasion that everyone had to keep repeating themselves because everything was making us giggle. Giggle and then cry. And then cry and then giggle. It was a Prozac roller-coaster. After all, it had been such a long and twisted few years to get to this point, I don’t think either of us believed it was actually happening. But it was. And when you had to sign your new name (Mackenzie Unga) on the wedding certificate, I saw a streak of fear cross your face – hopefully just fear of realizing that everyone who reads your new Polynesian name is going to be confused when they meet you in person for the first time.
We got hitched (and Kevin saved the day).
The part we’d been dreading for weeks: family pictures. Our poor photographers, we forgot to brief them on the Days Of Our Lives dynamics of our families which left them unprepared for the minefield of unquenched resentment. So, when Bryan asked my mom to stand next to her “husband” (in reality, her ex-husband going on 20 years now), the awkwardness was so thick and delicious it seemed to slow down time. Not to mention how thirty minutes into taking pictures my dad, about two breaths away from a heatstroke, became a lost tribe of Israel, wandering into random people’s pictures
But I have to say, it was more harmless than I imagined it would be. No outbursts, no crying, no buckets of fried chicken were thrown. And now we have some pretty great photos to document the first and probably last time all of our families were in one frame in one moment and smiling.
Kevin, your mom and siblings went swimming at Hukilau beach where you later get sunburned like no one’s ever been sunburned before (#Scandinavian).
I had my very first fight with my mom as a married man. I know what you’re thinking, it’s sometimes hard to tell when my mom and I are fighting since she and I can’t butter toast without debating ancient Chinese foot binding (or literally anything else). I’m not sure what this particular fight was about, but no first-born threats were made so it was relatively bloodless.
We rolled up to Haleiwa Joe’s Restaurant tired, sweaty, and starving. And your dad surprised us with a picturesque patio dining setup overlooking the harbor with the sun approaching its setting behind us. He was relatively calm considering we never gave him a final headcount for dinner. But if he’d asked any Polynesian on the island, they would have told him to set four more places than planned. Everyone’s got a hungry cousin. Apparently, I even have one who’s a gardener at the Laie Temple.
Kevin, your mom, Kaylie and Carter showed up looking dewy and sun-kissed with sand in their hair. My dad must have drunk a kiddie pool full of Gatorade because the color was back in his face and he was walking in straight lines again. Not too far behind was my mom and her cousin January, two women not to be crossed when seafood is involved, especially when they haven’t napped. And my gaggle of siblings and beautiful nieces arrived with nonchalant gusto to round out the troops. And there they all were, the four corners of our world sitting in one place, sharing a meal.
My favorite part of the meal was everyone’s toast – a thing I thought only happened in Julia Roberts movies. Your dad thanked us all for coming then told one of his favorite Mackenzie stories involving steak sauce. You smiled through the laughs even though you’ve heard that story a thousand and one times and because you’re a good person and you love your dad. I laughed because he was picking up the check for dinner. And I love him too.
My dad shared a funny story from our island days. My mom talked about legacy and virtue and I think she even quoted an Earth, Wind & Fire song. Your mom shared sweet words about your childhood and how happy she was to gain a son (little did she know, I’d later live down the hall from her). Ma’ele and Nia made me tear up, Kaylie made me laugh, Willis humbled me, and Nua made me cringe before making me both laugh and cry. Then Carter, your grown man of a younger brother, stood up after much prodding and just melted everybody’s heart. How one body can produce so much testosterone and tenderness at the same time, I’ll never know.
This is our family, the kind you don’t read about in The Ensign or see on TV. It’s big and it’s loud and it’s multi-dimensional and it’s forever.
And when they sent us off that night, with a hoot and holler, to live our lives and start our own legacy of dysfunction, I couldn’t shake the feeling of loss that I was suddenly overcome with. I had spent too much of my childhood wishing away the levels of complication in my family; the broken hearts and missed birthdays, the fighting heard through bedroom walls and the boxes full of ripped pictures. It all hangs on the heart and seemingly drags it down, slowing the pumping. Until I took a step back and saw the marring for what it really is; a reflection of everything that’s wrong and right and good and strong about who I am today.
So, I’ll take it. I’ll take the crazy family that waits to plan Christmas trips last minute, the family that gives me the girl hand-me-downs because I never fit into the boy hand-me-downs. The family that cries with you when there’s nothing to say and drops everything without needing a reason. The family that you can call on no matter how much time has passed and still feel the same loyalty, like when we were kids playing in a fort, watching each other’s backs, keeping each other out of the hot lava.
I’ll take the family that’s made us who we are and who we’ll always hope to be. Let’s just get a bigger hotel room next time.