A question that many have asked in the past. Thus, why am I dwelling on it now?
What does the word “home” mean to me?
Because it is a question that has a special meaning to everyone who asks. It is personal. It’s similar to the love theme that has been addressed in so many books, journals, and films or to different renditions of the same song. Each one of these topics has a singular meaning to everyone who attempts to define them.
A home is different than a house. A house is an architectural structure with walls, windows, doors, floors, a roof, and other upgrades. You can own multiple houses and, yet, when living a monotonous and empty life consisting of just getting-by every day, you won’t find the meaning that only a home can provide.
Following are what I consider trite definitions of what a home is: where your heart is; where you are loved unconditionally; where your heart is most happy; where you find peace and quiet. They are too simplistic. Nevertheless, these romantic definitions are preferable to ones that rely on wealth – but both fail in attempting to define what a home is. Instead, a good definition of home is multidimensional.
The upper classes of society do not own a monopoly on what a home is all about. Without a home, there is societal fragmentation and immigration – regardless of your social status. And legal immigrants and refugees are confronted immediately with cross-cultural integration challenges. This is a topic that is hotly debated nowadays: do immigrants/refugees retain their culture and values in their adopted country, or do they assimilate into the main culture? In my opinion, discarding your cultural values is a recipe for disaster — as you cannot be someone other than yourself regardless of where you live.
The example of Cuban-Americans who have repudiated their Cuban traditions and Spanish language while living in the United States is on point. After criticizing me and not mingling with me for my decision to keep my Cuban traditions and remain bilingual, many of these individuals have apologized in later years for their previous slights, and overdo their Cubaness – a common character trait of converts.
So, let’s start out by stating the obvious: home is not just where you were born. Rather, it is a place where you have become. Take my own situation as an example. I was born in Havana, Cuba, and emigrated to the United States as a child. I’ve lived in the United States for fifty-five years – almost my entire life. If I were deported to Cuba now, I would be a complete foreigner – a fish out of water. It is in the United States that I have become the man that I’m proud of today.
MEETING THE BASIC NECESSITIES
But a crucial component of “home” is a place, a structure that meets most of your basic necessities. To most Americans, these are: a safe community, great schools, well-funded police departments, close-by major supermarkets, hardware stores, and church, and good Internet access – just to name a few. People settle for places that have enough resources to live on and grow with the least amount of hardships.
If the husband of the family was a handyman who was constantly doing projects to fix things or increase the value of the house and the closest Home Depot or Lowe’s was 45 miles away, moving to another home would quickly become a top priority.
ROOTS & CULTURAL FOUNDATION
Home is also a place to find cultural foundation. Nowadays, if we do not know our culture, we are lost in a world that has no meaning. Even worse, we become really helpless and utterly confused if we try to be someone just to fit in – which brings about many arguments over whose culture is the best over others.
If you were raised in an English-speaking household to American parents who celebrated Christmas every year on December 25th, you would feel disconnected living in a city like Miami — where 72% of the population was Hispanic, where Spanish was the main language spoken, and where Christmas was celebrated on December 24th.
Is it my inalienable right to live in another culture and tell others how inappropriate it is to turn on their TVs to sports games at social gatherings – which, in my opinion, should be reserved for catching up on each other and doing fun things like dancing? I will argue that games can be recorded for later viewing, and they will rebut by saying that this is the way that it’s been done for generations in America and that there is no substitute for instant gratification.
There is no way that I can win the argument in the previous paragraph. The best way to cope with this challenge is to do it my way when having a soirée with Hispanic guests at my house, and to accept the social norms when attending a function with diverse guests at someone else’s house.
FINDING WHO YOU ARE
Another important component of home hunting is first finding out who you are, what makes you tick or what makes you happy. I am fortunate to know who I am – someone who is always seeking justice, abiding by the laws, helping others visualize their dreams and how to accomplish them, meeting my family responsibilities, and embracing Judeo-Christian values. To me, home must be a place where I can be my true self with no asphyxiating filters. As the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca used to say: “it is not the man who has little that is poor, but the one who hankers after more” – without finding out first who he is or what he wants of life.
If you held conservative views, it would be a serious mistake to move to a city like San Francisco where 85.3% of the people vote for Democrats and where you had to impose filters on your views to mingle with your liberal friends and tolerate radical policies like defunding the police in a city where homelessness, crime, and taxes were out of control.
IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT YOU
Once you have a family, you must be aware that paradise to one person could be hell to another. Therefore, when seeking a home, understand that it’s not just your home that you’re after, but theirs too. This is when the art of compromise becomes most useful and also brings an aura of familial bliss.
If you were looking for your next promotion and the job opportunities were best in another distant county, but the public schools where you lived had the best schools in the nation and your kids had developed wonderful friendships in the area, you might think twice before disrupting the lives of your children. If you ended up moving to the distant county, the salary increase of your new job might be reduced to nothing if you had to pay for private schools and your kids insisted on driving regularly to their old hangouts without giving any consideration to the high gas prices.
Be prepared to understand that once you have found the home that you were after, you’ll eventually want more. This might get tricky. If what you are after is simply to live a better life in your homes, all the home-searching in the world won’t bring you peace because it becomes a never-ending cycle: the more you have, the more you want. Nevertheless, if you lived in a three-bedroom house and your family size had recently increased to five, it would be natural to move to a bigger house to bring added comfort to your home.
This virus of always wanting more than you have holds true not just with your homes, but also with your status. While I was in the federal workforce, there was a serious epidemic of employees seeking Senior Executive Service jobs without giving any consideration to their qualifications, or the impact that getting these jobs would have on their quality of life or their marriages. They were only thinking of higher paychecks and more power – which, in the end, ruined many careers and lives. Similarly, buying a much bigger or a much more expensive house will not bring you the peace of mind that you’ll find in a home.
BEST DEFINITION FOUND
Bottom line, home can be found in the place where you are best at adapting in – one that meets your basic necessities, provides a cultural foundation, lets you be your true self and where others in your family circle can do the same — while realizing that you may outgrow it later in life.
It’s not how big the house is. It’s how happy the home is. You will be well served to remember the trite saying: “Happy Home. Happy Life!”