Whew, I just read this fascinating story in The New Yorker about businesses in Japan where you can rent a family. They profile a widower who is estranged from his daughter, who rents a wife and daughter for weekly meals. The article talks about single ladies who pay for boyfriends as dates for different events that escalate into weddings where everyone knows it’s fake except for the bride’s parents. They interview an employee who has played a father, boyfriend, and groom multiple times, and he mentions how he gets confused and keeps falling in love, that the fake weddings actually take as much sweat, energy, and money as producing a real one. I can see how all of that can cloud your sense of reality!

The piece really made think a lot about the concept of family and how they form, and also strongly reminded me of what it’s like to be in a play. In a production, the cast is your “family” for this brief, intense period. You have your family dynamics on stage as your characters and your family dynamics off-stage as yourselves. It is such an intimate bonding I have found ex-cast mates who were formerly warm and affectionate behave bizarrely uncomfortable when I run into them after the fact, almost like we had a one-night stand.

Families form everywhere. They are related to you by blood, they are formed by common interest, they are formed by work. One of the things I keep thinking is how family groups you with people you would never otherwise even meet. Don’t you ever feel that way? That had you not been born in your family, you would never have talked to your sibling/parent/weird uncle (that is, if you are even in touch with your biological family) Work too. Work forms a warped family dynamics, where leadership sometimes yields as much power of you as a parent, but I also find I am close to people who would otherwise not make sense in my life.

There’s a play in there somewhere (I’m not the only one who thinks so, since the phenomenon has inspired an entire category in literature in Japan.) The article also mentions a woman who hired a fake father for her elementary school-age daughter, noticing she was ostracized and caving into herself. (The mom left the dad because he was physically abusive.) It worked. The actor and her daughter have a rich relationship, but the trouble is, the daughter is now 22 and still doesn’t know. Her mom does not know if she will ever tell her, but has kind of fallen in love a wee bit for the actor who plays her ex-husband.

In the movie version of her story, she will confess her romantic feelings to this actor, he will quit the biz and join her family. She’d never have to tell her child a thing. In real life, oh boy, in real life, I’d tell her to keep paying this man and never tell her child the truth.

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