So...today is Father's Day. In my late twenties I first felt the longing for children; now having reached the age of forty, I realise I am never going to be in a position where I will be a father. My home environment, relationship background and financial status are all against me. But such is life; we all have dreams, hopes and aspirations that will never be fulfilled.
SL has given me an extended family - a husband, parents-in-law (for a time anyway), brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren. These relationship are virtual, but that does not negate the impact or significance of them. They involve real feelings and real emotions. Sometimes things are trivial, sometimes things can affect us deeply.
Something that has always annoyed me about a virtual family is the issue of money - rather like a real family... You are quietly blundering about in your second life in blissful ignorance of everything and then it starts - the IMs and the TP requests. I soon came to realise that my family did not always have my best interests at heart when they IMd me to join them or TPd me to a party. They didn't do it because they thought I might enjoy it or because I might need the company. They did it because they were DJing, hosting or dancing. Of course, the ulterior motive in getting your 'parent' to a party is the same as getting anyone else there - tips - but the hope is that your father will be even more generous because of the relationship you have. A further moment of insanity is when they are taking part in a photo contest. You go along like a dutiful parent and horror of horrors...their photo is supremely second rate compared to some of the others, but you are duty bound to vote for your 'offspring'. "So tell me about this contest?" you say. "Well it is 20Ls per vote and you get three votes a day. It runs for a month and the winner gets 1000Ls", is the response from the hopeful 'child'. "Hmmm 1000Ls does sound appealing, however I am paying almost twice that in votes... How about I just pay you 1000Ls and you leave me alone for a month?"
In real life you cannot always exert control over people, even your own children; they find a way of getting in to stupid or dangerous situations. The same is true in Second Life, except you have even less control. You can't actually ground a child because it is their SL too and they will just TP away from you. So your SL child who is a kid avatar does something they shouldn't with someone who is not a child avatar (i.e. a pervert) or they introduce you to a potential spouse who in real life you would cross the street to avoid...though at least in SL you can Eject and Ban with a couple of clicks. What can you do? Everyone has the right to make their own choices since they are paying their internet bill each month. You just sit back and wait for the fallout.
Being a real person at the keyboard, you still get to feel sadness about 'family' things in SL You go through their troubles because they come to you as a friend and surrogate parent - health issues, drug and alcohol addiction, attempted suicide, vehicle accidents, spousal abuse, sexual assault, etc. If you are close enough to them, you can live their lives with them via the virtual world. Nothing prepares you for hearing someone on voice in fear of a husband returning home or the sound of a physical fight resulting from too much alcohol. On top of that, there is bereavement...when you get that message in-world to tell you that one of your family has passed away in real life. Still, knowing that has happened is easier than never knowing why someone never logs in again.
The negative times are balanced (I hope) by the positive. The connections you make with people can be as rich and profound as anything in real life. The pride in walking your virtual daughter down the aisle, the joy at a new 'child' coming to the family, the excitement hearing someone on voice showing you their latest home or 'opening' their rez day presnts, the laughter as you all goof around and try to out do each other with your stupidity and silly outfits - and ultimately do things to each other that would be considering griefing in any other situation!
Rather like real life relationships, the feelings and emotions should be cherished. Taking place in a virtual world makes them no less real, no less relevant. Each experience can enrich your life and help you develop as a person if you allow it to. Be it real life or Second Life, live it.