1. They've got kids. My eight siblings have produced 15 nieces and nephews, and let me tell you: They're a lot of work. Every time we solve a crisis over one's schooling or boyfriend, something else erupts. But I couldn't love them more if they were my own.

2. They can laugh at anything. My parents taught us to crack jokes through the hardest of times. I sometimes doubt my family would have survived Hurricane Katrina—which scattered us to eight states—if we hadn't been able to find humor in the little things. Like when my dad, a 75-year-old widower, ended up in a shelter in San Antonio, reading palms and chatting up women. When he came home with one, you can bet we laughed at that, too.

3. They knew me back when. I get embarrassed when my siblings remind me that I ran our family like a dictatorship by the time I was 10. But at least I never have to explain myself. My habits of hoarding pens and obsessively checking the weather? We grew up poor in hurricane alley; they get it.

4. They're the life of the party. When I invited my sisters to a Motown bash at the White House, I was a little mortified to see them shaking their tail feathers all over the Rose Garden. But okay, I joined in. Let's just say the Braziles shut that thing down.

What Makes a Family?


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