The thing about family is that they make you laugh, they drive you crazy, you love them, they surprise you, they frustrate the hell out of you, and we argue with them. And sometimes that’s all in one visit.
This Christmas, we were able to get the whole family together. That’s not an easy task, given that one of my sisters is a flight attendant who lives in Chicago. Another sister lives with her family in Toronto.
One of the reasons we were all together is because this couple…
…was celebrating 50 years of marriage. Five-Oh, people. My parents were having a big party on the actual date of their wedding anniversary over the holiday, and all of their kids and grandkids were going to be part of it.
But in the week leading up to the celebration, Christmas turned out to be a little less than merry. On Christmas day — for some reason — the topic if Ferguson came up as we were sitting around waiting to eat dinner. My dad started to make some bigoted commentary, with my 12 year old son in earshot.
My dad once walked out of a restaurant in DC in the 1960’s when management refused to serve his party because they had a black person with them. My dad — when I was about 10 or so — yelled at me (so that my teammates and coach could hear) “you get your ass off of that glove and share it with one of those girls”. This was just after my softball coach had told us to sit on our gloves instead of sharing them with the girls from the very under-equipped (and all black) team we were playing against.
So how did he get from that to where he was headed now?
Once his rant started down the cringe-inducing path, I cut him right off. I wish I could tell you my ensuing tirade was alcohol-laced eggnog fueled, or that I had eaten so many rum balls, I was in no shape to drive home. But I was stone cold sober.
I jumped up out of my chair, snarled at my dad about the fact that I was sick of this bigoted crap. The barking spewed forth from me for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably no more than 15 or 30 seconds.
And this was pretty much the look I got from my three sisters, mother, brothers-in-law, nieces, nephews, and son:
I hurried out of the room in tears after I was done. And now EVERYONE was super uncomfortable, especially my mom. So after I calmed down, I went to the kitchen. I did not apologize to my mom for feeling the way I did and expressing it. I did apologize for the way in which I expressed it, for losing my cool, and for making everyone uncomfortable.
Because when did it change? When did things go from shades of grey to black vs. white for my dad?
On the way home in the car I asked my son “So, did I pretty much lose my shit tonight?”
“Oh yeah, mom,” he responded. “You totally lost your shit.”
Which made me feel like I could have contributed multiple chapters to this book:
A week later, we were all gathered for my parents’ 50th anniversary party. It was a lovely evening, surrounded by family and many of their friends:
Dad got up to give a brief speech. He thanked everyone for joining the celebration. He asked the couples in the room who had recently reached the 50 year anniversary milestone to stand up. There were a number of couples who did so.
My dad went on: “50? Well that’s nothing, folks.” And then he totally got choked up and had to pause a moment and gather himself. Which never happens to him. Once he collected himself, he was able to share with everyone in attendance, “I’d like to introduce you to our good friends from church, the Hollys. They have been married 75 years.” He even went on to share some stories about funny conversations he and Mr. Holly have had. Everyone cheered and clapped for the Hollys.
For a moment, I was reminded that my dad could stop seeing things as black vs. white.
And I’m grateful that all those years ago, he taught his kids to see beyond the black vs. white.