5 Ways Every Family Gathering Goes Wrong
Families can be hard -- even functional ones. That's why your parents have started to love Facebook even more than you did at 16: You can share pictures with relatives and give the big thumbs up in all the right places without ever having to spend time with these horrible people. And their terrible spouses. And even worse kids.
But you can only avoid the big family gathering for so long. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and of course Arbor Day all bring families together.
Yep, good ol' Arbor Day. America's most treasured and family-friendly holiday.
And when all those people come together in one place, awkward encounters are inevitable. Scenarios present themselves that cannot be avoided -- only dealt with, hopefully in the least painful way possible. And who better than me to explain how to handle them? I mean, who better than a Cracked columnist whose last name begins with "G"?
I tend to think that everyone is racist to some degree. I mean, we're human, and we suck. It's bound to happen. A thought goes through your head. You can't help it. For example, I know I can't be the only person at Cracked who hears the word "moose-fucker" every time I see Chris Bucholz's byline simply because he's Canadian. But these are words most of us keep to ourselves, trapped in our minds.
Unless you're stupid enough to include them in your weekly column.
If you get enough family members together, you're bound to be confronted with that relative who has no filter. The one who feels free to drop N-bombs and F-bombs and, um, K-bombs.
Why It Sucks
It's not because there's still racism in the world. You already knew that. It's not because you're apparently related to a horrible person. You already knew that, too. This isn't your first family get-together. It's because it makes you feel inculcated, as if you approve of the racist sentiment. I was once at a distant relation's barbecue and was introduced to a family friend -- a former police officer. He was talking about the old days and how much he missed "chasing n*ggers around." I was a grown man at the time and had honestly never heard someone use that word in a true sense in my presence. I didn't know what to do.
What to Do
I have no idea. I'll tell you what I did. I pretended I remembered something I had to tell my then-wife, and I left. I don't like admitting that. I feel like I should have done more, but what would I really do? I wasn't going to change this 55-year-old man's heart on race relations. I just walked away instead of offending him (even though he had offended me) and ruining my distant former in-law's barbecue. But maybe you can do better where I failed. It's hard, but I kind of wish I'd just claimed to be black, so that's my suggestion. Next time someone at a family get-together has the audacity to say something racist in your presence, I suggest you claim to be that oppressed minority, no matter how absurd:
"I think I should tell you, you happen to be talking to a Eskimo lesbian."
"But you're a white dude."
"Maybe that's how it looks to you because that's all you can see! Think about it."
One day you will die, and at that point all this family-get-together awkwardness will be over (unless there's a heaven and you have relatives who aren't going to hell, in which case, fuck, this shit just never ends). Anyway, odds are before you die someone you're related to will. Obviously, that's no fun. You don't need Cracked to explain to you that death sucks. It's a painful thing, and much like Canadians fucking moose, it's bound to happen. But even when the relation is distant, perhaps too distant for you to even know, you will be confronted by those parts of your extended family feeling the hurt more deeply.
"Yeah, she may have been your great-aunt twice removed, but that 'old dead chick' you're referring to was my mom."
Why It Sucks
Because there's no way to make it right. That's the thing about death: There is no right answer. Ignoring the absence is infuriating, and examining it too deeply is hurtful. Nothing will feel right. It's death. There is no quick fix.
What to Do
Everyone is different, but in general I have found two steps to help deal with a death in the room:
1. Acknowledge it and state your sympathy simply and forthrightly; and
2. Be accepting of any reaction you receive.
What do I mean? Something like, "I miss Steven. I'm sorry for your loss." Then your aunt/brother/cousin/whatever says, "Thank you," or "Fuck you, you don't understand." And then do you know what you do? Nothing. That's it. At best you nod and agree, because they're the one more touched by death and dealing with it in their way. That's as good as it gets. Do it. It's better than ignoring it or waxing philosophical about the deceased. State your sympathy simply and clearly and let the bereaved set the tone for what happens next.
Raise your hand if you know someone who's gotten divorced. Put your hand down. I can't see you. That's stupid. Jesus, do you do everything you read on the Internet? Anyway, divorce sucks. A lot. Ask anyone who's been divorced. Wait. Ask me, I'm the divorced guy writing this article. Wait. Don't actually ask me. Articles don't work like that. I guess that was as stupid as me telling you to raise your hand.
Sorry. I'm not making much sense. Must be my divorce. Anyway, divorce is hard on the family reunion. After all, marriage made someone part of the family, and now they're gone. What do you do?
Yes, getting in the TARDIS from Doctor Who and traveling to a time from before the divorce would certainly
work, but what if that's not feasible?
Why It Sucks
Well, much like death, there's no good answer. If you bring up the spouse, it's hurtful, but if you ignore the spouse's absence, it's weird. And then there are kids. What do you do?
What to Do
I'm not sure, but it seems a good rule of thumb is not to go out of your way to talk about who's missing from the Thanksgiving table, but also not to avoid it if it comes up. Take me and my ex-wife, for example. Everyone knows that my abnormally large penis was at the root of the termination of our union. That's old news. But that doesn't mean that if we're about to eat some turkey and stuffing you should say, "Hey, Gladstone, speaking of stuffing, have you found a new place to put your abnormally large penis, considering you're now divorced?" I mean, that's just awkward. Why go there? Nevertheless, if the topic comes up in conversation, like let's say you're having a conversation about foot-long hot dogs, then don't pretend no one's thinking about my circus penis and how it destroyed my marriage. That's just insulting. Was that too specific to my life to be helpful?
A Wildly Inappropriate Spouse
Speaking of divorce, know what's awkward? A new and wildly inappropriate new spouse. Like let's say your 50-year-old divorced uncle Henry, the college professor, shows up to Christmas dinner with one of his 21-year-old students. What do you do? (I mean, after you finish high-fiving him wildly.)
Why It Sucks
"Who is this chick, and what happened to Aunt Helen?!?" That's what you're probably asking. (It's more likely if you used to have an Aunt Helen who's been replaced by some bimbo.) You miss Aunt Helen. You liked Aunt Helen, and this chick is a friggin' nightmare. What do you do?
"Meet your Aunt Bubbles."
What to Do
Nothing. You do nothing. This is your relation's new spouse. Maybe they're great. Maybe they suck, but y'know what? It's their life. They have to go to bed with this person every night. They have to wake up with them every morning. They have needs. They need to work, to laugh, to have sex, to make it through this day. Maybe they've made another bad choice, but if they do, no one will live with the consequence of that decision more than they will. You only have to deal with Christmas dinner. Try shutting up.
Differences in Financial Status
This one's a killer. My brother's are seven and 10 years older than I am. For most of my life, as two bright, successful, accomplished gentlemen, they made more money than me. Then at one point I was involved in a career that proved incredibly productive, and I made more money than at least one of my brothers despite his two degrees and incredible talents.
Yes, I was a male stripper. See entry above about my ginormous package.
It was awkward. I felt bad for making more. Anyway, then the recession happened, and I lost my house and one of my cars and part of my mind and half of my salary, and I went back to being the poor brother as God had always intended.
Why It Sucks
Because it doesn't matter how evolved you are, having money is nice. The things it buys are nice. Being able to spoil those you love is nice. Not having it, even if you are a very mature, non-materialistic person, can be a drag. Perhaps you've gotten to a place of diminished expectations, but when you go to that family reunion and see that difference between the haves and have-nots in stark contrast, it's a drag.
What to Do
There's nothing you can do except not presume. You're going away to Cancun for Christmas? That's awesome. Good for you. Have a great time. Don't talk all about it and then end with "And what are you doing?" Because if you ask me that, I'll probably reply, "Oh, I dunno, probably stare at a picture of the tropics while huffing glue and sharpening straight razors." There are good breaks and bad breaks. The economy is fickle. Things happen, and you can't control it. To the Haves, just be mindful of what you have and keep it quiet. To the Have-Nots, resent no one. It's not personal. Just enjoy the company, knowing that people of any and all financial backgrounds are equally capable of enjoying the comforts of family.
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