What’s a guy to do when a holiday goes against everything he believes in?
So, my least favorite holiday, Thanksgiving, is coming up, and I am looking forward to the tradition in our home: a big battle with my parents over the best way to “celebrate” our national founding of genocide of Native Americans, our national history of building a country with the labor of enslaved people, and our national values of might makes right, the rich get richer, and corporations are people, too. These things bother me every day, but never more than on a day filled with fake Pilgrim nonsense and a ritual of gluttony and animal cruelty. To me, Thanksgiving is everything I don’t like all rolled into one day.
So back to my problem. My ideal Thanksgiving would be to volunteer someplace that serves Thanksgiving dinners to people who are hungry – I would be happy to do this by myself. I’m not trying to bring everyone else down or spoil anyone’s holiday, I just want to be true to myself. (I am 20 years old and live with my parents.) But my parents, the last few years when I’ve said this was going to be how I spend Thanksgiving, have pitched complete fits, saying everyone coming to dinner (grandparents, etc.) wants to see me, the day will be ruined if I’m not there, how can I be so selfish and on and on. It becomes such a big battle that I just give in.
Honestly, I’m not trying to upset my parents. I’m not trying to punish them for anything or tell them how to live. But why shouldn’t I be able to celebrate this holiday in a way that has meaning and is a positive experience for me?
Selfish Or Selfless?
Dear Selfish Or Selfless?,
While our national holidays frequently seem like nothing more than excuses for retailers to throw a sale, Thanksgiving is a celebration of values that even Howard Zinn would have found admirable. Of course, showing your appreciation for all you have by serving people who have far less would be a wonderful way to honor the true spirit of Thanksgiving, but having a loving extended family who are anxious to see you is something to be thankful for, too. And I really don’t think you have to choose one completely at the expense of the other.
Judging by your take-no-prisoners introductory paragraph, I suspect your take on Thanksgiving comes across (to your parents, at least) less like an attempt to return to a holiday untainted by gluttony and commercialism and more like a scorched-earth rejection of everything they hold dear. (And be honest: how far off would they be in that assessment?) Next year (or even this year, if it’s not too late), tell them you are looking forward to seeing your grandparents and other loved ones, but you also feel strongly that you want to help other people who have not been as fortunate as you have been. To that end, you would like to spend Thanksgiving morning volunteering, but you will be home in the early afternoon to spend the rest of the day with your family. This strikes me as a very reasonable compromise, and it will force you and them to reveal your true intentions: whether you are as interested in serving as you are in letting your parents know how thoroughly you reject their values and beliefs, and whether they are as interested in making sure you catch up with Grandma as they are in squashing this rebelliousness (to them) out of you.
One more thing. I suspect places that serve people who need food and shelter probably have a small army of like-minded people who show up at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Don’t forget they could use your help the other 363 days of the year, too.
I’m the youngest of three adult children in our later 20s–my older brother and sister are both married. We have a very small, tightly knit family (no cousins) and are extremely close to our parents. Over my father’s recent birthday, I wasn’t able to make it home and felt guilty enough…until I visited the next week and my dad confided in me (he and I have struck up a genuine friendship, past the normal father/son) that my brother was extremely disrespectful to him and my mom over some really mundane things and that he (my dad) is feeling a lot of lasting resentment about it. This was all exacerbated by the fact that his wife just seems to make matters worse by egging him (my brother) on.
He’s always been a great parent and I feel bad for him that he is feeling genuine resentment towards one of his children. I’ve always been the one in my family to keep everyone smiling and keep things in perspective. With the holidays coming up, my question is–is there any way to broach this subject with them to avoid the inevitably tense communication they’ll have? Is this really any of my business? Should I stay out of it? How do I bring any of this up with my new sister-in-law? Saying nothing isn’t much of an option, because my family is extremely pig-headed and if nothing is done, the feelings will be left to fester for months (if not years) to come.
Youngest And Most Confused
Dear Youngest And Most Confused,
It’s fantastic that you can step outside of your family’s dynamics and view their behavior with some objectivity. But it’s unfair for anyone, including you, to appoint you the family referee just because you’re not as stubborn and non-communicative as the rest of them.
Why did your Dad share this with you? I know you say that you and he are true friends, but it’s never as simple as that. A good relationship between a father and an adult son can feel like friendship, but it always carries history, baggage, and a power imbalance that prevent it from being an ordinary friendship. If he told you your brother had been disrespectful as part of a conversation in which it just came up, that’s fine. But if he told you because he knew you would intercede and take it upon yourself to mediate, then he’s taking advantage of you. Your father has to learn to say what’s on his mind to the people who need to hear it, not to you. When this all happened, he should have said, “Whoa, we can talk about this (whatever it was), but if you intend to speak to me or your mother in such a disrespectful fashion, I would suggest you leave and let me know when you’re ready to discuss this like respectful adults.” Not having done that, he could call your brother up now and say much the same thing. Instead, he quietly seethes and dumps it in your lap.
Don’t take this on yourself. I know you love and care about your Dad, but if he ends up feeling bad or resentful, that’s not your fault, nor is it your problem to solve. The most I would do is urge him to talk to your brother if he has a problem with him, but beyond that, I would stay out of it.
I have a Thanksgiving-related problem that is making me more and more anxious the closer it gets. I am a single woman in my mid-30s. I will be spending Thanksgiving Day at my parents’ house, as I do almost every year. It’s normally a very pleasant day and I look forward to it, but not this year, because joining us will be quite a few relatives I haven’t seen since I was a child. They live on the West Coast and my parents used to be pretty close to them, but without going into a lot of detail, there was a falling out, many years without contact, all of which came to an end with a reconciliation early this past year. That part is wonderful and there really does seem to have been a sincere attempt by everyone to put this dispute (which was silly as such things usually are) behind them. There has been a lot of communication these past several months, but this holiday will be the first time we’ve all visited together.
This is my problem, and I just spent five minutes trying to come up with the right way to describe it but the only way is to be blunt: I dread seeing all these people again because I am ashamed and embarrassed at how obese I have become. I have had a very negative self-image due to my weight problems for many years now, but it’s one thing to meet someone for the first time and quite another to reunite knowing they are thinking to themselves, “Wow – that’s Donna?? What the heck happened??” I won’t even be able to look them in the eye so as to avoid that look of pity and surprise that I am not completely unfamiliar with. And on a day with a big meal at the heart of it, no less!
My question is, is there a way to avoid this? Should I email them a picture first just so they’re not surprised? (Of course, I wouldn’t email it as if that was why I was doing it.) Make a joke of it when we first see each other just to get it out there? Or just not say anything, give them a few minutes to process it, and move on? I am so full of dread (not for the whole day, just for this moment) I know I am not thinking clearly. What do you think I should do?
Not The Girl They Remember
Dear Not The Girl They Remember,
I can tell how self-conscious you feel, but your relatives haven’t been preserved in amber all these years, either. Twenty years or so is a long time, and some of them will probably be dwelling so thoroughly on their own…declines, let’s call them, that they will barely notice yours. Have you ever been to a high school reunion? You go with an acute awareness of the many ways in which you’re not eighteen any more, then you get there and immediately realize no one else is either.
As to what to do to prepare them (and yourself) for your reunion, I think emailing them a picture is going a little far, but a well-timed self-deprecating comment would be fine if it puts you a bit more at ease. And that’s really what I want you to take away from this: this is to put YOU at ease, not them. You don’t owe them an explanation or justification for how you look. But if acknowledging it relieves some of the tension you feel, then sure, go ahead.
You know, though, that this is about more than seeing your relatives on Thanksgiving. To really address this problem, you have to learn to accept the way you look. This is not to say you should resign yourself to being overweight (you shouldn’t), nor does it mean you should strive to achieve a body type that is unrealistic for you (you definitely shouldn’t). It simply means you have to take whatever steps you have to take to be healthy – and again, please don’t misunderstand me: you can be perfectly healthy with a body that bears very little resemblance to the fantasies fed to us by the media – and wherever those steps lead, you should feel happy with how you look when you get there.
Originally appeared at GoLocalProv.com.
Photo debbiesphotoshop / flickr