Dysfunctionality and all of it’s implications is a state of being I choose to embrace.
I love my father’s side of the family; I always have. From the time I was little, they were the fun side: the partiers, the drinkers, the laughers. When spending time with the Normans, the Bruchs and the Madsens, I have been able to lose myself from reality for even just a little bit of time. There’s never been a shift in their devotion to one another; never a family squabble that needs working itself out– just a common level of respect and appreciation for the quirkiest bunch of people I’ve even had the pleasure of surrounding myself with.
So it comes as no surprise that when my parents divorced in 1983 that my mother didn’t want to give that up in the settlement too.
Fast forward to 2012. It’s the second, in just the past year. of anniversary parties: milestones.
Last year, it was for my dad’s sister and her husband, married 50 years. It was an upscale, no holds-barred celebration at an Inn in New Hampshire, where years ago my cousin was married (yet, another one of those memorable family celebrations). It felt good catching up with relatives who span the United States. My husband and I were coming off a difficult time in our marriage, and to see the video of photographs of my aunt and uncle over those 50 years prompted me to hold my husbands hand tight and wish away all of the obstacles we’d recently faced and say a silent prayer to be sitting beside one another in 27 more years.
Last week marked the 40th anniversary of my dad’s cousins whom have been like an aunt and uncle to me throughout my life. When I was a teenager and having a tough time getting along with my mom, it was Jan who would talk to me and set me straight. My siblings and I grew up babysitting for John and Jan’s daughters while our parents got together every single Friday night. Sometimes they’d go out, but most times we’d get pizza and the grown-ups would play card games and board games. I suppose it’s the routines of these formative years that has made my fondness of family so strong.
One of the quirkiest traits of this family is their habit of giving tacky gifts. I’m not sure exactly where it started; I’m thinking at my father’s 30th birthday party (when my parents were still a couple). As I recall, my dad was given a drunk photograph of himself & John framed in a toilet seat. The tacky gifts persisted from there. It was expected that the gifts would be saved, modified in some outrageous way and passed on. In fact, at my wedding shower, I was inducted into the tackiness when I was given a ceramic witch with light up marble eyes by Jan and my Aunt Kathy; only, they were a bit ruffled because I actually liked the gift and use it at Halloween as a decoration each year. In fact, each time I’ve received a tacky gift, I find a way to use it– my own contribution to the tackiness of our family.
Last night there were tacky gifts abounding: leis and silly Hawaiian glasses (because John and Jan and my dad and his wife are celebrating their anniversary with a cruise to Hawaii in two days) also boner squash leis. As good sports, they sit at the center of their guests, opening the gifts and wearing each one they are given. Meanwhile, playing in the background is a video of their lives, a chronicle of not only the two of them but all of the people in their lives who have loved them (me and my family included).
As I’m learning, my father is growing very sentimental with age (I’ve even seen him tear up on a few occasions, something I never witnessed as a child). In the midst of the celebration last night, my father and mother bound across the room to me and my siblings. My father declares, “In three years is the anniversary of our marriage,” something we’d totally brought up earlier– siblings considering the what ifs. “We want a 50th celebration,” he continues. “It doesn’t matter that we didn’t make it 50 years, it’s just celebrating the fact that 50 years ago we were married.” We all laughed, shaking our heads. They skirted off to their respective spouses, and my wheels began to turn.
My parents didn’t always get along so well post divorce. They were both angry and bitter, my father because my mother sought the divorce, and my mother because when she changed her mind my dad was too hurt to give it another try. They had been together since they were fourteen, and I was the reason they married so young. What I loved and admired most about my parents, growing up, is that they were best friends; it was a trait of their marriage that I sought in my own. I think that was the most difficult part of their divorce, though; no one saw it coming, I guess, except my mom who thought it was what she wanted. They had rarely even argued in our presence. So when it became finally clear that there was no chance of them getting back together, we (my siblings and I) went through a monkey-in-the-middle stage. It took my parents about seven years to heal and become part of each others’ lives again– albeit in a different form. Both of them, by that time, had moved on and married other people. I think my wedding, and then the birth of my children, were a catalyst for them finding their way back to one another as friends.
Eventually, we’d have family functions with them together, and, even, go on vacation together. I refused to choose one over the other, so I let them work it out. Going to Disneyworld with my family is something they both wanted to do, and, so, they found their way. What makes it possible is that their spouses fully supported their decisions. And, because my mom still was very close to members of my dad’s extended family, she’d be included in family functions too.
One thing they’d do, without commonality of my family, is attend Cousin’s Weekend, an annual get-together at my aunt & uncle’s home. It made my mom happy to be included again after a brief hiatus from the belonging to the group. Once, they even went on a cruise all together.
My friends and my husband too, are a bit weirded- out that my parents (and their respective spouses) are one big happy family, but I like it. It makes family get-togethers unstressful. And it comforts me the way my parents still look out for and worry about one another; I think it’s really a testament to the kind of relationship they had.
My father knows that if he tells me something, I’m the one to get it done. That’s what makes me think he’s sincere in his idea. So swirling thoughts went through my mind… wouldn’t it be fun or funny, it goes along perfectly with the tackiness of our parties. A reality show! Honey Boo Boo, move aside. If that redneck family can find an audience, surely we can too.
All night we joked, extended family climbing on board. Every aside became an episode. For example, I told Jan she had more pictures in her video of her father than I even owned. My mom piped in, “No, I have all of the photographs of your father. I’ll give them to you.” I replied, “NO. WAIT! That’s another episode. You keep those photos right where they are.”
So, this is how I’m imaging it. The year in the planning of a crazy f’d up family’s, nearly 30 years- divorced couple who are celebrating what would have been their 50th wedding anniversary.
I’d say, that’s quite a pitch! Book it, Mark Burnett!