Family Values

the problem with family values, is that not all families hold to the same values.

Thus the old phrase, “you can choose your friends….”  Well, people do, b/c fundamentally, those people hold similar values, put similarly-colored glass into their Reality Filters when looking out at the world.

It’s the holidays, so certain relatives are paying a lot more attention to their relatives than they ordinarily would, and I’m no different.  This inevitably leads to friction, especially when folks such as yours truly steps on his crank, typing something direct from back-brain without putting in the “how are people going to take this” filter.

Guys, you know the one, where somebody goes “huh?” and you get that sinking feeling, realizing “oh, I just stepped on my own crank.”

Well, this time around, I responded the way I always do:  I’m a big enough boy to say “hey, my bad, I didn’t mean to talk trash, I just stepped on my crank for a minute.”  

Here’s where different family values comes in.

I stepped on my crank in public, got called on it in public, and responded to explain in public.  And if I offended said person (if said person even got wind of it, which was unlikely outside of Gossip Central), I’ll be the very first to say “hey, my bad, I was a dick for a moment and owe you a beer — a good beer.”   The person who (correctly) said “hey, what?”  took my mea culpa for what it was, we were cool, life moved on.

But some of my OTHER relatives got wind of it and, wow, cue the hate-mail.  Not, as Relative #1 did, because I might have said something which could be hurtful (guilty as charged, mea culpa magnissima), but because what I said, was said in public.

Huh?  What?  Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot, over… oh, yeah, forgot… it’s The Family (Inc.).  

Just like a family where one half votes Republican, the other Democrat, and both halves try really hard to ignore that fact every holiday (My Favorite Redleg has discussed a few doozies on this front), my family has a tremendous divide along the appearances/substance divide.  I’m in camp two — as anybody who knows me at all, knows.  Sometimes I can be a real jerk, but I try to make good after the fact, and if somebody says something bad about me that’s true… my response isn’t to get mad or have my feelings hurt (unless I’m feeling thin-skinned that day, which is my problem), but to say thank-you.  How else are you going to be a better person? 

Many of my relatives, on the other hand, are in Camp One, and anything which could possibly bear on any part of the family is fundamentally “Their Business(tm),” because it bears on “The Family(Inc).”  So I’ve been hearing from the Screeching Harridan Wing(tm) of The Family(Inc.), including some who (literally) don’t even nod hello at funerals… literally, the only reason I’ve heard from them for years on years in a row is because, according to the rules of the Appearances crowd, My Comment ipso natura became Their Business.

Tempest, meet Teapot.

[These are the same folks who, if they know that I have a blog and actually read this, will be pissed that I’m writing this in public: the fact that I’ve got it hidden away under a jump will not excuse me from the (damning, in their eyes) sin of being one of “those people” who actually has conversations about  family dynamics on a blog.]  

I understand that way of thinking;  I’ve got zero respect for it, but I understand it.  Conversely, to their specific clique within The Family(Inc.), I’m sure I come off as a complete and utter boob — insert various other adjectives for style points.

Thus, my puddle-profundity take on why families fight on the holidays.  I love them and I’m sure it’s the same in the other direction… but just like partisan Dems and Republicans at the same table, the values I hold to be important deeply offends theirs, to which I refuse to subscribe.  We may wish each other well, but we’re not going to get along, and if we weren’t distantly related, we’d have no contact with each other at all.  As my twin once described to my beloved and departed Mom to explain why we were fighting, again, “sure, we’ve got brotherly love.  We just don’t have much brotherly like”….

and nothing brings that out like the Holidays.

Leave a comment


  1. Alex

     /  December 15, 2008

    I have my own insight into this, but take it for opinion since every family is different. Immediate and extended families are supposed to be built upon love – with the degree of love supposed to be strongest in the immediate family and then weakening as you go outside that circle. Yet many family members expect the love to be equally strong in all parts. So – who can make us THE MOST angry out of anyone on the planet? The ones we love. The most furious I have ever been has not been with complete strangers who slighted me, but with good friends, my wife, and my children. To have them make me mad FEELS so wrong, hence the righteous indignation we can feel when a family member pisses us off, intentionally or not. So extended family, perceiving that the family unit is all one big piece with equal bonds of love, can get just as angry as those in the immediate family, but…they don’t have that same strong bond of love to actually forgive and forget, hence the fights that happen in all families over the mildest of things.

    What you have described in your post above is no different than what I’ve seen in my own extended family, that described by our favorite Redleg, or even my good friend from Ethiopia and his extended family stateside and back home. I think this is universal to humanity for these things to happen, and what’s more, the responses fall exactly upon the two sides you mentioned above – one that get’s over it and the other that makes it their holy cause to uphold. Now as for why the holidays do this – I suspect it’s because supposedly we’re supposed to commune together as a family group and reaffirm the ties that hold us together – so any slights that may occur are strictly taboo during this time. I could bring up some whack social science theory here, but I think I’ll stop now.

  2. No, I think you’re exactly right. Particularly, as is the case in my family, where we had a big blog blow-up a few years ago, precisely over this same issue. Said folks wrote us out of The Family (Inc)(and yes, that’s the phrase they constantly use, “the family,” as if no others exist or could possibly be on a different page) in any meaningful way a long time ago, except for lame gestures for appearances’ sake, yet still want to pretend that the ties that continually have failed to bind, still do. That said, it’s very definitely a clique thing — I’ve got ties that definitely still DO bind, and bind hard, in the same family… but they’re the substance crowd.

    The line about “not even nodding to each other at funerals” wasn’t rhetoric. This clique and I haven’t spoken in years, even when a number of us were in the same room. To my mind, to pretend otherwise, that we’re all a great big lovey-dovey family, is simply hypocrisy. To theirs, anything that threatens the appearance of everything being spiffy is completely assholic. Being in the former camp, I don’t see a problem with wishing somebody well, while admitting that we don’t see horizon-to-horizon, let alone eye-to-eye.

    Otherwise, the whole holiday business of “let’s pretend we actually return each others’ phone calls” becomes just that, a shibboleth.

  3. (shakes head)
    Just had the “lost your email address conversation” as well. I managed to be polite and refrain from pointing out that the exact same conversation had been had the previous year (and probably will, the next). Gotta admit, there are times I’m actually glad these folks don’t care for me much.


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