Dysfunctional families and Thanksgiving

Yesterday I called one of my former work colleagues to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving in advance. I asked him what he planned to do for the holiday. He’s married with children, after all, and folks who are married with children are supposed to have festive family holidays.

Not so much, in his case. None of his relatives live in the same area of the country that he does. His wife’s parents are dead. She has three sisters, but none of them are speaking to his wife, for various reasons.

What about his children? I asked.

They’re away at college, he told me, and doing things with their friends.


Another married friend of mine is spending Thanksgiving not with either set of parents (all four of which are still alive), but with friends in his adopted city of Pittsburgh. To the best of his knowledge, his young adult children will be present, though (according to him) they’ll spend most of the dinner exchanging text messages with friends.

Was Thanksgiving always like this? Not according to my memory…Or maybe I just imagined that.

All of us, I think, have an image of the blissfuly happy Thanksgiving get-together, straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. That is an alluring ideal, and (let’s be clear here) an admirable one. No one is going to convince me that idyllic family life isn’t a worthwhile goal.

But my experience and observation leads me to believe that it’s an ideal that less than half of us manage to attain anymore—if we ever did.

My family life was relatively happy, as such things go. But there were relatives with drinking problems (I’m part Irish Catholic, after all), and heated disagreements over politics—decades before the Trump era. I remember riding home from Thanksgiving in the back seat of my dad’s station wagon, both of my parents angry about something that an aunt or a cousin had said during the extended family meal.

If this holiday finds you in an ideal (or close to ideal) family setting, count your blessings. If that isn’t the case, try not to despair too much.

You’re not alone, after all.