Monday, November 28, 2005

 

Thanksgiving Lament

Or, Thanksgiving Gaiety

I took my two youngest, 9 year old daughter and 12 year old son, on my annual, obligatory trip to Knoxville, to visit with my family for Thanksgiving. As Thanksgiving last year was not especially enjoyable with my family, as I previously noted here, I traveled with some trepidation. Although being a conservative, I easily keep my views to myself during family gatherings and other non-political occasions. Unfortunately, other, liberal, members of my family have no such self restraint as in my sister's "sexist moment" related in the link above.

I had been treated with a phone call from my older sister on Thanksgiving day. The call went pleasantly with niceties exchanged, etc. and finished with an invitation on her part to come and visit her. She stated my kids and I were welcome to stay at her house. Her extra bedrooms had been cleaned up. This sister typically invites us to stay with her at her house which, for my family, is unusual.

When I was a child, one of six, we regularly stayed with relatives when we traveled. Somehow, my family doesn't think this is a good idea. My middle sister and her husband would allow us to stay with them when they lived in Florida but now that they have returned to Tennessee no invitations have been extended. My parents live in the 5 bedroom house that we grew up in but my father once sent a letter to all out of town offspring that visitors need not apply but that he would help pay for a motel room. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn't. With the added costs, this curtails my visits.

My children spent most of Thanksgiving day with their mother. At 5:00 AM Friday morning, we started the trip south to Tennessee. The journey down was uneventful and we arrived in Knoxville at 9:30 AM.

After spending some time with my parents and my two younger sisters, we checked into the motel which, surprise, my father paid for in full this time. That evening my son and I went to watch Alcoa High School play in the semi-finals of the Class AA state championships. Alcoa is the defending state champion. The game was close until the 4th quarter when Alcoa broke into about a two touchdown lead and went on to victory. During this time my daughter went ice skating with my youngest sister at the outdoor rink set up in the Market Square Mall in downtown Knoxville.

My daughter enjoyed ice skating so much that she insisted on going again on Saturday. After a quick trip to the Sugarlands Visitor Center in the Smokey Mountain National Park and then Pigeon Forge, I took her and my son to the skating rink. There we hooked up with my older daughter, son-in-law and their kids. Fun was had by all although my younger daughter and son were the only ones that skated for any length of time.

On Sunday for a final goodbye, we met my parents at Cracker Barrel for lunch. My two sisters and my brother-in-law joined us. Being a lesbian my youngest sister brought her friend/lover. She and her friend sat closest to myself and my children. Towards the end of the meal the conversation turned towards the skating experiences.

My daughter brought up that a teenage boy she had seen at the rink the night before looked "gay." For her this was an observation based primarily on his hairstyle. As the boy was with a girl, I doubt that he actually was gay. My daughter also noted that when she had told me this that I immediately knew about whom she was talking. My son also chirped in on the conversation about this.

He then, for whatever reason, mentioned that the host of a show on Animal Planet looked "gay." In response to this my sister asked him what difference in made who a person had sex with as far as how well a person could do their job. My son didn't catch on to what she was trying to say and she rephrased her comment for him. At that point, I said that I thought what he was trying to say was that the fellow on Animal Planet was effeminate. After that the conversation turned to another subject.

In a few minutes, my sister stated she needed to leave. Giving polite goodbyes to all she and her friend left. It was then that I realized, or thought, that she was offended by my children's comments and perhaps mine. However, I was also offended that during a family lunch that my 12 year old son and 9 year old daughter were confronted about the morality of homosexuality.

Part of this is certainly misunderstanding on everyone's part. It is an irony that the term "gay," originally popularized as a more respectful alternative to the term "queer," has become a pejorative to today's children. It is also ironic that many of children still find the idea of homosexual activity repulsive despite efforts by so many to "normalize" it.

In my personal philosophy, I don't care if someone is gay or not. My religious perspective is that if it is a sin, it is not a great sin. I believe, if it is a sin, a shoplifter commits a greater sin than consenting adults engaged in homosexual activity. But I prefer my children to be heterosexual. I do not teach my children that anyone should be discriminated against because of sexual preference.

But I really don't teach my kids much at all about homosexuality. My two sons know that I have a brother that died of AIDS that he most likely contracted through homosexual activity. I haven't talked with my 9 year old daughter about this yet because I believe 9 year old girls have better things to worry about, like what clothes to pick out for their Build-A-Bear and studying for the Friday spelling test.

Frankly, I'm angry that our society is so permeated with sex that 9 year olds know about "gayness" and all sorts of other sexual activities. With TV show such as "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," characters like Richard on "Survivor," the gay boyfriend in the movie "Clueless," frequent sexual innuendo on radio shows, etc. a parent would have to perform gargantuan fetes of censorship to fully block out exposure to sexual references. When my children ask questions regarding sex, I provide factual, matter of fact responses as well as remind them that they can't date until they are 25 and can't kiss anyone till they are 30.

As far as trying to make philosophical, moral arguments with 12 and 9 year olds regarding homosexual activity and work performance, I don't believe it is appropriate. Kids need time, emotional development, and to develop abstract reasoning to adequately grasp these issues. They don't need the confusion that can come with these arguments being pushed upon them. I believe children learn better about how to treat others from the example of adults around them. When they witness me interact and treat homosexuals in a friendly, fair, civil, respectful manner they get the message that, while there may be certain aspects about a person you may not like or approve, you still treat them with dignity.

I imagine my sister is still feeling offended. Perhaps it is because as a liberal she may have "weakened self-esteem, injured narcissism and paranoid tendencies." Maybe it's something else. But my sister is a big girl. If she can't take it, tough. I feel no need for any apologies. My only obligation in this scenario is to my children and to help them to grow up to be as normal and healthy as possible. I don't see how conforming their views, at this age, on "gayness" to my sister's or anyone else's expectations contributes to that goal.

If past behaviors hold true, my sister, nor anyone else in my family will ever say anything to me about this, which is fine with me. During the roughest times of my life I received minimal support from my liberal siblings and parents. I visit my parents as regularly as possible because they are essentially good (although politically and socially misguided) people, in their 80's and deserve to live out the last years of their lives feeling loved.

After enduring many moments of tolerating my family's liberal moments, I don't look forward to gatherings, holidays, etc. because relaxation and enjoyment are too often interrupted by the politics of the moment or the cause celebre. Last Thanksgiving it was the mythical "sexist moment," this year it is "gayness," I can't predict what next year holds. Maybe all this is what Jesus was referring to when he said, "And a man's foes shall be they of his own household."

UPDATE (12/18/05): There has been a fair amount of discussion regarding this incident resulting from a link at DrHelen. Which is just fine because if I wasn't willing to take the flack from expressing my feelings and opinions, I wouldn't make them public. First, I am quite willing to accept that I may be in the wrong here. Secondly, when a situation occurs of conflict regarding my children, my first move is to protect my children, emotionally and physically if needed. Last, I am tired of being "saved," "enlightened," "taught a lesson," "shown the way," etc.

Sometimes its as if life is an obstacle course of Moonies, Hari Krishnas, fundamentalists, civil rights activitists, Scientologists, ad infinitum all telling us how to live our lives and how we should act. Sometimes it would be nice to sit and enjoy lunch. Where there is history sores tend to fester and what would be minor incidents become magnified, but the sound of harmelss drops of water will eventually drive most people crazy.

Many moons ago, when I was living in married student housing another couple found my oldest (and only at the time) daughter playing around their apartment. They decided these girls shouldn't have been doing this, made them come into their apartment and called us and the other girl's parents. I went and retrieved my daughter and mildly scolded her for being where she shouldn't have been. When, the other father picked up his daughter he roundly informed the couple that they had committed kidnapping and any other incidents would result in a call to the police. He then instructed his daughter on not going where she had been.

When I learned of this, I realized the error in my actions. Fortunately, this couple was well intentioned if msguided. No adult should force a child into their residence. What if he had been a child molester, murderer, etc. Since then I have made it a policy to look after my children first.

Once, again, I don't find that saying someone looks "gay" should elicit a response of "What difference does it make who someone has sex with?" I've heard many times an adult, including my other sister, make the comment that someone looks gay and the response is "Yeah" or "How so?" or something along those lines. Within the last month I saw a tabloid in the grocery store with the large headline on the cover, "Who's Gay and Who's Not?" With all the media focus on gayness, is it any wonder that kids pick up on it. This is something that takes more than a 15 minute conversation to understand.

Growing up in the South, I am old enough to remember separate water fountains for whites and blacks. I remember restaurants that wouldn't serve blacks, theaters that wouldn't allow blacks entrance, blacks supposing to sit in the back of the bus. I asked my father about these things. He would say, "Some people think colored people shouldn't (whatever) with white people." "What do you think, Daddy?" "That colored people and white people should be able to drink, eat, sleep, etc. in the same places."

This was the extent of his racial equality teaching. He never initiated the conversation but he acted upon his beliefs. My brother had a black friend from our parochial over to visit on a regular basis. During the early sixties in white suburban American, this was something.

Rather than scolding us for perceived transgression concerning racial equality, my father simply lead by example. It worked quite well. This is one method of my father's I prefer to use. Socratic questioning techniques may work with adults but I believe other techniques are better with children. And, I still believe my sister was off the mark in her interpretation of my children's comments.

BTW - Judging from the locations of hits on my sitemeter over the past 2-3 weeks, I am 99% certain that at least some of my siblings are aware of this blog and this thread. Hi, guys! Guess we'll see where it goes from here.

Comments:
I don't know about the weakened self-esteem, injured narcissism or paranoid tendencies but those 'liberal family moments' sound like something out of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation meets Crossfire.

My own family's holidays are similar in stress level, for reasons surprisingly different.

First of all, living at least 5 driving hours away from our closest family, many of my holidays have revovled around the pleasure of my Pops waking us up at 4 in the morning so we can 'get on the road' (he hates driving slightly less than being driven). This turns into a doctoral thesis on how to get on each other's nerves in close quarters.

If the decision was made to spend the holidays at home, it would be the four of us. Stuck in a house for 5 hours getting on each other's nerves.

My Pops, a hellraiser in his younger days who fancies himself King of all that he surveyed, would often make tactical decisions to ask me silly quesitons like "how's your social life/spiritual life/school life." You'd think the long hair, black shirts, and steel toed boots may have given him that answer before he asked the question, (this would be where the weakened self esteem, injured narcissism and paranoia came into play) but he just wanted to hear me say it. Then he wanted to holler about the answer he knew I was going to give.

He still asks those questions. But I have grown out of those tendencies, for the most part.

Then there was the kid brother.
If you've gone over to my blog recently, and read any of 'patsbrother's' critiques, you will see what I'm talking about. Endless sniping based on semantics. When the fam is together, unlike the coldness of the internet, that kind of mind-numbing back and forth can go on for hours.

I often tried to buffer such days by inviting friends over, but such days were deemed by the Pops to be 'family' days, where no one could come over whist he slept in front of a television watching football.

Politics never really mattered, is what I'm sayin'. If it was brought up, it was hollered about, be it politics, religion, pop culture, video games, school whatever.

So I just started celebrating holidays elsewhere. The peace just kind of got to the old man, since he never seemed to realize that I hadn't been home for Thanxgivninin in four years. My brother had skipped like, two. Strange how it is that, the more people and friends involved in a holiday lighten the mood by not requiring the same four people to talk to each other for 5 straight hours. It also helps when these events are potluck in nature, you invite enough service industry personell to get those dishes clean with speed and you invite enough unmarried guys and gals to handle all the leftovers you don't want.

For Christmas I still came back, but bracketed the event with the Christmas Eve's Eve South Georgia Pub Crawl (imagine how successful that is by knocking out a solid 12 hours of bickering in exchange for hangover sleep), going out to Mass and then to dinner on Christmas Eve, opening presents Christmas Eve, and then inviting packs of friends over for the Christmas Day Bring Your Own Steak Feast.

Kind of a Powell Doctrine 'Overwhelming Force' to deal with the issues of family & holidays.
 
I came across your site while looking up the name of an old teacher of mine that was found guilty of sexual battery (I'm originally from the Cincinnati area). I belong to a forum for Conservatives and we were talking about cases of sexual misconduct by teachers.

Anyway, got to reading your blog and you've got some good things to say. If you want to talk to some like-minded individuals, you should check out the forum I belong to. www.covertconservatives.com - just tell 'em DDoll sent ya. ;-) There are some of the greatest people out there on the forum and just thought you might enjoy it. Take care and stay right!

-DDoll
 
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