When I was eight, my parents moved us into their first house, in central PA. They didn’t have any friends in the area, so they called everyone in the phone book with a Chinese-sounding last name (being central PA, this was not many people) and invited them to a pizza party. I was a kid then, so my only significant memory of that gathering was the pizza. But I’m aware that twenty years later, some of their best friends were the strangers with the right last names in the phone book.
I sort of envy this systematic way of gathering random people. It’s not like now where people are unevenly findable because everyone’s on different web sites and has to opt-in. Of course, it’s lucky that my parents sought a factor available in a phone book, which doesn’t contain very deep data. The lack of deep data may also be a positive, because it assured that the people my parents befriended were diverse too. (Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are many different kinds of Chinese people, or any minority group.)
This is all to say that gatherings are important, and I hope everyone’s found a nice one of their own for Thanksgiving!
Daphne: Why is it so easy to love our families yet so hard to like them?
Frasier: Well, Daphne, that is the kind of question that makes life so rich – and psychiatrists richer!
One of my friends suggested I write about Thanksgiving, but I was skeptical since I would be violating “write what you know.” My family never really celebrates Thanksgiving, so I would be better off writing posts like “The awkwardness of Thanksgivings with boyfriends’ families” or “Why do we eat turkeys when chickens taste better?”
But it is interesting that my family doesn’t do holidays, including Thanksgiving. It demonstrates some of my family’s best traits, like a grave absence of obligation and a functional style of attachment. Since moving to Portland, I’m grateful that I feel no pressure to fly to Pennsylvania during peak holiday times. Instead, I travel off-peak in early December or January.
Some of my parents’ lack of familial holiday spirit comes from being immigrants who never fully adopted the American culture. But I think it’s mostly their propensity to care for us in practical (not sentimental) ways. I often joke that my parents clearly don’t miss me, because they rarely call (I have to call them!). I also remember how my parents always seemed amused, not anxious when they dropped me off for summer camp for the first time, or every time they drove me back to college.
As I’m getting older, I think more about how to like my family in addition to loving them. The challenge with low-obligation relationships is spending enough time together to develop common experiences. Living far away, I worry that we won’t have enough walks together or mundane conversations about food to maintain a good connection. That’s sort of the genius of Frasier – it’s eleven seasons showing how arguments about dinner plans add up to profound relationships!
Playing violin was my main activity growing up. I played in my school orchestra, a community orchestra, in musicals, and occasionally elsewhere. My peers considered me “good” (on a non-serious level), and so it surprises many people that my parents rarely attended my performances. My mother told me that among other reasons, she doesn’t like music and that my orchestras didn’t sound very good anyway.
I think many might consider this unsupportive, that a parent would choose to miss a culminating landmark in their child’s growth. But I had no complaints then, and I appreciate this choice now. This experience makes me question how we define ‘support.’
For example, the aggregate support I received from my parents for playing the violin was extraordinary. My parents bought me violins, paid for my lessons, and coordinated my transportation to and from rehearsals. They doled honest criticisms with a confidence I could improve, and they encouraged me to practice when I was dispirited or forgetful. They did these things without complaint, without any expectation I would make a career of it, and mostly because I expressed an interest in third grade. How amazing is that?
Often we overlook our needs for real support and default to imagining support centered on the Final Thing – like a concert, a graduation, a book release. Actually it’s in our daily routines that we need the most support.