Holidays With The American Family

This week’s Courier Herald column:

This week we complete the celebration of Hanukkah and begin the Christmas season. It’s a joyous time when people of faith celebrate miracles at the cornerstone of our belief systems.  We’ve merged a copious amount of gift giving to the celebration.

Of all the best gifts I have received in my life, my three sisters have to rank up there. I mean, they were no train set, but they’ve managed to endure long after the wrapping paper of other gifts was long forgotten.

They, of course, required some assembly and instruction.  For that, I’m eternally grateful for having two awesome parents.  I can even say I helped in making them better at their jobs.  I’m speaking of the ill-advised time I once told my Mom her spankings didn’t hurt.  Sure enough, she got better quite immediately at that skill.

My dad needed no instructions on the art of the spanking, but he was also quite thoughtful in a lot of the disciplinary lessons he taught us.  He knew that one of our great bonds as a family was the ability to endure momentary disagreements.  Our strength would come from being united, especially at times when we wouldn’t necessarily want to be.

To that end, Dad devised the “shower time-out” when we were still quite small.  When my sisters and I were fighting, we would have to sit in my parents shower until we could come back to them and tell them we had worked it out. 

I continue to marvel at the simplicity and genius in the assignment.  Mom and dad could get back to whatever they were busy doing and we were confined where we couldn’t get into any more trouble. Eventually we would learn that the only way we could get back playing was to decide that moving on was more important than proving who was right, who was responsible for whatever indignity caused our predicament, or having an outsider settle our underlying disagreement.  A short if not heartfelt statement of understanding to our parents was all that was required to regain our freedom and liberty to continue whatever we wanted to do on our own.

When we got a bit older, there was the assignment that we would have to go down to the end of our driveway, stand next to the busy state highway which we lived on, and give whichever sibling we were fighting with a hug.  Having to hug someone you had just decided you hated was bad enough.  Having to show the world you were doing it was just unnecessary humiliation.

Except it of course wasn’t unnecessary.  Being able to claim family publicly during what we thought was the worst of times was an important lesson for bigger and less trivial trials that come later in life.

I’ll be seeing each of my sisters and Mom this week.  We’ll remember Dad as we talk about stories like these and many more, passing them along to the nieces and nephews who likely don’t know the humiliation or value of having to hug someone in front of passing traffic.

And we’ll likely talk about other important events of the day.  We’ll discuss whether Mark Richt will be able to show up Todd Grantham in Charlotte next week.  And after important topics are settled, we’ll likely talk “a little” politics.  We just can’t help ourselves there.

It may surprise you that not all of my family members share the same political opinions. Sometimes the discussions get heated. But we’re family.  We haven’t had to sit in a shower stall together in decades, but we eventually figure it out.  We all know we’re stronger when we’re together.

Nationally, we’re having some fairly big discussions around the family table.  This is nothing new, but the tone for the past few years shows a disconcerting trend.  The age of the internet has created a political age of the intractable.  We can each now find people that generally agree with us 100% of the time if we want.  This feeds the idea that “we” are right and “they” are wrong.  Some of us seem to be taking this argument to the point where “we” must get our way, and “they” must be stopped.

We seem to be willing to tear down every political and government institution along the way to prove this point.  Looking back at the major stories of the year, we have people that want to make public schools, the police, the federal government, and virtually any elected official the enemy.  At times it seems we’re willing to fight them all.  We seem to be doing it all in the name of America.

It’s difficult to follow the logic that tearing down every institution of self-governance is the key to unlocking the promise that is America.  It’s childish to believe that there will be an America where those who agree with us stay, and those who do not will leave.

Like it or not, this is our American family.  Petulance will not allow us to fill the chasm that divides us.  But we don’t have a shower stall big enough for us all to sit in until we figure it out.  We’re going to have to figure out for ourselves if we’re stronger united or as individuals fighting each other.

Intellectually we know the answer.  May we use some of what’s left of this holiday season to remind ourselves of how to get along with those whom we don’t always agree.  May we remember that our strength has always come from what unites us, not from what divides us.  And may we resolve in the new year to remember the gifts we were given by those who came before us to keep our country the shining city on the hill that others throughout the world can still see, even on days when we can’t.


  1. FranInAtlanta says:

    Differing political views within family can be (and for me) are very positive. I know that some of those whose views differ from mine are neither evil nor ignorant – and it helps me remember that our country was founded on the principle that all of us are smarter than any of us.

  2. greencracker says:

    Good lord I hope no one’s family is breaking up over politics.

    Lord knows all of me and mine don’t agree, but it’s not a feast if everybody doesn’t bring something different, you know?

    We can all look past each other’s politics toward their covered dish. Because this time of year, we pay attention to the important stuff.

  3. saltycracker says:

    Responsibility (sometimes political conversion) in families does not come from words but when no one pays their bills. Families are made when the weakest and most vulnerable feel safe (not applicable on the last piece of pie).

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