An email popped into my inbox today with the subject line The Difficult Men’s Club. It was from a long-time friend and included a photograph from her recent family Christmas celebration. In the picture is her partner, her brother-in-law, one of her sons, her ex-husband and her father. Only one of the men is smiling.
I must admit my first reaction was to laugh at the sight of all those men she needs to manage. The three most difficult (father, partner, ex-husband) are in the foreground sitting around a low table with several bowls of peeled and unpeeled king prawns, crumpled serviettes and an assortment of beers. I know all three of them and like each one for his unique charm, though I was a little intimidated by her dad when I was younger. All three can be abrasive at times and all three are opinionated. Adding to the complexity, their vastly different points of view on the political, social and cultural scale.
My friend’s Christmas photo made me laugh because she is one of the very few people I know who would see the funny side in such a stressful dynamic. This woman has United Nations-level people skills and continues to bring her family together because she loves them and she wants to be with them — all of them — at Christmas. It’s important for her sons to celebrate with both their parents, it’s important to her mother that she supports her father, and it’s important to my friend that her family accepts and loves her partner.
The other reason I laughed is because solidarity is comforting. Not one of us comes from a perfect family or will raise a perfect family. Just as we complain about our in-laws, extended family or estranged relatives, so too will our children and their partners complain about us. Siblings will fall out, parents will separate, and one day, that little bit of crazy we all conceal deep down will show itself in all its stark-raving mad glory. Most likely at Christmas.
When my friend and I next meet we will share our festive stories, exaggerate the extent of the awkwardness and animosity, and rejoice in each other’s dramatic family sagas. I will mention her Difficult Men picture, and point out the one man who managed to smile for her photo on Christmas Day — her son. I’ll mention it because despite all the difficulty, this woman has raised two gorgeous young men, and like their mother, they have a sense of humour. They’re going to need it when my peacekeeping friend unleashes all that pent-up patience on the next generation.