Back in the day before Facebook, suburban families used to create saccharine little status updates and mail them out with their annual Christmas cards. My family was no different — except my dad used the tradition as a sort of platform to gently mock the whole notion of Presenting the Perfect Family, wrapped up in a bow, that is now an everyday feature of everyone’s Facebook newsfeed.
My dad’s Christmas newsletters were the antithesis of the humble bragging of our friends and neighbours. Contrary to the flowing literary style in fashion among middle class easterners, dad’s newsletters were in point-form and provided weirdly honest snapshots into our lives.
Sample: “Daughter Sarah gets job at banking outfit. Buys power suit at garage sale. Not yet a true capitalist.” Handwritten in his distinctive printed scrawl on lined yellow paper, the Palframan Christmas bulletins never mentioned his own career or achievements. Instead they featured detailed updates about his ongoing battles, such as “Birds vs. Squirrels”— outlining the years’ attempts to foil the invasion of his many winter bird feeders— or “Painting the Living Room: An Odyssey” in which he discovers, after spending a whole weekend immersed —at my mother’s behest —in colour samples, that “beige not just a colour. Is entire universe of shades and possibilities.”
The newsletters chronicled upticks in wart growth and declines in hairline, and also brought in heartwarming bits about expanding progeny with special talents (“Kevin, 15, is perfecting the art of humiliating his parents through ill advised t-shirt selection”). They usually also featured a classic cheesy family portrait, art-directed by my mom. Argyle vests and permed hair were big in the 70’s; by the late 80’s we were gelled teenagers wedged between our silvering parents, mom in sparkly knitwear bearing a long suffering grin.
My parents have been married 50 years now. Because my family sucks at self-conscious traditions and I am a terrible archivist, I have found exactly 3 of these ethnographic treasures, stuck between pages of books or in random boxes of paperwork. Every one of them has a line or two that cracks me up. All fill me with fond memories of banal things. All signed with dad’s regular sign-off: Boy psychiatrist and King of the World.
Nowadays, we just call each other. My mom is probably relieved that dad is a one fingered typist who hasn’t figured out email. But I kindof notice that my sister and I are channelling him, a bit, with every Facebook status update we write.
May you all find ways to look at your crooked families and rejoice in their weirdness. If you have the pleasure of hanging out with your little band of monkeys in real life: it’s about the presence, not the presents. Life is short, keep it real. xoxoxo happy ho-ho