I believe in dinners with the family. When I was in grade school, I thought nothing of them. While I went through high school, I grew to detest them. And now, at the tail end of college, I’ve learned to be thankful for them. I’m not thankful for the meals, or the conversations repeated every day with the same few questions uttered in many different ways. There was something else at the table that grew out of the two decades that I lived with my parents.
My parents weren’t remarkable people. Both were immigrants, and both worked hard to provide me and my sister with the support and education they didn’t have. Their stories are like the stories of countless other people in the world. On a similar note, nothing remarkable ever happened in my life. I never lived through a grand event, a great struggle, or anything of the sort. What dinners with the family taught me was that it was perfectly fine to be normal.
Because of the countless meals I ate with my family I stopped seeing my parents as the godlike figures who exemplified the virtues of fatherhood and motherhood I used to believe in during my childhood. They became individuals like me. I learned why my mother screamed. I knew what made my father cry. We were not a remarkable family, but everyday people living everyday lives with the joys and pains experienced by individuals in every time and every place. We were imperfect and human, and that was perfectly fine.
Leaving for college wasn’t a great shock to me. My parents were no longer just parents. My parents became, all at once, my siblings, my friends, and the strangers I had yet to meet. I could call them and complain about the significant and insignificant troubles in my life, and they would listen as a sister or a brother. They could call me for help as a colleague, and I could respond in turn as a friend. My family became so much more than that anomalous ideal hinted at in fairy tales and childhood rhymes. The relationship between father, mother, sister, and son was still there, but the lines were blurred and the hierarchies flattened. We were equals, all there to help each other in our times of need, to laugh and cry and love and learn and sing and dance and live together.
I believe in dinners with the family. Because of them I am no longer just a son and just a brother. I truly know my parents and my sister, and they truly know who I am, and for this I am thankful.