The Power of Family | January 6, 2012

The Power of Family

Every time I end a conversation on the phone with one of my children I tell them that I love them. This may seem odd especially when it's a conversation like "Dad, where should I take my car to get the oil changed?" I tell them the name of a garage, and then say, "I love you" before I hang up the phone.

Despite my habit of saying this, recently I was struck by the contrast between our culture's focus on family over the holidays as opposed to our culture's focus on family in our day-to-day existences. Often it is in the context of formal family gatherings that the importance of family resonates. But why is this? Why do we need the holiday as an excuse to express, perhaps more concretely, our love for family members when we can do it every day?

Since we are all returning from some sort of family holiday, it seems appropriate this morning to talk about family. Although sometimes we may feel as though we want to trade our family in for someone else's, I hope you can hear me when I say the power of family is the most meaningful and enduring force in your lives and will continue to be so.

In the high school years, we tend to focus on friendships more than family, As harsh as it sounds, your friendships may change, but your family will always remain your family even as the family constellation shifts through potential divorce, remarriage, marriage, childbirth, or death.

While I have enjoyed referencing literary moments in my Bench Talks, today it seems appropriate to turn to popular culture because the families in classic literature do not capture all the kinds of families that we have in this room. Today I am going to turn to the television show, Modern Family, because beyond the chaos, temporary frustration, and comical aspects of this large family, this series offers a serious meditation on the power of family life.

In this program, the modern family is comprised of three families that are all connected through the head of the household, Jay Pritchett. The family appears untraditional and full of challenges. As patriarch, Jay has remarried a Columbian woman younger than his daughter, Claire. Claire and her husband Phil Dunphy have a son the same age as Jay's Columbian stepson, making Manny Luke's uncle and Claire and Mitch's step brother. Jay's son, Mitch, is partnered with a man named Cam, and together they have adopted a Vietnamese baby named Lily.

It is interesting that a team of over twelve highly capable writers crafts the scripts for this program. From a myriad of racial, cultural and sexual backgrounds, these writers draw upon their own family lives for the episodes of the show. What does

this suggest? Considering the popularity of the series, all of us can relate to the real- life craziness of each episode that tracks the challenges that any family might encounter in its day-to-day existence.

Knowing that many of you are coming off of holiday gatherings that inevitably had complicated aspects to them, I wanted to reflect for a few moments on what happens to the Pritchetts and the Dunphys as they try to create for themselves what Phil calls "Express Christmas."

This particular episode begins when the family realizes on December 16 that due to their schedules, they will not be able to gather on Christmas Day. As much as they bicker and get frustrated with each other, they want to be together on Christmas, and so they think of a solution. They will have Christmas on December 16, and they give themselves four hours to create an "express Christmas." Duties are divvied up: getting the tree, buying the presents, wrapping the presents, buying the turkey, and decorating the house.

Inevitably, and as we can all relate to, things get mucked up. The tree falls off the car en route home and is ripped into several pieces. The cherished decorative angel breaks; they lose the butterball turkey, Phil gets hit with a stun gun, and Cam and Jay get into a fight. It is chaos, and Claire who has been one of the forces behind the effort to simulate Christmas says, "I give up."

And in this instant we think for a moment that the family will break, that the family simply can't cope, and it will succumb to all the forces against it.

Ironically, the most cynical member of the family, the one who seems least likely to save the day with sentimentality and imagination, suggests a solution. Jay says something like, "Let's all go out to a Chinese restaurant and call it Christmas." As the family leaves the house, they squeal with delight as they are showered with fake snow that Jay had ordered sprayed in the yard.

The show ends with laughter and in its trademark way, with one of the cast members speaking directly to the camera and offering a reflection on family life. This time it is Gloria who gets to offer the meditation, and she says, "Family is family whether it is the one you start out with, the one you are in love with, or the family you gain along the way, which makes every day December 16 (or Christmas)."

"Family is family." Let's think about that for a minute.

Part of being a teenager is butting up against your parents because you are trying to figure out who you are in relation to them, and even when you feel affection for your parents you might not say it or even express it. As you grow and develop and begin to embrace who you are, as you begin to recognize some of the differences you may have with your family members, do not lose track of your identity within the family.

Do not lose track of the important role you have in your family and the important responsibility you have for your family.

I urge you to put as much energy into your family relationships as you do to your peer relationships. Even if you do not fully realize it now, I assure you that later in your lives, you are going to need the steadiness, longevity, and strength of these family ties.

When you go home today, I ask you to make a gesture of love towards a member of your family. Even if you are not able to actually say, "I love you," make an offering that leaves no doubt to that family member that you do, in fact, love them.


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