The Dysfunction You Can Laugh About Later

I’m going to tell you the same story two ways.

Because that is exactly how most stories go, I think: in different directions.

Our second son, David, was about to get married. For his bachelor party, his brothers and a couple of close friends decided to take him camping on a mountain in North Georgia. Our boys never have been Vegas types. His brothers were all single at the time with no discretionary income to speak of, so their camping gear was mostly secondhand or borrowed and not cared for all that great. And it stunk uncannily like the floor of their closets or the trunks of their cars.

They stayed up late by the fire, most likely smoking cigars that made their gear smell even worse. On Saturday morning they woke early, planning to worship together and pray for David on the mountainside as the sun camp up.

I’ll stop right there.

If you have boys, you may be thinking about how spiritual and mature our guys must have been. If you have rebellious boys, you may feel jealous or sad because your son fits better in a skanky Vegas story. Apart from the dirty-sock smells and the unsightly equipment, this a good story. If we wanted to, we could use it as proof that we did a good job as parents. It’s a true story.

But I feel obligated to tell you the other story. The also true one. Because I happen to think that when we tell our stories like blowing bubbles, presenting them as shiny orbs of perfection, those bubbles have a right to be burst. Bursting bubbles is good for you, because it helps you with your envy and your pain. And it’s good for me, because it helps me stay humble and authentic, which I need.

So, the boys woke up early. And one of them said, “Those people down the hill are still sleeping, so let’s move [from the perfect spot with the perfect view] away from here, so we don’t wake them up.”

Another brother said, “It’s not their mountain. Let’s stay here.”

I am not identifying who said what for obvious reasons, but if you know them, you might be able to guess.

Still another, the one who is just as intense as the one who wanted to stay, said, “This trip is all about David, and now you’re making it all about you. You’re so selfish. We’re moving.”

And then the four boys really got into it. One of them told me later, “Mom, I’m pretty sure I said the f word. Maybe even more than once.”

They packed up the car in a collective manly huff and drove off. For several miles, the debate continued, loud and strident and as passionate as if it mattered. And then they settled into an icy silence. One of their friends told me, “Mrs. Murray, that was the most awkward ride home ever.”

And then David, who was driving his soon-to-be father-in-law’s Suburban, accidentally banged the side mirror against the mirror of an oncoming car and knocked both mirrors clean off. But because, by then, no one was speaking to anyone else, they kept driving the treacherous curves of that mountain road in silence. They can be so weird.

Less than an hour after they got home, they were all on the phone apologizing for being complete jerks. Lots of I love you, mans and guffawing.

The more I think about it, I’m proud of the second story even more than the first. Not because of the epic fight, the likes of which I—as a woman—will never understand, but because of the guffaws and the I love you, mans and the fact that they made their straightforward reparations within the hour.

Bill and I talk with people a lot about their families, and we’ve concluded that every family has its moments when they get into it, when they knock the proverbial mirror off the car and get weirdly silent about it. What separates the dysfunction you can laugh about later from the dysfunction you hide and suffer from for years mY quite possibly be as simple as an apology. Our most family-broken friends say things like, “My mother was always right” or “My dad never once said he was sorry about anything.”

Turns out the best family stories aren’t the perfect bubble ones. They are the second stories, the ones when the bubble bursts and you say out loud that you’re sorry you were a jerk. You say I love you, even after the damage has been done. You say it soon and you say it often. And, if necessary, you throw in a humble guffaw for good measure.

One Reply to “The Dysfunction You Can Laugh About Later”

  1. I do wish my family had more of this. As my parents and their siblings are getting older I see a bit more of it, but as an only child, my opportunities to fight and apologize came in the form of friendships, and I was too much of a people pleaser to ever get into a fight with a friend :/ But this is good. Again, normalizing the ups and downs, showing the imperfections of people, even ones the world might say are “good ones”. As always, thanks for your honesty Kitti!

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