Sharing Thanks with Family, However We Define Them

Family is who we say they are, and home is where we make it.

Posted Nov 20, 2018

Thanksgiving is the quintessential American holiday, dating to the beginning of what became America in the early 1600s. Each year we set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a national holiday, intended at least as a day to reflect on the blessings of our lives—not on the bargains to be had the next day on Black Friday.

Ideally your blessings include everyone gathered at the holiday dinner table. Related by blood or by love and friendship, our thanks flow more freely when the holiday meal doesn’t include simmering resentments or outright drama. You’ll definitely digest your food better if your stomach isn’t twisting in knots of anxious tension.

Compared to the Norman Rockwell ideal of the American family as a happy multigenerational gathering, it’s fair to say not everyone’s holiday experience measures up.

It’s an unfortunate fact of life that sometimes we can’t spend our day of thanks—perhaps not any other day either—with those we’re related to because toxic reactions happen when we’re together.

Even when there isn’t outright animosity—and certainly when there is—there are people, including relatives, best kept at a distance.

Whether with or without biological family, of course we still want and need our holiday ritual—our roast turkey and stuffing, or whatever yours might include—ideally with people, related or not, who make us feel at home.

Home, wrote poet Robert Frost in “The Death of the Hired Man,” is “something you somehow haven’t to deserve.” It’s the feeling, awareness, deeply comforting sensation that you can relax. It’s safe. You don’t have to excuse, explain, justify, or rationalize yourself or your life choices. You’re accepted as you are.

Home may look very different for different people. For many, it’s the traditional image of the nuclear family amplified for the day with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

For many others, “family” is an honorific title signifying its holder has moved into the inner circle of one’s loyalty and trust. Mutual regard, not blood relation, brings our “chosen families” together. They can certainly include biological relatives, but not always and most definitely not exclusively.

However you define family, and whoever is in yours, another important aspect of Thanksgiving is that it’s about coming together to celebrate our “family units,” the basic building blocks of our communities, society, and our country.

Like our families of origin or choice, our communities—and we all belong to more than one—help us know who we are. They offer us the assurance that we aren’t alone in what can often be a scary and confusing world, even for grownups.

The LGBTQ community takes the concept of “community” very seriously—a reason for the hundreds of LGBTQ community centers in cities and towns across the country, the LGBTQ-friendly faith communities, the professional affinity groups, the drag houses, the motorcycle and leather clubs. For many of us “older” gay men, the bars we frequented in our younger years also provided us with a strong sense of community, a place we met our friends and shared what was going on in our lives. Many chosen families started out in the bars, health clubs, and other places we met others like us.

Of course you don’t need to wait until the fourth Thursday of November to give thanks for your life’s blessings. Cultivating an “attitude of gratitude” can help pull you up and out of a slump. It's an excellent practice for daily living, too.

Focusing on what you are grateful for, rather than on the things that hurt or annoy you, is yet another tool in building resilience because it puts you in control of how your story gets told. Will it reflect lessons about how you learned to want what you have, accepting the rewards of your labor with gratitude and celebration for Nature’s blessing of life itself? Or will it be a lament for all you don't have but "deserve"?

Being able to share your gratitude in the safe and pleasant company of family, however defined, makes for a wonderful Thanksgiving—and any other day of the year.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving.

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