Gratz for the Laughs

humorUntil yesterday, when Frank decided it had been posted so long no one noticed it any more, this was the tattered sign posted on my office door:



I suppose this is a microcosm of how I tend to function when I’m at my best: boundaries set with a hint of drama and humor. Hope, self-deprecation, a glimpse of the absurd.

I credit the ToolMaster and his family with bringing these qualities out in me.  Prior to our meeting, I’d  always had the sense that black humor was something other people could do well, most notably in the form of British comedy. (Monty Python, anybody?)

But I didn’t come from a playful home and my one memorable experiment with teasing a sibling ended in disaster. She left the dinner table in tears, I was sent to my room, and to the word, we both recall the contents of the sign I flashed her almost four decades ago.

Fast forward to the age of nineteen and my first O’Hara family dinner. It came with seven boisterous siblings and one decidedly alpha-male future father-in-law.

The O’Haras will laugh at anything, including one another’s weaknesses — especially at one another’s weaknesses — and at first I found plenty in which to take offense. (Someone needs surgery, so you’ll call him Hernia Boy? In public in the 1980’s?)

If you think they’d spare me and my delicate sensibilities, you’d be wrong. Thank goodness.

I could write a page of the jokes I endured after declining an invitation to steak dinner. I was exhausted from a long week of medical residency, hadn’t been alone with the ToolMaster in days, and we’d already had a long visit with the O’s. All that was sensible and understandable, but it didn’t matter when they found out our menu.

“Hotdogs? Hotdogs? You’d turn down a steak dinner for hotdogs?”

Hee. I still laugh to recall my father-in-law’s incredulous expression, though it took time to understand the core message behind the teasing. What seemed cruel was actually a way of noticing and embracing all of me, including my flaws.

And so, my nuclear family has grown to encompass this kind of humor. I’ve been known to call my kids “monster” and “brat” in affectionate tones, earning gasps and frowns from onlookers while my kids giggled and relaxed.

My kids perpetuate jokes on their friends. It is a core value and one of our strengths. I know I’m “off” if I don’t eventually find something to laugh at in the most serious of situations, because it’s a signal of my paradigm. I’m like an elderly woman encountering a winter’s first ice — all clenched and stiff, filled with fear. More likely to hurt myself through muscle rigidity than through an actual fall.

So here’s to laughter, peeps, and families which promote it in the spirit of love and inclusion. Is humor a big part of your life? Where did you learn to laugh.

In case you need inspiration, here are a few links I’ve enjoyed this week:

Ze Frank’s When Office Supplies Attack

Nipple-description awards on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books

16 thoughts on “Gratz for the Laughs

  1. My father was the master of one-liners. Once I said, “Dad, you need a haircut. You’re starting to look like Yoda.” He scrunched up his face and turned on his best muppet voice-“When haircut you need, look as good you will not, hmm?”

    Years later I’m having dinner in a fancy restaurant with my future husband and my parents. I tell my father he should be grateful for all those spaghetti dinners I cooked at home because tomatos have lycopene, which prevents prostate cancer. My troll blurts, “So…do you eat them?…or? My father laughed so hard he almost fell of his chair. I was mortified, but married him anyway.

  2. There’s a time for steak, and there are times when only hotdogs will do.

    I will laugh at just about anything (Monty Python? Bring it on!) but my idea of humour is so irreverent, and I find I’m surrounded by so much political correctness, that I generally keep my thoughts to myself these days.

  3. It’s possible I was born laughing. Or I might have slapped the doctor right back, I don’t really remember.
    Humor runs deep in my family. If we don’t tease you we don’t love you…although one side is a bit more sensitive to possibly causing offence. Me, if it has to be said, I’ll find a way to say it that no-one finds demeaning. Unless they’re meant to.

  4. I love this post. My situation is exactly the opposite. My family used to tease and laugh. Dinner was always about an hour long with everyone trying to outdo the last.

    My new family is so quiet. If I tease my kids, my son especially, he just takes it to heart, so I had to quit that a long time ago.

    Amy Jo

  5. I love to laugh, but have a quiet, sarcastic sense of humor, and my daughter shares it. My son, luckily, is big on creating those big, loud, belly-laugh situations, which has opened up a whole new world to us.

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