I know Italians are big on family. That’s what they say in the movies anyway. The Mafia guys are always talking about how there is nothing more important than family, that is when they’re not killing each other and sending messages via dead canaries.
And I guess I feel that way too. That’s why I sit at home a lot, even when there’s no pandemic. And while I have never killed a family member, I must admit I have been sorely tempted. I don’t know about you, but different relatives have often enthusiastically supplied me with a long list of my mistakes, shortcomings, weaknesses and and previous embarrassments.
For instance, my father liked to remind me (often) that I had shot the puck at my own net during the course of my first hockey game when I was seven years old, back in 1963. It was on an outdoor rink and the only equipment I was wearing was a helmet, which we wore under our toques in those days. The only preseason preparation that I undertook was that my mother set me up in our livingroom with a stick and a puck and instructed me to shoot at our fireplace. So shooting the puck was obviously the intention of the game. The helmet fit tightly over our heads and only covered the front and back of our craniums. After all, what could possibly go wrong ? I like to think that my toque was too large and occasionally slipped over my eyes, preventing me from knowing exactly where I was on the ice at any given moment. I can also remember my dad’s answer when I wondered aloud on our drive to the rink years later whether I performed better as a defenceman, winger or centreman.
“You play centre no matter where they put you, David,” was my father’s frank response.
And it was not only my on-ice performance that came under, ahem, honest assessment. When I was ten years old I became enamoured with the guitar and I must admit that I did feel fortunate when my parents purchased one for me and also shelled out for weekly lessons. My mother even claimed that she liked to listen to me practice, but Dad countered her enthusiasm by joking? after a year that the only song I could play with any competence was ‘Jingle Bells.’
That’s not entirely true, but I did always love Christmas music.
But I think the point is Dad never wanted me to get a swelled head and correctly ascertained that I had enough confidence to laugh at myself. Forgetting to be humble can lead to a very painful stumble. And the ability to laugh at yourself can be the beginning of a lifetime of comedy.
My father has since moved on to another room in the universe and has transferred part of the burden of keeping my self-importance in check to my daughter, Rachelle. Not long ago I was explaining the precious information as to how I was attempting to keep my weight down during the pandemic. “I have only two meals a day now, a big breakfast and…
“I don’t care, Dad.”
Okay. Fine then. Next time don’t beat around the bush… sweetie.
There are important lessons to be learned in life and one of them is that other people are never as interested in hearing what I have to say as I am in saying it. And all of us have a fine line to walk. When does a hefty dose of self-confidence become an overdose of egotism ? How many of our conflicts in life are just us standing up for ourselves as opposed to treading on someone else’s toes ? In my confrontations I always pause for some self-reflection; am I the one to blame here ?
And then I come to my senses. Of course not.
So family members, by always being there, crowding our spaces and sticking pins in our balloons, serve as reality checks. Like Forrest Gump, my mother always put things to me in ways that I could understand. Once, after watching one of my brothers and me pummelling and slamming each other so hard into walls that the framed pictures were literally falling off, said, “Treat your brothers the way you would treat your friends.” Novel concept, that. And so is the larger-than-life rule that family members have taught me nearly every day of my life: don’t take myself too seriously.
No one else does.