Opinion

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

We have abbreviations for laughter, LOL; for humble opinions, IMHO; and for love, ILU. We need shorthand for something that’s “not about you” (NAY).

We live complicated lives and can often travel along a superhighway of speeding emotions. When someone we know sees us, we may be reacting to something we are feeling that has nothing to do with them. We may have received an email that we got the job, that we won a contest or that our bid for a house was accepted. At the same time, we may not want to share whatever someone else sees in us. It’s why the following conversation is repeated throughout the world:

“What’s up?”

“Nothing. I’m good.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yup, thanks.”

So, maybe the conversation doesn’t track with exactly those mundane words, but the idea is the same: it’s NAY. Whatever someone is feeling in the moment, someone else appears who may have nothing to do with the arriving person. The facial expression, body language or vibe someone may have been transmitting has nothing to do with the other person.

The NAY phenomenon is a concept middle schools should teach their students. After all, most adults recognize the middle school years as among the toughest and least enjoyable periods in life, as each day is a battle to overcome fatigue, acne, self-conscious moments, and that impossible transition from adorable youth to uncomfortable adolescence. Middle school teachers work in a building that is a simmering cauldron of strongly held emotions that can and do change as rapidly as shifting winds during a storm.

After reminding students not to bully each other, to treat others the way they would like to be treated, to take responsibility for their actions and to stay ahead in their classes, schools should also encourage students to understand that snickering, laughing, eye rolling and head shaking are often NAY. If someone disapproves of something or someone, it’s quite likely that something in that person’s life is bothering him or her and that it has nothing to do with you.

When we become parents, we relive so many of the stages of our own lives vicariously, watching our children as they search for new friends, speak to their teachers, pick up a bat to hit a ball or put together the pieces of an instrument. Each step they take is their step, not ours. We can and do help and encourage them, transporting them to rehearsals, suggesting they practice singing arpeggios and providing structure for their lives. Ultimately, however, they reach their goals because of their efforts, their talents and their commitment. Our lives have become so linked to those of our children that we can feel the gut-dropping moment when the ball skids behind them into the goal, when they learn their test scores, or when their boyfriend or girlfriend ends a long-term relationship with them.

Our role, however, is not to pile our emotions on top of the teetering pile or to insert ourselves into our children’s lives. We have to step back, realize that their incredible successes or momentary setbacks are not about us, and try to figure out what they might need.

Children offer us an incredible opportunity for connection, commitment and love. They are not, however, a way to correct the slights we felt when we were young or a chance to become the winners instead of the losers. When anything or everything our children do becomes about us and not about them, then what they do is no longer for themselves, which deprives them of owning their mistakes and accomplishments. So, next time you’re drawn into their lives, make sure you remember it’s NAY.

'Traitor'

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Last week, we took our first major film, “One Life to Give,” to an out-of-town showing. An audience of more than 100 history lovers and friends in Philadelphia watched the dramatic story of the friendship of Nathan Hale, Benjamin Tallmadge and the beginning of the Culper Spy Ring. We were impressed by how interested the Philadelphians were in a tale of George Washington’s intelligence service centered in Setauket, Long Island. This is, of course, an authentic narrative of the Revolutionary War and of the founding of America, so I guess we needn’t have been surprised at its broad appeal.

In addition, we screened for the first time the almost completed sequel, “Traitor.” This story picks up some five years later, in 1780, and tells of the capture of John André, British spymaster, by the Patriots, and his fate at the hands of, ironically, Tallmadge. He is now a major in the Continental Army and has been tortured with guilt during the past four years since his Yale buddy, Hale, was caught and hanged as a spy. It was Tallmadge who so earnestly persuaded Hale to join the war effort, and we know of Hale’s end at the hands of the British.

Now the shoe is on the other foot.

André has been caught with detailed maps of West Point, the fort that the British are lusting to capture so as to have free rein in the Hudson River, dividing New England from the rest of the colonies. The fort is under the command of Patriot general, Benedict Arnold, who is about to become a turncoat, hence his dealings with André. 

The sequel is, if anything, even better than the original film. And mine is not the only such verdict. Here are some comments emailed to us by the members of the audience after the screening of both films in succession:

• “Thank you so much for including me in the extraordinary film screening last night. … I was not expecting to see something so professional and polished on every level: script, acting, photography, sound, production and, yes, gory makeup! It is also wonderful to see what an incredible family [my grandson, Benji, is the director] and community production this has been — pulling in all sorts of expertise, including [Bev Tyler, historian of the Three Village Historical Society, who accompanied us to Philadelphia]. … Congratulations to Benji [Michael Tessler, Andrew Stavis and the rest of the team]. … Please let them know how much I enjoyed it. And we’ll all be able to say, ‘We knew [them] when … .’”

• “Wow, what a great night. The films were great, great turnout.”

• “What a joy to be there, we really learned from the movie.”

• “Wonderful event! You should be proud. The movies were great. I learned a lot. I’m excited to share new stuff with my students.”

• “What a treat to attend the viewing … last night. Thank you for including us.”

• “HUGE congratulations from me! Wow, I really enjoyed the movies.”

• “Thanks for including us in the movie viewing. An impressive undertaking with fantastic results!”

• “Had a great time at the movies. We were really impressed!”

And this from an old friend who has followed Benji’s development: 

• “Thanks for inviting me to witness [this] fabulous work. … [Benji’s] enthusiasm of his early years with a camera is super matched by his gifts of eye, mind and devotion to story and characters. It’s a little humbling to think that simply giving him a theater with a screen in his early years [he directed films as a teenager] encouraged him to continue creating worlds in film.”

• “I was so impressed with the level of sophistication given that [they] are young filmmaker[s].”

As you can tell, it was a successful and fun evening. We look forward to screening the two films, one right after the other, here in late spring. All will be welcome. Please stay tuned.

One of the best parts of our job is providing an outlet for readers to express their beliefs and passions on the Letters to the Editor page. Knowing what is on the minds of community members is always valuable to us and to the rest of our readers. This is a platform for releasing passions.

That’s why we’re hoping a few readers who called us last week will take pen to paper — or fingers to keyboard — and write us a letter. After the Jan. 10 editorial criticizing the extended government shutdown over a proposed wall on the U.S. and Mexican border, we received a few calls from readers who were unhappy with our opinion. Some went as far as to say they would no longer read our papers. Even though they want to end their relationships with us, we appreciate their calls. We wish they would have taken the time to write a Letter to the Editor, because that’s one of the purposes of the page — for a reader to let the newspaper staff and readers know that they don’t agree with an editorial or even an article.

We encourage and appreciate letters from all our readers no matter where they stand, even when it comes to politics. Also, we would love to see more letters from those who voted for and support President Donald Trump (R) as well as those who don’t. We want readers to tell us what they like and don’t like about the president — we appreciate hearing from all sides. We think our readers do too.

Speaking of Trump and national issues, many have asked why they don’t see more letters about local topics. When we receive them, we gladly publish them. We would love to hear more about what our readership thinks of political decisions on the town and village levels as well as our local elected officials. 

These letters to the editor can create much-needed conversations, but a few readers have commented there’s too much back and forth between some individuals in some of our papers. We always do our best to give people an equal opportunity to respond to each other, but some of that back and forth would stop if we received more letters about a wider variety of topics.

So, if you’re reading this editorial right now, don’t be shy. We accept letters with opinions about local, state, national and international issues. Whatever is on your mind, we want to hear from you. Take action. Keep in mind that letters are edited for length, libel, style and good taste — the letters page is not a place for foul language or personal battles. Letters should be no longer than 400 words, and we don’t publish anonymous letters. All submissions must include an address and phone number for confirmation.

On a side note, here at TBR News Media we go by “The Associated Press Stylebook” to edit our articles, letters and editorials. One reader pointed out in last week’s edition we didn’t refer to Trump as president. But we did. In the first reference we wrote “President Donald Trump (R),” but following AP style, on subsequent references used only his last name. 

We hope this editorial gets you to write or email, leading to more diverse and productive conversations in the future —  waiting to hear from you at rita@tbrnewsmedia.com (Village Times Herald/Times of Middle Country), kyle@tbrnewsmedia.com (Port Times Record/Village Beacon Record), sara@tbrnewsmedia.com (Times of Huntington and Northport, Times of Smithtown). 

Stock photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

From birth, hair has been a signal. I had hair when I was born, which probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to people who have known me for years.

When I was young, my haircutter used to imagine becoming wealthy by figuring out what made my hair grow so rapidly.

For those without hair, this isn’t a boast; it’s a part of a genetic heritage that cuts both ways. My hair, as it turns out, is also thick and fast growing on my eyebrows or, as people have preferred to say, eyebrow. The space between my eyebrows is just as eager to grow hair as the area just above my eyes.

In college, I tried to grow my hair longer to see how I’d look with shoulder-length hair. That was a failed experiment as my hair grew out instead of down, turning it into a heavy tangle of thick hair.

When I met my wife, I convinced her that I couldn’t disconnect the hair between my eyebrows, or I would be like Sampson and loose my strength. Amused as she was by the story, she let it slide. The afternoon of our wedding, she was stunned to see me with two eyebrows. She wanted to know what had happened and, more importantly, how I was still standing?

I told her that I went for a professional shave so that my usual facial shadow wouldn’t appear during the wedding. While I had my eyes closed, the barber removed the hair above my nose with a quick wrist flick.

Fortunately, my wife didn’t ask for ongoing removal of that hair when it returned.

As I’ve gotten older, hair has emerged from unwelcome places, making appearances from my ears and nose. Who needs hair there — and how could Charles Darwin possibly explain the presence of such unwelcome hair? Does the ear hair announce my advancing age and lower social value?

That brings us to today. As I was maneuvering through the usual deep thoughts, resolutions and promises for the start of the new year, an errant and unwanted fellow emerged from my nose. He was clearly long enough to attract attention, but what was especially surprising about “Jedediah” wasn’t just that he was long or that he seemed to rappel out of my nose. It was his color that offered such an unwelcome but realistic signal — Jedediah was gray.

Ugh! Who wants or needs a gray nose hair, not only offering the world a clue that my hair growth was out of control, but that I’m also so much older that even my nose hairs have started to show signs of aging? Do people dye their nose hairs?

Should I pluck him, trim him or wear him with pride, hoping that he distracts people from the progressively bushier pile of hair pouring out of my ears?

Wouldn’t a rugged individualist defy convention and wear the years and the hair growth with pride, despite the lack of magazine covers with contemporary studs like Hugh Jackman with hair coming out of their noses? If Hugh made gray nose hair fashionable, would I feel less self-conscious about Jedediah?

Poor Jedediah, who worked so hard to emerge from the nose cave, suffered the same fate as the errant hairs that grew out of my ears. He reluctantly left the warm comfort of my nose and was discarded into the trash.

While hair may tell a story about each person, Jedidiah will no longer be sharing mine, except for readers of this column.

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

A friend called the other day to wish us a happy new year and to tell us that she and her husband had sold their house. The buyers were going to tear it down and build a new one on the property. Before I could react, she assured me that they had lots of pictures from over the years, and their many memories of raising the children there would always stay with them. Clearly she had mixed feelings about what was happening.

It got me to thinking about what a house is. For starters, it’s four walls and a roof, maybe even a basement, but maybe not, in which we shelter ourselves, our families and our stuff. It is also a place where we invite friends and neighbors to drop in for a drink, a chat or even an elegant dinner party. Some of those guests may even stay over from time to time, so a house is a hospitality center in which we connect with those we enjoy and perhaps love.

A house is a physical location where we can be found. When people ask our names, they may immediately follow up with a second question: “Where do you live?” So to some extent, where we live helps define us. But a house is more, so much more. It is a home where those closest to us reside, perhaps where our children grow up, where we planned, and from which we traveled to and from work to become the people we are today. 

Home is where we want to go immediately when we are not feeling well. It’s where we can get a soothing cup of tea or our regular sustenance at mealtimes. Home is a place where we rest, watch television, read the newspaper, use the computer, play video games, call our friends, wash our clothes, floss our teeth and sleep one-third of our lives. Home is our center, where our car knows to go automatically. Home is safe.

The longer we live there, the harder it is to leave.

When my elder brother died, leaving the co-op empty that my parents had bought and lived in for many years, I started slowly to have alterations made inside the apartment. The bathroom and kitchen needed to be brought up to date, appliances modernized, floors improved. 

My cousin watched with some amusement. “You are making a temple to your parents’ memory,” she offered. Not really, I thought to myself. I was investing for a far more pragmatic reason. I had hopes of one day renting it out for some supplemental income. 

But when I thought about her wry comment, I had to admit there was an element of truth in it. Our family had lived there happily for such a long time. I was even born there. It wasn’t just an apartment. It was the physical container for some of my happiest times. And it was comforting, somehow, that it was still there, even if we no longer were.

I remember when I was still in elementary school, just down the block, that one of my young classmates came to school one day to wish us goodbye. With tears in her eyes, she explained that her family was moving to someplace called Ohio for her father’s job, and she would be leaving us. 

“Don’t worry,” soothed the teacher, “you’ll go to a nice school there and make new friends. You’ll grow from the experience. And you can always come back to visit.” She nodded her head obediently, but I remember thinking then how sad it must be to leave one’s home and all associated with it to start over. 

Leaving a home means interrupting the momentum of one’s life. I wondered if my father would ever move us all elsewhere and comforted myself with the thought that he seemed pretty anchored where he was, which meant I would continue to live near my school.

A house is just an inanimate thing, bought and sold. But when it is a home, it can be the soul of the people who once lived there. 

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A couple at an immigration rally in Huntington Station in July 2018. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Imagine if your week’s paycheck were hung on a hook from a high ceiling, dangling there within sight but not within reach, all because your boss wanted something the rest of the company said he couldn’t have.

The federal government has not had a spending bill pass the House of Representatives for approximately three weeks, and for that stretch of time, hundreds of thousands have been furloughed, been sent home or have had to work without pay as of press time. That includes thousands of Transportation Security Administration officers at airports and air traffic controllers. 

It’s hard to estimate how many Long Islanders have been affected by the shutdown, but they are certainly out there. Recently, the Suffolk Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals announced it would provide free pet food to government workers who couldn’t afford it due to the shutdown. Long Island Cares, a Hauppauge-based nonprofit food bank, said Jan. 4 it was reaching out to federal employees affected by the shutdown to provide food assistance.

This is the third government shutdown in the past decade and the longest running. There are 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay because of the shutdown, and experts have said there may be a multiplier effect the longer the shutdown goes on, considering the family members of those government workers going without pay. The problem may even impact the larger local economy, harming businesses whose customers must cut back on spending, along with the tourism and travel industries with reports that thousands of TSA officers are calling out sick rather than work without pay.

This latest shutdown has been caused by a laser-targeted policy decision, namely $5.7 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S. and Mexico border. This policy has been near-singularly championed by one official, President Donald Trump (R).

Trump got on national television Jan. 8 to explain to the nation his reasoning on why the U.S. needs a border wall. He made a number of points that have already been fact checked by other news organizations, but suffice it to say he claimed, “The federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only: Because Democrats will not fund border security.”

This is simply untrue. Democrats put up a $1.3 billion funding bill for border security measures, including additional surveillance and more fortified fencing. The president would not sign it. It didn’t fund a 2,000-mile border wall.

And that’s what it comes down to — a wall — whether the U.S. will spend billions of dollars on a wall.

This is hostage politics. The Democrats in Congress simply won’t support a wall. The exact specifications for the wall aren’t even set down on paper, and the president is asking the American taxpayer to foot the bill for something immigration experts have outright said will have limited effect on border crossings.

Long Islanders should tell our representatives like U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) to pressure the president to end this dispute, otherwise the effects of a government shutdown will only multiply.

As a country, we have gotten over shutdowns before, and we will get over this one, but while we at TBR News Media feel it is imperative that the border be policed, we believe in bridges, not walls.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

I have no doubt “Alice,” which is not her real name, is a dedicated dancer. I haven’t seen her perform, I haven’t read reviews of a show or even seen a sparkling résumé with copious awards. I also have no way, just by looking at her, of recognizing whether her movements are so refined and controlled that she clearly expresses the majesty of music through movement.

How do I know about her talent? A recent family acquaintance, Alice is a senior in high school who is applying to college. When I asked about her essay, she generously shared it. As a condition for reading her work and writing about it, I agreed to allow her to remain anonymous.

The college application process forces young adults to distill their lives onto the lines of a page. They have the unenviable task of sifting through experiences, memories, hopes and aspirations as they try to figure out what to include and what to exclude.

The latter is perhaps more challenging. Most of us could tell stories about our lives, mentioning the day of the week, the time of year, the names of other people on a trip to New Zealand or the food we ate that day. Those details could be relevant if they indicate something specific about the writer, or they could provide a dense fog through which a reader struggles to find a truth, passion or personal meaning.

Tempting as it might have been for Alice to mention her dancing success or memorable performances, she excluded those details.

Alice honed in on a sensory experience linked to her practices, performances and passion for dance: the smell of her shoes. Indeed, the first line of her essay draws the reader into her world immediately, suggesting that she’s worried about the foul aroma of her shoes spreading through her car.

Beginning an essay with a sensory experience generates an immediately relatable experience, even among those of us who have never stood under hot lights on stage and contorted our bodies in carefully choreographed productions. Readers, whether they are admissions officers, high school teachers or contest judges, have all had moments when they worry a smell can give us away. It doesn’t have to be an unpleasant scent, as we may have cooked a surprise dinner for our partner and don’t want that person to know about it until mealtime.

Alice goes on to describe how the smell reflects the hard work, pain and beauty connected with her dancing. We all have seen the bright light moments when people perform, whether they’re dancing ballet, catching a ball on a Major League Baseball field or sharing a poem they’ve written.

These moments and concerns in between the performances occur more frequently and capture more about Alice’s inner thoughts and drive. The smell becomes an unpleasant but hard-earned badge of honor.

Alice goes on to describe how these shoes mirror her participation in a pursuit that requires her to reach a level of perfection she suggests the body doesn’t achieve naturally. She adds an awareness of the individual nature of the performance, coupled with the fact that she’s never alone, surrounded by others whose feet have the same smell.

Through descriptions like these, Alice is revealing fine details of what she’s doing, the by-product of the effort she exerts and the shared sense of purpose she has with her fellow dancers.

College essays require a mental perspiration akin to that which affected Alice’s shoes. Through those efforts, however, writers not only reveal more about themselves, but they also create lasting impressions for readers searching for evidence of commitment and passion.

Nancy Pelosi

By Leah Dunaief

This new year may come to be known as the Year of the Older Woman. That was my thought as I read The New York Times article by Jessica Bennett, “I am (an older) woman. Hear me roar.” The story goes on to cite Nancy Pelosi, Glenn Close and Susan Zirinsky, the newly named head of CBS News, among others, as examples of powerful women over 60 in the spotlight.

IT’S ABOUT TIME.

Pelosi survived a serious challenge to her leadership from the energetic freshmen Democratic members, to once again become speaker of the House of Representatives. That makes her the most powerful elected woman in the United States. Pelosi is 78. Long-serving Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), is the first woman, and incidentally the first African-American, to chair the Financial Services Committee. Waters is 80. Donna Shalala (D-Florida) is the oldest freshman in the House. Shalala is almost 78. 

Zirinsky, who worked at CBS in almost every conceivable news position for 40 years, is not being shunted into retirement. Instead she is now the first woman to head the prestigious news division. She is also the oldest person to hold that position. Zirinsky is 66. Glenn Close, regarded as an underdog in the best actress in a motion picture, drama category of the Golden Globes, beat out four younger women. Close, long a favorite actress of mine, is 71.

How much of this has been as a result of the #MeToo tsunami? Older men have long held power into their 70s and 80s. But some of them have been spectacularly toppled: Charlie Rose is 77 and Les Moonves, newly ousted from CBS Corporation, is 69. So age, of in itself, has not been seen as a barrier to power, but gender has. Those fallen men have vacated positions at the top that now can be filled by equally qualified women. Christiane Amanpour, who will be 61 this week, has replaced Rose on PBS. 

Gender coupled with age was always toxic for female advancement, but not in every culture. Native Americans, I believe I recall, would admit only post-menopausal women to the highest circles of power within their tribes. Slowly the rest of our country seems to be realizing the value of older, and presumably wiser, women for positions of leadership. This is most encouraging for the women over 50, of whom there are more than at any time in our U.S. history. And why shouldn’t they have the same opportunities at leadership and power as men? They are healthier, working longer and earning more than ever.

Well, in fact, it seems like they are advancing. In the words of Susan Douglas, a professor of communications at the University of Michigan, according to The Times, “a demographic revolution” is occurring. 

More women are working into their 60s and beyond, and are being appreciated for their talents and experience. In the late 1980s, some 15 percent were still working. Today it is nearly one-third of those 65-69. Those 70-74 and working have jumped from 8 percent to 18 percent. The Times article goes on to point out that working longer is more common among women with higher education and savings. Presumably some are in the workforce by choice and are valued there.

This all reminds me of an exchange that occurred shortly after we started The Village Times, our first newspaper, in 1976. I was 35-years-old, with more gray hairs than now, and hiring staff, when a man came to interview for one of the positions. 

After a positive conversation in my office, I was about to hire him when he paused, then asked, “Are you the boss?” When I told him that I supposed I was, he looked confused, then explained, “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize. I couldn’t work for a woman boss.” With that he stood, picked up his coat and hurried away. I didn’t even know enough then to be flabbergasted.

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We, the taxpayers of Suffolk County, believe that as a whole we’ve been pretty good in 2018. Many of us have been busy working long hours, sometimes in multiple jobs, to make ends meet and provide for our families given the high cost of living on the Island. Suffolk police report violent crime and hate crimes are down — we’ve been doing our best to behave. 

This holiday season we’re asking you, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), to double, no, triple check the list we know you’ve been diligently drafting up in Albany as to who’s been naughty or nice. We understand that you have nearly 20 million residents to look out for, but we have a holiday wish list we’d like you to consider before announcing your budget for the 2020 fiscal year: 

● Increase state aid to our public schools. School taxes make up the largest portion of our property tax bills. President Donald Trump’s (R) Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is about to hit this April, which limits homeowners to a $10,000 deduction of their state and local property, income and sales taxes. By increasing school funding, it will hopefully help keep future school budget increases low. 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. File photo by Erika Karp

● Consider proposals to reconfigure Long Island Power
Authority. Long Islanders pay among the highest rates in the Northeast for their electricity; and any reorganizational measures or changes that could bring relief would bring financial relief. 

● In the alternative, push through legislation that would
allow municipalities and school districts who lose a tax base from utilities, such as LIPA, to access reserved state funds to
offset the impact on Suffolk taxpayers. 

● Provide more state funding and grants for alternative
energy. Our environment is sensitive from being on an island, and increasing our renewable energy resources would help
ensure clean water to drink, safe land to live on and, hopefully, lower costs of producing electricity. 

● Lay out state funding for sewers on Long Island. Many of our downtown areas are hurting financially, as business districts are struggling to consider growth without sewers. In addition, providing grants to help homeowners with the costs of transitioning from old-fashioned cesspools to modern systems should improve the area’s water quality.

● Set aside more money to repave and reconfigure our heavily traveled state roadways, such as Route 25 and 25A. Driving along these congested roadways brings several perils, including large potholes, inadequate street lighting and sections that flood in heavy rainstorms. Funds could be used to re-engineer troublesome spots that repeatedly cause accidents and repave sections that are in disrepair. 

In addition, we understand that you have plenty of elves, your fellow elected officials, who can help enact changes and allocate funds to help make the rest of our holiday wishes come true: 

● Start construction on the Rails to Trails project from Wading River through Mount Sinai. The project is much anticipated, but some funding and consideration must be made for neighboring property owners who want privacy of their homes and yards. 

Sure, we have quite the holiday wish list this year. But we hope you can see the gifts we’re asking for will benefit all.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

As we marinate in the warmth of the holidays, we have a chance to spend time with friends and family.

We’ve chosen most of our friends ourselves. OK, maybe that’s not exactly true, as we inherit friends from our parents when we’re young: “Oh, why don’t you play with Timmy, who is the son of my best friend whom I met when I was your age”; and from our children when we’re older: “Hey, dad, can you hang out with Allisa’s parents while we wander through Great Adventure theme park.”

Despite the somewhat limited pool of people from which to choose our friends, we often pick those people who share similar values, a sense of humor or a tolerance for politicians.

We don’t have the same luxury with our families. We have nutty family members who say and do all kinds of things that make us cringe, that cause us to laugh long after the events are over or who simply make us scratch our heads.

We often think it’s the other family members who are the oddballs but, in truth, we’re all pretty strange.

Long before people voted each other off shows or islands in situations that seemed completely contrived in reality TV shows, family members confronted the awkward moments when they saw each other, year after year, at holidays, birthdays, special occasions and, perhaps, uncomfortable or less-than-ideal moments.

Families provide us with opportunities to test ourselves and our theories without worrying about losing a job, losing a friend or losing our minds. We can challenge ourselves and our families with ideas percolating in our heads, but that may not be exactly what we believe.

Our families receive the best and the worst of our impulses, as we step forward to help each other, but also encourage independent growth and development.

As older members of families, we hope to lead not only by our words but by our examples. Failing that, however, we hope that our spouses, children, parents and siblings can see us for the range of our contributions to the family, and not just for that ignominious moment that we’d just as soon forget.

Families offer reality checks on the myths we create for ourselves. “No, Dan, you didn’t win that horseback-riding ribbon because you had such a great ride. You fell off the horse and the judges felt sorry for you when you landed in horse manure. Good try, though.”

These moments when families hold up mirrors to us can help ground us, keeping us from becoming too proud or mighty. On the other side, however, when we’re feeling down, families can serve as the perfect counterweight, suggesting that we have succeeded in more difficult circumstances and that they are certain of a positive outcome, even if we harbor significant doubts.

Movies about families often run the gamut of emotions, from slapstick, to comical, to serious and even bruising, as rivalries that run amok can become the origin of dysfunction even when we step away from these familial contacts.

Certainly, therapists often start and end with the family dynamic, drawing an understanding of habits we may not know we have until we look back at the lives and roles that brought us to this point.

At their best, families can inspire and encourage, while suggesting that we can and should believe in ourselves while we pursue our goals. Ultimately, families who demonstrate unconditional love and support, even if they do laugh at us periodically, set the kind of example that makes the accomplishments of the next generation possible. Here’s to everything we give, get and laugh about from the people we call family.

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