I often wonder whether it is naive of me to hope for a picture-perfect family moment, like the kind you see in movies? The Smiths or the Johnsons with their cherubic children gathered in front of the blazing fireplace, sharing a laugh over some corny Dad-joke? There would be cheerful banter, smiles all around, goodwill, happiness.
These are the images flashing through my mind as I sat gloomily at the dinner table. We were on a ‘family trip’ to Lake Eildon. But there were no jokes, or board games, or actually any sound at all. In fact, the only movements in the room were the constant stroke of everyone’s thumbs as they scrolled through Facebook on their phones or tapped away incessantly at their laptops. I myself was wearily resigned to gazing mindlessly at my phone, merely because I was frustrated at the lack of effort being put into what was meant to be ‘family time’. I mean, weren’t family trips meant to involve deep discussions and good-natured humour around the dinner table? Even the flickering of our fireplace (an essential motif in all family trips in movies) seemed to be dying with this pathetic semblance of a family outing.
I’m not sure if I’m simply expecting too much. Not all families function the same way. But is it wrong to wish that we could still all just make more of an effort to get to know each other better? The other day, one of my friends revealed to me that her family was exactly like the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding- boisterous, loud, fun and most importantly, tight-knit. My family seems to be the complete opposite. Sure, we can have interesting debates and we tell each other the daily going-ons in our lives. But we don’t seem to be connected on any other level. Perhaps we have all simply been around each other for too long, and have grown so used to each other, that we no longer have the energy or the will to connect any more. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we don’t enjoy each other’s company or that we don’t look out for each other. Rather, it’s just that where I see other families connect in many different ways- intellectually, through shared interests, humour- my family members simply seem to just… exist side by side. That description seems fitting: we don’t live with each other, we just EXIST next to each other.
And because this is a depressing thought, I’m trying to change this. I’m trying to be more inquisitive about how my family members think and ask deeper questions to get to know them better. I’m trying to be happier in order to lift up the mood in this stagnant and unhealthy household. We might not ever end up being as wild or as openly affectionate as the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but surely this is still a start.
Of course, it’s not going to be easy. In fact, they might not even want change. My family seems comfortable in their daily routine, apparently content to know each other on a mere surface level without ever delving deeper into the notion that all of us have emotions. I speculate that this may simply be a typical Asian family structure where family members are still quite conservative towards each other, expressing their emotions and needs through subtle and practical means (e.g. my mum’s cooking and cleaning, my dad buying us groceries which aren’t on special- HAH).
But I don’t like it. And it’s probably wrong of me to expect more from my family who has already given so much. I just wish that we could all be more open with our affection and break this stiffness between us all. Maybe find some common interests, something that really bonds us together. I’ve always envied other people who have family traditions. I mean, who doesn’t like a weekly family badminton tournament!?
This issue has weighed on my mind many times before. It crops up when I see other families enjoying talking to each other at restaurants where my family and I sit silent, or when I burn envious holes with my eyes through photos of my friends and their smiling families hugging each other close. It’s silly and cruel of me to wish for this imagined perfection upon my family, and I realise this. Family has always been complicated but it shouldn’t have to be.
Who knows, maybe the next time we’re on a family trip, I’ll bring some Monopoly and we can sit there for the rest of the night.