Different families prize different traits. Some families value intelligence, others praise adherence to the familial faith. My family prized being off-kilter. If you were too much like other people we had very little use for you. We weren’t total lunatics, we paid our taxes and my dad spent a lot of time yelling at a tree in our front yard that refused to grow. Turns out it was a foothill pine. I know that your dad yelling at trees doesn’t seem normal, but in the 80’s dads were much weirder than they are now. Also, he smoked and had a tattoo of a skull and crossbones on his forearm and looked alarmingly like Hunter S. Thompson. Although there were a variety of reasons I wasn’t popular with the boys in high school, my scary dad didn’t help matters.
My sister was (and still is) a weird-o in her own way but my thing was humor. For some reason I was (and still am) funny. Well, I’m not funny. I say funny things and I have funny reactions to what normal people find ordinary. My dad looked and sounded like a deranged journalist (he was also nearly deaf) and my mom…well, my mom was a person even my high school principal was afraid of. So humor wasn’t job one in my family. My maternal aunt was a grade A bullshitter and humor was part of her arsenal. I never met my maternal grandmother but going by her two daughters, she must have been magnificent.
Unfortunately, humor in the mouth of a young person is often cruel. When I was in my later years of high school and all the way into my late twenties, I was funny but that humor was often mean and at the expense of other people. It was only when I heard my brand of cutting humor coming out of my son’s mouth that I realized the magnitude of my mistake.
Ellen DeGeneres said it best when she said (something along the lines of, I can’t find the exact quote) “If you’re kidding and everyone isn’t laughing, then you’re doing it wrong.”
And I was doing it wrong. So I came up with the phrase, “There is a fine line between being funny and being a jerk. Find it.”
I said it to my son all the time but I was also saying it to myself. And I continue to look for that line and try to stay on the funny side. I do fall face-first over into the jerk side more often than I would like. But I’m trying because, as usual, Ellen is right.
We should all be laughing.