Kenneth Childress of South Bend, Indiana, ruined his family’s Thanksgiving while visiting them in Tampa by sharing his extremely tolerant and socially aware opinions during the traditional holiday meal.
“Uncle Kenneth is always a handful. He just can’t help himself,” said Carl Childress, who works hard all year to keep a roof over this family’s head and doesn’t think one day out of the year with a big meal and Detroit Lions football is too much to ask in exchange.
“We include him every year because, you know, ‘FAMILY‘,” he added, making aggressively agitated air quotes with his fingers.
“It was… really strange this year,” said Carol Childress, who had spent several hours preparing the meal with minimum assistance from anyone, as usual. “Things started out weird. We made it through the blessing without him acting out, which never happens. He just closed his eyes, bowed his head solemnly and at the end quietly added, ‘Amen’. That was probably the first indicator that things were… off.”
The meal began with everyone eating quietly until Kenneth felt the silence was awkward and initiated a conversation.
“So Clarissa, are you still dating the fella I met last year?” he asked his niece who is 17 and can not wait to just get the hell out of here.
“All right, here we go,” she replied, sighing heavily. “Yes, Uncle Kenneth. I’m still dating Andre, and yes, Uncle Kenneth, he’s still African-American. Okay?? God!!”
“That’s great!” answered Kenneth. “I really liked him. He seemed like a really intelligent and down to earth young man. I appreciated hearing about some of the cultural struggles he has to deal with and how he responds to those challenges. It was an insight I hadn’t considered and I’m grateful that he shared his perspective. That one, short conversation really changed how I look at a lot of things now. I’m so glad you’re happy together. Why isn’t he here?”
Somewhat confused but still ready to battle, Clarissa said, “He’s away at college. He’s 20… yeah, that’s right; he’s older than I am… and he goes to Bethune Cookman. He also has a job in Daytona Beach and he couldn’t get away. Okay?? God!!”
“That’s terrific,” said Kenneth. “Schools like Bethune Cookman provide a stable and nurturing environment for those most at risk of not entering or completing college. I looked all this up and I learned that students of color feel more at home and perform better in schools where they feel supported and safe. And typically, HBCU’s… that’s Historical Black Colleges and Universities… are rooted in faith, community and service. Plus, he has a job and is willing to forego holidays to work and earn extra money? Wow, what a go-getter! Sounds like a keeper to me!”
“I just hope he’s maintaining a good work/life balance,” he added.
“M-mom…? W-what is happening…?”, said Clarissa, now at a complete loss how to respond.
“Um, Uncle Kenneth, why don’t you tell us about who you voted for and why?” said Carl, attempting to steer the conversation in a direction that had always proven to be provocative with Kenneth in the past.
“Oh gosh, that’s personal and my opinions really aren’t all that important,” answered Kenneth. “What really matters is just that everyone participates in the process. You know, there’s a lot of unproductive and divisive rhetoric flying around, but the best way to actually make your voice heard in a meaningful, impactful way is to get out there and vote. That’s far more important to me than who or what you vote for.”
The table fell silent again until Kenneth addressed Christopher, his 12-year-old nephew.
“Hey kiddo! I heard you quit football to spend more time focusing on dance classes. How’s that going? You know, I saw ‘Hamilton’ last year and it was terrific! Being the uncle of a Broadway performer would really be something. No pressure, though! Ha ha! You just follow your passions, wherever they may lead you. I will support you no matter what because I love you,” he said, causing Christopher to smile broadly and tear up a little bit.
“What a disaster,” said Carol later, scraping food from dishes into the trash. “We’re miserable and basically at each others’ throats all year long, but we can always come together as a family on Thanksgiving and hate Uncle Kenneth, the miserable old bastard for being a miserable old bastard. Now he’s taken that from us. Thanks for nothing, Uncle Kenneth, you miserable old bastard.”