- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 23, 2006

Tomorrow we celebrate Family Day, 2006. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University created Family Day, the fourth Monday in September, as A Day to Eat Dinner with Your Children in 2001, a part of an effort to reduce substance abuse among children and teens.

For the sake of everybody, I wish more people could experience the family life I knew as a kid. I was raised the only boy with five sisters, an experience that was at once a blessing and a curse. One day when I was 12, the neighborhood bully was roughing me up. I didn’t have a brother to teach me to fight; my sisters taught me. I looked him dead in the eye and said, “You are soooooo immature. Get a life.”

I suffered numerous other indignities. My father, the Big Guy, always looking to stretch a buck, made me wear hand-me-downs. It wasn’t too bad most of the year, but Easter Sunday was painful. It wasn’t easy trying to outrun the bully with my pantyhose bunching up on me and my bonnet flopping in the wind.

The Big Guy had it worse than I did. Until we added onto the house in 1974, we had only one full bath. The Big Guy never could get in there. He spent much of his adult life sitting on the edge of his bed in his skivvies and robe, waiting for one of my sisters to come out.

As soon as he heard the bathroom door open, he would race down the hall — only to hear it slam shut again, another of my sisters locking herself inside for 30 minutes or more, until the process was repeated.

The Purcell house was a place of great drama over the years. This is the natural course when so many people live together under one roof — and when the males are heavily outnumbered by the females. “For goodness’ sakes, Betty,” the Big Guy often complained to Mother after saying something that caused one of his teen daughters to erupt, “if I have one more door slammed in my face …”

But just as often, we would sit around the dinner table laughing our heads off, sharing stories about something one of us had done. I was a frequent target of the laughter. The girls loved to tell stories about their stinky, sweaty, mud-caked brother. It’s amazing to me that I’m 44 already and that my sisters are between 49 and 34. But when we get together, we laugh long and hard about the thousands of experiences we shared growing up.

We laugh because it’s clear now how much we were loved and how all of us helped shape each other — our sense of humor, our values, our hopeful outlook. It’s no wonder that our positive experiences are the reason we’re all doing well in life now.

One of the great tragedies of our time is that so few people are experiencing family life as my sisters and I got to. Fewer kids have brothers and sisters to enjoy, and what good is childhood if you can’t get on the nerves of your siblings?

What’s worse is that fewer adults are enjoying the blessings my parents knew so well. A recent report from the National Marriage Project found more Americans are postponing marriage and having fewer children. One of America’s fastest-growing demographics is that of single adults living alone.

I never met anybody who wished he or she had fewer brothers and sisters. And I know too many people in their 30s and 40s, particularly in progressive metro areas, who dream of marrying and having a family, but have no idea how to make it happen. I’m as guilty as anyone.

All I know is that in the history of humankind, nothing has been more beneficial to society and its members than the traditional family. We’re social animals, after all. We need each other. Sure, things can get unpleasant when many people live under one roof, but such agitations helped me become resourceful.

When my sisters began causing me too much grief, I used a very effective strategy to make them back off. I told them I would use their toothbrushes.


Tom Purcell’s weekly political humor column runs in newspapers and Web sites across America. Contact Tom at [email protected] or visit him on the Web at www.TomPurcell.com.



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