COLUMN: Tips for surviving family dinners

NOTE: The following column is a monthly column in which Ty Allan Jackson, a Berkshire dad, author and Big Head books founder,  reflects on life in the Berkshires, as a dad, a husband, son, brother and more. It will appear on Berkshire Family Focus on the fourth Monday of every month.

Thanksgiving dinner was awkward this year. It wasn’t because of who was there at the table, but more-so because of who wasn’t joining us. Even though those who sat and ate with us are seen and talked to on a daily basis, most of our conversations didn’t last more than a few sentences, which usually I prefer. I dislike trying to talk and eat during meals. I remember those dates over dinner where I felt hurried to chew and swallow in order to answer a date’s probing questions, feigning interest in her mundane chatter — “Oh, that’s very interesting (insert date’s name here),” I’d say while making sure my mouth was clear before the inevitable need of a fake laugh.

For many, like me, who lost a parent this past year, we understood too late that they were the glue that bound us all together; knowing more about each of us than we did about each other; knowing that one parent was always able to deftly provide small talk without the pressure or risk of it turning into an hourlong debate. At least that’s how it was for me. In a way, our loved ones still bind us together; even after they have returned to the Force, the source energy or God. So I am thankful that relatives like my dad were strong enough in life that even the memory of him keeps us together still.

I paid close attention to the dynamics of the family meal yesterday and have compiled a list of survival tips for everyone’s first dinners, family gatherings and those tension-filled anniversaries where there are so many unknown factors.

1. Regardless of the situation, do your best to smile and be as pleasant as possible. Remember that you are entangled in such events for a reason. Hopefully that reason is that someone loves or respects you and your presence is desired. Perhaps they want to show you off, or that you are the anchor they need to feel safe. For those of you corporate- or socially-driven “power couples” understand that you are still considered an asset. Draw from that and see the positive side of the advantage.

2. Wear Earth tones and baggy clothes. Earth tones help to hide food stains that may result from a “pass me the gravy” mishap. We all have those. And that darn cranberry sauce is a killer to most dresses.

3. Sit as close to the table as possible. No one wants to see you adjust your pants while you fill up on holiday goodness. You know you do it too, let’s be honest.

4. Life can be difficult. It should not take a national holiday to remember that we should all be thankful for the good things that we receive. Sure we all have bills to pay, but love and solace are free. Thanksgiving is derived from a national peace treaty and became something even more personal as the decades passed. We now have more sentimental reasons to be thankful for in our lives.

child pulling wagon of food5. Food pantries and donations should not be considered in the last four months of the year. We all need to work together. I imagine that we have more money to spend in March than we do in November; so why not help out all year long? Last time I checked, people are hungry all year long, and many of them are victims of circumstance.

Thanksgiving (and most holidays) are not just another day for those who can afford them. It is a day of peace and love, that all can embrace to their best ability. These days, foremost, should be a reminder that we are all one, and our survival can only come with cooperation and mutual understanding.

Ty Allan Jackson
Ty Allan Jackson is the founder of Pittsfield-based Big Head Books and the author of “Danny Dollar Millionaire Extraodinaire: The Lemonade Escapade,” “When I Close My Eyes” and “The Supadupa Kid.” He was born and raised in the Bronx, N.Y., and now resides in Pittsfield with his wife Martique and their three children Aja, 13, Ajayi, 12, and Alia, 9. Learn more about Ty and Big Head Books at
Ty Allan Jackson


Big Head Books is a literary organization that promotes the importance of reading to children across the world (Founded by @TyAllanJackson)
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Ty Allan Jackson
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