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My Thanksgiving: Embracing Freeform Celebrations in Suburban Ohio

"I hope I’m already training myself to realize it doesn’t have to be rigid, and I hope I don’t feel like every year it has to be exactly one way."

Thanksgiving is a holiday that’s most popularly recognized as an occasion to eat too much, watch television, fight with your in-laws, and occasionally give thanks, but the reality is much more diverse. In “My Thanksgiving,” we’re talking to a handful of Americans across the country — and world — to get a broader sense of the holiday. For some of our interviewees, they have no traditions at all. But the day — steeped in American mythos, an origin story that comes with great complications — is at least passively observed by even the most agnostic of patriots. In this installment, Tiffany F. talks about enjoying a lax celebration in Bay Ridge, Ohio, and avoiding rigid traditions.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a spouse be with me on every holiday. My husband is a saint, he’s a very hands-on dad. He just loves being with his family and it’s great because with four children, there could be a lot of stress if my husband was checked out. But he works in the emergency room, which is why we’re different on the holidays and this Thanksgiving, he’s working from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. He tries to be cool about it and say it’s his privilege to help people. I’m not that gracious but I try to feel that way as well.

My former spouse, the father of my first son, is a firefighter. I seem to just pick people who are helpers, and he often takes work on the holidays as well. He and I get along great, and on Thanksgiving, our son usually spends half the day with him and half the day with me. We’re very fortunate to have that arrangement.

My family is very lax on Thanksgiving. My mom likes to host, and she lives one town over. My dad passed away in 2003 from leukemia and we miss him dearly and I suppose all holidays are great but there’s always an element of a little bit of melancholy to it. My mom likes to host the holiday, and is very specific about her turkey and her stuffing. I think it’s also nostalgia for her because she learned it from my grandfather, who was the cook in their family, so she makes it because that was traditionally what he made. She does allow me to bring a side or two.

It’s a free-flowing type of thing, we are not rigid at all. Mom will put the food out and then you go through the buffet. It’s not sit down, say what you’re thankful for, and an elaborate spread. I have a brother, but everyone’s moving in and out, he has two kids so sometimes we’ll feed each other in passing. My mom loves football, so we’ll watch whatever’s on. Because my husband’s working this year, he wants to have our own Thanksgiving on Friday. So, we’re going to double up and have two days in a row.

Sometimes, we’ll go to my friend’s house for Thanksgiving. I think they really like the energy that we bring with all of our kids. They’re much more formal, if we go there. There are place settings and we get invitations for Thanksgiving and she does like a really elaborate dinner centerpiece. Going over there, it’s a set dinner time and everything’s arranged perfectly. It’s just a night and day difference between my mom’s laid-back, “everyone show up and hang out on the couch” celebration.

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I prefer the days around holidays. I feel like there’s too much pressure the day of. I’d rather it’d be more like “hey let’s get together. Can anyone hang out?” Those are more fun nights. The holidays sometimes feel like required days of getting together, and I’m not sure I like that. I think I prefer what we do as far as the expectation is freeform. I’m glad that there’s no pressure to see everyone at every moment.

We kind of just have to shoot from the hip and breathe slow and honestly, I’m really hopeful that that helps me in my second phase of my life when my kids have children. I hope I’m already training myself to realize it doesn’t have to be rigid, and I hope I don’t feel like every year it has to be exactly one way. I hope I already know it’s okay if the specialness isn’t on Thanksgiving, it’s okay if not everyone’s here.