To Live is to Laugh

“You can always tell an Irishman…but you can’t tell him much.”

I’m 67% Irish.

If my father’s family had anything to say about it, I’d be 100 percent. But somehow my mother snuck in under the radar as a German Swede (and a Protestant at that).

She married my dad before the McGlynns were any the wiser. Our Irish relatives never let her live down her lack of Celtic and Catholic pedigree, talking and snickering behind her back at every family gathering.

Perhaps it was because she’s never been funny, and the Irish place a premium on funny. I don’t mean to overgeneralize, but Germans, at least the ones in my family, were not what you would call humorous.

And the Swedes? Well let’s just say my Swedish relatives were all work and no play. Maybe they were cutting jokes while they were cutting meat at the my great grandfather’s butcher shop, but I never heard any. At least not any REAL yucks.

Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job. From Ulysses by James Joyce

But my dad’s relatives? It was an adventure every time we saw them. There are no better storytellers than the Irish, and every tale of family intrigue was hysterical. Not because the story was that interesting–in fact it could have been about a tree that fell in someone’s yard. Yet somehow the way it was told, it would leave everyone doubled over and trying to remember every word to share it with the next person. It’s a badge of honor in our family if you weave a yarn that leaves them laughing.

Dad army photo

Laugh to Keep from…Everything

For as long as I can remember, my dad has handled both the good and the bad of life with jokes and laughter. To be serious was to consider that life is difficult and that problems may be overwhelming. Being silly was a happy form of denial that made him feel less helpless and more in control over things that couldn’t be controlled. He truly had never learned any other way to communicate.

The instinct to be hysterical would most certainly kick in when any of my father’s seven children was sick.

In fact, when I had my gall bladder removed at age 17 and almost died, my Dad was the one who spent the most time with me in the hospital in the days following the surgery. Whether sitting next to me, or walking down the halls with me (IV cart in tow), he would tell me funny stories.

Envision busting a gut–LITERALLY. I was laughing so hard it was pulling at my sutures and making me cry in pain. But I wouldn’t have traded it for anything in the world. I knew that my dad loved me and was truly concerned because he was trying to make me laugh.

My Dad would be the one to incite a giggling wave throughout our family’s pew at a funeral. My Dad would be the one talking about how the tornado headed towards our house would do a great and desperately needed remodeling job. And my Dad would be the one to joke with the doctor when a prognosis was dismal, causing both doctor and patient to forget that anything was wrong.

Keep ‘Em Laughing…Whatever it Takes

Last month, we had to have my Dad join my Mom in a local nursing home as a resident. Though he’s dealing with several health issues and a wee bit of dementia, he is still trying to be as funny as ever, and using his humor to help him cope. He will call me on the phone and give me the weather report, in the style of George Carlin’s “Hippie Dippie Weatherman” skit. He will make faces as other residents go by to produce giggles. He will pull old family stories out of the shrinking storehouse in his brain to help us both feel a connection to a better time and a funnier place.

He gets frustrated that he is not as quick-witted as he once was. Besides being able to go home, nothing would make my dad happier than being able to be more humorous. So we throw easy joke bait to him and let him take a bite on a fabulous punch line of his own creation.

I’m sure that our combined sense of humor will keep us both going, since making merry is in our blood (or at least 67% of mine). But as his brain slips further away, we will have to resort to finding some new way to giggle, even if it’s simply sticking our tongues out at each other. To see that Irish twinkle in his eyes will be enough for me. Because as long as we’re laughing, we are living life to the full.

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