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State of the Union

By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Wally Niebart

What would happen if families had a yearly State of the Union speech? It recently dawned on me that there would be a crucial difference between such a speech and the average presidential one. I will get to that at the end, but first here is Bob Smith, giving the annual Smith Family State of the Union address in a perfect suburban home, somewhere in the Midwest:

My fellow Smiths, I stand before you to speak in all candor about the state of our loving family over the past year. We have had adversities and are stronger and poorer because of them. We remain, as we always have been, a "values family." Unfortunately, our values are not shared by everyone, including school principals, the SPCA, and the State Police. Yet I have faith that our values will carry us through with much hard work and a few more months of home detention. Above all, I remain optimistic about the future: The passing of a year brings us closer to the day when you, my three beloved children, will leave home. (Applause)

I begin with the state of the economy. We continue in deficit spending and will remain in this mode as long as you are in school and have teeth. We have, nonetheless, made several moves that promise relief, notably selling items Grandmother Smith will not miss, including her home. Her cheerful presence brightens our trips to the basement.

Now for the state of each of us, beginning with myself. I acknowledge that the past few years have been stressful ones for me and that the strain has affected our family. Anger management and medication have helped, and there has been a sharp decline in 911 calls. Also helpful has been my development of "outside interests" that make my weekends more relaxing and me more pleasant to be around when I come home Sunday night.

Moving to the youngest Smith: Amber, sweetie, we love you and are always proud of you. But we must express disappointment that there was no family council before you went to the tattoo parlor. We don't always say no to everything, honey, and we could at least have told you that there is only one t in "slut." You need to trust us and talk to us.

For Tiffany — we love you and are always proud of you, too. The big news was turning 13, learning to roll your eyes, and entering a moody and unpleasant stage of life that won't end anytime soon. Some estrangement from your mother is to be expected, but not talking to her is extreme, although she appreciates it. On the positive side, I speak for the whole family in expressing gratitude for the long hours you spend on your cell phone.

Bob, Jr. — what can I say? We love you, too. Last year, the big news was getting your driver's license. This year the big news is that you aren't too far from getting it back, assuming that the judge counts working at McDonald's as "community service." You also need to be thinking about graduation and a job. You may wish to represent your special skills to a potential employer in some way other than "hacker with three computer viruses to his credit."

Of the oldest member of the family, who, fortunately, is not living with us, I will only say that Grandma Jones appears happy and physically sound. "I'm going to live to be a hundred," she says. Alas, her money only lived to be 81.

There have been other notable events this past year. Once more, Fluffy proved with fish, as she previously did with canaries and hamsters, that she wishes to be an only pet. And who could forget our vacation trip to the lakefront cabin with our coalition partners, the Johnsons? It's true that we ended up at the Mall of America instead, but I was driving on faulty intelligence provided by your mother.

Which brings me to your mother. Time flies: It has been three months since she announced — as she put it — a "marital regime change." This, too, has a positive side, and not just for daddy. If things work out with daddy's "special friend" you will have not one, but three mothers to try to love you, one of them very close to your own age. . . .

We will leave Bob's speech. What element would such a family State of the Union speech have that presidential ones usually lack? A small measure of candor.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.

Return to February 2005 Table of Contents

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