Note: This essay was originally written by teen Paul Clancy as part of the college application process. He included it in his Common Application as a response to the question “Describe a place or environment in which you are perfectly content, why is it meaningful to you?” Paul is currently studying at the University of Illinois — Champaign.
If the family is one of nature’s masterpieces, then family dinner is that masterpiece’s perfect frame. It simultaneously showcases and protects a family. Family dinner is a time when I can unwind and slip away from the troubles that have caused me stress throughout the day. Our dining room is always perfectly lit with the classic ambiance of an open flame allowing my family to focus in on the conversation at hand. It is the place where I receive support and encouragement to work hard and to be the best person I can be.
I did not always appreciate our family dinner. When I was younger and more selfish I was not interested in spending that much time with my family. Now, I understand that my family is the cornerstone to my success and family dinner is the cornerstone to my family’s success. Family dinner creates a sense of community and stability. Even if everything in my life seems to be crumbling to pieces, I know that mahogany table set for dinner will stand tall among the rubble. I can always look forward to a beautifully prepared meal filled with laughter and conversation to glue me back together.
One of the best aspects of our family dinner is that it has morphed over time. It has seamlessly aged with the rest of my family. At first, dinner would last ten minutes. Conversation topics changed quicker than lightning could strike. It started with “how was your day?” and ended with “where is your shirt?” My parents struggled to control four children under the age of 6. The combined attention span of us kids was less than a nanosecond. None of us kids knew what we truly needed but we certainly knew what we liked. The room would echo with screams for dessert, television and story time. Inevitably a glass or two of milk would be spilled. Afterwards my dad worked to clean off all of our faces and my mom struggled to clean the dishes. We were a messy bunch, wearing each meal’s color on our faces.
As my brothers, sister, and I began to enter the tween and teenage years, the intensity of conversation was amped up by agreement and debate from across the table. Fights at a Clancy family dinner are unique because my mother is an attorney and my father is a judge. Pulling hair and throwing food was not tolerated, so we kids learned to use our words as weapons and as shields. My parents reinforced the notion that a well-placed adjective is just as powerful as a sucker punch. Synonyms of stupid and annoying were as plentiful as the creamy mashed potatoes, yet my parents always managed to exhibit a sense of control over dinner. Groundings were handed out not only for bad behavior but also for taboo language. Although the weekend of a 12-14 year old is nothing incredibly enticing, the reactions of a Saturday night quarantine rivaled those of capital punishment. However, by the end of dinner, tensions would usually fall and most problems could be soothed with some ice cream and words of wisdom.
Now with three kids in high school a 7 o’clock dinner time is hard to come by. However, everyone makes sacrifices to be present. I find that once I sit down I no longer want to leave. Family dinner creates this fulfilling energy that I cannot find anywhere else. I always leave that mahogany dining table feeling happier than when I sat down.
Family dinner has helped make me the young man I am today. It has taught me the importance of listening, but it has also showed me how to make my point heard. I have become more loyal, responsible, and accountable. Most importantly, I have created a unique bond with my family that will not be broken. Lee Iacocca summed it up best stating, “The only rock I know that stays steady, the only institution I know that works, is the family.” I could not agree more.