Our oldest child has become obsessed with Bil and Jeff Keane’s “The Family Circus” comic strip. It’s one of the oldest and well-known strips around, and is known for its use of a single panel, a design similarly used by “The Far Side,” “Bizarro” and “Rhymes with Orange.”
Our son cuts the Sunday strip out every week with safety scissors and dutifully uses his purple Elmer’s glue stick to paste it into a yellow notebook with “Family Circus Notebook” written on the front in his 5-year-old scrawl. He proudly shows it off to everyone who comes to visit. My wife went to our local library and brought back a bound volume of the comic’s first two years. Looking through it, I have very quickly come to this realization:
I am living in “The Family Circus.”
Allow me to elaborate. The dad, in the beginning, was named Steve. There were three kids, originally. We currently have three boys, ages 5, 3, and 2 months.
Steve’s wife is a cute, brunette, college-educated stay-at-home mom and — so is mine. Their dog is named Barfy, which applies to our dog’s disposition as well. In later years, the family drives a minivan, which is also our family vehicle of choice. He is a diligent church-goer, schlepping his kids to church, which we do every week.
Even more to the point, although Keane began the strip in 1960 — 57 years ago — nearly all of it holds true today. Especially poignant are the panels where Steve comes home, his children swarm him at the door, and he asks his wife, “Is the TV broken again?” Or the flip-side: he comes home and welcomes himself, as all three kids are 2 1/2 inches away from the screen.
Steve’s wife, Thel, carries a shovel into the play room so she can clean up the toys by “shoveling the floor.” Then there’s the panel where the kids are fighting over who has to go outside and play with dad. When the doctor makes a house call to diagnose a sick Steve, he recommends finding peace and quiet — at the office.
The point of all of this, and the positive outcome of living in “The Family Circus,” is that these kinds of absurdities also bring a support system along with them. Steve is the classic jack-of-all-trades, as he fixes toys, appliances or the car, all on top of his 9-5 day job. And let’s not forget that he was a WWII veteran as well. It is inconceivable that he could do all of it without Thel and the kids.
I’m not a veteran, but since graduating from Gannon University, I have worked as a day laborer, finish carpenter, drywall finisher, painter, furniture restorer, floor refinisher, plumber, and electrician. I’ve laid block, brick, stone, and finished cement slabs. I’ve installed a couple of dishwashers. I even do windows. During all of this, I went to graduate school and finished a doctorate. Now my day job is to teach English and composition at two different colleges and universities — one of which is Gannon, by the way. However, I’m also involved at our local church, leading a Youth Group, teaching Sunday school (a theology minor can come in handy), playing guitar during the service and serving on the board of directors for a Christian summer camp near Jamestown, N.Y.
There’s no way I could have done this without Rachel and the kids. A support system like family is one of the essential elements in success. The circus at home encouraged me to finish grad school. That same circus gave me the motivation to travel an hour or more — three or four days a week — to a job site or classroom. It kept me grounded when, statistically, many people who begin doctoral programs have difficulty finishing. Some people find support in their friends or co-workers. Mine is my faith and my family.
Maybe “The Family Circus” is funniest when you’re a parent. But even if you’re not in that part of life, figure out what your support system is and foster it. Build it. Isn’t this one of the purposes for the AlumKnights, and for the greater Gannon family? Maybe it’s the people living on your floor. Maybe it’s the other students in your major, the ones who are in every major-related class you’re taking. Go join a faith-sharing group, or run for Student Government.
You’ll be thankful for the circus. I am.