Re-Creating Family Traditions

We took Julie’s mom out for a treat today to Dairy Queen, an American icon for soft serve ice cream founded back in 1940. Julie asked me if I’d gone to DQ as a teen around our hometown and which one. Her question sent me into a reflection.

Of course, we knew and loved the local DQ, that is something my father and I sometimes visited as a treat after doing a project. When we were working to finish our basement, working around the yard, etc.

And I hadn’t realized how much that is still part of our family tradition even today. If one of our kids does something special in their softball or baseball game, we celebrate with a cold treat at Dairy Queen, which became quite a regular trip for us.

What are you carrying from the past and what are you passing on? Re-write your legacy. Click To Tweet

With five kids, we get some attention visiting anywhere especially Dairy Queen restaurants that typically have small interiors. So it didn’t take long at all before we knew one of the friendly cashiers name and a bit of her story. We sometimes see her between two different locations. She always recognizes us and greets us with an extra big smile. And she always makes sure we leave with an empty cone for our dog Truman, a large Great Pyrenees whom she has met thru the drive-thru a few times.

The History Behind Our Dairy-Queen Tradition

But before Dairy Queen was a fun family tradition for my wife and I and our kids, it started for me with a rather unusual routine. In the year or so before my parents and childhood family broke apart and disintegrated (1976), my father used to take my young sister and me through the drive-thru for milkshakes. Man, we loved those milkshakes. And he always bought large milkshakes for us, it was like winning the kid lottery.

He bought the large milkshakes and went through the drive-thru because Dairy Queen was only an intermediate stop. The real destination was a local tavern. I can’t quite think of the name right now which is goofy as I saw it many times. It had a large neon palm tree as a logo or icon. The large milkshakes were intended as a bribe and distraction to keep us in the car. It was hot on most days, so it was a way for us to chill. On a good day, the breeze hit just right and with the windows rolled down it was pretty refreshing.

On a bad day, it was all we could do to stay put. We would get antsy and at 6 years old, I had limited skills to manage my 3-year old sister. So we would break the coveted rule that my fathers placed under my command: “Do NOT come in unless there is an emergency,” he would say.

An emergency to a couple of youngsters quickly changes meaning after what seemed like hours but was probably only 20 minutes.

Whatever our reason, we’d sometimes crack, and I’d escort my sister to that big door with the neon signs and blocked windows and I’d take a deep breath and give it a tug. We’d step into the darkness into a whole new world. Off to the left was the bar and a cocktail waitress who greeted us with one of the sweetest smiles and followed quickly by my father’s look of embarrassment.

That sweet smile would quickly assure my panicked father that we were ok and she was quick to notice that I had my eye immediately on the “strike zone” shuffle bowling arcade game. A few seconds later, my sister and I would be perched on a bar stool slamming the “slider” down the table top alley. Well, mostly me. I doubt that I gave her anymore turns than necessary to maintain peace.

Not long after my father would scoop us up, say his goodbyes to the waitress of the day and walk us back out into the bright sunny day. It always amused me the variation from the covered windows in the pub to the outside world as our pupils constricted quickly to adjust. It was like a solar eclipse inside, which I’m sure plays to the drinking mood and increases sales.

So maybe it was the alcohol that eased my father’s tensions as we left, but he never really got angry at us for breaking the rule.

Re-Create Traditions

When I rarely think of those days and trips to Dairy Queen, I don’t know how to process them. As a parent and a husband of 20 years, I find it odd and a bit maddening to think of the amount of disconnect in our world. I remedied that in my adult world even if it did take me down a few bumpy roads.

But as a kid, damn I loved those milkshakes! Those were great days for my sister and I. For those moments, we found solace in the quiet and calm eye of the hurricane that was twisting around us. So that’s not all bad. I’m sure my children have similar feelings and experiences especially when Julie and I were starting out and struggled through a business startup and noisy family relationships.

One noticeable difference for our kids, though is the amount of communication and awareness. Whatever we’ve been through as a family (and a family-owned business), they’ve been able to learn and observe how to solve problems as we are open and teach them. And when they overcome challenges and go above and beyond, we head to Dairy Queen, and we celebrate, discuss their needs and achievements.

Perhaps it’s ironic that what was once a bribe of convenience for my father to mull over failures in solitude has evolved over a generation with my children to a celebration of achievement and team communication.

Dairy Queen is using the slogan “something different” these days. To me, it is indeed something different.

The Challenge

Take 1 hour to write about your Legacy.  Make some quick notes about two things:

  1. What tradition have you carried (or you want to carry in the future) into traditions with your family and children?
  2. What tradition have you stopped (or you would stop in the future) and not bring into your family and children?

Reflect on how those positive (or negative) experiences impacted who you are and how you see your family today and in the near future.  As you see in this story, it is very positive and very healthy to recognize some traditions (even the negative ones) and to carry them forward in a more positive, more impacting way.  We all have the ability to reach for something different, even if there is something very familiar about it.

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