The “perfect” American family


The clueless dad. The responsible mother. The dumb brother. The eggheaded sister. The cool uncle. The wild aunt. The conservative grandparents.

Growing up as an immigrant from South Africa with no extended family in the United States, I gravitated to these stereotypes that make up the “perfect” American family. The dysfunctional family who, at the end of the day, would always band together, no matter what.

Shows that defined my childhood like “Even Stevens” and “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” always had some variation of this family – families I deemed perfect in my young mind. I assumed every American household had awkward family barbecues and often took the anticipated visit to “Grandma’s.”

For me, family barbecues and visits to Grandma’s only happen every couple of years, so those formidable experiences were so desirable. I was always so jealous meeting my friend’s cousins and realizing they would likely never get the chance to meet mine.

What I really wanted was the closeness of the perfectly imperfect family from all those TV shows. Younger characters were portrayed as sick of all the time spent with their family, while I wished I could get the luxury to spend even one hour with mine.

When I do get to go back home and visit my extended family, I feel like an outsider. I’m just “The American” to my cousins. I have to speak especially slow when conversing with my grandparents because my accent is hard for them to understand. But none of these blue memories of mine were represented in a zingy sitcom.

Over the years though, I’ve come to accept my globally-scattered family. Frequent trips to Grandma’s are substituted with lengthy Skype calls, and awkward family barbecues are taken over by even more cringe-worthy group chats on WhatsApp.

The upside of it all is that when I do get to see my extended family, I get twice as much love, presents and attention to make up for all the missed holidays and birthdays. And if that’s not fodder for an episode of Hannah Montana, I don’t know what is.