Dear Frank Castle: Waging Dinner Table Warfare Against Unruly Holiday Guests

This week’s guest columnist is former Marine Frank Castle, AKA the Punisher—a heavily armed vigilante with a fondness for shirts with death’s head skulls. He knows a little something about family and waging a one-man war against threats people are too polite … or too civilized to confront directly.

Dear Frank,

The holidays are here again. That means I’m once again facing at least two family gatherings with my uncle and aunt. They hijack peaceful family dinners by bringing up divisive topics like religion and politics. Then, they go on to berate the career and family choices my sister and I have made with our lives. I can tell it upsets my parents, but they’re too polite to say anything about it.

How do I take back the dinner table and end my aunt and uncle’s reign of holiday terror?

—Harry, the Holiday Hostage

Dear Harry,

Family is important. Appreciate what you have. You never know when it might be suddenly and violently torn away from you… 

That being said, I was married. So I had in-laws once. I know how you feel. You just want to enjoy a nice, peaceful holiday meal, and then your mother-in-law finishes her first drink and suddenly her mouth turns into an AK-47 spilling verbal 7.62 mm bullets of judgement.

I'm afraid the only way to get peace is to take back the table yourself. Your family may not understand at first, and you may alienate some of them, but eventually they'll come to realize you're doing something important.

How do you do that? The first step is realize you're going to war. So you're going to need to arm yourself and do recon. 

The best way to do that is to gather intel. Talk to your family. Find out all you can about your aunt and uncle, especially some of the mistakes and poor choices they've made. Do this discretely, too. You don't want to draw attention to yourself, at least not yet. Also, figure out where your aunt and uncle stand on those divisive issues. 

Then, it's time to draw up a battle plan. Analyze the intelligence you've gathered. Figure out the points where your aunt and uncle are weakest, and hit them there. Memorize your plan, but also be ready to improvise and make the most of all the intelligence you've gathered. Remember, no plan survives contact with the enemy.

When the big day finally arrives, get a feel of the table. If you get a sense your aunt and uncle are about to begin their tirade, cut them off. It's important that you strike first. You're going for maximum shock and awe here. You want to keep them on the back foot and not give them any time to recover. Don't let them change the subject. You're waging one-man, verbal guerrilla warfare here. Don't back down until its clear you've broken them or they've left the table.

Sometimes, a daring frontal assault doesn't always work or isn't an option. When that happens, I find the best strategy is to destroy your enemies from within by going undercover. You can do that, too.

When your aunt and uncle begin to attack you and your family, feign agreement. Earn their trust. Make them think you're on their side and that you value their harsh judgement. While your doing that, subtly steer the conversation to a point where they'll appear hypocritical or where they're most vulnerable. Then, when you've walked them into your trap … STRIKE! Cut them down when they least expect it.

Some members of your family might not understand what you're doing. They might try to rein you in or stop you from delivering your verbal kill shot. The important thing is to understand they're acting out of a misguided sense of what's right. Don't open fire on them. Let them know you understand you've stepped outside the law of family gatherings and you're just doing what they don't have the strength to do: standing up for the rest of your family. Then, go ahead and cut down your aunt and uncle. The rest of your family may not understand. You may not get invited to the next family gathering. But you can rest easy knowing you've made holiday dinners safe again for your loved ones.

I hope that helps. Now I've got to go. Every year when the holidays arrive, I help Santa out by scratching some names off the especially naughty list…


Dave Richards covers all things Marvel Comics for the Eisner Award-winning website Comic Book Resources and his book reviews and other musings can be found at his blog Pop Culture Vulture.

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