I've had more than a few people ask me, "What happened to you when you were
a kid that you're so fucked up now?" I'm sure the tendency of the average person
is to console themselves with the belief that I was abused or mistreated as a child.
That I was molested by a priest or some other such nonesense. It's easier for them
to believe that my world view stems from some traumatic childhood incident and
that, under "normal" circumstances, I would be just like them.
It's truly sad how narrow minded some people can be.
I'm proud to say, as corny as that may sound, that I spent my formative years in
a very warm and loving family environment. To this day there are few things I
enjoy as much as spending time with my family. I attribute much of my world
view to what I learned from them and would not trade them in for the world...
(Well, maybe the whole world, but certainly not just a portion of it.)
So, to allieviate your fears, and give kudos where they're due. Here is a brief
glimpse of what I learned as a child and how that has affected me as an adult.
First my father. My dad is a very hard working man. He tells it like he sees it and
consequences be damned. (It's a standing joke in my family that his brain is
directly wired to his mouth and that he lacks the natural filtering system the rest
of us have.)
He's a "union man" and, when I was younger, he often experienced that most
union of institutions - the lay off. But that never stopped him. As a parent of a
family of four, he had an obligation to his wife and his children. I can remember a
time when he worked three jobs to make sure we had a roof over our heads,
clothes on our backs, and food in our stomaches. He's not a large man, but he
will fight ferociously for what he believes in. And I am lucky that one of those
things he believed in when I was growing up was me.
He can also hold a grudge longer than any human being I have met to date. There
are people he went to high school with that had better hope they end up on life
support in a different nursing home than my father. He may not remember what
he had for lunch, but he knows the names and faces of everyone who has done
him any wrong. And he hates just as passionately as he loves.
From him I learned that the truth, no matter how brutal & painful, is the truth.
And that there's nothing wrong with standing your ground, especially when you're
right. I also learned that there is nothing wrong with a little hard work. And that,
where one bag of concrete might do the job, six will make damn sure you never
have to do it again. He also taught me that sometimes it is entirely appropriate to
kill a fly with a sledge hammer. (I also inheritted my temper from him. Thanks,
He also taught me that it often takes more time to explain why you can't do
something than it does to actually do it. Or, as he would say, "Talk's cheap kid. It
takes money to buy whiskey." He taught me how to reverse engineer a problem so
that, more often than not, I could fix the the root of the problem and not waste
time repairing the symptoms. And he taught me that a pair of rubber soled boots
and an insulated pilers make it unnecessary to shut off a circuit breaker.
My mother, on the other hand, is the more rational of the pair. She was always
there to help you up when you fell, and explain to you how stupid it was to think
you could fly just because you were wearing a Superman cape. She has a knack
for being able to see the silver lining around any dark cloud. She could almost
always be counted one to be calm, cool, and collected when shit hit the fan. (This
is not a family trait despite what my uncle may tell you.) She somehow managed
to juggle a household, a job, and still have time to be a wife and mother. That's a
trick I have yet to master. (She is the queen of multi-tasking.)
Because of these endearing qualities, she was always the person you called when
things went wrong... Totaled the car? Call home and hope mom answers. It got to
the point that when we would call and ask for mom and dad would immediately
ask what we had done.
Don't get me wrong. She didn't take it easy on us. When we did something wrong
we knew it and faced the consequences. But she was always consistent and usually
managed to direct the blame were it belonged. She was also a master "politician."
She has spent the last 32 years keeping a diverse group of the most stubborn
individuals alive united in what I call my family. She also has a uncanny knack
for finding the way to resolve any issue in the most efficient manner available.
I can remember once when my father was laid off and money was tight, one of my
brothers had taken and entire package of cheese slices, opened them, and threw
then in the trash can. Mom wanted to know who did it, but, of course, my siblings
and I refused to "rat out" the guilty party. So she politely told us that, if no one
had confessed by supper time, we'd be eating it. Then she quietly left the room
and closed the door behind her. Now you can just imagine what happened in that
room with four boys who didn't want to eat hard moldy cheese. Needless to say,
the guilty party confessed before the deadline.
When she found out we had done something wrong, she was also fond of calling
all of us together in that "you are in big trouble" voice mom's have. When we'd
ask what we had done, she would simply reply, "I think you already know, and I
want to hear some explanations." Of course, you had better hope you confessed
and apologized for whatever it was she found out about or you were in for it
twice. (How many times do I have to tell you guys not to say anything until she
tells us why she's mad?)
From her I learned how to read and understand people. I learned that, if things
don't make sense, there is probably more going on than you realize. (I think she
learned this trait from watching Perry Mason, Murder She Wrote, and Mattlock.)
I learned the power of words. That they can be the healing scapel of a surgeon or
the bloody cleaver of a butcher. And I learned which to use when. I learned that
there are only three possible outcomes to any situation - Either I can't do
anything about it, I can do something about it, or I don't care enough to make a
distinction. And with that I learned that it doesn't pay to get worked up about
these things. If I can do something, I will. And if I can't or don't care, I won't. At
any rate, "freaking out" isn't going to make the situation any different, so why
waste the energy.
I also learned a valuable lesson about "bending" the rules. You see my mom had
this image as a child of being a "good girl." Not that she wasn't for the most part,
but those times she did slip, she made sure she could get away with it. An ounce
of planning, as they say. (She also taught me to only beat on my brothers when
we were outside so we wouldn't get blood on the carpeting.) And she also instilled
a love of reading... poetry, novels, whatever I could get my hands on...
Now my brothers. There were four of us growing up together. Right now I am 30
and my youngest brother is 22, so we were pretty close in age growing up. Even
today we're all very close. That isn't to say that we always get along. Hell, there
are times we down right hate each other. But we're brothers and that's what
brothers do. While we get along pretty well in groups of three, all four of us
getting along usually means that someone's either getting married or buried.
(Another standing joke in our family is that the four of us can never do the same
thing. One of us will always "bow out." I don't know why, but you can count on
it as if it were a law of nature.)
We're four of the most stubborn assholes you will ever meet. We know it, so don't
waste your time telling any of us what we already know. Worse, tell me that one
of my brothers is being a prick. I know; it's genetic. That's a really quick way to
earn enemies. Enemies who can hold a grudge for a long time and understand the
importance of proper planning. Not to mention enemies that have absolutley no
compuncture about providing airtight alibis for each other.
When we were younger we used to play a game we called "seek and destroy." The
playing field was a room in the basement filled with old furniture. We'd shut off
the lights and the last man standing was the winner. Rules were simple - Don't
lose! When we got older we graduated to games like "car tag." (A wonderful cross
between tag and hide-and-go-seek played with cars by teams of four. One person
drives. One flat hand tags the opponent. The other two watch for the police. It
became so popular in school that we had teams and an annual double elimination
tournaments to win the covetted "Golden Hub Cap" award.)
From them I learned that "it" doesn't really matter; whatever "it" might be. No
matter what happens there is always a group of people I can count on to either
have my back or reel me in when I get out of hand. That it isn't about being
number one. It's about not ever being number two. That no matter what you've
broken, with a little time, energy, resourcefulness, and a bottle of Elmer's Glue it
can look good as new by the time mom gets home. (I still remember the christmas
she moved her little statuette off the china cabinet and the head fell off. She was
pissed. We just looked at her and say, "That's been busted since high school. The
glue was bound to give out eventually.")
I learned that, though I may not be my brother's keeper, I am his most staunce
defender & ally. In that respect, that old gypsy proverb holds remarkably true.
"Me against my brother;
my brother and I against our father;
our family against the world."