Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Does Family Deserve its Reputation?

Some of our beliefs are so firmly rooted, there is no shaking them despite what we see right in front of our eyes. For instance, we keep the collective "Family" on a pedestal, perhaps for the same reason Democracy is there: it is far from perfect but we have nothing better with which to replace it.

Myself, I've often thought it is a wonder that any of us make it through childhood emotionally whole and, of course, most of us don't. We all suffer from our neuroses to a greater or lesser degree, largely determined by whatever fate our early life inflicted upon us. Part of that stems from our very helplessness as children. We have no control, being completely at the mercy of those who are older and stronger, whether those are parents, teachers, siblings, other children or strangers. They use us as they will, then fling us down on the shores of adulthood to lick our wounds and cope as best we can. If we are lucky, our parents try to protect us in so far as they are able. If we are unlucky, it is our parents we need to be protected against, and its damned slow society usually is about making that call, if it ever does.

What brought on these recent thoughts was an incident that happened in this Sunday's NASCAR race. Young Joey Logano, just turned 20, nicknamed Sliced Bread as in "The Greatest Thing Since..." was spun by an older, wilier driver when they were both racing for the same spot on the track. Of course, it's not unusual for age and experience to take advantage of youth and inexperience.

In this particular instance, Joey's father ran over to push Joey toward the other driver's (Kevin Harvick) car, obviously encouraging him to wade through the team members who were blocking him to give Kevin a piece of his mind.....and maybe a punch in the nose.

Tom Logano has groomed Joey to be a champion race car driver since he was a small child, providing him with every possible advantage to excel in a tough sport. And he is excelling. Last year, he moved into NASCAR's top series with one of NASCAR's primo teams, Tony Stewart's old championship team.

Joey loves racing and he's a great little driver....so is Tom a role model parent for giving Joey everything he required to fulfill his dream? Did 8-year-old Joey Logano say, "Dad, I want to be a professional race car driver," or did Tom Logano say it for him? Can a child begin to know what he wants in life when he isn't remotely aware of the endless possibilities?

And now that he's 20, does he still need Dad to rush in as his protector or is it time to untie the apron strings and let Joey grow up? Are the Logano's dysfunctional? Probably, but what is functional? We are all dysfunctional in our own ways.

Other domineering parents - Tiger Woods' father, Michael Jackson's father, JonBenet Ramsey's mother. Well, we could go on forever, couldn't we? We don't know what motivates these people. Is it wanting the best for their child or for themselves or, more likely, some of each? They recognize talent in their child and are determined to drive them to success via that talent.  Doesn't always work out the best for the kid but still, maybe it is better to be a neurotic millionaire than a neurotic hundred-aire. Or a neurotic Gold Medal winner than a neurotic bowler at the local alley.

When I look at some of  the people I've known, I see children who were twisted by incest, made to feel inferior due to favoritism within the family, molded into violence by abuse that carried over to the next generation. I have friends who never have managed to totally rebuild egos damaged by criticism and humiliation. I know people who've never gotten beyond the guilt perpetrated by judgmental religious dogma foisted off on them by family.

I may be too cynical because I've tended to work in occupations in which I see more of what can go wrong than what can go right. A Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's office, both of which exist because of criminal behavior. What causes criminal behavior has been the subject of a million theses and we still don't know - but chances are the roots are somewhere back in childhood. Some family lifestyles almost guarantee it.

I worked as an Advocate in a women's program, dealing with victims of domestic violence, the ultimate in family perversion.

Now, I interview low income clients who need legal assistance with civil cases. Naturally, they don't come to me unless life has turned on them somehow and, almost always, that's due to the judgment calls they've made. Sometimes, their situations involve money but the vast majority have to do with relationships, with the families of their childhood often dictating the negative relationships of their adulthood.

Are there lots of Little House on the Prairie families and Father Knows Best families and Leave it to Beaver families out there that I just never see? Nurturing but not smothering, protective but not over-protective, encouraging but not dominating, providing but not spoiling? Or am I right in thinking those wholesome families the exception rather than the rule?