Mt. Vernon Register-News

February 15, 2014

Putting fun back in dysfunctional


The Register-News

---- — Gloria’s got a 16-year-old grandchild who dresses like a streetwalker. And her mother, Robin, buys her clothes.

“When the kid is not on the phone, she’s got those little earplugs in her ears. Her brother is 24 and lives in the basement. I think Robin leaves plates of food for him at the cellar door. I don’t think she’s seen him in five years.

“The funny thing is, Robin thinks Amos and I were bad parents — like she’s done such a fine job. I’ll agree that we were not the best parents, but it’s not our job to be the best parents. It’s not a competition. It’s our job just to be the parents. What’s that comedienne’s name? The one who used to be funny. Roseanne? She used to say that ‘if my kids are alive by they time they’re 18, I did my job.’

“Robin thinks I was a lousy parent because I made her say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and I made her go to school every day and checked her report cards and made sure she did her homework and wouldn’t let her date until she was 16 and I didn’t buy her a brand-new car when she turned 16 and I wouldn’t spend $300 on her prom dress and rent a limousine for her and all her little friends. She sure wasn’t going to raise her kids the way I did.

“No, I didn’t go to every basketball game and track meet, and I rolled my eyes at the thought of a first-grade ‘graduation,’ but I did pack her lunch every day and make sure she had clean clothes to wear. All of which makes me a horrible person. Winner of the ‘Mommie Dearest’ award for fine parenting. What was I thinking?

“So, of course, she gets married to the first person that doesn’t look at her funny so she can get out of her stupid, evil mother’s house. Now she’s on husband number three and her own children are a mess. And guess what? Somehow, that’s all my fault.

“Every time I hear someone talk about a dysfunctional family, I want to scream, ‘But nobody has a functional family!’ It’s not possible. Someone’s always out of step. Remember Jimmy Carter’s brother Billy? The Kennedys and the Rockefellers have all had their problem children. And adults. If the Queen of England can’t keep her children and grandchildren in line, with all her money and servants and nannies, how are we supposed to do it? You don’t have to dig too deep to find addictive, self-destructive people in any family. The words ‘step-sister’ or ‘half-brother’ or ‘first wife’ or ‘first husband’ ring a bell? It can’t mean ‘good times.’

“Some people think we should visit a therapist. Tell you what. Let’s meet the therapist’s family first. What are the therapist’s kids like? What is their relationship with their parents, with their brothers and sisters? I’ll bet it’s no better than yours or ours.

“One Thanksgiving, when Robin’s children were still young, one of them was pouting about not having any friends at school and I said, ‘You want friends? Do something friendly. You want to be liked? Do something likable. You want to be loved? Be lovable. Pouting at Thanksgiving while some people have nothing is not very likeable.’ Robin scolded me for ‘blaming the victim.’

“‘If a child can do no wrong,’ I said, ‘it will do no right.’

“What’s funny about this is that my other daughter, Melanie, is so happy. Her children are fun, we like her husband, the whole family is a joy to be with. She was a great kid, and she’s grown into a successful, happy, busy adult. We raised her exactly like Robin. Go figure.”

Contact Jim Mullen at JimMullenBooks.com.