In graduate school, I had to take a course called Emotional Systems, and I tried every trick I knew to get out of this class, because I had heard that people broke down emotionally and that a certified counselor was a co-teacher, to handle any instance of distress in the classroom. I was afraid someone would bring an UZI to class and I managed to find a seat near the door just in case. Now, no one wants to face their childhood demons, least of all me. But,the program manager wouldn't let me opt out of the course. Needlesstosay, I relented and registered; and my backup plan was to get drunk before class but that really never worked out.
The first assignment was to interview two relatives with a list of questions that would become the content of a presentation on Bowen theory. I selected my niece Dawn and we drove to New Hope one Sunday for brunch and I conducted the interview. Dawn's revelations were sweet and honest and emotional. It was a time that I shared with her, since we practically grew up together. There were some surprises and unknowns that I hope brought us closer together. Now, I needed another relative to interview and I thought long and hard and decided to ask my brother John. Since, we were raised seperately; this was a chance to get to know him more intimately. And, given we share a critical, self deprecating sense of humor; I was looking forward to his responses. My hope was that he would give me a glimpse into his life with our Mother and his father. Afterall, everyone knows that stories of my brother John are famous at parties and get togethers, he was let's say, "unique" as a child.
Moreover, I had just reconnected with my brother after many years and this would be an ice breaker opportunity to talk more and get together. I just hoped that John would agree to participate and that he would find the nostalgia of his life a meaningful experience. I knew that his responses would be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. I emailed John with a request and told him we could do this via email and he agreed immediately and I was delighted. The questions went out and a few days passed by and a few more and suddenly his attachment appeared in my email inbox.
That day, I was at work and I opened his email at my desk, in my cube and began to laugh out loud, alone. My co-workers remained silent, until my laughter went on for about 10 minutes and then they came up to ask me what I was reading, I picked one short benign story and read it to them and they too began to laugh, and asked for another and another, until I ran out of stories and the page went blank. So, I started all over again!
Up until that moment, I had thought that my writing ability was linked to my father's writing talent, since he could weave a story with words and imagery that was fascinating,and soulful at the same time. But, when I read John's words, his style, and tone were so near to my writing style that it could have been my words on the page. Because we share only our Mother, was it her talent that we shared? Wow, that was a revelation I might have never known, if I had not taken the class or my brother had declined to participate. Maybe, it was just a remnant of our Catholic school education. It's amazing how little we know about our DNA.
Now, I know you are anxiously awaiting a snipet of my brother's life, we could all use some comic relief after watching the world events of this week. Well, I will not make you wait any longer, and I hope my brother and his wife Nicole are okay with my sharing some of his life story.They are both my Facebook friends. Here goes...
Question 19. Who was your first girlfriend?
A red headed girl named Mary when I was 14. She was a year older than I was so my mother automatically thought she was a whore. Our relationship only lasted 2 short weeks because she could not tolerate my mother always saying don’t bring that red-headed whore in my house. One day I heard a knock on my door and it was Mary’s parents. They wanted to talk to my parents about the whore comments my mother made about their daughter. My face turned white. I called my mother to the door and then I proceeded to run out my back door, climbed my back fence and hide out in the park for 3 hours until they left. I secretly wanted to be a fly on the wall during what must have been an interesting conversation but I was too shocked and embarrassed to stick around.
Question 6. What did you do for fun, what did the family do for fun?
I liked playing in my backyard as a very young child.
On days when I really got on my mother’s nerves, she would send me to the backyard with a large kitchen-serving spoon and tell me not to come back in the house until I dug a hole to China. I never made it to China but I dig a hole deep enough to stand in up to my neck. I would then cover the hole with newspapers hoping to trick a friend or family member to walk across it so they would fall in.
Question 4. What are your early school memories did you like school? Your parent’s attitude toward school?
I did not like school as a child. I attended Catholic School and it was a very structured environment, which I was not raised with. Several times during my Grade School years my mother would be called down to school to discuss my conduct and behavior. I was very hyperactive and I would routinely disrupt class with my loud unruly behavior. It was suggested routinely by my teachers to my mother that I be placed on some-sort of medication to control my behavior. My mother’s answer to them would be “give him a good smack if he acts up”. When my mother got home from these meetings she would act mad and serious at first but shortly after we would be laughing at all the stories the teacher told her concerning my behavior. She shared with me all the anger and disgust the teachers would relay to her during her special visits with them. I think she enjoyed the fact that someone else was as tormented by me as she was.
I kind of fancied myself as the class clown and my mother seemed to be my biggest fan. It seemed my mother enjoyed hearing these stories as much as I enjoyed doing them.My father was a different case. My mother never fully told my father about my conduct issues at school. He knew I was not an angel but he did not know how disruptive I really was. He was very hot headed and I would surely have received a beating by his thick belt or thicker hands if my mother did not keep quite about this. My mother would always tell my teachers that my father did not speak English well enough to attend these special meetings. In reality she was just saving me from getting my ass beaten when he got home.
Question 11: Favorite ways to get into trouble?
Putting explosive cigarette loads in my Parents cigarettes that I used to buy at a magic store on the boardwalk down the shore. I laughed my ass off watching them explode in their face when they smoked. I received quite a few beatings for this but the joy it brought me watching the look of horror and surprise on their face when the cigarette exploded was well worth it. I also enjoyed putting fire crackers on the stove while my mother cooked and watched in delight as a pot of broccoli flew off the stove after the fire crackers exploded. Again well worth it.
Question #17 Any family mottos or rules frequently repeated by parents?
My father would quote the Grey Hound Bus motto while driving in the car. “ Leave the driving to us, Grey Hound Bus.” It was very funny since he had a thick Greek / broken English accent.
As I got older and started dating, my mother’s motto would be “ Don’t stir the pudding” Loosely translated = Don’t have sex with girls who are whores.
Well, I made it through the course without incidence but it was a bumpy ride for others. Looking back, the experience made me grateful for perhaps the greatest attribute of my DNA, a sense of humor. All in all, I think my brother would agree with that, and our decision NOT to pro-create! Thanks, John.