Growing up, I felt like I belonged to the most dysfunctional family in the world. I really did. First of all, let me just say that my daddy had a personality very similar to Jack Nicholson alaThe Shining and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Seriously. When I saw these films, I was totally freaked by the stunning similarities. Since then, I’ve come to believe that either one of two things happened. My dad knew he was crazy, and he wanted to develop a “cool” crazy persona. Thus he studied Jack Nicholson generally, but especially the characters he played in the above-mentioned films. Either that or, there just really is this crazy-man archetype, which both Jack Nicholson and my dad unluckily inherited. As for my mom, picture Edith Bunker, but even more ditsy and detached from reality. Yep, those are my peeps. I was so ashamed. And I tried so hard to hide my family’s dysfunction because I imagined that if anyone ever knew the truth, they would strike the pose of the hapless guy in the Edvard Munch portrait, while pointing in terror and screaming, Oh my God! You people are crazy!
It never once occurred to me that almost all those other people and their families were also dysfunctional as hell too. But the one thing that I have realized through writing, and sharing various excerpts of my book, The Way Through, Lessons Learned on Life, Love and the Journey, (TWT) is that most people and most families are dysfunctional as hell. I know this because, once people read my book, they have a sudden urge to confess all of their family’s dysfunctions to me. I have to admit, when this first began to happen, I found it shocking! All I could think to myself was: Wow! There are sooooooooo many people who are sooooooooo f*cked up!Sadly, it seems to be the human condition.
But I’m always glad when my readers open up to me. It’s very healing for me; and I bet it’s healing for them also. When you are growing up DASH (dysfunctional as hell), it feels so damn lonely. When you can share that burden with someone, it gets lighter. Eventually, if you share enough, it will one day lift off of you completely. I should know, because in writing my book, TWT, it happened to me. I got over it!
But um…before I got over it, I obsessed. One of my obsessions was literature, film, and art, which depicts the dysfunctional family. Grant Wood’s American Gothic? I mean, seriously, what was up with those peeps? Or, Picasso’s La Vie? Not a happy family, no, not at all. At least, Van Gogh kept it real with Peasant Woman with Child on her Lap, (Shout out to all the single mother’s of the world, holding it down for humanity) but Dali’s Soft Construction with Boiled Beans, I would personally rename it, if given the chance, Mama Issues.
And, who ain’t got mama issues? Or daddy issues too? I know I had a ton. But I worked it out. I got over it. If you wanna know how, read TWT. But seriously…my family is straight crazy. I know I’m not the only one! And yet, the way people present in the world, I swear, most of the time, it sure as hell feels like it.
My family dysfunction was so very loud and so inescapable and thus so deeply you-gone-learn-today embarrassing! (Kevin Hart had me cracking up with his daddy’s you-gone-learn-today! Primarily because I too had a you-gone-learn-today daddy. I’m hear to tell you, those learn-today daddies are a bit much!) There was no way I couldn’t have “daddy issues.” I was also destined to have “mama issues” due to the fact that both of my parents were so crazy and so deeply incompatible in their respective crazinesses, that they ran roughshod over me and my siblings like a runaway train. But it wasn’t intentional. I realize that now.
Still, when you grow up inside a perpetual and never ending train wreck, you develop a few obsessions. One of mine is the dysfunction behind the family…man do I ever study it. What makes families highly dysfunctional? I got a few answers I can toss out at you: mental illness, substance abuse, domestic violence, other types of sexual and physical abuse, criminal activities, as well as your general garden variety craziness, which should actually be considered normal.
One of my favorite past times? Looking for families more dysfunctional than mine. I’ve been looking for them on TV ever since I could watch it. I was hoping there I could get some pointers on how I could deal with my particular situation. But when I was coming up, TV was no help! All they had for me was the Cleavers, the Bradys and the Andy Griffith Show! WTF?????
But shout out to all of the writers, producers, directors and actors who kept it real and brought us all kinds of in-ya-face family dysfunction. Below is my list of my top-ten must-see or must read dysfunctional families.
1. Shameless! – Oh my God! You think you got mama and daddy issues? Geez! Daddy Frank is an alcoholic sociopath who steals food and rent money from his six kids (well, five cause the black one ain’t his) as well as painkillers from his pancreatic-cancer-having, excon dying mother (who incidentally got sent up for running a meth lab.) He is truly shameless! This man has no shame! None! There is no low level to which he will not stoop! He’s disgusting and disgraceful… and a daddy who I personally love to hate! He seems to have “utterly no redeeming qualities as a human being.” (A phrase a principal once uttered about my sociopath brother…sadly, sometimes it seems to be true. But I pray for him, every day! My brother – not Frank…f*ck Frank!)
Then there’s Mama Monica, a bipolar, lesbian who has no qualms about running off and leaving her six kids (yeah, even the black one) with drunk white Frank! Poor, poor Fiona, the oldest girl and the only member of the Gallagher family with any sense or any shame. (Because believe you me, the rest of them mickey fickeys are truly shameless!) She tries to hold it down for the fam, but coming up outta that gene pool, she’s gonna crack eventually, right? God bless her! Love this show! (Cause this family really is more dysfunctional than mine.)
2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof – How fucked up is your family when “Big Daddy” is dying, and nobody, but nobody, except the self-hating, crippled, gay, drunk, golden boy Brick has the courage to tell him the truth? Meanwhile they are all, (every single last one of them, except self-hating, crippled, gay, drunk, golden boy Brick) scheming and plotting to get a piece of Big Daddy’s wealthy pie, like greedy vultures hovering a near corpse. So, inevitably, you the viewer/reader, find yourself routing for self-hating, crippled, gay, drunk, golden boy Brick to come save the day- which, he oh so conveniently does in the Hollywood version, by magically turning straight and agreeing to make a baby with his beautiful greedy, “I-ain’t-nevah-gone-be-poor-again” Maggie-the-Cat of a wife, who he hates and blames somewhat for his male lover’s death…. yeah, like that would really happen…NOT. This family is a cat and a hot tin mess!
3. Running With Scissors – This book had me cracking up! The dysfunction with Augusten Burrough’s adopted family is not only worse than mine…it’s crazier!!!! And let me tell you, seriously, that’s a really, really hard thing to do! (Be crazier than my family.) What makes this family crazier than mine? Well, we were kind of tied, but when the good doctor (the adopted dad) started taking his shit – yes literally his shit out of the toilet – and putting it on plates in his backyard in order to read the messages in it (as if it were tea leaves) with his daughter’s totally consensual help, I was like, Oh boy! These mickey fickeys are actually crazier than we were! I mean my dad did some crazy shit – but nothing as crazy as reading his own shit!!!!!
4. The Cleavers – Okay, I know what you’re thinking: The Cleavers are perfect! Who wouldn’t want a family like that? A stay at home mom, who always looked like some 1950′s version of a supermodel. Perfect June with her perfectly boushy fifties style skirts and dresses, always adorned with pearls and heels even though she never went anywhere, except her own house. Then there was Ward, who came home from work every single day, in the best f*cking mood ever! Whatever problems Beaver or Wally encountered, Ward was there to fix it, with his fatherly words of wisdom. He never got agitated, and he never got upset… NOBODY’S FAMILY IS THAT PERFECT!!! So, I say, something really sick was going on with those Cleavers…I don’t know what…but that all of that perfection was there to cover up some huge, gaping dysfunction…sexual abnormality, glue sniffing, huffing, bestiality, sado-masochism…something!
5. Dead Like Me – Who knew regular white people could be so dysfunctional? Oh my God! The Dead Like Me family is one of the most “normal” dysfunctional families I’ve ever come across! There was nothing, big, or loud, or crazy, or obviously wrong with this family. There was the fact that their eldest daughter had died and was kinda sorta haunting them, BUT, they were f*cked up before then. It was like they had never been a family, but rather four people who had been thrown together through some bizarre set of circumstances. Nobody in the family liked anybody else. The two daughters could not stand the mom. The mom couldn’t stand the two daughters. The husband seemed to barely tolerate the wife, and was totally disconnected from his two daughters. The wife was completely disgusted with the husband. (I think she suspected that he was gay.) I think, after the eldest daughter died, the mother felt guilty for being so cold and unloving…but…not really! Even though they lived in a pretty nice, middle American suburban house, the house always looked so cold, lonely and unhappy. There was no warmth or love there. And check this out, even though the main character George was dead, she really wasn’t missing her life or her family all that much. She knew how much her life sucked! This show made me realize that even “normal” families can be pretty f*cked up.
6. The Family Stone – This is another “regular” dysfunctional family that I love! No they are not as crazy as my family. But this family reminds me of my family in a lot of different ways. For one, there are five siblings, just like in my family. And when they all come home for the holidays and bring their significant others – drama ensures! I can relate! The fact that the one of the characters appears to be sleeping with his brother’s fiancé should show you how dramalicious this family is – and yeah, I can relate to that drama! I have brothers- three of them in fact. The straight ones do not seem to understand that there are boundaries you DO NOT cross. You do not sleep with your brother’s girlfriend; I don’t care what the circumstances are, c’mon! (Unfortunately…I’ve had to have that conversation with a brother – and not even the one who’s a sociopath!) Also, one of my brothers is gay, just like in this family. (In The Family Stone one brother is gay and deaf, and coupled up with a Black lover, talk about a triple whammy! And yet, he’s the chillest of them all!)
But The Family Stone character I absolutely adore is the mom, who throws a fork at her gay, deaf son, to tell him that she loves him. Cause I’m kinda crazy like that! I think that if I was dying of cancer, and my five kids came home for the holidays and one of them was gay and deaf and feeling insecure because my other son’s fiancé dissed him for being gay and being with a Black man, I’d act as crazy as that mom did, by throwing a fork at him to get his attention, so he could see me mouth the words I love you. (Oh, you just gotta see this movie!)
7. Roseanne – My kids often compare my husband to Damon Wayans on My Wife and Kids, so I asked my son Langston which TV mom best represented me. Guess what his smart ass said? Rosanne! I had to laugh because…it’s true! And I love me some Rosanne! The way she yelled and screamed around that house…yup, that’s so me. The junky, chaotic, ish everywhere housekeeping…sadly me. (Not as junky and tacky as Rosanne’s…but still.) That biting, sarcastic, derisive wit – also me. The belly-laughing while sitting around the kitchen table playing cards and drinking beer, totally me. (Except I drink wine and watch movies or sing and dance for family fun.) At least I do know how to really party and have fun! And if we are in a public place and I’m doing my karaoke (which I love!) my boys always say, Mom! You’re embarrassing me! To which I reply, you gone learn today! Ha, ha, ha!
[image error]8. The Sopranos – Tony Soprano is the gangsta you just hate to love…but I loved him. I really did, because Tony Soprano, all things considered, was a good dad! He loved his wife and his f*cked up kids, and they loved him right back, even though they knew that their dad killed people for a living. It was kind of like, they knew, but then again, they didn’t really know, until they really knew. Or did they? Remember how Carmela, Tony’s wife, was all like, where’s Adrienne? What happened to Adrienne? Really Carmela? C’mon! You know they killed Adrienne! People don’t just up and disappear! But, she bought Tony’s lies about Adrianne because she didn’t want to know the truth! What I found so f*cking fascinating about the Sopranos was how everyone in Tony’s immediate family acted so “normal” around him, when clearly…they should have known that this man was a stone-cold killer! But what was even more mind-boggling than his family’s pretenses was his own! Tony seemed to think and behave as if he was really just your American typical dad!
And then there was Tony’s own family: his mother, his uncle, his sister – ALL TOTAL PSYCHOS!!!!!!!! In fact, it is only because of Tony’s childhood family, that we all grew to have such sympathy for him. It’s like DAYUM! These your people? Well, if that’s what you came from, you probably are doing the best you can do! Sure you’re a cold-blooded killer, but NOT AS psychotically cold-blooded as the rest of your psycho crew!
9. The Color Purple – Coming in at number nine is Celie’s family in The Color Purplepaired up with almost any family in a Toni Morrison novel (because they are bound to be a sickly incestuous one). Okay, let’s start of with The Color Purple, in this novel, Celie’s step father rapes her and impregnates her (twice!) before selling off her babies and then selling her off (at age 12) to a fully grown man who also rapes her, beats her and treats her like a slave from one of the cruelest Southern plantations ever. JESUS CHRIST!!!!!!! Who knew that families could actually be this dysfunctional????? FUCK!?!?!?!?!
If that doesn’t blow your mind, the fact that Milkman, from Toni Morrison’s brilliant masterpiece,The Song of Solomon, gets his nickname due to the fact that he is breast fed until he is five years old (and NO, his mama was not doing this for the nutritional benefits because this was in the forties before such practices where commonplace) should. In Sula, a mama sets her son on fire, because he came home from the war a heroine addict and, among many other dysfunctional behaviors, kept trying to climb back into his mother’s womb. I kid you not! He basically tried to rape his mother. Who comes up with this shit? Crazy writers! But writers write what they know, see, hear and … all I know is that somebody must have been getting incested somewhere up in Morrison’s life experiences, because we just keep seeing this over and over again in sicker and sicker ways in all of her novels. Yuck!
10. The Wire – Finally, there is almost every single black family on The Wire. Boy oh boy! Did The Wire ever keep it real! There was Avon and his sister…who ship their nephew/son off to prison for their crimes and allow him to get killed in there. Then, there’s Dragon Lady mom, who cusses her son out for not being a competent drug-dealer or being able to handle “baby-booking.” And what about Dukey’s family? (And who names their kid Dukey, anyway? A crack head!) All the members of Dukey’s family were such intense crack heads that Dukey could not even manage to keep a hold of a school uniform for a day without them stealing it from him and selling it. And I’m not even going to mention Michael’s excon sodomizing daddy, viciously, brutally stomped to death by Chris who, clearly had a zero tolerance policy for grown men sodomizing little boys. When Michael’s crack head mama keeps anxiously waiting for the sodomizing daddy to come home, (but you know he’s never coming back) you’re not sure if you should be sad, or glad or WTF? That Wire.
Okay, that’s it for now on growing up DASH. But I’ll be back with more dysfunction…clearly I have endless material on this, seriously, sadly, hysterically…stay tuned.