Family Roles


Many of you who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know that I have just gone through an all too common experience last  month – sitting at the bedside of my mother watching her slowly drift away as she died from cancer.  It has been a hard month for me, but even harder on my sister who has never known a time in which my mother was not a part of her daily life. You see, when I was young I became estranged from my family. In some regards I was following in my mother’s footsteps since she had been estranged from her family most of her life.  My mother and I made up long ago, but things were never quite the same. Time and again we fell out only to come back together. What saved everyone in family from the endless arguments was that I lived in a different city.  In the end, my mother and I quietly agreed to disagree for the sake of  the rest of the family who didn’t have to listen to our arguments.

I’ve done a lot of thinking during the past month about the roles we each adopt for ourselves – and I truly believe that, we create our place/role in the family. Others place you when you are young, but as we mature and grow, we create the world in which we live.  We have only ourselves to blame for our responses to life.  If not ourself, whom? It was a hard thing to accept when I was young and even harder now that I am older – but it is the only way we have to get on with our life.

I created my spot in our family when I was in my late teens. Angry, bitter, and too smart for my own good, I created a living hell for the people around me.  I thought I was getting back at people for some very real and some perceived problems during my childhood. In reality though, I was creating a lasting memory of a thoughtless petulant young man. I became a pariah. I left home, only to return and cause more problems. Eventually I grew up and understood life a little more. But the damage was done.People don’t forget, in fact, the place and memories you have created for yourself becomes a caricature of your what you were. In my case, I became the proverbial black sheep.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not lamenting some lost part of my life. I don’t think I could change anything I did.  I would not be the person I am today without having been so stupid in my past. I am sorry for the hurt I caused but I am proud of who the person I became and of the life I have created. Do I have regrets? Sure!  But that’s what they are – regrets. I have to live with them and hope they make me choose more wisely the next time.

But I digress. I wanted to talk about sleeping in the bed I made for myself.  During the past month, everyone in my family fell into  the same roles we always do – including me. People expect it because it is comfortable shoe to wear. They don’t have to think much beyond it. In my case, my pariah role was even mentioned during the funeral ceremonies. Not much I could say or do about it or there was no reason to get angry since it was an accurate description of the past. The only thing to do was to sit back, suck it up, and hope that eventually these same people could see that they were dwelling on the past.  Things have changed. Time has moved on. All those silly clichés.  I am not the same person I was all those years ago. Neither are the family and friends that I have left

I don’t seem to be able to shrug off the coat I wore thirty years ago. It is my coat. I made it. It fit nicely at the time. But I outgrew it and threw it away a long time ago. But people keep insisting I wear it. And I must allow them to see me in that coat until they choose to see that I have changed.

People have  said to me several times these past few weeks that a person has to live with his or her choices.

I agree with them.

But probably not in the way they meant it.

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7 thoughts on “Family Roles

  1. This is a fantastic piece of insight and I can truly relate to your words. I am going through a similar experience myself.

    I do have to say that, just as family often insist in continuing to see us in that same old coat, is it possible that they have as much hand in originally crafting that coat as we, ourselves, did? Often times, the role we choose for ourselves as growing adults has much to do with the role put upon us by our families when we were young children.

    While I am always quick to praise my children, and I work diligently to lovingly guide them, I am very careful not to define them as one thing or another. So often, I hear parents defining their children before they’ve even had time to learn who and what their children really are. I really believe that those “appointed” characteristics stay with us throughout life, often estranging us from our true selves.

    Yes, we have choices about who we are, but I do believe that much of who we do become is rooted, no matter how much we might want to break free, in our early environment and a certain “personality” put upon us by our families.

    In the end, we are who we are, and the best we can do, as you suggest, is to look forward and strive to be something more – no matter how much others may need us to stay exactly as we once were 🙂

  2. Beautiful post, Gene. Is your family likely to read it? I’m glad you made your peace with your mother in time, many people don’t. Consider yourself hugged and I hope you find a way to convey these thoughts to your family if they don’t read the blog.

  3. Thank you both. I linked it to my FB page so my family may see it. I actually write for my students a lot. I was thinking of them and how they are creating their future selves. Hopefully something I say will have a good effect on their own family relationships

  4. Gene,
    You and I have grown and learned over the years from missteps we made in our youth. Understanding who we are and what we stand for are sometimes fraught with “hard knocks”. What we evolve into is a testament to those we love, respect and emulate! You’re a good man, Charlie Brown! I’m proud to count on you as a friend!

  5. This is a wonderful post. While I know nothing of the coat you wore before, the one you wear now is inspirational and is the one the family *you* made sees you in and loves you for. Sending hugs from NYC and best wishes for the start of the school year.

  6. Hi Gene. I recently commented on your post through a mirror darkly. I thought this to be a very inspirational post. In reading this, i agree that everyone must wear the coat they made or reap what they sow. I dont know you personally but in reading your other post, it is appearent to me that you have certainly made change for yourself from your times some thirty years ago. Change into a teacher who cares for his students and is willing to do anything to help them. I think you have done well for yourself and are a great role model for anyone aspiring to be a teacher. I think that people should stop dwelling in the past and see you for who you are today. I will be making a summary post on My Blog. feel free to check it out

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