In this most distressing of election years in my memory the most distressing non-issue raised by every crackpot candidate from local mosquito abatement supervisor to President of These Here United States is that of the value of the family in daily life. To examine the lineage of this dubious concept is to trace a path through some of the most vacuous public features in the last fifty years, from our incumbent to his second in command, to the Republican challenger and his father to the challenger's father's running mate, all the way back through the Ronnie White House and beyond. The list includes members of both parties in Congress, big city mayors, state legislators, commissioners, public works chiefs, cops, sheriffs, water board aspirants, and elected trustees of the school board in your home town. And, don't forget talk show hosts.
I say just say no to family, at least as the concept is typically misused by the princes and princesses of opportunity. The family is murder on America. Just ask any police officer (they used to be called peace officers): if you are unlucky enough to get in the way of a bullet, chances are it came from a member of your family. It kind of makes you wonder about those "neighborhood watch" safety programs. It is interesting to note that my neighborhood, which is defined as the area outside my house but not in your house, is statistically safer than the inside of my house or your house, which are by definition not part of our neighborhood. The message for our kids is stay home at your own risk. Go play outside and you'll live longer.
Here is a random sampling of family values available today: divorce, spousal abuse, date rape, various handgun play, incest, child abduction, theft of all kinds, low self esteem, alcohol and drug abuse. This is the reality of the family. While we are at it, let's add Alzheimer's disease, an appalling home health care system, obesity, bipolar disorder, oppressive debt, depression, unreleased rage, poor communication, ignorance, bad hair, lousy schools and dirty linen.
Someone wise once said that the only way America will ever be destroyed is by forces from within. What he forgot to add was "from within the American family."
Let us also not forget that other hallowed American institution, the family business. Having worked for three family businesses in my career, my advice is to keep the family out of the business. All those family values named above tend to spill into the workplace, and then those employees who are not members of the family inevitably get screwed. Trust me on this.
The problem is that the family ideal, as well as the ideal family, is a complete fabrication. If as William Blake said "eternity is in love with the productions of time" then "misery loves family" is equally true if not more so. There is a group of people alive today who, whenever they see something go wrong in society, tend to cry out "Golly gee, if we could only go back to the good old days, when family was sacred, a ballgame was a haven from the world, and an RC Cola only cost a dime." The problem is that the family was a mess, ballgames were played by slobs who got paid a lot, and RC cost twice what it was worth.
The 1950's were supposed to be the Golden Age of Family Life. Not in my group, friend. On my mother's side you would have found a heavy dose of alcohol abuse, so that every gathering was a potential firestorm. Dogs got thrown at people, people got thrown at dogs, dogs bit other dogs, people bit people, and only the booze bottles were safe. Priorities, you know. On Pop's side we had your basic undiagnosed manic depression, religious fanaticism, physical and sexual abuse of the kids, and that most dreadful of maladies, the Ten Year War of Stubbornness. Something bad must've happened when I was an infant because I didn't know I had grandparents until I was nearly ten years old. I am from mules.
No family, team, company, or institution exists today that doesn't suffer from some sort of dysfunction. Just ask your therapist(s). Talk about a growth industry. In California alone studies have shown that on any one day in any one restaurant during any one lunch time there are 3.4 therapists dining among any 10 customers. And they're eating with your money.
Here is the basic issue: families reflect the world around them. The world is full of virtue, beauty, grace, evil, terror, and darkness, in pretty much equal measures. As tempting as it is to look at my family with a sense of innocence, good will and purity, the reality is that my kids are walking, talking time bombs. There is the potential in each of them for grand achievements, but also hatred, violence, sexual confusion, and insanity. I know this because they are mine.
To be blunt, actual family life is more likely to reveal life's seamy underbelly, its complexity, and its utter unpredictability than it is to make you feel proud. Attempts by politicians, pundits, and other dittoheads to place a halo of dumb sentimentality over the image of the family in modern life are doomed.
OK, here's the "so what." We have been sold a bill of goods by the therapeutic community, which often claims that family history is the key determining influence by which our lives are formed. It's the typical excuse: I am bad because my dad (pick one) drank too much, ate too much, fooled around on the side, slacked off at work, ad nauseum. Baloney, I say.
Family history ain't what it's cracked up to be. It was neither that bad nor that good. It just was. Now get back to work.