Today I read an article online about the TV show Six Feet Under. It was pretty much just a quick oral history of how the show came to be, but there was a small part of it where the actor Peter Krause, I think, was talking about how the Fisher family was dysfunctional on the show, but that cast as a family was very functional.
It got me thinking about my own family growing up. Not that we were terribly dysfunctional, really. I think we were like lots of families during that time period. My brother and sisters grew up in the 60’s and 70’s (I came along in 1968), and it was just a different time then.
My siblings dealt with the same things lots of people did during that time period—Viet Nam, drug issues (not necessarily their own), probably some politics, meeting (or not meeting) societal and parental expectation, and simply finding their own way.
And they had this baby brother come along, and they were really more like parents to me than anything else.
My mom dealt with health and alcoholism issues as long as I can remember. Then it was cancer issues, and it took her a really long and painful decade to succumb to them.
I got along with my sisters much better than my brother. They showed me the love and support my parents couldn’t, for whatever their reasons. My brother, not so much. If I had to name an individual responsible for most of my woundings and scars, it would be him. Both literally, and figuratively.
He single-handedly formed the self-image that almost completely undid me.
I didn’t get it before—not for years—but I think I understand why things played out like that a little better now.
He was a little different as a kid, from what I have been made to understand. Perhaps there could have been some mental or chemical issues, I don’t know. He wasn’t always easy to love. Still, the girls did what they could.
Then I come along, and for whatever the reason, I was treated and loved well by my sisters and was a total mama’s boy. I don’t think there was anything special about me, but the love I was shown shaped my personality as much as my brother’s hate did, I think. And I get that it upset him and probably caused a lot of his issues with me.
Plainly put, this new brother did not help his issues at all, and certainly stole a lot of the time that he used to get. It felt like he hated me for being more loved than he was. I don’t know if that’s true.
I suppose that is a dysfunction.
Yet there were also moments of kindness. He would give me things of his I wanted that he didn’t use or play with anymore. He would take me for rides on his motorcycle. One time I got sick in the middle of the night and puked all over the place. He cleaned me up and put me back to bed, and then cleaned up the mess all by himself without waking anyone else up.
Lots of things like that.
My dad seemed a little aloof, but I think that was a generational thing. Men of his time (the greatest generation) were not always the touchy-feely uber-dads you see so often these days (I try to be that kind of dad myself).
I think he did the best he could considering what he had to deal with himself. There were periods of unemployment, my mom’s alcoholism and cancer. Probably hopes and dreams he had of his own that never happened. I don’t ever remember him striking me or anything like that. But I also don’t remember encouragement coming from his direction. I don’t remember much in the way of physical affection, though I suppose he did love me after his own fashion.
He died when I was 16.
Still, I had my friends, and I had my mom and sisters. My brother was thankfully not home much that I remember, and that was good. He only seemed to come around when something bad happened, and he wanted me to feel like it was my fault.
Like when my friend shot himself about ½ mile from my house.
Like when my high school girlfriend broke up with me shortly after graduation.
Like when my mom died in 1987.
That was when my downward spiral started, and didn’t end for a really long time. There weren’t really drugs, unless you count binge-drinking. There was lots of that. There were also several empty relationships, the last of which ended in the early 2000’s. There was a short foray into occultism. Pornography. Despair.
More dysfunction, I guess. During most of those years, I was not a good brother, or probably friend. I preferred shadows, and I would walk in them.
Then God started to introduce people of faith into my life—slowly, so I didn’t notice it was happening.
And for the first time I can remember, I also had accountability.
I met a guy in college who introduced me to a Jesus I hadn’t heard much about, and he called me on it when I was doing dumb stuff. My self-image began to change. Slowly, and I didn’t notice it was happening. The Jesus he told me about loved people as they were—even in their imperfection and sin. He forgave. He changed them from the inside out.
He changed me, in the fullness of time, with many missteps along the way.
I think about all the dysfunction, and I think about the many valleys I’ve been through in my life. Lots of pain. Lots of bad things.
I would not change any of it, and I know how that sounds.
But had I not experienced that stuff, I would not be here today, literally.
There’s a line in the Pat Conroy (one of my very favorite authors) book, The Prince of Tides where the narrator says something like “There are lots of families who go their whole lives with nothing of interest happening to them—not a single thing. I’ve always envied those families.”
I like the book a lot, and used to feel that way myself.
My family is interesting, and has overcome a lot. Everything I have and more.
I love them.
We are weird, and we have phobias, and predilections, and strange habits.
But strange and dysfunctional as we are, we are a family.
Wilkins in various forms, ideologies, shapes, and colors.
I have been shaped by my life experiences, and by the love I have been shown over my life. Not by the hate. Nothing good is.
I am not the person some of those experiences led me to think for so many years.
God showed me that.
So here I am today.
I work for the Army (indirectly), doing a job I like very much.
I have my own family, and though we might not be Wilkins-level dysfunctional, we try our best. We are loud, and crazy, and we fight, but not as much as we love.
My wife is literally the most extraordinary woman I have ever known, and I will love her until I look like this:
All that dysfunction was for a reason. It got me here, by the Grace of Jesus, my abba.
The Wilkins family is here to stay. We’ve got branches all over the country, though my main concern is the San Diego Chapter.
I am grateful beyond measure.
I love show tunes, and I love metal, the language of my people.
My wife has introduced me to country, and I like that, too.
I like mince pie, even though I seem to be the only person in Arizona who does.
I love books, and my kids, and carne asada tacos.
Life is pretty good.