Maladjusted and Dysfunctional: The New Frontier


“There’s been an accident. The new hearse is totaled. Your father is dead. Your father is dead, and my pot roast is ruined.”


–Six Feet Under

As much as we try to sugar-coat them with terms like “eccentric” or “unique,” let’s face it. Some of us have downright dysfunctional families. Nothing to be ashamed of. They happen to the best of us. Particularly my tribe.

As Jews, dysfunction is in our DNA. We’re a wounded people, persecuted from the beginning of time. It’s part of our history. It is our history. So, that should entitle us to carry our wounds around with us through life, until they eventually kill us, right?

Things happen in life that leave marks on us. We’re all wounded in some way—bi-products of our whacked-out families and our tortured history. Dysfunction has ruled our families since the beginning of time. More than likely, someone in your family was living with some deep dark secret as you were growing up. Something you probably didn’t understand at the time, but in hindsight, made sense when you considered the odd behavior or that nobody was allowed to talk about anything or someone would come up and smack you in the mouth.

Maybe like mine, your grandfather and grandmother were the Jewish equivalent of Edith and Archie Bunker—repressed and their operating principles based on fear and hatred. Don’t go out with the Spanish or Blacks. Stay away from homosexuals. Don’t masturbate, or you’ll go blind. Don’t smoke marijuana or you’ll turn into a crazed junkie. Above all, don’t be weird.

So okay, we were Jews. Neurosis was in our blood. These women deserved some sympathy. All Jewish women who lived through World War II had every right to be insane, depressed, wildly overprotective and abundantly afflicted with all sorts of maladies and psychoses. At least for several decades. Only thing is, we weren’t from Eastern Europe. But we were Jews, and the mere threat of excommunication from the family was constantly looming—particularly if you strayed from the tribe (ie: dated a Gentile, fraternized with a black boy)

It was a fucked-up decade with an abundance of even more fucked-up family dynamics. Dynamics which would ultimately lead to resentments of epic proportions. Interfaith marriages, divorces and family feuds would result in your decapitation in the family photo album. Heads cut out of pictures without a mere thought. One minute you’re just a curious kid perusing some photo nostalgia, and the next, you’re stumbling upon faceless bodies of relatives and strangers and traumatized for life!
What the hell!

I blame the fifties entirely for this behavior. Those postwar conformity-obsessed conservatives, turned our land of the free into a repressive and judgmental country. One that loathed anything different and feared everything but the status quo. If we’ve learned anything from the slew of daytime talk shows in the last decade or so, it’s that repressive parents turn their kids into timid, ambivalent, screwed up creatures riddled with neurotic self-loathing, isn’t that true Oprah?

So here we are sixty years later, and this fine country of ours has now become a larger dysfunctional family in search of a twelve-step program. At least it might help you understand why you’re so screwed up; why your parents were taught at an early age to repress major obvious shit and suck it up in silence—to take those family secrets to the grave.

When repression runs this deep, families caught up in the petty, juvenile bullshit, end up in an uncomprehending, festering, cancer-causing  resentment. And then take it out on the kids.

“Thanks for making my life just that much more difficult. Thanks for undermining my authority with our employees. And thanks for making so clear to me that my choice to dedicate myself to this business and to this family was really stupid, because apparently I would have been rewarded just the same for wasting my life.”

“Oh, my life is a waste? Well, fuck you. At least I enjoy it.”

“Well, lucky you.”

“Fuck you!”

“No, Fuck you!”

“Fuck you!” *rolls eyes*

–Six Feet Under

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