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There is always a fuse, usually a long one, to set the dynamite off. So it is with families. The dysfunctional family is always the result of deep rooted dysfunction that festers even before it surfaces. This anger resonates perhaps within the grandparents, or great grandparents, or even way before that, and it travels to the present. Sad.

HIs father came from the deep, bad 1930s Depression. Things were so terrible for that family of three that some nights all they had to eat for dinner were banana or broccoli rabe sandwiches. The son, an honor student in high school, was accepted into Brooklyn College, one of the most prestigious places of higher learning in the City of New York. Within one year, 1934, he was forced to drop out to find employment. The mother found a job in a factory, standing nine hours on her feet each day. The father found a good job as a machinist. Things started to look better… and then the lightning bolt of fate struck. NYC was seeing more and more labor strikes as too many were out of work and wages too low. With boom and bust economic cycles, especially during this Depression, the more unemployed there were, the easier for the bosses of industry to pay less and less. The super rich called this ‘ Free market competition’.

HIs father’s father was a man of high principle. A Sicilian with a college degree from Tunisia ( which meant Zero here in the states) he followed the path of Socialism in his beliefs. To him, every working man was deserved of fair treatment, meaning fair wages and benefits. So, he eagerly joined with the labor walkouts in his craft. Things got tough for them, as the police seemed to be more like the ‘ Company goons’ the bosses hired. He got arrested and was unable to make the ‘ Too high’ bail courts were obviously ordered to charge. After all, these were terrible Radicals and Reds as they were labeled. The son and the wife had to tramp around the entire neighborhood begging for a few dollars here and there to get him out of jail while he awaited trial. They finally got him out. He was notified by his employers that he was Blacklisted from that craft- he was now on his own. Weeks of unemployment became months and then years. He could not even get onto ‘ Home Relief’ ( forerunner of modern day Welfare). Frustration became resentment and then bitterness. The son was at a friend’s house the afternoon his mother found the body lying in their bathtub, soaked in blood from the head and brain that his father blew away. Always a neat and tidy man, the father made sure that only the bathtub would be soiled.

Before he took his own life the father told the son to ‘ Always take care of your mother, promise me, if anything happens to me.’ The son kept his word and lived with his mother right up until his wedding. After the ceremony it was already established that his bride would have this new ‘ Family of three’ to reside with. She didn’t like it at all, but… such is life. Two women sharing one kitchen, as they say, is a recipe for disaster. It certainly was! The son, after the war ended ( He didn’t have to serve due to the ‘ Sole surviving son’ statute) , went into the used car business. He did very well, along with a partner who had worked with him at the Navy Yard during the war. Things looked bright, except for coming home each evening and having two shrilling voices at his throat, cursing each other out. His wife and his mother hated each other, leaving that to his son’s psychiatrist to examine years in the future. In the meantime, the father became the referee who usually sided with mother over wife. Seeds of dysfunction were really germinating.

As luck would have it, or rather ‘ Bad Luck’, his father’s world began to crumble. The partner, Amos, had taken out a personal loan and forged his father’s signature as a cosigner. When the loan came due the bank finally came after the father, who had no recourse but to file bankruptcy. By this time he had two young sons. Thank goodness his father in law, once a ‘ Dock boss’ at the piers, got him into the Longshoremen’s Union. He would have steady work, but no credit at all. There would be no house to buy in the future, just continued renting at the mercy of a landlord. HIs wife , once the youngest son was in grade school, would have to get a job… and she did. His mother worked nights as a Nurse’s Aide, so at least someone would be home at 3 PM when the boys arrived from school. The apartment was a roomy, upstairs one with three bedrooms, but with only one bathroom. All the apartments at that time only had one bathroom, which would figure into the dysfunction a bit later.

The two sons became affected by the dysfunction all around them. The oldest son simply retreated into the bathroom to do his #2, especially when the yelling got too much to handle. Sometimes, as a preface to the way he became for the rest of his life, he would spend hours on that toilet seat. No desk was needed for his homework anymore. The youngest son, the one with too much ‘ Nervous energy’, got himself in the middle of many such arguments. As much as he loved his grandmother, he would invariably take the side of his mother. Things got so troubling for this five year old that one time he made a Valentine’s Day card at school that revealed two stick figures waving arms at each other. On the bottom of the card he had written ‘ Don’t Fite’. When his dad got a 2nd job working for the bookmaker at the pier, handling all the paperwork and collections, the dysfunction worsened. It seems his dad had to listen to the race results on the radio each evening to record all the payoffs etc. Usually this would occur at dinnertime. Since they only had one radio, a giant machine in the kitchen, everyone had to be quiet while he listened and wrote. Being a hyperactive child, the boy would be talking with his brother or mother and then he would hear the shout ‘ Be Quiet! ‘ The mouth closed until there was a break… and then it resumed talking. Before you knew it the boy developed a Stutter, which only got worse as he got older. It took him hypnosis many years later to find out the cause.

What if? What if the Depression did not hit that family so hard? What if the old Sicilian did not get arrested? What if he lived to see his grandkids? What if the son did not have to drop out of college? Who knows what profession he may have gotten into. If his dad had not committed suicide, there would be no reason for he and his new wife to live with anyone but themselves. No need to go on and on….

PA Farruggio
March 2022