The Other “F” Word
by Donna Scrafano
I hope the title of this article didn’t get anyone’s bottoms in a bunch. This title flew out of my mouth while meeting with a client, approximately twenty years ago. The client was sharing her stories about abuse suffered by her family of origin. The client processed her disbelief of how a family member could treat her so egregiously. Without thinking I responded, “Family, the other F word.” The client responded, “That sounds like a great title for a book.”
I had planned to write the book and incorporate all the stories I heard during my time working with victims of abuse. After all, it was to be a self-help book. As the years went by and I experienced hurtful dynamics in my own family of origin a thought occurred to me, “Hell, I have my own family dysfunctions that might assist readers of my future book.”
I once said to my dear mother, “Every family has some degree of dysfunction.” As I recall, she looked quite puzzled and replied, “Oh! Donna!” which was her typical go-to when she couldn’t manage my sometimes brutal honesty. My mother was quite hung up on appearances, a dysfunction in and of itself. I realized that if there were going to be a book written, it would need to happen following my parents’ departure from this world.
There was not the same degree of dysfunction in my family as there was in the clients I counseled. I suppose my family dysfunction was on the so-called “normal” grid. And quite frankly, I don’t believe my childhood family dynamics were considered to be anything less than proper upbringing.
I believe I didn’t experience or notice the dysfunction until my teenage years. The sign of the times (’60s and ’70s) were that a “girl” was to behave in a certain manner. Quiet. Respectful. Ladylike. Give no opinions unless asked. Complete domestic chores while the boys were excluded from such tasks. There were some subtle and not-so-subtle hints of prejudice and racial overtones as well. Needless to say, I rebelled against all of my family’s expectations of how a “girl” should behave. In my defense, I had three brothers, so the idea that I would fit the description of how a “girl” should behave was doomed from the start. Rightfully so.
The major dysfunction was more clearly defined as an adult. Once I defected from all of the family rules, I and my children were disowned by one brother. Is this how “family” is supposed to treat you? Neither I nor my children were criminals. Yet we were treated as such by one who was allowed to behave badly. My parents expressed grave disappointment and dismay. However, they rallied to the cause. Eventually. Evidently, unconditional love was not part of my family’s norms.
As an older adult, I witnessed more dysfunction that bled through the family parameters. The illnesses of our parents triggered some major dysfunction in two brothers. There was greed, jealousy, and unresolved anger issues that surfaced. And as my parents grew more dependent on care, these two brothers became even more unhinged. My one brother who was the peacemaker and who had my back became ill and passed away. I was alone to deal with the insanity. Again, I thought, Is this how “family” treats their siblings?
My parents are now gone and so is the remainder of my family of origin. They no longer exist in my life. I have no frame of reference as to how two brothers, raised within the same family, became so selfish, envious, greedy, and angry. How was it OK to mistreat a sibling? Neither I, my parents, nor my brother who passed away had even one iota of greed or jealousy in our makeup. Go figure.
Although my family of origin no longer exists, I am blessed with my own family. Three adult children, seven grandchildren, and two great grandchildren. My children and five of my grandchildren watched some of the dysfunction I experienced with my two brothers. Thankfully, they were able to learn from it and vowed to not disrupt our family with such nonsense.
Make no mistake, we certainly have our own type of dysfunction. However, we deal with it. We actually embrace it. Do I ever drop the “F” bomb when dealing with my family? Of course I do. After all, in my mind “Family, the other F word” can also be a phrase of endearment.
Photo credit: Linas Drulia @linas_dr (Kuanas Lithuania).
Donna began her journey in Human Services in 1983. During the next 35 years she held various positions and formally retired in 2018. She writes on an array of social issues. Donna's relaxation time includes walking her Lab, Roxy, having fun with her seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, writing for Silver Sage, spending time with friends and family. Her last full-time position was providing care to her father. Since that has ended, Donna is taking the time to invest in her own self care and interests.