Where In The World Did You Come From?
Written By: Mark Smith
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In high school I remember feeling quite jealous of my best friend Joey's ethnic heritage. He had a wonderful Italian family, complete with a hardworking dad I had a hard time sometimes understanding, a grandma who would pinch your cheeks and stuff you with pasta and enough extended family to fill a convention hall. I found myself attracted to the strong sense of family, loyalty and connection that I always found at their house. I saw my family as being "mutts". I knew nothing about my father's background and very little about my mother's. Someone said that we have some Irish in our background so I connected with that - every year I religiously enjoy cabbage and ham on New Year's Day to celebrate my Irish connection. I really didn't know where I came from and that made me feel disconnected and certainly not nearly as special as Joey.
A cool thin happened several months ago that helped to change some of that, though. While vacationing in near Houston my brother took our family to see a long lost relative that I had scarcely ever heard of. His name was David Smith (83) and he was my father’s mother’s brother – my great Uncle. My Grandmother Cora died when I was young and I don’t have any memories of her. The only thing that I knew about her was that she gave birth to my father when she was 14, she then married an abusive alcoholic named Ray Brown and rather than giving my father money she took money that he earned – that was it. So, I had a clear agenda when I arrived to see David – I needed to know about my Grandmother. It was spooky meeting David – he looked very much like my father and he walked and talked very much like him. What I found out wasn’t very nice, but it was further information and that was what I was hungry for. David said that my Grandmother had been a ‘skinniver’, which I took to mean that she was a conniver. He said that his brother, Hughey had sent their mother many thousands of dollars in savings bonds when he was in the war. David said that upon their mother’s death my Grandmother had immediately cashed all of the bonds and had kept the money for herself. I found out much more than that as well. I discovered that I was Scottish! My Great Grandfather, David Fraser Smith had come over from Scotland. I also discovered that he was actually a bigamist. He left a wife and daughter in Scotland and then when he settled in the states he ended up getting married again and having another family. I learned lots of other family information – many of them were ironworkers in Scotland so they settled near Pittsburgh for jobs in the states, they were Democrats, both alcoholism and gambling were rampant, they tended to cut off emotionally from each other, they weren’t much for writing letters, they tended to be stubborn and they frequently came across as if they were always right. They were a motley crew, but they were my crew. It was eerie when I saw a picture of my Great Grandfather in his early 20’s – it looked just like me when I was that age. There is no doubt about it – these were my people. I can’t tell you how connected and bonded it made me feel to see so much of myself in that picture of my Great Grand father.
The information helped me to understand and come to grips further with my father’s rather sad, ineffectual life. Due to his not having a father, being abused by his stepfather, being used by his ‘skinniving’ mother, being neglected and being so poor the poor man really never had a chance. For him to get married, father 7 children, and have careers both in the Air Force and the Postal Service was pretty good given where he had come from. I had long ago forgiven my father for his emotional cutoff as I was growing up, but the additional information helped me to put myself in his shoes even further. I also connected with a marital pattern that I had noticed in my father’s life, but hadn’t understood. Of course our theory at Family Tree is that we all marry people who have the hidden worst characteristics of our parents. My dear mother had many wonderful characteristics, but if the truth was told she had a good bit of ‘skinniver’ in her. My father was actually married to two other women during his lifetime and believe me, ‘skinnivers’ would be a kind term for those ladies. Everything made sense and it all fit together. My father needed to work on his relationship with his using and distant mother, so he indirectly scratched that itch for the rest of his life in his relationships with women.
The point of all of this isn’t for me to share my background with you. I understand that few of you may care that I discovered that I descend of a pack of stubborn, ‘skinniving’, iron working, gambling, drinking, and bigamist Scotsmen. I get that. My point is, where is the world do you come from? What are the patterns in your family? When I sit down with a couple to begin working on their marital issues I do not see just two other people in the room with me – I see generations of family members who have all have powerful influences of the issues that have been brewing between the people sitting in front of me. When you left home you didn’t leave all of your family baggage with you – you lugged it along with you into your relationship. Ethic background is vital information in gaining an understanding of who you are and what makes you tick in relationships. It also is amazing how frequently ethnic stereotypes turn out to have a lot of truth to the. In gathering information from countless Irish families two issues dominate their family trees – alcoholism and rage. The extremely strong patterns with people with German heritage are Workaholism, emotional distancing, and the lack of emotional intimacy. With people with Appalachian histories, sexual abuse is rampant. What patterns run in your family system? Why do you do the things that you do? You did not grow up in a vacuum. You were formed by generations of traditions, values, beliefs, and dysfunction. The scriptures say ‘The sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children and the children’s children unto the 3rd and 4th generations.’ A marriage is a very complex organism. Few married people have the communication skills, the insight, the objectivity, the determination and the knowledge of family patterns to figure out their stuff without help. If it feels like you can’t get through to your spouse almost as if you are bucking generations of patterns that is because that is exactly the case. Blending genealogical information with family system theory have given marital therapist incredibly powerful tools in understanding, naming and treating any variety of marital issues. Give one of our ‘family background researchers’ today at 844-2442 and we will help you to fit together who you are, where you came from and how you can make that work for you in your marriage instead of having it sabotage that vital relationship.
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