Some Families Are Messed Up

... in case you weren't aware.

Some generations back in my family, a young boy got his leg cut off in an accident on a set of train tracks. The settlement was in excess of $100,000, a fortune at the time and nothing to sneeze at even today. His father, a minister who was so stingy that he wouldn't even let his wife have a copy of the key to the family refrigerator, gifted the entire settlement to a Bible college and insisted that he continue wearing the short pants that fashion norms of the day prescribed for boys Paul's age.

Paul got teased about his exposed prosthetic mercilessly at school and got into a lot of fights. Not even this bullying made his father relent. Paul later became a prize fighter, but his career never took off. Family legend has it that he was so cussed and nasty that he knocked his opponents out too quickly, which didn't give the audience a good show for their money. He became an abusive drunk and liked to win bets off of unsuspecting people in bars by crushing full aluminum beer cans with one hand. I guess his life made him 'strong,' a trait he used to tyrannize his own eventual family.

I could go on, too. That's the good thing about families with several generations of dysfunction, they give you a lot to write about. I'm not talking a lovable sort of sitcom dysfunction, either, where everyone's just mildly, humorously neurotic. No.

The point of that story, and I have more where that came from, is to say that some people's families are so unbelievably frakked up that if you didn't come from one of them, you might not believe that people like that existed. But they do.

Families are supposed to be, are idealized as, everyone's bulwark of love and support against an uncaring world. Though for some, the uncaring world is a relief compared to dealing with the controlling, malicious, life-wrecking, or vindictive jerks that an accident of birth allotted to you as family. Sometimes those people are just messed up. Or maybe basically decent, but you all just bring out the absolute worst in each other. Or even kind, but weak, and unable to protect you from predators or from their own bad habits.

Not everyone has a family who loves them unconditionally and will always be there if they need help. Got it? If you have to be told, I'm happy for you, really, but this isn't a revelation to all of us. You know those people you read about in the news and think, 'Damn, what an unbelievable creep,' those people are part of someone's family and are probably traumatizing that family even as you read about them being unbelievable creeps.

That's why parental notification laws for abortion, like California's Proposition 4, are so pernicious.

Because there are families where fathers rape their own daughters. Because there are families where a pregnant girl might get thrown out on the street, or beaten to within an inch of her life. Because there are families where both parents are hooked on drugs or alcohol and need their children to parent them from an early age. Because there are families where several generations of abusive relationships have left people who would otherwise have been decent relatives without any positive models of conflict resolution. Because there are teenagers who would literally rather risk death than tell anyone that they might be pregnant until it's too late, a situation made even worse if their parents are also troubled and would react badly to such an announcement.

Any policy that relies on all families being perfect in order to be humane simply fails to be humane. It just fails.

Is it enough to be against a law because it will cause more suffering? I think it is. It isn't less cruel because you don't have to face the people who will be hurt by it. We're not talking about hypothetical platitudes where people exist in states of perfect information and minimal consequence, we're talking about real lives. Is it enough to simply ask that people vote against Proposition 4 because they're anti-misery?

Update [2008-10-9 17:31:49 by Natasha Chart]: Tag edit.

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