Everything you know and have comes from your family. Even if you could somehow forget that fact, society continually hammers you with the idea that there are no limits to how much shit you should have to put up with when it comes to your blood relatives.
Growing up, you are in the most frightening, vulnerable position of your life, and I'm not just talking about relying on mom to throw some corndogs in the oven, or dad to show you which porn sites won't fuck up your computer. Because of my own abnormal upbringing, I believed for the longest time that my views on family were skewed -- influenced in a negative direction as a result of a lifetime of fear. It wasn't until I started writing for Cracked and collecting emails from readers expressing the same viewpoints that I realized I wasn't unique in disagreeing with statements like ...
#4. "You Have to Help Him, He's Your Father!" (or Mother, etc.)
Why We Say It:
You owe your parents everything. Without them, your entire existence would have been abbreviated to a latex reservoir tip swatting that shit out of the air like an NBA center. They put food on the table and a roof over your head, and by God, the least you can do is be there for them in return.
As adults, we expect the same from our own kids -- a return on our investment. And that's a perfectly logical, reasonable request, isn't it? "I helped you, now you help me." At some point, every parent does it, and we enforce that with one phrase that means two completely different things, depending on the recipient's age: "I'm your father!"
"When I tell you to de-pube your mother's stripper pole, I mean now!"
As a child, it's a demand. "You will mow the lawn because I'm your father, and you will damn well do what I tell you. Now you get out there before I clothe you with snakes!"
As an adult, that meaning loses its weight because they no longer make the rules. That's when the phrase becomes a plea. "Can I borrow 20 bucks for some crack? Come on, man, I'm your father. You know how you made it to this age without dying? That was me who did that!"
"Now, you get over here and wipe your old man's crack, whaddaya say?"
When It's Bullshit:
Right now, I have no fewer than two dozen messages in my inbox from readers asking me what to do in their seemingly unique situation. One or both of their parents are addicts, or habitual criminals, or general fuckups. The kids are taking care of themselves. They watch these grown-ass adults wrecking the entire family with stress about bills, borrowing money from anyone they can to keep the lights on while feeding hundreds of dollars per month into their vices. Every time the parents attempt to clean up their act, they fall right back into the same destructive cycle within weeks. The kids are essentially on their own. You know, normal family problems. We've all been there.
And here's the thing -- the whole "broken childhood" bit doesn't end at childhood. There are people who will spend 40 consecutive years with this bullshit from their parents, knowing that their own kids won't have the sitcom Grandma and Grandpa that's always waiting with a hug and a turkey at Thanksgiving. These are the parents who are always borrowing, or begging, or making demands. They're constantly needing to be bailed out like teenagers, or roping you into petty family disputes ("Your Uncle Steve has been talking shit about your mom again. Now be a good son and go slash his fucking tires").
But ... "I have to be there for them because they're my parents, right?"
"Here you go. I'll be back in an hour. Porn ain't gonna watch itself."
If you take nothing else from this article, please make it this: Childhood is not a bill that you have to pay for later. Parenting is not charity, or a loan -- it is a requirement for those who took on the job, whether they meant to or not. When you become a parent yourself, you will be required to do it as well, without thanks or compensation. In fact, in the first year, you will often get shit on and stomped in the genitals.
Do you owe it to your own parents to be supportive? To try to help them break destructive habits? Of course. But not at the risk of your own health and emotional well being. For the first 20 years of your life, you are being trained to be a caregiver. At no point in that time should you be required to be one yourself. That's not your job. Your job is to learn and grow.
And to randomly burst into a song and dance number with your stupid friends.
Again, I'm not saying that if your mom is wheelchair-bound and needs help painting the house that you shove a finger in her face and say "I got my own problems, whore!" I'm talking about people who are outside your power to help unless you make it your full-time job. You can't fix their addictions, or depression, or stupidity, or chronic need to constantly be in some kind of dramatic crisis. I think there's a point where you're allowed to let that shit go to voice mail.
#3. "You Have to Stick Up for Them, No Matter What!"
Why We Say It:
You and your sister go out for a few drinks when her ex-boyfriend enters the bar. As soon as he sees her, he makes a beeline over to her and starts yelling right there in public for no reason. Everyone in the place is staring. She's obviously getting upset and pretty damn embarrassed. So, being the logical protector that you are, you reach into your trench coat and pull out your morning star ... it has "Conversation Ender" stenciled on the handle.
What their fight was about makes little difference because, of those two people, you are close to only one of them. Growing up with your sister, you know the intricacies of her personality ... the personal trials and hardships she went through that dictate how she reacts to conflict and stress. You know why she's crying, and you know how to make it stop because you know her.
"Come on. Who's a pretty unicorn, huh? Who's a pretty unicorn? That's right, and do pretty unicorns cry?"
The ex-boyfriend is just some walking penis with a popped collar and too much cologne.
When it comes to family members, we tend to throw out our sense of logic and impartial deduction because we're personally connected to them. We judge the situation with no need of a trial, evidence or testimony because we know our sister and "she would never do anything to hurt anyone." Well, aside from the time she tried to stab you, but to be fair, you did take her doll while standing in your knife display room.
"Knife" is such a loose term.
When It's Bullshit:
Later, you have an hour to kill while they clean off the chunks of hair and skin at the morning star cleaning shop. Your sister tells you that the reason her ex was so pissed is because she cheated on him. And he keeps asking for his CDs back, but she hasn't gotten around to it. And every morning, she makes a special trip to his house to pack her shit into his dog's fur.
OK, maybe that was just my family, but you see where I'm going with this. We still have a tribal urge to stand up for our own blood against the outsiders, and society makes it clear that a man who doesn't stand up for mother/sister/siblings ain't no man at all. So it's easy to make the leap from the very noble idea of "You should be there for your family" to the very stupid idea that it's your duty to pull them out of the shit every time they swan dive into it.
"Frankie, what kind of wacky trouble are you in now?"
For instance, in school, it seemed like no matter where my brother went, some asshole bully would corner and beat the piss out of him without so much as a "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father ... prepare to die." When my dad would see his black eye, his first response would usually be to look at me and ask, "Where were you?" Not "What happened," or "Did you deserve it?" It was just automatically expected of me to jump in and start throwing elbows when the drama of 8-year-olds got real.
And I did help out for a while. Until we got into high school and I found out that the reason he was getting his ass kicked so often was because he had a tendency to steal things and make passes at other guys' girlfriends.
And cause disruptive weather patterns at the beach when people are trying to swim.
So at some point you have to give yourself permission to say "You got yourself into this. Good luck." Hell, sometimes that's what they need to hear anyway.