All families can be dysfunctional – but some carry it to an extreme

Kids killing other kids.  It makes headlines in every state in the union.  Alaska has no exclusive on this problem. Wherever we go, these problems follow us because they are basically the problems of dysfunctional families.

I’m not trying to blame every family that ever had a kid go bad. Sometimes kids from relatively good families take a sudden left turn in life and end up on the wrong side of everything their parents stand for or taught them.  But they are the exception.  The general rule is that kids who kill come from backgrounds that lay the seeds for violence and perversity. Kids who kill usually have had the best part of them killed at an early age by the very people who should have been protecting and nourishing their finer instincts.

I am a firm believer in the fact that there are few truly functional families in this world.  For most of us, the mark of success is how well our family functions within its own dysfunction. My family was full of dysfunction.  When they gathered together for a holiday, you didn’t get much more craziness gathered in one room outside of a psychiatric institution.

On some level, all my cousins and siblings recognized that. We grew deaf to the loud arguments that accompanied every family event. The most violence we ever saw happened when dad and mom fought over how much olive oil belonged in the spaghetti sauce, or whether dad should have given the neighbor credit on the groceries. And hitting was confined to nonna swinging at you with her wooden spoon as you tried to race out of her reach after dunking a piece of hot Italian bread into the sauce and gulping it down before dinner. Amidst the insanity, we were surrounded by love and security.

My brother Phil recently told me that as he looked at my mother for the last time at her funeral, he tried desperately to think of something to say to her.  Here’s what he wrote to me about what he came up with:

“My last words to Marian before they closed the casket lid were ´┐ŻNice job.’ It was all I could come up with at the moment, but when I think about it now, I know why I said it.  Mom and Dad raised 3 kids.  Look at the results.  Three responsible adults with 3 different careers who happen to be successful in what they have done.  Different? Yes! Successful? Absolutely!  We never killed anyone…we never abused anyone…we were never nasty…and we loved our family.  Could you please tell me if there are any criteria for decent human beings that I missed? We made it through our upbringing and took the best of it and became who we are.”

Kids who kill usually give society a lot of fair warning before the final blow. Their family’s dysfunction almost always rises to a level that brings them to society’s attention.  All too often, so much violence has been done to their psyche by then that they are already pretty lost.

There was a very interesting article in the paper recently about how crime runs in families and how one extended family can cost society millions of dollars in court cases and jail costs.  Anyone who works with abused kids for more than ten minutes could have told you that and saved the government its grant money.

Some family units should be destroyed at all costs and the children removed at birth. We should go through court records and remove all children from every home in which one or more of its members have already spent time in jail for a violent crime. Of course, we can’t do that in America because of a pesky little thing called due process. As I said before, all families are, to some extent, dysfunctional. But when that dysfunction destroys the very heart and soul of a child, it rises to a level of criminality that we, as a society, should no longer tolerate.  The sentimental view of family as a sacred unit to be protected at all costs is about as real as Bambi is in representing the world’s deer population.  It is a myth that needs to be exposed before more children turn to killing as the only way to ease the pain their family inflicted on them.