Last night, I watched "Swimming Upstream" for the second time in as many weeks. It's a story about Australian swimmer, Tony Fingleton and his dysfunctional family. Tony and his sister wrote the book the movie is based upon, and apparently, their father was pretty abusive and pitted the family kids against one another in competition. Granted, this makes for some great athletes, but really horrible family dynamics.
Honestly, I think this is the worst of all the family dynamics. A parent who creates competition among the siblings. Later in life, the kids nearly always are torn apart. One (the sick one in my opinion) will support the parent (to be the "good" child) and the other will have anger issues and not know how to deal with the truth. Denial. Anger. Two very dysfunctional ways of dealing with abuse. The rest of the siblings will usually take sides, but even then, there is no togetherness.
There are several truths in this kind of dysfunction: 1. I became a better swimmer/person/student because my father pushed me so hard. 2. He was a very abusive man. 3. His childhood damaged his ability to parent. All three are probably true. It doesn't make it go away to ignore reality. Or especially to deny someone else's reality.
Loving based on accomplishment has to be the worst trait in a parent. Love from a parent should be unconditional. Am I always happy with what my kids do? Heck no, but my love is never based on their performance.
Anyway, while I watched the movie, which is mainly about how the father loved and believed in one boy more than the other (John) and how the other brother surpassed him in swimming (Tony) made me wonder, what's the story now? A family that can't respect their sibling's own view of childhood, is going to fall apart. John claims that Tony created the riff between us to sell more books/movie tickets. I would think Tony has some deep-seated issues by being the best in Australia yet never earning his father's approval because "the wrong kid won."
If you've read "Look Me in the Eye" by John Elder Robison compared to his brother's childhood book, "Running with Scissors" (Augusten Burroughs), you'll see that two people in the same family can have different outlooks. Doesn't make either one of them wrong. The secret with these two, is that they respect the other's viewpoint and supported their right to tell it. The brothers each acknowledge that their individual experience was what it was. (Incidentally, their mother does not.)
I'm sorry to say it's not that way in the Fingleton family. John Fingleton is now writing a book about his father. (Surviving Maggie) He claims it's more concerned with the "truth" than the drama of his brother Tony's story. Oh my gosh, that statement right there makes me so mad, because as sure as I sit here, I figure he'll try to say his dad was a saint on some level. That he didn't abuse the kids. If you're the chosen child? You're more abused than any of them because you're an adult and still believing the lie. You can't see the father for who he really is and I'm all too familiar with this sick scenario.
John's book will be about his father's life before the movie takes place. Apparently, all his father survived. Which to me, and I know, I should read it first, but it sounds like an excuse book. All alcoholics need enablers, and that's what this sounds like. To condone the father's behavior because the kids became great people, is something I've seen in a similar competitive family and as nearly sixty-year olds, this family is concerned still with who is "right" -- not the truth. (Which is different for each of them.)
I'm not sure if I'll read "Surviving Maggie" -- but I will say, it's hard to believe John's claim that the father was not as abusive as Tony claims. Not because I know what happened in the family, but because of the outcome: A split family who cannot agree on their childhoods. Textbook dysfunctional family outcome.
Isn't that the hallmark of dysfunction? A lack of respect for someone else's point of view? One of my favorite movies in the 80's was "Mommie Dearest" -- I don't know why I love that movie, but every time it's on, I call my mother and shout, "No wire hangers!" (I used to call her Mommie Dearest when she made me do something I didn't want to do. yes, I was obnoxious.) Anyway, Christina Crawford and her brother also disagree on their viewpoints of childhood and they are estranged. That's the worst thing about abuse. Not only is your childhood destroyed, but so is your adulthood if you need your sibling to accept your reality and they're unwilling to do so. Your family is lost to you even after the parent is long gone, their sickness survives.
At some point, we have to grow up and accept our own realities, even if no one will corroborate the abuse. That's a hard one to swallow and it's epic how many families it effects. Know any dysfunctional families like this one?