How I Learned to Lead My Family

A Freudian Tale of How I Symbolically Killed My Father By Supplanting Him as De Facto Patriarch

I call them “fights,” but of course an eight-year-old child doesn’t “fight” with his father. His father yells at him, and the child retreats to his room and cries.

He’d be dead and I’d be fine. And it would all be over.

I was a little older and a little smarter by now and I knew that shouting was unlikely to get me what I wanted.

Mom got her way again. Then my brother Kenny died.

My mother arrived, saw my father’s second wife, burst into tears, shouted “I can’t believe you would do this to me,” turned around and drove off.

I buried my face in my hands and wept as she held me.

Shit. I’d just finished angrily accusing our parents of failing to consider our wishes, and I’d done the exact same thing to my sisters. Never asked them what they thought, just assumed that they agreed with me because I was so obviously right.

I took what he said next as a self-serving excuse, but in retrospect it might have been the most genuine thing he said in the entire conversation.

Why had I been able to set boundaries with her calmly, but not with Dad?

I’d hoped that the two people who had already shown themselves incapable of handling a situation like this in the best of times would suddenly prove themselves capable in the worst of times.

There was only one thing that would get me what I wanted: going about the business of leading well.

All that stuff I’d told Tom about how I’d said it for me and not to get a response — bullshit. I wanted a response. Of course I did.

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