Sins of the Father (and Mother)

Lest you think only my father’s family generated dysfunction, let me assure that was not the case. My maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather was named Jefferson Davis Miller. He, too, was from Pulaski, Tennessee. They moved around a lot, as evidenced by Census records that list the birth place of each family member. My maternal grandfather’s paternal grandmother claimed to have been kidnapped as a child and raised as the daughter of her kidnapper. And my maternal great-great-great (great x 3) grandfather was a fundamentalist preacher from Ohio who moved his family around and eventually settled in north Alabama. He could fix anything, at one time led a band, and was a poor money manager (according to the written memories of those who knew him).

I was searching for clues to the origins of my family’s dysfunction. It hasn’t been an easy endeavor but what I’ve found indicates trauma has been a family staple for a long time. Mentally healthy people don’t traumatize others, and they don’t stand by and allow others to be traumatized. So where did all this come from?

Photo by Brett Sayles on

In other news, this week I tried my hand at tanka, a 31 syllable poem. Traditionally a Japanese form of poetry, in English the poems typically consist of 5 lines with a 5/7/5/7/7 syllable structure.

The ancient granite
bears the name of ancestors
who passed down trauma.
Their inheritance lingers
on as money never would.
Our traditional 
American family
carries its’ secrets
in twitching muscles, angry
outbursts, and silent screaming.

19 thoughts on “Sins of the Father (and Mother)

  1. I guess you’re right, we can inherit genes which incline us towards dysfunctional lives. As parents we certainly did pass some unfortunate tendencies on to our kids, and some wonderful ones also. Many of my ancestors were nuts or really mean.

    1. Some can be genetic. Trauma actually can change the way the brain works, and that may be transmitted in the DNA passed on. It may also be that dysfunctional people raise their kids to be dysfunctional. Some luck up and survive relatively unscathed. Many don’t, including those who don’t realize how messed up they are until much later.

  2. Looking back at memories, I can see the ripples in my own family from the generation that were my great-grandparents. I have wondered how much further it all goes back.

    1. I think it’s safe to say that any war in Europe created significant trauma for your family, and there were two world wars in the 20th century alone. My grandmother was born and raised in England. I remember snippets of her stories of her childhood. She told us during her early teen years, as WW2 raged, she worked for a woman. When sent to shop, she’d unwrap and lick the butter before returning.
      Here she and my grandfather ran a store and she would stuff herself with foods she never had access to as a child.

      1. You’re right. I hadn’t made that connection. I can remember the injuries that the older men in my family had and the talk of them being different when they came back. No one talked of what it had been like for the women raising the children while they were gone.

  3. We need to be careful not to make our parents responsible for our own behaviour. What was modelled to us during our formative years growing up in our parental homes is healthy to acknowledge, but it is never our destiny unless we choose to make it so. Being created in God’s image, we are creatures fully capable of rewriting our scripts at any time, usually with the help of others who see our blind spots. I love Harry Stack Sullivan’s words, “It takes people to heal, because it takes people to mess you up.” Genetics has nothing to do with this.

What would you like to add to the conversation? Bark at me in a comment!

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