On 10th May 2009 I wrote the following piece for the Telegraph. Despite being published it was never included in this blog. I’ve no idea why.
Is there really such a thing as the black sheep of the family? Am I even allowed to use that old expression any more? There is always the Uncle or Brother that no one wants to know. The one that perhaps causes embarrassment or even feelings of jealousy. Maybe there is someone in your family that you are ashamed of or maybe won’t have any contact with purely because of their perceived success or failings. Sometimes family members fall out over the most trivial of things yet the lasting consequences can be devastating. I’ve even heard of one Brother who refuses to have anything to do with the other, an entrenched position he’s held for the past thirty years, even though he can’t think why: most likely stubbornness. One man I once knew refused to have anything to do with his parents simply because he didn’t consider them his intellectual equal. How sad is that! The clichés come flooding to the mind on this one. Everything from the story of the prodigal son to blood being thicker than water. It is true that even though one may be related to other people that we, as individuals, are simply that: individual. There are no set guidelines for living within a family other than, perhaps, clichés and love. My mum once told me when I was still quite young that it’s a wonderful thing to be part of a family but thank God we can choose who we have as friends. Important family gatherings can be embarrassing for all concerned if this or that person is uninvited because ‘so-in-so’ is not talking to ‘so-in-so’. Funerals in particular can be disastrous for a sibling that has been ostracised, left out in the cold, for no apparent reason yet holds no grudge against the other. I strongly believe that it is wrong to blame someone for anything that they are perceived to have done wrong without a full and comprehensive explanation, otherwise this can be a form of psychological torture. To others looking in on this divide one side’s intransigence may engender thoughts of ‘no smoke without fire’. There are those occasions when a family may wish to turn its back on one or two members, particularly when both parents have died. They were the ‘glue’ that had held everything together for so long. Then there is the sticky subject of money, one of the most common causes of family breakdown, especially when a parent has died in testate. My life has been affected by most of these things which surprises me because, put quite simply, I genuinely thought we’d grown out of our parents’ generation. Yet, just like children, left to our own devices, the outcome is not often the most savoury and the consequences can reverberate from one generation to the other.