Thursday, July 18, 2013

update of family dysfunctionality, featuring my own family in various generations and the Pat Boone family

Images -- even this slightly creepy one -- can be deceiving.

Please try to be objective. Can't you see at lest a  vague resemblance beteeen the man in this photo and an ill-humored and monochromatic santa Claus?

My online friend Knotty and I share an obsession with the Boone family, as in  the family of Pat Boone. Knotty had begun to read Lindy Boone Michaelis' book about her son's near fatal injury and the subsequent dealings with traumatic brain injury with which the entire family had to deal. I'm just halfway through the book, so as far as the injuries sustained by Ryan Corbin, Lindy's son, I've read only to the point to where he's been transferred to two separate facilities.

Much of what I've read up to this point has been about life in the Boone family in general. I've read most of the books written by Pat, Shirley, and daughters Debby and Cherry,  because my aunt, who is also my Godmother, has or had some sort of obsession with the family, in much the same way my mother was but no longer seems to be obsessed with the Kennedys. Whenever I got tired of looking at my aunt's dairy cows, I used to wander over to her Boone library and begin reading out of sheer boredom. What I read was nothing  short of mind-boggling to me.

I recognize, first of all, that a family with two parents and just two children, such s the one in which I grew up,  can run smoothly without the necessity for as many rules as would be needed for a family with four children. The larger the number of offspring, in general the greater  the number of rules and level of compliance most likely needed in effect for an orderly family. And the Boones most definitely were an orderly family.

Both my parents grew up in large families. My mother's family differed from the  norm for large families in that there was neither excessive order nor chaos.In my mother's family, in which there were seven children who survived infancy, rules were few and loosely enforced as much as could be the case in a military family. I spite of the carefree attitude my maternal grandparents (especially my grandmother, as my grandfather often was not physically present, though he wasn't a real stickler when it came to maintaining discipline, either) somewhat lucked out in the draw because my own mother was the worst of the lot, and her modus operandi was neither throwing screaming fits nor creating scenes in public places, and certainly not in front of my father's superior officers. Despite the lack of heavy organization, the house wasn't overly chaotic. Dishes and laundry got done an put away. floors were mopped and vacuumed. Kids were in bed before midnight on school nights. All three males attended the U.S. Air Force Academy, and all four girls have doctoral degrees in at least one field. Contrast that with the family of Robert f. Kennedy, who had ten children when he was alive. (Number eleven was born about six months after he died.) Especially when RFK himself was not present, any given thing might happen at any time.  Dogs roamed the house and did their business where it was convenient. RFK, Jr., operated small-scale zoo in the basement, from which animals sometimes escaped. A coatamundi attacked Ethel on one occasion.  Rather than set lunch menus being prepared, cooks who worked there were expected to act as short-order cooks and prepare whatever each child requested. Sometimes the children changed their minds about what they wanted to eat after the cook had started to prepare one thing, which was allowed.  My mother's childhood home, by comparison, was practically a cloistered monastery. (In fairness to RFK's children, most or all of those still alive and at least one who isn't completed a reasonable amount of education, although at least one employee of the late Senator Edward Kennedy wrote this happened with Ted's office staff completing a considerable amount of research and actually writing papers for some of them. Just because it was alleged by a former employee, thought, doesn't automatically make it the Gospel truth.)

On the other hand, my father's house was the epitome of order.  My grandmother had mental issues which consisted of but were not limited to seasonal affective disorder and severe post-partum depression compounded by the loss of one of her infant twins to SIDS (though I don't think her depression reached the level of psychosis; it was dperession compounded by grief). I believe the regimen for her mental health included moving away from Massachusetts to sunny Florida, and, I think, included pharmaceutical intervention as well, though no one talks about it for the most part. I think she continues to take some sort of mood-leveling medication, as she very vaguely alluded to it during my recent lunch with her. Anyway, once she became settled in Florida,  since she learned to cope with the loss of her infant son as much as one ever learns to cope with the loss of a child, and , presumably, once her medication dosages were perfected and began to take effect, she probably would have been happier in a more loosely run household, as she wasn't an overly regimented person, but my Grandfather was having none of it.

The children were expected to go down the street to the park to play if they wanted to play noisily when my father was home. They could throw a football or baseball back and forth on the  property as long as they didn't talk loudly while they were doing it, or, God forbid, hit any part of the house.  At breakfasts and dinners, as well as at Saturday lunches, all children were expected to be seated silently at the table awaiting my grandfather's appearance. He might leave them sitting in silence up to fifteen minutes. My father soon found a home away from home at his friend Jerry's house. (Jerry is now known to me as Uncle Jerry). Jerry himself and his parents were Cuban immigrants  (Jerry was under two at the time they fled Castro's regime) who were middle-class at best. Jerry's mother was not known among neighborhood children, or even her own offspring, to be warm and tender, but she had a soft spot for my dad, and there was an extra place for him at the table and an extra roll-out bed anytime he wanted to be there. My dad and Jerry both took up the sport of tennis, and trained at the Holiday Park under Jimmy Evert, father of the famous Chris. Jimmy Evert gave group lessons for very modest fees. That, too, kept my dad out of his house as much as possible. 

When my grandfather was home, no toy was to be on the floor in living areas, no vocal noise was to be made in the house barely above a whisper unless it was he or my mother who was making the noise or, unless it was in direct response to a question he asked. The children took piano lessons, and all practicing had to be done when he was absent from the home. He would be angry if a child even finished the final notes of a scale or song as he was just arriving, and he heard it from the garage. His major method of dealing with disobedience or non-compliance in any form was to slap the offender's face hard.

My dad said they had no direct evidence that he ever struck my grandmother, but that she always seemed to fear him. One time when I was about two years old  (I've been told; I don't remember) the two were engaged in a verbal sparring match of sorts, which was unusual as far as any of the children knew. My dad and my Uncle Steve, who was 21 and had just returned from his mission, walked in on the argument. Their father's face was growing red, and he was approaching my grandmother. My father and my uncle stepped between them. "If you touch my mother, we'll beat the hell out of you! " my dad told his own father.

This spun my grandfather into a whole new rage. "How dare you speak that way to me in my own home!"  he said. He reached up, presumably to slap my father, who caught his wrist. 

""You can't do that anymore, " my father said to his  father.

My grandmother was trying to placate everyone. "Boys," (my father was 32 years old at the time), she said, "I don't think your father was really going to hurt me."

"We're not taking any chances," said my Uncle Steve, who, at 6' 3", towered over my 5'11" grandfather. 

"You go into your library,"  my dad instructed his own father, "and sit there until you're sure  have yourself under control. Do not come out until you are no longer angry and are no longer a danger to anyone in this house. If you do, we will take you back in there. If you come out again, we will call the police."

My grandfather slept that night in his library, which had an attached bathroom. The next day he was back to his usual contrary and unpleasant self, but he at least wasn't making any threatening moves toward my grandmother or anyone else. My grandmother is now stronger and in much better physical condition than my grandfather. He wouldn't dare touch in a rough way or even threaten her.

My grandfather has only slapped anyone once since that incident. Of course Iwas the lucky recipient. It was during  "Family Home Evening," a time on Monday nights in which Mormons typically spend quality time as a family and teach their children the precepts of the gospel in their homes on  Monday nights. It was in the interval between Christmas and New Year's, and the extended family had gathered at my grandparents' hotel-sized cabin in the Wasatch hills. My parents were not there because one of my father's favorite former BYU professors had recently died, and they were attending a viewing that was being held in Provo, roughly an hour away. My Uncle Steve, who also would have risen to my defense at any time a situation called for it, was spending the post-Christmas holiday time with the family of his future wife in North Dakota. My parents had hired my Aunt Christelle, who was eighteen at the time, to babysit Matthew and me, both of whom had just turned three years old, in their absence.
During part of the Family Home Evening lesson, my grandfather held up a large picture of the former LDS president and Joseph Smith's successor Brigham Young. He asked the children who this man was. Quick on the draw as usual,  (I had learned from mealtimes at my grandparents' home that children were not permitted to speak unless they raised their hands and were called upon) I raised my hand and my grandfather called on me.  "He looks kind of like Santa Claus," I expressed, "except  his suit isn't red and he looks  mean." The other children, mostly older and taught from infancy to identify the Prophet and President Brigham Young, howled with laughter at my miscue. My grandfather, however, was not nearly so amused. He stepped from his place at the front of the room to where I was seated on a sofa and slapped me hard so across the left side of my face that my head sort of snapped. In retrospect, he could've broken my neck with just  bit more force. The discrepancy in size between his hand and my face and the force applied  immediately turned the entire left side of my face scarlet from  my hairline down to the very bottom of my jaw.

My three-year-old twin brother rose from his place on the sofa and rushed my grandfather to exact some sort of revenge on the "Nobody Hurts Baby Lexus" defense, but he was caught quickly for his own protection by my Uncle Michael and handed off to my Aunt Cristelle. Then my Uncle Michael approached my grandfather and slapped him hard across his own face. "Hurts, doesn't it?" my uncle said to his father in a much calmer voice than most men could've managed under similar circumstances, as his father carefully touched his own face with his hand. "Maybe you should think really hard about not doing that to anymore of the children."

Despite that the lesson had barely begun, the other aunts quickly gathered the children around the cabin's oversized rectangular table to serve squares of gingerbread that had been pre-prepared for the night's Family Home Evening refreshments.

In all the shock of the moment, it never occurred to my grandfather to question the right of his son to strike him. Uncle Michael had taken a major risk. At just over 6'0" and maybe 160 pounds, he was taller(grandfather by that time had lost a few inches to gravity and/or osteoporosis) but lighter than my grandfather. Because he had youth and quickness on his side, he probably would have prevailed had the incident turned into an all-out fist-fight, but as the smallest of the sons, he had no guarantee; he was acting mostly on adrenaline.

"But she blasphemed the Prophet Brigham Young!" my grandfather protested.

"She did no such thing," my Uncle Michael contradicted his father. "She's three years old. She's  not an LDS child. She had no idea it was a picture of Brigham Young. She probably did think it was Santa Claus, and he does have a mean expression on his face. And don't forget what Jesus had to say about little children. 'Suffer the little children, and forbid them not,  to come unto me, for such is the kingdom of heaven.'   . . . And you're extremely lucky I was here to handle it and not John or Steve. You wouldn't have gotten off with a mere slap. You'd be picking yourself up off the floor after a nasty right hook."  Uncle Michael, fresh off his mission, was a true-believing Mormon at the time and continues to be. He gives Mormons everywhere a good name, as does his lovely wife Joanne and their two normal but sweet children.

"HE wasn't including her," my grandfather muttered, motioning with his head in my direction. "She blasphemed the Prophet Brigham Young!"

My grandmother hurried in with a ziplock bag full of ice cubes wrapped in a washcloth for my face. She tried to take me from my Uncle Michael's arms, but I clung to him in a vice-like grip. Instead, she held the ice pack against my face with her right hand, patted my back with her left hand, and said,
"There, there. We won't let that mean old man ever hurt you again." She gave my grandfather a look that would have sent him immediately six feet under if looks could have accomplished homicide, justifiable or otherwise. (Wouldn't THAT be a great case for Nancy Grace and the other pundits to try in the media?)

My parents learned later that my grandfather spent nearly two months sleeping on the sofa of of the library of his extensive collection of LDS books. "While you're in there," my Aunt Cristelle said my grandmother told him, "perhaps  you should pick up a few of those books and read what the prophets say about  how the Savior felt about babies and how they should be treated. And maybe while you're at it, " she continued  "you should consult a few of your MD friends [many LDS mucky-mucks are MDs] about the potential effects of slapping children's faces hard when they don't even weight twenty-five pounds." (I was actually probably about 22 pounds at that point. I had gone for my two-year-old doctor appointment just weeks earlier and had weight in at just over twenty-one at that time. I had been born prematurely and had not yet caught up to my chronological peers in size.) "You could have seriously injured her."

"John's not going to he very happy about this when he hears about it and sees the results,"  my uncle warned my grandfather.

"Who has to tell him?" my grandfather asked.

"I think the marks on her face will speak for themselves," my uncle answered. "Even if none of us said a word, John or Erin would ask where the bruises came from, and one of the twins would tell." My Uncle Michael paused. "And I'm not waiting for them to tell."

"Neither am I, " Aunt Cristelle sobbed. "I'm the babysitter. I'm responsible for those two children while their parents aren't here." My uncle and grandmother assured her that there was nothing she could have done to prevent what had happened, but still she had tears running down her cheeks.

My grandfather merely muttered under his breath, according to my Aunt Cristelle, but it was the last time anyone in the family was struck by my grandfather. (I was kicked in the shin many years later. I no longer get within striking or kicking distance of him.)

"Yes, he was including Alexis," my Uncle Michael disagreed with him. "And you're just lucky I was here to handle it and not John or Steve. You wouldn't have gotten of with a slap. You'd be picking yourself up off the floor after a nasty right hook."

The truth of the matter is that my father had wanted to settle the score with his father in a physical manner, or at the very leas least to call the sheriff's office when my parents  returned and learned of the incident, but my mother used all the persuasive powers within her to convince that my Uncle Michael had handled the situation adequately. Nonetheless, my father didn't let his father off without a grave warning. "If you ever harm as much as a hair on either of my children's heads," my father said through clenched teeth to my grandfather,  "you'll be dealing either with me  -and I won't be slapping -- or with child abuse charges. I don't know which, because I don't know how great my level of self-control will be at the time. But I'm warning you to keep your hands off  my children." And my grandfather did keep his hands off us -- literally -- as he neither hit us nor hugged nor shook hands with us, which was fine with both Matthew and me. He did kick me in the shin  last summer, but my father, while far from forgiving, didn't want to be accused of elder abuse for physically retaliating, and, since I was no longer a minor, the charge (I was given the option of pressing charges) would have been one of assault  and not of child abuse. My dad did wonder at the time of the incident if, had he or I pressed charges, it would have made the local newspapers or if the church would have exerted its influence to suppress the story.

Compared to my grandfather, Pat Boone was as gentle as a lamb with his daughters. Still, I wonder exactly where the Boones fit on this spectrum of physical violence in families.. Both Pat and Shirley have admitted to a time in their marriage when they were very unhappy together. Shirley was pregnant, and she prayed that God would take the baby either because he couldn't deal with being pregnant, or didn't want another one of Pat's babies, or whatever.  The baby was lost in Shirley's fifth month of pregnancy. Pat didn't directly acknowledge it, but my impression from what he said  in A New Song was that  he may have been alluding to marital unfaithfulness. Any admission, if there was one, was very indirect, though. The couple was clearly unhappy in their marriage at the time. In one book, (again, I think it was A New Song) Pat recounted how Shirley recoiled at him and became physically ill if he touched her.

Interestingly, Lindy is the first of the three girls who have written books who alluded to her parents' marriage as being unhappy at one time.  Cherry and Debby, as far as I recall, both glossed over it or perhaps they were in their own worlds to the extent that they were not even aware there were problems with their parents' marriage. Cherry was dealing with perfectionism, with the demands placed on an oldest child by parents with high exceptionally high expectations, and with the resulting eating disorders. Debby was dealing with being the most rebellious and devious child in a family that had little tolerance for rebellion or deviation. Additionally, she and Pat, through her teen years, seemed to have quite the personality conflict. Laury was kind of an addendum to it all. She was a bit of a troublemaker ( she once carved her name into the family's grand piano; I may not be any genius, but even I knew better than to ever do that. If anything, I would have carved my brother's name and imitated his writing style in doing it). Laury, though, unlike Debby, took Pat's  discipline somewhat submissively and went along with her parents' plans. Debby seemed unafraid to take  Pat on  in regard to any particular  issue that came up.

My paternal grandfather slapped a lot of of faces. My dad thinks it was probably at least one a day just to get it out of his system and to be able to get on with his daily routine. As far as we know, Pat didn't slap his daughters' faces, but he more than made up for it by slapping their butts on a regular basis.  One of the girls referred to spankings as part of their "daily diet."  Lindy, in what I've read so far, spoke of her parents as being strict and mentioned being scolded, but didn't mention being spanked. I don't know if she has a poor memory, or chooses not to air that part of her family's oiled laundry, or if she was disciplined less because she was a better-behaved child and was whacked less than the others, or maybe I just haven't gotten far enough into the book. Maybe Pat will still spank someone before the book is over.

At least one of Boone corporal punishment incidents occurred after the recipient was eighteen, which I find appalling. Debby left a motel room to get ice or a soda or something, and, along the way, met up with a member of their touring crew. She paused to converse with him, and did not return to the hotel room promptly enough for her father's liking.  If I had a daughter  and she left a motel room and was gone for longer than I thought she should be gone, my first act would probably be to leave the hotel room to look for her near the place she said she was going to ensure that she was safe. Pat Boone, on the other hand, patiently waited for her in the hotel room, then attempted to slap her butt when she returned. In the process, he elbowed her in the forehead and gave her a bruise. Great parenting, Pat.

In another incident (age of victim unknown)Cherry had possession of a family car to run and errand and, on the way back, stopped to visit another celebrity family who had a son in whom she was somewhat interested. (It was probably Wayne Osmond.) Lindy was with her. The detour was in no way Lindy's idea or Lindy's fault. Exactly how much longer the girls were gone than they should have been was not specified, but it was long enough to make Pat go all Pat Boone on both the girls even though Cherry begged Pat to leave Lindy out of the butt-slapping session since it was not in any way her fault. In this particular incident, Pat left noticeable bruises on Cherry that lasted for many days because, in her anorexic state, she lacked sufficient subcutaneous tissues to absorb the blows. Another great job of parenting, Pat.

I will not say that my parents have never whacked my brother or me. My mother has whacked me on exactly two occasions. As far as I know, she's never whacked my brother. My father has whacked us more, but I'm sure it would be fewer than a total of ten times that he's whacked both of us combined in our entire lives. We were never struck with anything but an open hand. We were always smacked over whatever clothing we were wearing t the time. We were never struck with objects, unlike the Boone girls,who according to at least one of them, were hit with whatever was handy. No one has ever slapped either of our faces except for the one time when my grandfather got to me before my uncle could intervene.

In Lindy's book, Pat is quoted as saying, when Lindy was nineteen, "My daughters can go to any college they want as long as they're home in time for dinner." Pat and Shirley were married at the age of nineteen.  Perhaps if Lindy's only route to  freedom hadn't been marriage, she wouldn't have married when she was twenty, which was the age at which Pat and Shirley allowed Lindy to be be married. She might have experienced real life as a single adult, and her first marriage might have lasted. (Then again, roughly 50% of marriages don't last, so who really knows, but Pat and Shirley did nothing to help Lindy's chances of marital success in that regard.) Additionally, it was most hypocritical of Pat and Shirley not even to allow their daughters to go away to college at an age when they were already married. Even if their motivation had been to prevent their daughter from avoiding mistakes they had made, it still reeked of hypocrisy.

I live in a family where the only two children are legal adults. I live at home most of the time because it works out best for me to do so. If I wanted to move out tomorrow, my parents might try to talk me out of it, but if they were unsuccessful, they'd help me pack my belongings and help me to move them to my new home.  We had rules that my parents thought were absolutely necessary, such as no gymnastics on the roof once I had been caught doing that, and no Internet when an FBI investigation revealed I had been in contact with an Internet predator. (I was twelve. For the record, I never gave out full my name, school, or address.) Still, my parents didn't lie awake at night dreaming up rules and consequences for breaking them.

This year, when thanksgiving rolls around, I'll try to remember to be thankful for not being born as one of Pat Boone's daughters. just think abut it. What if that fifth baby Shirley was pregnant had survived and turned out to be  I?  I could have been even more screwed up than I already am.



  1. That photo is creepy. It's just the epitome of 70s weirdness.

    My parents have four daughters, but I'm so much younger than my sisters that it's almost like we're in separate generations. My sisters seem more like aunts than sisters. So though you could say they had a fairly large family, I grew up like an only child. And our household was pretty slack, except when my dad would get into one of his control freak phases and try to be a disciplinarian. But, like Pat Boone, my dad was a spanker and on a couple of occasions, a slapper. I am not a big fan of corporal punishment, even though I think it can be effective in some situations and for some kids. My husband was spanked maybe once or twice in his lifetime, while I couldn't tell you how many times I was spanked (mostly by my dad). That was just the way he disciplined me.

    I'm glad to read your dad and his brother stood up to your grandfather. I have heard similar stories about my dad's brothers standing up to their father, who was an alcoholic and apparently a bully, though to his credit, he apparently had some redeeming qualities. He was a handsome man in his youth and was very witty, despite not being particularly well educated. My Granny told me that "Pappy" was a very nice man until he drank. And then he'd turn into a complete, foul-tempered brute.

    Like your dad, I found shelter with a friend's family and my horse. I spent many long hours riding and cleaning stalls. It was a blessing to have that sanctuary.

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  6. I always thought the Boone family was weird, rules such as no shut or locked doors made me wonder if maybe pat was some sort of weirdo, being able to walk in on his daughters at any timr, and why Shirley didn't put a stop to it.

    1. I'm inclined to agree with everything you've said.