My sister had her kids (my nephews and nieces) and their children over for Sunday brunch last week. Near the end of the brunch, I was kibitzing with her youngest son when he said that he got this treatment from my other two brothers and didn’t expect it from me. I told him that I have been away for years so I have a lot of catching up to do. He said that I didn’t have to be like them, that I could be the “nice” uncle. His statement took me aback and got me to thinking about what I was doing and why.
Later that night, I thought more about what happened at brunch and how when I get together with my brothers it's a constest to see who can come up with the best one liner put-downs and burns. I thought back to my childhood and how my dad and my uncles were the same way. I also thought of how my parents didn’t show any physical affection, to each other, or toward us children. My mother would sort of show affection, but only when other people praised us and then she would say they we were “her” children, subtly taking credit for what we did and patting us on the head. My father’s display of emotional affection was in horseplay and pretending we were fighting and in teasing one another. As a child, this was how we learned to show emotional affection as talking about or expressing any negative feelings and emotions only brought us doses of guilt, shame and criticism.
Part and parcel of this issue is also that of having the joker syndrome, telling jokes to make others laugh, because if they are laughing with you, then they were not laughing at you or attacking you. Joking and fooling around was (is) a terror defence and I still do it sometimes unconsciously. Unfortunately, most jokes made fun of another person or their predicament and in that there is no love. Even if what was was meant “as a joke,” that didn’t change what it was.
The next day I told my sister what I had uncovered and said that it was my intent to end this type of conduct and that if I teased her or anyone that she was to point it out. Later her son happened to stop by and I told him the same thing and he seems shocked that I would allow him to speak up against my tyranny.