I had to write a metaphor for my family of origin for a class. I always find those assignments to be especially difficult. One object does not define us. We changed too much with time. Even though we have been through the wringer, I do not want to define us entirely by our past, especially since we all have worked to put that (mostly) behind us. Of course you can’t ever totally do that because we are each individually and collectively a sum total of our experiences.

Anyway, I woke up in the middle of the night and knew what I needed to liken our family unto…

We started as a pound cake.

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A simple enough family consisting of my mom and dad and brother and sister. But then my parents divorced. I don’t care what these people who say that they are “consciously uncoupling” but remain “best friends” say about the “friendly” divorce. Divorce will always leave scars. It did with us.

We were broken.

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Then Walter came along. True story: I have a beloved uncle whose name is Walter. His nickname, what his parents and siblings called him, was Babe because he was the baby in the family. (He also happened to be the “runt” of the litter. But he went on to get a Ph.D and become a great college professor. This I know because I had a friend who happened to have him as her German teacher.) Anyway, we grew up calling him Uncle Babe, but he really did not like it. He wanted to be called Walter. We tried and failed. I finally told him that we have too many negative associations with that name and that is why we struggled with his name. So sad because for him, the name is associated with a much loved uncle – the brother of my grandmother. Long story short, he is very understanding of our need to call him Uncle Babe.

So, then came Walter. What a disappointing piece of humanity. A smart man – English was his second language but he spoke like a native – but it was all utterly wasted. He was just filled with hate and misery and wanted to make everyone else feel like him. I truly believed he wanted to destroy us. If divorce broke us, Walter was intent on smashing us.

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Family Systems Theory describes the roles that family members take on or have placed upon them when there is serious dysfunction present. Those roles were very evident in our family after Walter came along. Gratefully, my mom finally left for good after we were grown and gone.

Some time later, Bob came back into my mom’s life. They had gone out back when we were young, and pre-Walter. Bob is a truly kind and generous man. I think we would have patched ourselves together without him, but with him we were transformed. Now we are a trifle. A trifle is made of layers of pound cake, berries, custard and whipped cream. Our broken-up pieces of pound cake have been mixed with new family members – spouses, in-laws, children and grandchildren – and over all of that a smooth, creamy custard sauce has been poured. The custard has seeped into all the pound cake and filled in all the empty spaces. Bob is that custard. He has helped make our pound cake something entirely new, and we helped to transform him as well.

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He called my mom out of the blue. After all those years. I think John told her if she didn’t marry him, he would. I’m just grateful he called. Thank you, Bob.

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