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If The Great Santini Couldn’t Break His Family, What Broke Your Boomer Family?



The author Pat Conroy, one year older than the first baby boomer, had a traumatic childhood by most accounts.

He’s a good boomer spokesman for the voiceless masses who wonder why things go wrong.

Call him a senior boomer.

He mined his experiences for eleven books and counting.

His most recent, The Death Of Santini, examines his family life. Again.

Turns out his dad was worse than Santini. Then got better.

His mom is less saintly than the one he portrayed as Mrs. Bull Meecham.

Five of his six siblings tried killing themselves. Sadly, one succeeded .

Dad Conroy is always described as a Marine Corps fighter pilot, as if to explain why a man would pound his wife and kids into submission.

Every fighter pilot, every Marine, is a wife beater? A child abuser? That’s the norm?

And yet this ass-kicked group of people still connect with each other.

Most opinions on the Conroy family include violence and emotional brutality.

So why are they still willing to make time for each other.

Would you?

I spoke to a couple of seventy-something men recently about family and the glue that holds them together.

We talked about the Conroy stories. I told a few of my own.

At the end of the conversation I was the only one talking about the crime and punishment of parental discipline.

One asked, “Are you sure you remember right, or did you read too much Conroy?”

The other said, “I don’t know where you come from, but this never happened in my home or to any of my friends.”

I came away thinking older people have selective memories. Or they’re lying.

Boomer family lies are no surprise.

Did any mom swing on her kids with whatever was handy?

Did any other dad push their kids up a wall with one hand and swing open palmed with the other?

How do kids respond? Some knuckle under. Some use the experience.

A belt bruise showed your friends you push the envelope. Whatever you did, you took the hits and they’d better watch out for you.

A dark mouse under your eye for coming home too late from your girlfriend’s forbidden house? Showing her the mouse showed you care enough about her to take the hits.

She means that much.

Right or wrong, you live with the consequences of your actions. At least that’s what we’re supposed to learn.

The two older men was aghast. They were more shocked than a fart at an English tea party.

Boomer family life was supposed to be nice for nice guys.

One was a slight figure of manhood with a permanent vacation tan. Any problems from his youth were way behind him.

The rest of his life was all about rolling with the good times.

The other man was a childless bachelor who still idolized his older brother. His life has been smooth sailing.

Neither had anything to add to the Conrovian element of growing a thick skin.

Did they have a sibling they tried to take down a few notches and have a knife pulled on them?

Did either have a sibling argument punctuated with head butts in the face and a knee to the groin?

Oh. My. God. Where did you come from? Not Beaverton.

With parents more than willing to pound sense into their kids, it seemed fair.

No one ever mentioned the Stockholm Syndrome.

They interviewed a babysitter for after school care who lived near the grade school.

We could walk to her house. Her only condition was she’d be allowed to whip the kids. Said right in front of the kids.

Immediate hire. Never a problem that needed whipping.

If you got a home haircut and complained, you got buzzed.

If you wore a hat to school and wouldn’t take it off in class because your head’s all nicked from the hair clippers, you ended up in the counselor’s office, who then called your mom at work.

She showed up with one question: “Do you want your butt whipped in the counselor’s office or in front of the school.”

The counselor took note.

Boomer family dynamics in public?

As a college student home for a bachelor party, and an eye exam, did you defy your mother, who then tried to persuade you to stay home by swinging a golf club at your head for the knockout?

The two old men were shocked, and said as much. Their parents were saints in the Conroy mother vein from Great Santini.

Would their siblings have a different story? Probably.

The disturbing part of the Conroy sagas is the family still makes an effort to spend time together, unless ol’ Pat is confused about who is who and when they show up.

A fiction writer would see my boomer family and need to embellish for art’s sake.

They’d call my dad a backwoods hick who married a genteel newcomer obsessed with her enormous feet.

They’d call one adult family member a calculating romancer who married up to drag everyone down.

  • Another an under-achieving spokesman for lost causes living in a shadow.
  • Another a desperate grabber stacking heads to stand on and rise above their origins.
  • Add a confused reactionary spewing conservative lingo they heard on Fox radio.
  • An weak authority figure convincing everyone they’re not strong enough.
  • A conspiracy addled nut job reading between the lines where no lines exist.

From that boomer family fiction they’d write their fiction.

Is this the Pat Conroy secret? That he grew up in a ‘normal’ family but convinced everyone to go along when he threw them under the bus?

Did he expand the one finger-shaking disappoint he caused his momma into epics of self immolation where readers hold the lighter?

Probably not. He still looks like he was worked hard by his old man.

And that’s more the reason to read as much Conroy as possible.

From wiki:

  • 1970: The Boo
  • 1972: The Water Is Wide
  • 1976: The Great Santini
  • 1980: The Lords of Discipline
  • 1986: The Prince of Tides
  • 1992: Essay on the Hidden Subculture of Military Brats at the Wayback Machine (archived December 30, 2006) (Introduction to book, “Military Brats: Legacies of Growing Up Inside the Fortress”)
  • 1995: Beach Music
  • 1999: The Pat Conroy Cookbook: Recipes of My Life
  • 2002: My Losing Season
  • 2003: Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing up Global (contributing author)
  • 2009: South of Broad
  • 2010: My Reading Life
  • 2013: The Death of Santini

How did your family deal with discipline? Leave a comment.








About David Gillaspie
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