The Double ABCX model provides a tool for assessing post-crisis variables in families. Interestingly, not all families go into crisis but instead they achieve a balance in functioning by either bonadapting or maladapting. While others may go into crisis and maladapt which was the situation with my family 30 years ago. A brief background of my family will provide some meaning to our family structure. My parents were both born and raised in Muncie, Indiana at a time when the economy was not strong. My father was the fourth of five siblings in a household dominated by a physically abusive and alcoholic father.
My mother lost both of her parents at a young age. I would learn later in life that my father spent most of his younger years at my mother’s house to escape the chaos in his own home. My sister, brother and I were also born in Muncie but during a time when my parents were financially secure and neighborhood get togethers were the norm. I have organized this paper to follow the sequence of events as outlined in the Double ABCX model: Pre-Crisis, Crisis, Post-Crisis, and Ethnic and Gender Influences.
This paper attempts to provide meaning to a non normative stressor event of moving across the country and its effects on a once seemingly normal family structure. PRE-CRISIS (1969) During this phase, the major stressor in our lives was the decision of my parents to move from Indiana to California. At the time, we were living a typical middle-class life in a large three bedroom home and my older sister and younger brother and I attended the local catholic school. My father was a manager with an insurance company and my mother was a part time clerk at a local department store.
At that time, I perceived my family as normal with regular outings to the park and routine visits to our relatives for dinner and socializing. My parents spent time helping us with our homework and I remember always eating dinner together at the dining room table. I remember communication seemed open. Although I do not remember my parents being very affectionate. Despite this, our house was the main link for neighborhood friends to gather and play. My mother was the neighborhood mom taking in our friends for local parties and fun.
I remember my father had quit his job at the insurance company and started working for General Electric as a laborer. The change in his employment at the time was a mystery and still is to this day. It seems that my parents started to withhold a lot of information from us then. But soon after my father started working as a laborer my parents decided to move the family to California. They sold their home and invested their money in a truck with a camper that had a bathroom, kitchen, moderate closet space and room to sleep our entire family comfortably.
I remember the day before we were to travel across the country because I would not leave the camper. This seemed to be a time of immense confusion for me. And it would the beginning of many acting out episodes in an effort to understand what was happening to the once seemingly secure family structure we had. I do not recall my parents ever explaining why we were moving or asking us how we felt about it. We were just told this was what was going to take place. I believe avoidance was their coping mechanism for dealing with this unexplained move to their children.
Later in life I would hear stories that my father had a nervous breakdown at some point and my parents decided to move and get a fresh start in a new area. My parents relied on our neighbors as resources to prepare for our move. Our immediate neighbor bought my parents home and my mother would say years later that she practically gave all of her furniture away to friends and family. In order to plan for the trip my parents confided in another neighborhood friend who provided my parents with information on KOA campgrounds located across the country.
I remember my father had drawn out on a map each state that we would pass through. My parents planned on us staying at a KOA campground all the way across the country until we made it to California. CRISIS (1969) The relocation to California from Indiana created immense change within our family structure. We lived in the camper for a several months at a KOA campground in San Jose. My father was unable to find work and found himself making ends meet by working the graveyard shift as a janitor at a hospital in downtown San Jose. He was much too intelligent for this type of work.
My mother started work as a clerk at the KOA campground where we were living. Soon after arriving to San Jose, my parents enrolled us in the local public school system which seemed odd at the time because we were so accustomed to the rigid catholic regimen. Initially, I believe my parents suffered the most from this move because they no longer had the security of owning a home and their income had decreased substantially. They both had to work full-time to make ends meet. More importantly, all of our social connections with relatives and friends were gone.
At the time when we moved I was a 12 year old sixth grader, healthy, curious, energetic, and athletic; my father (Jeff) was in his early 40’s, athletic build, healthy, reserved and quiet; my mother (Liz) was also in her early 40’s healthy, outgoing, talkative; energetic and caring, my older sister (Sally) was a 14 year old eighth grader, health, independent, talkative and energetic; my younger brother (Mark) was an 11 year old, fifth grader, healthy, quiet, balanced and intelligent. My family experienced normative stressors during the move.
And despite the struggles of living in a campground and attending a new school, my parents briefly bonadapted to the crisis. For example, during the summer after my father would complete his graveyard shift, he would hook the camper up to the truck while we were sleeping and drive us to the beach for a day of fun in the sun. He did this on a regular basis. My mother began to network with people at work and eventually we moved out of the camper into a very small fixer-upper home next door to the campground. This allowed my mother to continue working close by and my father maintained his position at the hospital.
My sister, brother and I began to make new friends at school and within the neighborhood. The campground also provided us with opportunities to network with children from different parts of the country. POST CRISIS (1969-1979) I began to become very focused on my father and I noticed he was slowly beginning to isolate himself from the family. Routinely he would wake up in the mid-afternoon after working all night and go for long walks. Our house was surrounded by fields that would later be stripped away for a freeway. He also took long bike rides.
Perhaps, this was the consequence of him trying to cope with whatever issue he did not resolve while living in Indiana. Sometimes my mother would get very angry because she would plan a picnic and he would not return form these activities until late in the afternoon. I do not remember my parents communicating their feelings about this conflict. Instead, my father would get angry and avoid the issue by going to his room and shutting the door. There was no discussion. I remember becoming very curious about him and wondering what he was doing or thinking all the time. He seemed to become more and more introverted as I grew up.
Triangulation began with my mother and throughout my adolescence I would ask her about his behaviors and she would kindly say he was fine and not to worry about it. However, I routinely struggled with her response because I knew in my head something was not right. As a young child I did not know how to confront my father on this because I thought that was my mother’s role. This would go on for years and later I would seek out my sister and brother’s input. Despite his introverted ways there were many times when he would curse and holler while working on the car in the back yard. He did not seem to have a lot of patience then.
If fact, I remember his way of communicating was to always get angry and go into another room and shut the door. His communication style was one of avoidance. For example, one day our family physician knocked on the door and my father adamantly refused to speak to him and he went to his room. I remember as a teenager just standing there thinking why doesn’t dad want to talk to him? My father also seemed to have difficulty in social situations. For example, one time I remember our family went out to dinner and my father seemed very uncomfortable ordering his meal. I remember perceiving him as a very shy individual.
Furthermore, I was acutely aware of the waitresses response to him. Observing how others reacted to him would be a pattern of mine throughout my adolescence. It seemed to me that my role was to carry this emotional burden and put meaning to why my dad was behaving oddly. And I did not understand why my mother could not see what I was seeing or was not willing to acknowledge with me that something might not be normal. I remember turning to my older sister for advice, however, she had disconnected herself from the family structure. She would also tell me dad is okay, don’t worry about it.
As I remember, she had a girlfriend who’s mother was very independent and goal orientated. My sister spent all of her time at their house. I believe his woman became a significant role model during my sister’s development. Fortunately, my younger brother and I became very close during this period. Often times we would share stories about our father and observe his behavior as being normal, but unexplainable. For example, when we did eat together he would seem to drift away and be in his own little world and not converse with us unless one of us initiated it. My mother did not seem to be bothered by his behaviors.
In fact, I perceived my mother as beginning to take on a greater leadership role as my father was slowly becoming more dependent upon her. My mother was responsible for all of our finances including paying the bills and the rent on time. She took great pride in household chores and always tried to maintain some sense of neatness in our very small home. And despite the change in our socio-economic status I never remember feeling that we were struggling financially or that we did not have enough. As children we learned to appreciate the little things in life and we never got caught up in needing to have more to be happy.
It is important to understand that the home we lived in was built by a man who was not an expert craftsman or even an average one at that. As children we used to identify our home as the shack due to its limited space and poor design. My parents bedroom was separated by the kitchen door, my brother’s bedroom was the link to the one and only bathroom and my sister and I shared a very small room off from my brother’s room separated by a man made closet in which you literally had to push clothes out of the way to walk through it. Our main bedroom wall was connected by a doorway to the living room.
There seemed to be no place in that house for some sense of privacy. My family would be described as random and chaotic. No longer did we eat meals together or participate in family outings on a regular basis. Instead, meals were planned around work schedules and family get-togethers were rare. My parents did not interface with the community. Although my mother developed a close bond with an employee at work, my father did not have any friends. He seemed content being alone. More importantly, our home was no longer the place for social interactions between friends. He seemed content being alone.
More importantly, our home was no longer the place for social interactions between friends and family. The first three years of my adolescence were very confusing. I remember experiencing a lot of anger and at times I did not know how to control myself. Often times I would act out by throwing bottles against trash cans, breaking into pin ball machines for money at the campground and instigating arguments with others my own age. Despite my juvenile delinquent behavior my parents never did discipline me. Later in life I would come to understand that these behaviors were my desperate way of crying out for help.
I had always had a natural talent for athletics. This began at a very young age when I used to spend all day playing football and baseball with the neighborhood boys. I began to interface with the community and I joined a local softball league. This would be the beginning of a positive relationship with my coach, John. He was a confident young African-American man married with three daughters ranging in age from six to fourteen. I came to admire his demeanor and confidence on and off the field. And I was especially intrigued by the love he shared with his wife and daughters.
I began to spend a lot of time with his family going to the movies, the beach and having barbecues at their home. These experiences provided me with an escape from the chaos I was living at home. There were other father figures in my life as well. Bill was a stoic man in his mid forties who used to work as a grounds keeper at the campground next door to our home. On weekends, I would follow him around during the day and watch him work. He would share little tricks with me about how he would clean the pool or manage mowing all the lawns. Many years later when I had moved away form home, my mother would tell me he passed away from cancer.
I was bothered by this, but I was more upset that my mother did not tell me until years later after his death. She attempted to avoid the issue to prevent pain in my life. When in fact, it was more painful knowing that Bill’s death had occurred many years earlier. In my early 20’s I began to emotionally withdraw from family and friends. I started to believe there was something seriously wrong with me. And despite what my mother and sister said about my father being okay, I needed to share my story with someone who believed me. Up until this point, I had not shared our family secret with anyone outside the family.
I decided to seek counseling through an affordable clinic in San Jose. It was here that I bonded with a therapist named Mary who actively listed to me and for the first time in my life I felt heard. This was the beginning of a relationship that lasted two years. During this time I came to understand the meaning behind my withdrawal and anger and I slowly started to process through the complex dynamics of my family. At some point in our therapy it was mentioned that I speak to my father about the move to California. I vividly remember him standing outside by the car.
This was when I nervously let him know why I thought we had moved and that it was okay. He was startled by this and innocently said everything was okay and not to worry about it. I pursued his reluctance a bit further, but he repeated himself and walked away. As a result, I slowly began to accept my father for who he was. This was not an easy process, but it was necessary in order for me to grow emotionally and psychologically as an adult. In retrospect, I now have an ever clearer picture of my family’s coping mechanism which was one of negative maladaptation, elimination and avoidance.
My parents clearly tried to eliminate and avoid a stressor in their lives by suddenly up-rooting the family and moving from a seemingly secure environment to one of uncertainty. Unfortunately, I believe their avoidance of a problem in Indiana did not resolve itself once we relocated. Instead it forever changed our family’s structure, but perhaps this chaos would have occurred in a different form had we stayed in Indiana. ETHNIC AND GENDER INFLUENCES My father comes from a fairly traditional German background and my mother is a typical Italian.
Neither one of my parents experienced any forms of racism, oppression or discrimination as I grew up. I remember my parents always being open minded towards other ethnic groups. This was most apparent when we moved to California and began to experience ethnic diversity in our neighborhood and schools. Both of my parents took pride in their privacy and protecting the family from outside influences. This was most powerful during my struggle to understand my father’s behavior. The secret within the family was never open for discussion which created a lot of confusion for me as a young child.
If my gender were reversed, I believe my anger would have created a destructive adolescent who would have been easily influenced by peer groups with similar attributes as a way of gaining attention. My parents may have managed this stressor event differently had they been Jewish-American. Mainly because this ethnic group takes great pride in their children’s contribution to solving a family problem. More importantly, Jewish-Americans facilitate the growth of their children through reasoning, explanation, and rationality. This open communication may have helped me to understand the sudden move across the country.
Finally, my perception of my father may have been different had someone explained his behaviors instead of avoiding them. This in turn may have eliminated a lot of the confusion I experienced as a child. In conclusion, I now view my father as someone with a mental illness. As I become more educated in the area of mental health, I am beginning to understand what his behaviors mean. Although the coping mechanism of my mother and siblings continues to be one of avoidance which I still struggle with at times. My role in my family has slowly changed and I realize now that my mother and siblings can not see through my eyes.