FAMILIES- Who’d Have One!

(C) Julie Boyd

Brooke Shields, the actor, has described her family in the past as ‘dysfunctional’. However, she has just discovered she is highly connected. Observers of the British upper class would claim that these two concepts are often closely integrated. According to the historians and  geneologists on the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You are’, her mother’s side of the family connects her directly to a number of European Royals including Henry 1V and the Medici family- which suggests that the next ‘Da Vinci Code’ book may well name her as the Holy Grail. This is strengthened by the fact that her father’s family apparently came from a young boy who was ‘taken ‘ by a Catholic Bishop from his family’s farmhouse and who grew up to manage the finances of the Vatican.

Rita Ferguson also has close connections to the Catholic Church and its money, and also to the Anglican Church, which she doesn’t see as quite so illustrious. She was raised in a highly religious family- Dad, a lay preacher and Mum, a Sunday School teacher. As a young child, Rita, and her brothers, all attended Church at least three times each Sunday. Hymns in the evenings, Grace so extensive at mealtimes that food often went cold, and a Dad who preached when possible and otherwise worked at the Stock Exchange looking after the financial interests of wealthy miners and bankers.  Rita grew up and ran away from the oppressively religious demands of home. She gained Masters Degrees in Linguistics and Technology, a PhD and made a life for herself in Europe – far away from the family. Occasional visits home were expensive, both financially and emotionally. Her self-imposed distance from the Church saw her considered a failure by her immediate family members.

Her eldest brother became a success in the eyes of the family. An Anglican minister, he rose to the higher echelons of the Church- until they started to discuss the ordination of women. He and some of his contemporaries were so offended by the concept that they resigned en masse from the Church. Because of his position he was courted by the Catholic Church and obtained special dispensation from the Vatican- the Pope himself, to become ordained as a Catholic priest. He was married with three teenage kids.

He also discovered his wife was having an affair. Distressing enough for someone who was in such a senior and trusted position, it became worse when she admitted that her partner in sin was the head of the Knights of the Southern Cross, the most right-wing arm of the Catholic Church in Australia. She, of course, cried victim- it wasn’t her fault that her husband making her life a misery. He took a sabbatical to get away from the scandal the Church was trying desperately to hide. During his time out from the Church he applied for a divorce which seemed somewhat at odds with his background. Also during his trip he met an English women’s prison chaplain and they ‘hooked up’ in modern vernacular. This liaison too, had to be secreted from the family until his (first) wife had their marriage annulled by the Pope, rendering his divorce application as null and void as the marriage. The reason for the annulment- she was young and impressionable and hadn’t understood the responsibilities of becoming a wife and mother of three. The existence of the prison chaplain was discovered when he invited his family, including his three kids, to the wedding. A minor glitch had arisen when his annulled wife accidentally let slip that he had already remarried in a government registry office, which he claimed was not recognised in ‘the Church’, and  had thus led to a hasty arrangement of nuptials. Rocking along to the wedding Rita found that of course it wasn’t to be held in the Roman Catholic Church, as he had evidently been quietly excommunicated, but rather in the Ukranian Catholic Church, which does allow married priests- apparently even divorced ones. They are currently honeymooning very comfortably on his dual pension from the respective churches. I wondered what Rita had given them for a wedding present. An op shop gift would seem appropriate.

Jenny Bond re-discovered her connection to the Catholic Church in a most unexpected manner.  She answered a phonecall to hear a young woman’s voice at the other end say ‘Hello, my name is Sara and I think you might be my auntie. Is your name Jenny and do you have a sister called Bobbie?’ Jenny’s heart sank as the young woman continued, ‘I believe I was adopted out and the Catholic Church has helped me track you down. Jenny carefully sat down the glass of wine she had been enjoying, then sat herself down, as she tried desperately to compose her response. ‘Yes, my name is Jenny. What other information do you have that you can share?’ ‘I was born in Canberra in 1968. I understand my mum couldn’t take care of me as she was very young and I was adopted out almost immediately. I wanted to say thank you to her and let her know my adopted parents have given me a wonderful life and we are very close. I have three daughters I’d love her to meet, and my husband, and my priest are both very supportive of my making contact with you all to try and learn more about my birth family.’

Jenny gulped as memories flooded through her body. Old, painful and stark images of her sisters and brothers, of her eldest brother bragging that his mates had raped Bobbie not once but over and over again, she was 14, he was 16- their parents didn’t know; of carrying the tiny baby away from her sister in that sterile Catholic hospital ward as Bobbie stared straight ahead, unflinching and not for the first time. Two other babies had met the same fate so Bobbie was known at the hospital- Jenny had forgotton it was Catholic. Still more memories of a policeman standing on her doorstep, in front of the old wisteria which was raining purple spring blooms as he told her of Bobbie’s suicide, a precursor to her other sister Annie’s suicide a year later. Annie had died surrounded by rose petals from her farm, which fluttered over the car in which she chose to take her life. Both of them had arranged their lives, down to cleaning out the fridge and packing their clothes up in conveniently labelled bags to save Jenny the trouble.

Jenny took a deep breath. ‘It’s lovely to hear from you. I’m so sorry that I have to tell you that your mum actually passed away several years ago. But I’d love to talk some more when I’ve had time to process this phonecall. No doubt you feel the same. Do you think we could perhaps talk again in a couple of days, and if it all gels, then perhaps I could come over and meet you and your family?’ ‘That would be great. I’m so excited that I’ve found you but I’m really sad that my mother isn’t still around. I’ll call you on Thursday if that’s ok.’

‘I’ll look forward to it,’ Jenny choked as she hung the phone up, only to immediately pick it up again to call her closest friend. ‘What the fuck do I tell her about the family? I don’t want to freak her out. I’m sure she will want to know about family health history. What the fuck do I say? What happens if the other two turn up? What do I tell my own kids? ’’ What should she tell Sara? How should she tell Sara? Should she tell Sara at all, or let her continue to enjoy her perfect family and perfect life?

Joan Perkins has a new daughter-in-law. Well not in-law, so much as a new Pet – not in the conventional sense but a Penthouse Pet. I’d never met one before we all had dinner last night when she managed to multitask- constantly texting on her mobile while talking to us at the same time. I’d seen theses Pets in passing, on the covers of magazines that used to be secreted at the backs of stores and in, I understand, shops for men with a certain penchant. I do note that such magazines have been gaining increasing prominence in newsagents and petrol station stores in recent years, to the degree that ‘mothers against raunch culture’ are finding it necessary to have to protest at the level of access to young children. Kids who used to want no more than to hassle Mum for a lolly in such establishments, rather than be confronted by images which cause parents to juggle uncomfortable questions.

I remember glancing at them when I was young, thinking that men were being fooled by these beautiful but supposedly untouchable young women into believing that perfection was possible for them to own. There was also a perception among women in those days that those girls, while beautiful physically, generally had an IQ to match their waist size. The men simply seemed not to care, they just wanted to look, not take them home to meet Mum.

My how times have changed.

The Penthouse Pet I met was not what I expected. Not academically intelligent, but brilliantly street smart. At 23 she knows more about how to promote herself than most 50 year olds I know.

Leaving home at sixteen she made a conscious decision to learn to market herself as a sex object. Why? ‘Because sex sells, better than any other commodity on the planet,’ she stated flatly when asked. I’m not sure that she discussed her proposed career path with her ecologist mother and council worker father, and she avoids any allusion to their responses.

Not conventionally beautiful, with the slightly enlarged mouth and eyes which seem to make some people photogenic, where others with more conventional features are rendered plain by a camera lens, she has learned to make the most of what she has, and then some.

She and a friend from high school have developed a routine where they dance together at buck’s parties, boy’s nights and wherever they are offered good money. Their attitude is ‘if I want to do it I will, if I don’t want to, I won’t’. They have a strict ‘no touch’ rule and the Pet has been known to walk out on a gig if a hand or other piece of male anatomy comes in contact with her person. She can, as she is her own manager and sees that she is not beholden to anyone.

She is paid thousands of dollars for her work. Flying to New Zealand for one hour’s work last week netted her $2000. The Penthouse cover was shot in Las Vegas and netted $20,000. She works part-time for an agency, looking to market other young women in the same way. This may well become her chosen profession as she sees she has a shelf life of mere years in her current employment.

When her work is done, however, she goes home, where her favourite activity is cleaning. While some may read Freudian implications into this, she claims that her work does not impact on her home life, though they do have equipment in the spare bedroom so she can practice her pole-dancing.  Her fella has a heavy metal band and is rebounding from a divorce after a quick marriage to a committed Christian Goth. They met at church and their wedding featured black, black and more black, apart from the gorgeous cabbage roses which showered them with pink petals from the arbour they stood under to make their vows of ever-lasting love. At 26 with a marriage, divorce, live-in Pet as housekeeper and mate, with a stripper’s (or as she insists, dancer’s) pole in the spare bedroom, he appears to be living every man’s wet dream. He sees what the Pet does as a day-job, albeit with benefits. She wanted him to know how she works, so she insisted on him flying to Vegas with her to see that what she does is art- the photographers are professional, so it must be so. He held her hand after her recent boob job – incredibly painful she tells us. She does what she wants to and he accepts that. He does what he wants to – playing gigs, fielding female groupies, and recording other up-and-comers music – and she supports that. A thoroughly modern relationship it would seem.

The Pet has at least three personalities that are immediately evident. The dancer who makes a living from titillating male appetites, for which she makes no apology, a home-maker in a committed relationship who writes a blog about the ordinariness of her days at home cooking and cleaning which is followed by thousands of devoted males who she ruthlessly cuts off if they try to step over her boundaries, and the writer who has a regular column in two gaming magazines- that would be internet games for young people, not the gambling culture older folks refer to as gaming. And her rationale for managing the multiple personas- particularly the Madonna-whore paradox ‘ They’re all just avatars. The real me is the one Kyle knows at home. The others are just work.’

Her plan is to buy a house with her fella in the next couple of years. She tends to be paid in cash so doesn’t see the money as a problem. If he is having a low month in terms of income, she simply does another job to boost the family finances. If she is having a low month, he does a few more gigs to make up the difference. It’s working so far, though the look on the face of their mortgage broker will be something to behold.

In asking her what her criteria for the house purchase will be, one could only expect a response that is far from conventional- it needs to be in ok condition, no more than $20 cab ride from the city and have maximum broadband capability. I didn’t dare ask if it needed to be near a church.

My, how times have changed. Or have they?





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