At Thanksgiving and the solstice holidays many of us are reminded that we are the “black sheep” of our families. In my case this means that I am too “assertive,” too “aggressive,” too “demanding,” too “political,” too “willing to upset my father,” too “opinionated,” too “feminist,” and so on.
“In the English language, black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family. The term stems from the genetic effect in sheep whereby a recessive gene occasionally manifests in the birth of a sheep with black rather than white coloring; these sheep stand out in the flock[emphasis added] and their wool was traditionally considered less valuable.” (Wikepedia, “Black Sheep”)
I was told by mother more than forty years ago not to bring up politics around my father if I wanted to be invited “home,” and in fact I have tried to abide by that warning ever since. But it does not seem to matter. Even if I keep silent while my father and my brothers express their “political” “opinions” “assertively” and “aggressively” and with no consideration of the possibility that they might be “upsetting” me, I always end up in the wrong.
When I am with them, I walk on eggs, making every effort to get along. But it never works. It seems that my presence itself is upsetting. For no matter how much I try to keep my mouth shut, everyone knows that I do not agree with the political opinions they express or with the way they orient their family lives around the unquestioned authority of the pater familias.
More than ten years ago I accepted a semester-long teaching position at a university near where my father and brothers live in order to spend time with them. My first two meetings with my father passed without incident, but when my father drove me home from the third, a birthday celebration for him, I received “the silent treatment.”
I had not known that my brother’s second wife shared my father’s birthday. When my father informed me that she did, I said something like, “Oh I am so sorry, I didn’t know. I know mother always knew everyone’s birthdays, but my brother and I don’t send each other cards, so I really didn’t know.” Even while falling all over myself to “explain” my “failing,” I had crossed the “invisible line” and “offended” my father. “You should have known” was his response on the way to the party. Not even a “good-bye” or “good night” when he dropped me off on the way home.
It is only now as I write this blog, that I finally realize the nature of my “offence.” If I had been a traditional woman whose life revolves around her family, I would have made it my business to know everyone’s birthdays. My father’s anger had nothing to do with a birth date, and everything to do with the fact that I had not chosen to be a “good wife.”
Those of us who are branded the “black sheep” of the family, often feel that we are “the only one.”
In Lesbos where I live, there are many black sheep. They are beautiful. There is never only one.
These days I spend my holidays with friends who cherish me for being me.
*Republished with author permission from Feminism and Religion