This is a follow-up to my post last week (January 31, 2014,) “Family is the other F word.”
Fans of The Godfather movies will recognize my reference to the tense relationship between brothers Fredo and Michael Corleone. (I use a movie reference because I can’t very well talk about my clients this way, can I? Even if I could talk about my clients, I sure couldn’t use names.)
When I make a presentation about how family strife makes long term care (as well as probate and estate planning work) difficult, I try to give an example that people will recognize. So, I ask, “When did Fredo die?”
For those of you who are not fans of The Godfather movies, Fredo is the oldest son of crime boss Vito Corleone. Fredo, because of a childhood illness, has never been the sharpest knife in the drawer, so, despite his primogeniture (status as first born son – like the way the monarch of England is chosen,) Fredo does not become the new head of the family when Vito retires. Instead, Vito chooses his younger son, Michael, to become the head of the family. (Middle son Santino (“Sonny”) has been killed by this time.)
Fredo felt slighted, and continues to feel slighted, because he was passed over. He resents Michael’s power, so, in The Godfather Part II, he conspires with another crime family to try to assassinate Michael. Michael eventually figures out Fredo’s involvement in the assassination attempt, but promises not to do anything to Fredo while their Mama is still alive.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, after Mama dies, Michael has Fredo killed.
When Mama is no longer a reason to “keep the peace,” the family dispute come to the surface.
Yes, I realize that The Godfather is fiction and that it’s a crime movie. But, only the extreme violence of the disputes is different than in real life. All too often, family disputes come out when the parents can no longer keep the peace. When the parent and child roles become reversed, the difficulties of becoming caregiver to parents and the disagreements about how best to provide care often make other (sometimes decades old) hurt feelings erupt to the surface.
Suppose for a moment that Mama didn’t die but suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Do you think Fredo would have lived?
How does your family, and how do your neighbors’ families, handle stress?
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