A Gang of Seven

 Pointing the Way

 Premises

 Two Movements

 Three Sacraments

 Facets of Vital Engagement

 Vital Engagement:
            Life Blood of Trust

 Steps Towards Trust

 Missed Steps

 Unseen Options  

 Justice in Relationships

 

Austin J. Joyce, DMin, MFT
   Chaplain

Biography               Touchstones             Defining Moments              Publications

Touchstones

Central to the development of who I was and who I would become were my formative years (age: 6 (1956) to 21 (1972) when I lived with my family in a military housing project which became a civilian housing project in 1962. Familial, cultural and military expectations shaped all family members. I experienced the extremes of order and chaos. Military life with its codes of conduct and structural expectations sent a clear message: rank was the authority; personal ground was to be trampled under by training the brain to do it ‘our way’ (the military way). If the military was so predictable why couldn’t it help my family? Why couldn’t it stop my father from drinking? By the time I was a junior in high school (age 16) I had only one goal: join the army, become a Green Beret and go to Vietnam. How chaotic could my life have been that Vietnam “seemed “ safer to me than my own family and neighborhood?

After graduating at 17 and starting college, I quickly realized I was in the wrong place. Three weeks into the process I walked into an Air Force recruiter’s office to join. My brother, who was already in Viet Nam, persuaded me to go into the Air Force and join their Para Rescue team. Poised to go, with relief that I was going to be “free from family,” I confidently walked into the recruiter’s office and stated, “ I want to join.” I told him my plan and that my brother was already over there. He said to me, “How old are you?" I replied 17. He said, “You're not old enough.” In that moment a wave of despair crashed over my imagination. “This can’t be happening to me." When many young men wanted to avoid the military, I was being told I wasn’t “old enough.” The recruiter went on to say, “… complete your first year of college and if you still don’t like it come back and I’ll sign you up.” How could I have forgotten the age requirement? More importantly I had forgotten that all I needed to do was to have my parents sign a release form and I could have joined. In that moment the perfect storm of my feeling overly responsible for my mother and sisters (parentification) and my inability to say what I needed (personal entitlement) merged. As I experienced it, I was “the last man standing” in my home. My brother gone; my father lost to sufferings I couldn’t imagined; if I left home, I would be abandoning my family (mother and three sisters).

My brother, the oldest sibling was designated the “protector”; my oldest sister (M) absorbed the mantle of “the bad child”; I being the middle of the five became the “observer; next, my sister(K) became the “worry wart”; and our youngest sister , separated by 10 yrs. became “the overprotected one”. These labels, are of course, the hind sight of a living memory. I do not know if my siblings ever saw themselves as such. In those years we remained close but rarely disclosing. We did not live by roles or labels but out of a need to survive home and community uncertainty. Our family was devastated by alcoholism. Our father’s disease became our disaster. Remarkably we all “grew up”, at least by age and street smarts. We learned to work hard; take only what we earned and never ask for ourselves. In a multi- racial environment skin color was not as important as our cultural identity. We were “project kids” and nobody messed with us no matter how messed up our families were. I did not know how to examine the immediacy of what we all were living. But as an “observer” I was recording in my mind and spirit far more than I realized. It is clear in retrospect that our parents, grandparents and those around us knew how to survive; what is equally clear is that no previous generation in our legacy knew how to emotionally, mentally or spiritually integrate our inner and outer lives. I could not have imagined how the fragments of such a parochial familial and cultural perspective would be expanded into a vision for truth, trust and justice. It took me many years to even begin to realize the attachments which clung to my soul, and memory.