How to survive your family john cleese
Families and How to Survive Them by Robin SkynnerI enjoyed this hugely for the first hundred pages, by page one hundred and fifty I noticed I was going slow and it had become a bit of a bore, after that it was more of a struggle and I felt I was reading on only in the hope of the next cartoon. Because yes, this text is broken up by little cartoons. In fact it was the fault of the cartoons that I ended up reading the book at all, because I remembered in conversation a cartoon in which three men are having a very superficial conversation in a pub, the kind of punchline was the conversation they didnt have, in which one man confesses he is afraid of the dark and sleeps with the light on. Anyhow I wrongly attributed that cartoon to this book and so set about reading it. Mistaken identity or a Freudian slip, Ill leave it to you to decide.
The structure is roughly chronological in that it discusses human life from starting a relationship to first baby and the childs developmental stages up to the child being sexually mature and ready for marriage. Cleese asks how couples come together and Skynner relates a piece of American research in which when a room full of people is asked with out talking, or using sign language of any kind, to form into couples and then those couples were interviewed that there was always some psychological similarity in their family background. My initial reaction was wow, how curious, but after a couple of days this had become Meh in my mind, much US research of that kind carried out on US college students, who one can expect to be wealthier and WASPier than average, and if of the same generation, when many of the parents might well have been relying on the same parenting guide, wouldnt be more remarkable if such a couple had nothing in common in their family background?
The book has a nice title but **spoiler alert** there are no strategies here on how to best avoid unwanted family events or embarrassing in-laws, or to be the last one left alive after a terrible squabble over the Christmas dinner.
The format of the book is a dialogue between John Cleese and his one time therapist Robin Skynner. John Cleese, as you may remember, was once funny and so he spent three and a half years in therapy in order to learn not to be, true to the archetype, we learn that he was mostly depressed beforehand. The dialogue aims to lay out what Cleese learnt and what Skynner, I guess, hoped to convey to his patients about the dynamics of the human mind and family life in the course of therapy. One could take the view that in terms of time, money and convenience a three hundred page book is a considerable improvement on three and a half years in group therapy. On the other hand if you feel the process is the point...
Some reviews pick up on the old fashioned family roles and strict parenting style advocated by Skynner, who of course argues this just reflects his years of clinical experience, but then again, this is a book from the early 80s, so his experience was from working with couples and families in the 60s and 70s, so the adults will have reached maturity in the 40s and 50s, and only a few in the 60s, so unsurprisingly the feedback from Skynners practise will seem to the younger reader rather conservative.
Then the two men begin to reminisce about how smacking improved their relationships with their children and brought them closer together (I assume they mean non-literally, not just because their hand was coming into sharp contact with the childs backside which is pretty close contact), so it comes as a mild surprise that they are not enthusiastic about sado-masochism. One notices that while they are opening and accepting when it suits them they are strict and prescriptive on other issues like spare the rod and spoil the child.
Theres a note of my fathers inside the cover asking what is the truth, for me the point of all this is the truth isnt what matters, it is the stories we tell ourselves and choose to regard as the truth which count, and perhaps that is why I enjoyed the first hundred pages because of the sense that one can read ones own life or the lives of others as a folktale or fairy story, indeed isnt it astonishing how many Cinderellas there are about and...magic bean sellers. Skynner opens with a classic folk tale motive - his great uncle relating how Skynners mother said that her son would either be a genius or end up in the madhouse. Skynner admits he fulfilled the prophecy by entering the madhouse, but through the staff door, this is the kind of thing I so much enjoyed in reading Herodotus..
Overall, the book reminded me of my old day dream, in which one travels as a pilgrim to the temple of the God, sleeps in the temple overnight hoping for a significant dream - hopefully on that doesnt involve triangles, then on the way out of the temple in the morning you read the words know thyself over the doorway. In my imagination then there is the sparkle of sunlight on the sea, of course Delphi isnt by the sea, but a day dream is still just a dream.
Obituary: Robin Skynner
What makes a family happy? Why do some marriages 'succeed' and others end in divorce? How can we free ourselves from the legacy of past mistakes and bring about positive change? Love, sex and marriage and parenthood, depression and sadness, independence and experience are just a few of the many issues explored in conversation by family therapist Robin Skynner and his former patient and comedian, John Cleese. Looking candidly at everything from our relationships with our parents to why and how we choose our partners, no emotional stone is left unturned: jealousy, rage, fear, envy, love, obsession, hope and despair - all are featured-with practical advice on how to turn round a negative situation and bring about change for the better.
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Simply link your Qantas Frequent Flyer membership number to your Booktopia account and earn points on eligible orders. Either by signing into your account or linking your membership details before your order is placed. Your points will be added to your account once your order is shipped. Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! What makes a family happy? Why do some marriages 'succeed' and others 'fail'.