“Hell, yeah, I’d give you up!”
I laugh even though I know he’s serious. Maybe it’s because Pa’s answer to my question doesn’t surprise me. The average person would be horrified to learn that if she committed murder, her father would turn her into the police in a heartbeat. Me, I’m just heartened by the fact that we’re so close, the man rarely stumps me and only in good ways.
In my house, boob tube often serves as an unusual bonding tool. Even the most inane show can lead to a rich discussion about morality and politics and the like between my parents and me, especially my father. (Court shows are particularly provocative.) That is, once we negotiate control over the remote.
On Sunday night, Pa and I quickly come to an accord. We agree to watch in the following order: In Plain Sight (the season finale of a show that only he follows), Law and Order: Criminal Intent (the last episode with Chris Noth of a show we both watch religiously), and Mad Men (a show that my father gave up on several episodes ago, hence, the need for this negotiation. Thank AMC for encore presentations.)
For the most part, I’m ignoring In Plain Sight. (Another blog for another day reflecting on why, strident feminist that I am, I couldn’t care less for shows like The Closer, Saving Grace and In Plain Sight which my father watches faithfully. I mean, I’m very pleased that these show exists. I’d just much rather pour out some Corona for The Wire than watch them.)
But at one point, the storyline catches my attention. Shero Mary Shannon plays a federal marshal (I think) who’s intent on giving up her drug addict sister to the authorities for a range of criminal offenses. This makes her mom (played by Lesley Anne Warren who I still can’t decide if I like or not) go batshit. You’d give up your sister ?!? she shrieks to which Mary calmly replies, Yes… Yes, I would.
“Hey, Pa,” I say, prodding him in the elbow. “If one of us committed a crime, would you give us up?”
“Hell, yeah, I’d give you up!” I think he believes I’m laughing because I think he’s playing. I know he isn’t. That’s what’s funny.
Pa rushes to qualify. “I mean, if I know you out there doing things I didn’t raise you to be doing…” I just laugh harder, prompting him to qualify even more. “If you kill somebody, and, you know, it’s in self-defense, I’ll do whatever I can to help you. I’ll get you a lawyer or whatever. But if you out there doing stupid things…”
“You’d give me up, huh?” “If you had a drug problem, I’m going to try to get you help, but…” “Just like that,” I laugh, snapping my fingers. “You’d snitch like a bitch.” Now I double over, in part because I know my mother would actually beat him to the phone.
Pa finally lightens up. “You’d be hiding under the bed, and the police would come, and I’d go She’s right there…
“… Now gimme my reward!”
“Snitches get stitches,” he says, quoting my Uncle Nelson – a former correction officer and his younger brother.
I shake my fist at him and put on my gangsta chick mug. “Talkers get walkers.”
Lots of folks would be hurt even furious to know – never mind be told to their faces – by a loved one that they would readily turn them over to law enforcement. I can hear Hoochinetta McHood now. Uh uh, he wrong for that. Family’s family!
That’s right, Hoochie, family’s family, and that’s why I find my father’s response immensely heartwarming. Not only do I expect it, I understand and respect it. But that’s because I’m truly my parents’ daughter. As different as I am from them in fundamental ways, I have a moral structure of which they are the primary architects, and the Quintero code doesn’t define loyalty as I got your back no matter what dirt you do. In our clan, loyalty demands that we tell you the truth about yourself no matter what and struggle mightily to get you to fly right when you get off track.
So if I did do something irredeemably stupid and got the law on my ass, I wouldn’t see my family turning me over to the authorities as an act of betrayal. If anything, I first betrayed them by acting the fool. Facing the music would be the first step towards making amends to them as well as society.
That’s just the way I was raised.