Cyril Cusack said "If you asked me for my New Year Resolution, it would be to find out who I am." You may be wondering, "What a strange resolution. We all know who we are; but do we—really?
According to Wikipedia, "Cusack was born in Durban, Natal, South Africa. His mother, Alice Violet (née Cole), was an English Cockney actress and chorus girl, and his father, James Walter Cusack, was an Irishmounted policeman in Natal Province, South Africa. His parents separated when he was young and his mother took him to England, and then to Ireland. Cusack's mother and her partner, Breifne O'Rorke, joined the O'Brien and Ireland Players." Cyril Cusack was quite successful following his mother's footsteps in acting. He began performing at the age of 6 and continued for more than 70 years, appearing in numerous films and television productions. Then, what caused him to consider his New Year's resolution? Likely, he was still missing something about himself.
Obviously, Cyril understood at least part of his mother's heritage since he followed his mother's footsteps into acting at the ripe old age of six. Yet did he know how and why his mother got into the theatre? Were her parents actors? Is it possible that Cyril never knew why he became an actor, i.e. what was in his DNA, his heritage, for him to be quite successful as an actor?
More importantly, Cyril likely never knew his father, and as a result, he never understood what it meant to be a "Cusack." Why did his father chose to be a police officer? Why did he marry his mother? Even though his father was in law enforcement, were there actors in his family? Interestingly, there are other Cusacks in acting, including American actors John and his siblings, Ann, Joan, Bill and Susie, as well as their father, Richard Cusack. Is it possible that the Cusacks had acting in their blood? Was acting the connection that brought his parents together? These are questions Cyril may have eventually pondered as he looked back on his life.
When we are younger, we don't really question who we are. We simply go through the roller coaster ride of life until one day we have a bit of time to ask ourselves who are we, really. Cyril was 65 before he questioned who he was. Fortunately, he was quite successful as an actor from the time he was a child; however, many who do not learn of and understand their heritage may lack self-confidence, pride, commitment, motivation, and inspiration to successfully manage life's challenges.
Then how do we learn about our heritage? First, we need to realize we are a composite of our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc. as far back as time itself. Our traits, our behavior, what we like and dislike, how we handle conflicts in our lives, etc. is part of who we are. Understanding ourselves helps build a strong foundation for our journeys in life.
Family stories are the key to understanding our heritage. They inform, educate, stimulate emotions, develop imagination, help manage fears, and more. Much like this video depicts an Italian family who immigrated to th U.S, most children, prior to the 1960s, grew up surrounded not only by their parents, but also by their extended families. While the parent's were busy working and taking care of the home, it was generally a grandparent or other family member who took the time to explain our heritage, taught us the moral values to live by and gave us the confidence to foster ahead with the challenges of life. But today, the family unit has been fractured.
Today, many extended family members are scattered throughout the country, and even in other countries. Even nuclear families are fragmented further complicating the family unit. Today, blended families, those where at least one parent was previously married, are on the rise. Back in the early 20th Century when Cyril was born, blended families and single parent families were rare. Today, approximately 40% of all families are blended. Today more than 17,000,000 (1 in 4) children are being raised by only one parent and some may not know who is the father. And in some cases today, some nuclear families have deliberately privatized, i.e. broken ties with their extended family members.
That's what happened to me. Though unintentional, my parents lived in Central Illinois, about a thousand miles away from my dad's relatives in Florida and my mom's relatives in Colorado. Fortunately, I knew my extended families because my parents would alternate vacations to each others relatives. To complicate matters, both sets of my grandparents had past away even before my parents were married and my mother knew little about her family because her father died when she was seven and her mother was unable to care for her four children. As a result, my mother and siblings were split apart and my mother was raised by a very caring foster mother, but she knew nothing about our family.
As a result, and even though I had a Master's degree in chemistry and was relatively successful, I grew up shy, lacking self-confidence, and even lacking self-respect. Though I knew both of my extended families, I never understood my heritage—my DNA—and who I was. It was not until I was in my mid-40s, after I began to study my family tree and my heritage, especially my dad's Sicilian ancestry, that I began to understand who I was.
Frank S. Adamo is a published author and blogger. He is also the founder of Embrace Our Heritage, an organization dedicated to reuniting families through family stories, modern technology, and support. Frank also assists others to leave Living Legacies for their loved ones and their future generations. To download a free e-book, click How do Leave a Legacy. Click Subscribe to subscribe to Frank's newsletters/blogs.