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MY DEEP, DARK FAMILY SECRET IS . . . A PERFECTLY HAPPY CHILDHOOD

I was nervous, really nervous, about the interview with John Bradshaw. Here's a man who is respected for helping Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones, Carol Burnett and Roseanne overcome deep, dark pasts. He has personally made it through a childhood of abuse and incest. His latest book, "Family Secrets," is a hot hit.

But I wasn't intimidated by all that. Mostly, I was afraid I'd have some kind of embarrassing flashback during our phone interview.The other reporters who had signed up for this telephone news conference were asking thoughtful questions in soft, insightful voices. They mused about the author's candor and pain and called him "Mr. Bradshaw."

I barked my questions, sounding disrespectful and, I suppose, neurotically repressed.

If my memories of childhood are happy . . . if I remember chipped-chopped ham sandwiches, Pepsi and Wise potato chips on pay day, summer days at the pool, and nothing about sexual or physical abuse . . . am I repressing something?

"It's possible," Bradshaw says, "that you had a happy childhood."

Whew.

I hung up, flashback free, determined to ask my mom if she likes my sister more than me.

The sad and serious part of this story is that millions of Americans, children and adults alike, can honestly benefit from Bradshaw's book, which helps readers uncover, and come to terms with, unspoken pieces of their family history.

The world is full of inexplicable family horrors. Without doubt, there is serious dysfunction in many homes.

But people like Bradshaw - and the books such as the ones he writes - can make us a touch paranoid about not having a bad family history. They send us searching for something wrong in a life filled with happiness, understanding, love.

And, yes, mistakes.

When Bradshaw's publisher suggests that 96 percent of American families are dysfunctional, I have to laugh. What family isn't dysfunctional? There are days when we want to kick our husbands, then lock our kids in their rooms.

That might be naughty, but it sure is normal. Is normal now dysfunctional?

And with a generation of parents trying hard to do it all, and do it all right, perfection seems to be our new standard for normal. And normal is our new standard for dysfunction.

I bet Bradshaw would have a heyday with the way we used to torture my mother, hiding her hearing aid, then calling her to the phone. We poured cold water on my dad as he bathed every night of his life. "I'll get even," he'd bellow. And one Christmas, my mother hand-stitched a Casual Corner label in a coat she'd bought me at Kmart. I thought that was pretty weird. But now, I view it as a sweet effort to provide me with the coat we could not afford.

Certainly, the world is full of people with pasts that are sometimes perplexing, sometimes troubling and all too often horrifying. The world is full of victims.

And some of us are victims of happy childhoods.