Generational Sin: Fish and Bitterness

I’ve long been interested in the concept of generational sin–a problem, usually like alcoholism or anger–that begins when one person makes a choice and the ripples from that poor choice reverberate all through the lives of family members.

Studies have demonstrated time and again the value of making moral choices not only for your own sake, but also for your family.

Curiosity about some of my family’s challenges is what propelled me, personally, into a five-year genealogy study–I wanted to know the roots of odd family behavior.

As I peeled back the stories and interviewed far distant cousins, I learned family secrets that affect my family to this day. Some of the drama became more understandable when I realized that out of four grandparents, only one grew up with a mother. The other three great-grandmothers died when their children were much too young.

That explained a lot.

But one of the stories I unearthed astounded me because a simple menu non-selection made out of spite, has affected my entire life in a silly way.

I was raised in the port of Los Angeles. I married a Navy guy and have never lived far from the sea. And yet this girl who grew up in a fishing town smelling of tuna from the canneries, didn’t eat fish.

One day I realized the reason why: my mother never cooked fish.

She never cooked fish because her mother, who grew up in a fishing village in Sicily, never cooked fish.

My grandmother never cooked fish because her father loved fish and she was angry her father refused to let her go to school. (1912 Sicily–he sent her to tailoring school instead and she had to learn to read and write on the sly).

So, I never learned how to prepare fish and we never ate it at home. When confronted with a scaly creature from the sea, I wrinkled my nose and turned away. All those tiny bones, that round eye, and the fishy smell. No thanks.

But when I learned the reason for distaste, I changed my mind. My life and that of my children should not be limited just because my great-grandfather was a bully. I needed to break the “generational curse.”

I’ve now learned how to barbeque swordfish, bake salmon and make tuna salad for sandwiches. I feel triumphant every time.

My children eat fish now.

And I always order it at a restaurant.

Do you have something small and seemingly insignificant in your life that may have a curious root?

Or, can you see how your attitude on a possible minor matter could affect your grandchildren?

How do people break generational curses?

Leave a comment


  1. Crystal Laine Miller

     /  March 6, 2012

    I love genealogy and family stories, too, and this is fascinating. I do know generational sins–and know how families can blow things up into drama.

    One thing that is funny–my dad grew up very poor. He didn’t have shoes when he was young. So, if we wore out a pair of shoes we were never allowed to just throw them away. It got so ridiculous, we’d have to secretly get rid of shoes. When my dad died, I found someone who wanted his boots because I just thought he would like that. Also, when mom died, I had the funeral director put on a nice pair of shoes for her. Silly, really.

    But I realized that there are so many things in our families like this because of your blog post. Thanks so much for sharing that. Love it.

  2. I don’t like fish for precisely the same reason: it wasn’t served at home that I can recall. I put it down to my folks being Midwesterners. Now, those 3 years in Newfoundland there was a lot of cod, flounder, and lobster around, but, you know, it’s the eyes. By then, I was squeamish about it. 🙂 If it makes its home in water, I don’t eat it.

  3. here

     /  June 2, 2012

    Is it alright to insert part of this on my personal blog if perhaps I publish a reference to this webpage?


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