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James is the relative you invite to Thanksgiving dinner but secretly hope won't show up. ("Maybe he'll relapse this year.")
This dude is absolutely terrible to his parents, Bob and Lynne. He starts stealing, drinking, and doing drugs as early as age ten. In rehab, he repeatedly makes his mother cry. He never says "I love you" back to them on the phone. He feels bad privately, but he doesn't express it verbally. "I have broken their hearts" (2.1.414), he realizes after talking to his parents on the phone, but he doesn't actually voice this to them until much, much later.
Somehow, James's parents end up apologizing to him more than James apologizes to them. For example, when James gets angry at his mother's suggestion that he quit smoking, she says, "[W]e're sorry about the smoking remarks" (3.2.286). And after James finally apologizes to his dad for the first time, his dad turns it around and apologizes to him. What are James's parents sorry for? James admits: "They try to love me, I hurt them" (3.2.139). Hmm.
James is initially angry when his parents attend the family session (okay, he's initially angry at everything), but he eventually comes around and comes clean to them about everything he's done. It feels good for him to be honest to them, and he says he will continue to do so as long as they respect his boundaries and let him be entirely responsible for himself. (He says this, incidentally, while in the rehab that they're paying for.)
Before his parents leave, James says that his mom "holds me like I am her Baby. I am not anymore, but I still am" (3.4.436). Well, since his parents are still financially supporting him 100% and dealing with daily temper tantrums, we'd say that he sure is still their baby.
What's the cause, and what's the effect? We're not sure. James's parents definitely enable him, and not just financially. By constantly apologizing to him and saying that things are not his fault, they make it possible for him to shake off any feelings of responsibility he may have. But maybe at this point they're just trying to help him without getting all parent-y about it. It's a tough call.
At least James likes his brother, we guess. His brother is the first person to visit him on Visitor's Day; his brother is the one who gives him the Tao Te Ching (which changes his life); and his brother is the one who picks him up from rehab when he finally gets out.
One thing Big Bro is guilty of is enabling his brother—this must run in the family. It's such a bad idea for Big Bro to take James to a bar immediately after leaving rehab, but he does it, anyway. What's up with that? Yeah, it makes for a good story, but it could have gone so wrong. Is this is a sign of stupidity? Did Big Bro just caving in to James's stubbornness? Or does Big Bro just have a lot of faith in his little brother?