Families are, as a rule, a rather complex "organism." There is usually a patriarch, whether it is a grandparent or uncle, who acts as the nucleus that holds the whole thing together.

But there is also that one family member that never really seems to fit into the whole package. Most of said relatives are what many refer to as "black sheep," generally outcasts who some families choose to ignore.

Personally, there is one relative in my family, an uncle who we will call "Jay," who falls into that category. He is, by all intents and purposes, an alcoholic whose habit has led to the dissolution of his once promising marriage and the loss of any contact with his children.

Over the weekend, Jay was arrested for reasons that will remain private, but sufficed to say, it fell in line with what many in my family has come to expect from him. At least, that is the feeling I get when I listened to my various aunts and uncles speak about the situation.

While I do not necessarily respect my uncle for the choices he has made that has led to his current state, I spent time this weekend thinking back to what Jay was like before he began down this somewhat self-destructive path he seems to be on.

Jay is not much different than other black sheep in families across the United States, I am sure. My girlfriend told me over the weekend that every family has that oddball who seems to be completely different from the other members of his or her respective family.

And like others in my situation, there is a sense of "What the heck happened?" with my uncle.

As a child, maybe about 7 or 8 years old, I can remember Jay living with us. I thought he was the coolest guy around because his room had a waterbed with a large blanket that had a giant tiger printed on it.

The kicker, of course, was Jay's love of Bruce Lee. Aside from letting my brother and I watch "Enter the Dragon" whenever we wanted, he had a pair of nunchukus that he used to show off anytime I asked him to.

He would move them around so fast that I was always holding my breath until he would catch them and take a bow. Jay was the reason I once tried to do a high kick and only succeeded in catching my older brother in the neck and making him cry.

Jay was fit, young and a lot of fun to be around. Later on, he got married and was soon anxiously awaiting the birth of his first child, a son.

Not long after, the drinking began. Stories have been floating around about what led to the beginning of his addiction, but they have reached the same endpoint.

To me it is a sad story, but it is one that has served as one of the most important lessons on how I choose to lead my own life. Growing up never having known my father, I guess it is fair to say that I relied on my uncles to serve as father figures.

And while I may not necessarily respect my uncle Jay, I owe him a lot for teaching me how to be a better man, whether he knows it or not. I am left to wonder, however, how many others out there with black sheep in their families never noticed that they had learned something as well.

Tim Olmeda is the news editor for the Nueces County Record Star. Readers may contact him via e-mail at news@recordstar.com.