Don’t Let This Be All There Is!

My parents used to live in Germany and we were lucky enough to get to visit them on two occasions when they lived there.  One of the most profound experiences of my life was when we visited Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line for the gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mom, doesn’t know where she is going. the mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over the child’s eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum, they do not whisk by the photo in a hurry. they pause. They almost feel the pain, I know I did. And deep inside of me I felt myself saying, “O God, don’t let this be all that there is.” Don’t let me live in a world that is without the supernatural, without miracles, without hope and a God and a future…

Are We There Yet?

Christmas vacation, pack up the kids and head out. I remember as a kid taking our great big land boat from Winnipeg to Calgary to make the yearly Christmas trip to grandma and grandpa’s house. Some Christmas’s, because we were military, we would jump on a DC-3 and sit in the jumpseats for the trip which took almost as long as a car, but twice as fun.

The car was one of those big camel-coloured wagons with fake wood on the side. When I was a kid my grandpa told me that the wood siding was because cops radar wouldn’t work on wood. I had family issues. The ark car also had the extra seat that faced the back making it so you could seat nine people if you wanted to. My dad didn’t believe in stopping for anything. Straight through – Winnipeg to Calgary in like fourteen hours, no potty breaks. My dad used to say, “Scott that’s why God created pop bottles son.” Explains a lot about me doesn’t it.

I remember when the kids were young driving them, complete with pop bottles, to see their grandparents. We left the house here and started out early in the morning to Invermere or Saskatchewan, depending on the year.  We’re driving and we get to Oooooh….Hatzic (about five miles), and one of the boys would ask the inevitable question, “Are we there yet?” (ok, so it was me). My wife would scowl at me and say, “Scott!” I would apologize and turn to the boys and say… “Are we there yet?” By the time we broke down in the big city of Redcliff AB we had it down to a science.. We set it to music (“frere Jacques”) – “Are we there yet, are we there yet, no we’re not. No we’re not”. We kept it up for hours like some kind of a pagan chant.

Remember when you were a kid and your dad had that big APE arm that he would swing behind him as he would try to belt one of you? I remember telling my mom “I gotta go” for probably the tenth time and her handing me a poop bottle, (some of you also had dysfunctional parents like that!). Now that was quality family time! I’ll tell you.

Are we there yet?

Lately I’ve thot a lot about the journey. It is so tempting to get bogged down in the fight, forget the finish line, and get discouraged when things don’t go your way. Since the world didn’t end on Friday I guess we are stuck with this journey for some time yet.

It’s Boxing Day in Canada, another excuse for a mandatory day off and a rabid trip to the shopping malls. Around our household we try to do something family oriented, something cheesy like bowling or pinball or pool or a trip. The Hobbit is going to work his way into our schedule somehow as well. I am reminded of the real meaning of life and the thing that keeps me grounded – my family, in all it’s weirdness and wonder. This year we have the addition of my new little reason for living, Angus Scott Williams. He reminds me, every time I see him, what matters most in this world.

I know the world is full of problems and pain. I see it everyday, usually. Today, however, I’m going to practice a little mindfulness and enjoy every minute with Angus I can steal. My prayer is that you will also find something beautiful to concentrate on this holiday.

Happy first Boxing Day buddy.

5 Signs of Pushover Parents

I stole this from WebMD but it is so important it needs to be shared, especially number 5. Did you get that? Number 5! Oh ya, and number 4…and 1, 2, and 3.

You might think that too-permissive parents are the ones whose kids have no rules, no curfews, no dress code, and no manners. True, but they’re not the only ones.

You may be surprised that some of your habits could put you into the “pushover” or permissive parent category, according to experts, even if you think that you’re doing everything right with your tweens and teens.

images“Many parents today misunderstand their role,” says parenting expert Leonard Sax, MD, PhD, a family doctor in Chester County, PA, and author of Girls on the Edge and Boys Adrift. “They often see their role as making sure the son or daughter gets into a top college and protecting the son or daughter from disappointment. They are there, providing the safety net in situations where it might be wiser to let the kid experience the consequences.”

Here are five common ways that parents become too permissive, plus how and why you should change your ways.

1. No Routines or Limits
For many parents, life can get too hectic to follow through on their parenting plans, especially if it will take some work to get the kids on board. After a while, their family’s lack of routine can result in lazy, spoiled teens or tweens without schedules and responsibilities.

“Everybody knows that they should have rules, routines, habits and socializations,” says Laura Kastner, PhD, author of Getting to Calm: Cool-Headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Washington School of Medicine. “But for busy parents, when they finally get home, they don’t want to turn their family time into acrimony.”

Like it or not, the only way to change the situation is to become less permissive, setting limits for the family.

“If you say, ‘We’re now going to have bedtime,’ the kids will really push back,” Kastner says. “You have to be calm, absolutely resolute, and not cave.”

If you’re married or living with your partner, they have to be on board. “You want your spouse to be on the point as much as possible, because kids will go after the weaker partner,” Kastner says. “Once you get past the first two weeks, you’re probably on your way.”

2. Avoiding Conflict
Many parents find it easier to give in to their tween or teen’s demands than get into yet another argument, so they become more lenient than they’d like. This may be particularly true for parents who didn’t like the strict way that they were raised, so they relax the rules.

“As kids hit puberty, that’s when conflict within the family increases,” says Madeline Levine, PhD, author of Teach your Children Well. “The constant door in your face, ‘I don’t want to talk about it’ and rolled eyes. But the exhaustion that comes with it is not a reason to back off on the mandatory rules.”

You can let some minor things slide, if you really hate conflict, but it’s crucial to your credibility as a parent to continue being tough about the things that matter.

“Pick your battles, but don’t bow out,” Levine says. “Forget about the hair color and save it for the piercing. Parents can’t afford to back down.”

3. Making School an Excuse
Savvy teens who want to shirk their responsibilities at home often use schoolwork as an excuse, because parents are usually pushovers for anything supposedly related to academics.

“There isn’t a kid in America that doesn’t know that saying, ‘I’m going to be studying’ takes precedence over chores,” Levine says.

You may think that you’re helping your child by doing his chores for him, but your permissiveness could hurt him in the long run.

“When kids go out into the community, they have to have some skills,” Levine says. “Out in the real world, nobody says, ‘I’m going to clear the table for you.'”

To ensure that your child becomes a well-rounded adult, require him to follow through on all of his responsibilities, not just those that could boost his GPA.

“We have the CEO model of parenting: How’d you do on this test, what’s your GPA this semester,” Levine says, “but parenting is really 30 years down the line — making sure they have good relationships, good jobs, and become good parents themselves, not just making sure they get into the right school.”

4. Trying to Be a Friend to Your Teen

Some overly permissive parents are more concerned with their teenagers liking them than being effective authority figures.

“A friend can’t tell another friend: ‘You’re not allowed to do this,’ but a parent must say that to a 14 or 15-year-old,” Sax says. “Some ‘cool’ moms don’t feel they have any authority to exercise.”

Teens need authoritative parents to help them make the right choices, not friends to gossip with, Sax says. If you’re ready to change your relationship with your teen, you need to own that and make a big change.

“Sit down with your son or daughter and say, ‘I haven’t been doing this right,'” Sax says. “Trying to do this gradually doesn’t work. There’s not a smooth transition from peer to parent.”

5. Rewarding Kids With Technology

Tweens are getting smartphones at younger and younger ages, often because they wear down their parents by begging for the devices. But giving in isn’t good for your child, even if you justify that she can call you if she unexpectedly needs a ride home.

“Permissive parents are having a heck of a time with smartphones and social media,” Kastner says. “They give sixth-graders smartphones and Facebook accounts, [don’t set screen-time limits] and then their grades go down. There’s no reason for parents of middle-schoolers to give up as much control as they do.”

If you’ve already given your tween or teen a gadget, use it to promote better behavior.

“The best thing about smartphones is you can take them away,” Kastner says. “Tell your kids, ‘You get your phone as a paycheck. You have to be a good citizen, go to bed, do your homework.’ You don’t even have to fight about having them give it to you; call your carrier and have them turn it off.”

By Lisa Fields

Enjoy The Dance

danceI read this somewhere:

“Once, there was a small group of kids who decided to go to a park in the middle of the city, and dance and play, laugh and twirl. They thought to themselves as they played in the park… maybe another child would pass by and see them. Maybe that child would think it looked fun and decide to join them.

Then maybe another.

Then maybe a business man would hear them from his skyscraper. Maybe he would look out the window. Maybe he would see them playing… and lay down his papers, and come down. Maybe they could teach him to dance. Then maybe another business man would walk by, a nostalgic man, and he would take off his tie and toss aside his briefcase and dance and play.

Maybe the whole city would join the dance.

Maybe even the world. Maybe…

Either way, they decided to enjoy the dance.”

Casual Friday – Kissed

“There are four questions of value in life… What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.” – Don Juan deMarco

I remember leaving home for high school and the abject loneliness I felt being dropped off at boarding school. I also remember hearing later that my father had cried for almost two hours as he drove the long road home to Alberta. I will never forget how that day my father kissed me for the first time since childhood. I was shocked, but overwhelmed. It was a moment of real intimacy between a father and a son. Kiss your kids. I try to still kiss my adult sons on the forehead on occasion. It is not strange or uncomfortable, it is a touch of belonging.

It’s Christmas time. Give the love.

“For it was not into my ear you whispered, but into my heart. It was not my lips you kissed, but my soul.” – Judy Garland

“It hurts to love someone and not be loved in return, but what is the most painful is to love someone and never find the courage to let the person know how you feel.” – Unknown

Refusing To Let Go

I remember vividly the day my son Ben almost drowned in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese. Everything started out fine, until Ben decided he needed to carry his newly purloined favorite balls around in the pit. Its hard enough to walk in there with both hands for balance, it’s impossible with a hand full of balls.

Ben took a step and fell. He tried to wrestle up without letting go of the balls, but he couldn’t. He started to cry but still wouldn’t let go of the balls.
Have you ever tried to reason with a crying, sweating four year old drowning in plastic balls? I began but pointing out to him how much better it would be to actualize the balance ratios by dropping the balls and negating the negative balance issues. I reasoned with him. I counseled him to make decisions that were based on common-sense and not emotion. I told him the story about the rat who wouldn’t let go of the cheese and got trapped in the trap. I’m sure on some deep level he was cognizant of these masterful illustrations, but mostly he just balled his brains out and kept sinking.
Being the mature man I was I began to yell, “Drop the balls!”

NO!

They have this stupid rule at Chuck E. Cheese which states that adults are not allowed to go in the pit, so I sent his older brother Nate in there.

” Nate go save your brother!”

So he’s yanking and Ben is drowning and Nate is having problems and I’m yelling and people are watching and my wife is pretending she’s not with us….
And I’m thinking to myself, “eventually he’ll lose consciousness and we can drag his lifeless carcass out of there!”

Why would a kid clutch so tightly to something that cannot but fail? Why is it so tempting to grasp things that don’t really matter? Why can’t we see when we are drowning in our own stubbornness?

When people come to counseling it often becomes apparent that they are looking for permission, not input. They have decided on a course of action and do not want to let go, even if that journey is going to hurt them, ruin their marriage, damage their kids, or interfere with their future. Often it’s a “want my cake and eat it too” scenario. They want to have an affair, or they want to do something that will result in destruction, or they want to keep lying to themselves about their addiction or their psychological malady. It’s far easier, they think, to continue on the road they are travelling then it is to do the hard work of personal growth. I know a bit of how they are thinking because I have been there myself. I have wanted something so badly that I was willing to blindly rush forward, convinced that somehow, against all reason, things would magically work out.

I didn’t want to let go of that ball.

Or maybe the issue is that you are holding on to something so tightly, an attitude or a painful memory, a slight or an abuse, that you cannot imagine letting go of the ball. The ball is all you know, it’s what feels right even if it doesn’t feel good. It is unimaginably hard to let go of what you believe. It is painful to change, difficult to imagine that life can be different. Maybe you’ve been hurt before and dammit, you are not going to get hurt again.

Letting go of the ball is rarely easy, but if you don’t try you are going to drown. Someone like me can scream and plead and beg you to do it, but at the end of the day no one else can make that decision.

No one cares about your problems as much as you do. No one will do it for us.

Isn’t it time to let go of the balls? It is going to be monumentally difficult and take much more time than you thought it would but it is worth it.

Life is waiting for you.

Teens And Cannabis Usage

This Is Your Brain on Marijuana

Teens who think marijuana is safe to use are mistaken, Volkow says. “I think that the data are quite clear that smoking marijuana during adolescence is harmful to your brain.”

A National Institutes of Health-funded study, published in August in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a significant drop in IQ — an average of eight points — between the ages of 13 and 38 in people who had been heavy marijuana users since their teens. Even those who quit using the drug showed impaired mental abilities if they had started smoking marijuana in their teens.

“Findings are suggestive of a neurotoxic effect of cannabis on the adolescent brain and highlight the importance of prevention and policy efforts targeting adolescents,” the researchers concluded.

Narcissists Who Cry: the other side of the ego

Many of you have been in a relationship or been a friend with someone who was an extreme narcissist. These types of relationships are filled with drama unless you totally please the narcissist, which is impossible. The typical extreme narcissists are full of themselves and are overtly pompous. I would like to focus on a kind of extreme narcissist that most people fail to recognize. First, let me explain what extreme narcissism is all about.

Extreme narcissism is an egotistical preoccupation with self. It focuses on personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how one’s self is perceived by others. Some basic narcissism is healthy. This kind of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself, or what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.

The egotistical narcissists are typically created in one of two ways. One way is through excessive pampering on the part of the parents. Parents create an attitude in the child that he/she is better than others and entitled to special privileges. This creates an arrogant child who lacks a healthy dose of gratitude and humility. It describes the proverbial brat that no one likes.

Another way that extreme narcissists are created is when a child receives a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. This can happen when the parents, as narcissists themselves, are emotionally disconnected from their child. It creates a dysfunction in the ability for the narcissist to connect emotionally to others. No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he/she has a major attachment dysfunction and wound. This wounded person constructs one or more false fronts in order to survive and insulate themselves from people because of distrust and fear (Lopez De Victoria, 2008).

A narcissist is a completely self-absorbed person. There can be no other gods in an extreme narcissist’s world, regardless if they say they believe in God or not. In practical terms, a narcissist is God in his/her own imagination. Ego rules supremely in the narcissist’s life. In light of this, what energizes a narcissist is whatever fuels the ego. Ego loves pleasure and gain. In most cases, these can come from one of two ways of feeding the ego. One way is through aggrandizement, which means “to make bigger.” Ultimately, the extreme narcissist feels he/she is most special and, therefore, entitled. To the extreme narcissist, people are actually things to use.

Another way that the narcissist’s ego gets special attention is through the role of being a victim. Welcome to the victimized extreme narcissist. Most persons recognize ego as arrogance. At the same time they fail to see the subtle deception of ego when it takes the role of a being a victim. As kind and compassion-driven human beings, we easily are fooled by this form of extreme ego. We are constantly hearing the voices of the needy in the media through a variety of forms. The disenfranchised, the poor, the homeless, the hurting, the refugees, the abused, and the list goes on. What we often do not see is that we are many times shamed by these voices for not doing enough for them. All along it is easy to be manipulated as we respond from our hearts. The deception of the ego is that the narcissist can hide behind misfortune and victimization in order to shame you into feeling and believing that they suffer more than you do. They will say that you don’t care enough for them. They will make you feel that you have not done enough to help them. The ego wants attention, control, gain, and power over others by positioning itself as a “poor and helpless” victim. It does this; all the while it soaks up the attention and control over others. In the eyes of an extreme narcissist, their situation is always right and totally justified. Instead of taking responsibility for self and consequences, the extreme narcissist tries to make others feel responsible for their plight. Because extreme narcissists are incredibly adept at the game of manipulation, they will always find a way to turn the tables on you. They will try to make you responsible and feel guilty for not helping them or taking their side and cause.

Extreme narcissists often shift gears from visible grandiosity to acting that they are better than others because they suffer more than others. You can see an extreme narcissist who hogs the limelight and credit from achievements and self-praise also getting similar recognition from milking an injury or a seeming misfortune that has occurred to them. Victimized extreme narcissists are on the constant prowl looking for any gullible soul that will believe their version of calamity whether it is real, exaggerated, or fictitious. What they claim that makes their calamity different is that it is worse for them. Beware of this kind of extreme narcissism. It is just as selfish and manipulating as that of a pompous egotist. The moment they see that you don’t “fully” cooperate and act with extreme concern for them, serving and pampering them, they will eliminate you from their list of “loving” folks. They may even badmouth you and gossip or slander you as being selfish and uncaring. Imagine that! I have seen these types over and over again in work I have done in the field of pain medicine management. It is usually the individuals who are humble, full of gratitude, and joyful who are the ones most capable of coping with their injuries and pain. Those who are selfish, moaning, and full of self-pity take much longer to heal or sometimes never heal but go further downhill in their health. My recommendation is to avoid treating this person’s misfortune as the ultimate suffering of all humans. Be polite. Recognize their pain and no more. Don’t be pulled into their web of emotional manipulation. Stay away from extreme narcissists.

References

Lopez De Victoria, S. (2008, August 4). How to Spot a Narcissist. Posted on Psych Central Web site.

 

How To Pick Up Women In Their Twenties

dating-tips-for-guys-how-to-pick-up-womenI am not in my twenties and do not make a habit of hitting on any women, especially not women that young. I do, however, have a very attractive and intelligent son who was more than willing to provide a few insights for this Part 2 of “How To Pick Up Vulnerable Women”.

In my first instalment I wrote about manipulating a group of women who were in their late thirties and forties. You may want to familiarize yourself with that article before going on. It has been, and remains, my most hated and revered article to date. I have received private letters, several in fact, accusing me of being abusive and misogynistic, even cruel. Read it for yourselves and ask yourself why I would do such a thing and then freely tell everyone I did so…

In this instalment I begin by recognizing that everything I am about to say may not apply to you. Like many of my articles what follows is based on generalities. Please understand I’m not talking about anyone in specific, only trends and observations which may not even be objective. If nothing else it should be interesting.

You are sitting with friends at the local bar and I can tell, because you wear it like a beacon, that you are looking for a guy. I intend to be that guy. You are not in your forties so I am not going to gush, not going to give too much away. In fact, just the opposite. Your divorced mom is looking for someone who is emotionally sensitive, someone who is going to make it all about her. That isn’t my tactic, though some of the techniques are transferable. When I first meet you I’m very interested, very charming. Initially, at least, it’s all about you. But only initially. If we have been introduced I will be nice to you for a minute or two, then move on. If we are not introduced I will make a point of ignoring you and talk to the person directly beside you. I’m not going to hit on you, I’m not needy. And that is really the point.

1. I’m not needy. I act aloof but not rude. Okay, occasionally I can even be a bit rude. I will make the obligatory conversation, but little more. While I am talking to you I may check out other women. I will talk, engage, but we are not exclusive. That is the point. Heartiste writes, “That aloofness is catnip to women. You may as well prop a neon sign over your head that says “Preselected by women who have come before you, and who are standing right next to you.” Aloofness is one of those male characteristics that women are finely tuned to discover, isolate, and hone in on, because it tells them, subconsciously of course, that THIS MAN, this one right here, has a lot of choice in women. ERGO, this man, this one right here, must be high value.” I know this because the internet is polluted with websites that teach this very thing. Confidence and self-assurance is an aphrodisiac to some females.

I don’t need you. I may or may not be interested, but I’m keeping my options open. I like myself and I don’t need anyone. I’m mysterious. It’s hard not to want what you cannot have. My strength and even dominance is very attractive. If you don’t believe me than why are so many women attracted to the bad boy? Yummy.

The social context has changed  in the past few years. Women in their thirties and forties want to invite a man into their emotional world. In your twenties he invites you into his social world. As one twenty-five year old player told me today, “If you can get the girl to leave her social grouping and come over to yours you are 80% of the way into her pants.” That’s important to remember because…

2. It’s all about social context. Meet my entourage. We are not at the bar to take pictures of ourselves for Facebook. We are interesting. Come hang out with us. Let me separate you from your friends and take you out of your comfort zone. Let me introduce insecurity. After all…

3. I’m here to exploit your insecurity. I may compliment you but it is often tinged with irony or sarcasm. The unspoken point is the exploitation of your negative self-image. The trick is to not let you know I’m interested and get you wondering whether or not you are worth my time. Watch me dominate the social setting, see how I handle myself. Am I or am I not interested in you? Later, when I am very direct with you, and tell you I want to be with you, you are surprised, intrigued, complimented, and affirmed. But make no mistake, the underlying tactic is dominance (and not in a good way…). There is an interesting dichotomy at play. You want to be thought of as a strong woman but you also have insecurities. Doesn’t a part of you wish you could be taken?

Even a plain guy can confuse a beautiful woman if he acts like he doesn’t need her.

As a counselor I find this topic sickening. There are people out there, regardless of age, who use psychological and emotional manipulation to exploit the vulnerable and hurting. It usually isn’t until it’s too late that it becomes apparent that a damaged and delicate person has been exploited and often degraded. It is also unfortunate that so many women get taken in more than once. Some of us are attracted to personalities that lend themselves to narcissism and depravity. It is a sad thought that the confidence and maturity you think you are attracted to may only be a tool to tear your heart out.

Ladies, we lie to you. We believe that we understand the score far more than you think we do. If you don’t believe me ask anyone who has gotten into a relationship with a narcissist. Everything was amazing… at first. We told you what we thought you needed to hear. We held the door open, we talked about our feelings, we shared our hearts. We know you get off on that stuff. Some of us actually read about how to pick up women. We are smarter than you think.

I am often asked why I write about this topic. Sadly, it has become apparent that many vulnerable and emotionally damaged people are being treated as prey by morally bankrupt individuals who think nothing of ruining lives as long as they can get what they want. I would invite you to read some of the heartbreaking comments on the first installment of this topic here. That alone is incentive enough.

I have this crazy idea that if you know what is going on you might know a predator when he buys you a drink.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

Penguin partyEvery year my family gathers around the television to watch the original story of Scrooge – The Muppet Christmas Carol.

It’s a story of regret, of choices made, of the wrong priorities. It is about the chance to see the ramifications of our actions, the opportunity to live life over again. Michael Caine is taken to see his wasted and destroyed life and witnesses the series of misguided decisions that served to create a ruined life. One especially poignant scene is where he watches his younger self give up the love of his life because of his lust for money and selfishness. As Scrooge watches the scene unfold, we can see the emotions playing out over his face. We can imagine what is going through his mind: What a fool he had been! How his life would have been different if he had married, if his heart hadn’t been hardened by the love of money. Perhaps that young man wouldn’t have become this wretched, bitter old miser. He realizes his life has turned out totally different then he thought it would.

Consider this: How would you like to be visited by the ghost of your past? How would you like to go back and relive your sins, your mistakes, the foolish choices that changed your life? How would you like to be forced to watch helplessly, knowing what the outcome is going to be, unable to do anything to change the result, feeling the sharp pain of regret at not having taken the other path, or at least wondering what would have happened had your choices been different.

For most people there’s really no need for a night-time visit from one of Charles Dickens’ three spirits, because we do it ourselves. We replay the past, again and again. We see it projected on the screen of our minds. We are experts at reliving our failures. I have often told people that there is no need to tell me my shortcomings because most of us are keenly aware of the many ways we do not measure up. We are encyclopedias of our faults.

Don’t you sometimes wish you could go back and talk to yourself at those key moments, talk to that person in the movie of your life, warn them, tell them where the road they’re taking will lead?

When I look back over my past I am keenly aware of the many times I have chosen what is easiest over what is best. I get paid to tell people how to live their lives and yet know that I have often fallen far short of what I would like to pretend happened. After I found myself a single parent twelve years ago I made a series of blunders and even lost friends in the process. I look back at that person and realize that grief and loneliness drove me insane. There they are, the ghosts of Christmas’s past. It took years and many mistakes to find my way back and there are people who still hold those days against me.

The question is, will I still hold those Christmas’s against me?

They say time heals, or so the story goes. It is easy to hold ourselves responsible for things we did when we were young, or childish, or stupid. For decisions made when we were in the midst of abuse. For bad moves that we cannot take back. For things said, even career moves, which were a result of our insanity and pain.

They say it is easier to forgive others than it is to forgive ourselves. There are few things more true, I have found. Unfortunately, however, it is very difficult to move forward when we still listen… to the ghosts of Christmas past.

Casual Friday – Do We Matter?

110411_75159_0In 2002 I was a single parent, hurting, lonely, visiting Winnipeg, the city of my childhood. Alone.
I was at a conference downtown but felt a nostalgic need to drive for an hour in traffic to go back and remember. So there I was, driving down a road I had walked hundreds of times, decades ago. I had never been back. It was the time, elementary school, when everything was possible and I knew I was going to be significant.
Now years later, looking back on a shattered life and broken dreams, I drove back in time to my old elementary school. It was much as I had remembered it, only a great deal smaller. I remembered it as a happy place, a loud adventure full of girls and bullies and games and sports. But now, so many years later, I was back walking down empty hallways and bad preteen crayon art. I wasn’t sure why I was there but for some reason was drawn down those hallways, looking like a middle-aged creeper with too much time on his hands.
As I passed the trophy case I was struck by it’s emptiness. Someone had obviously been cleaning out the old pictures, painting and rearranging. Even today I still wonder if it really happened and still do not completely understand it’s meaning, if there even is one.
You might be able to guess what was in that window, it unfolded like a movie – There was only one photo in that display case that day – yellowed by age, bad haircuts and knobby knees. There I was, grade six volleyball team. Only one picture in that case, twenty or more years later. Why? It was a one in a million, a ridiculous proposition, a hollywood story.
I still don’t know why, or even if there is a why. I only know I was feeling alone one day, insignificant and small. And in the midst of that insecurity there was a gift, a single moment out of time and a reminder that I mattered. hundreds of teams, dozens of years, an old picture that could not fit in a small display case needed by this years teams. A ten foot picture frame with only one picture…
It is easy to believe we don’t matter in a world of superstars and the super rich. When we die will anyone remember us, mourn us? Many of us, as we grow older, ponder what legacy we will leave, if any. Many become discouraged by the brevity and seeming meaningless of life.
Do we matter?
I am inspired by the story of Rosa Parks, an average nobody who changed her world because she “was tired of giving in to white people.” Like many of us I get tired of hearing of yet another person born in privilege being noticed just because their family or circumstance gave them a platform. Rosa showed us that even a regular person can leave a powerful legacy if they live their life with integrity and purpose.
This spring I am spending a few weeks with my father editing his memoirs while basking in the sunshine. He too has left a powerful legacy of perseverance and integrity for the following generations though being an orphan who was not given many breaks in life. He may not ever be world famous but he is living proof that you don’t have to have a Harvard degree or reality television series to impact the lives of people in your world.
Do we matter?
Yes you do. Don’t settle for a mediocre life.
As Tony Campolo is fond of saying, “Most of us are tiptoeing through life so we can reach death safely. We grew up praying, “If I should die before I wake. Maybe we should be praying, “If I should wake before I die. . . .” Life can get away from you.

Why Intentions Don’t Matter That Much

English: A ' mask.I love it when people tell me they are going to make positive changes in their lives. It’s amazing when someone comes to an important epiphany and decides to do something radical. The only problem is, in spite of the great intentions and hope for the future it doesn’t usually really mean much.

You know what the old maxim says…

It’s not that intentions are bad, quite the contrary. Having good intentions is foundational when discussing how to change your future, set goals, make progress, or do anything of worth. The problem comes when we begin to think that planning to do something is actually accomplishing anything.

I once had a friend with a huge day-timer. You could not have any conversation of length with this individual without him opening that big black book and explaining how many things he was planning on doing. He was a master planner. The fact that he never did anything but plan, however, soon led me to understand that he was substituting his many plans for actually accomplishing anything.

One of my favorite B movies is V for Vendetta. Who cannot love a guy in a Guy Fawkes mask using only the letter V to start virtually every word. It has that post-apocalyptic feel of a Fahrenheit 451 or Nineteen Eighty-Four, but with more knives and rhyming. In the movie, for the 98% of the population who have not seen it and never will, V goes about paying back those individuals who have used him for human experimentation and who are generally very nasty people who run a despotic world. At one point he shows up at an old acquaintances house who was involved in the Nazi-esque experiments and proceed to accuse her, with many words that start with the letter V, of the grossest crimes. She, in her own defense, explains to him that she really meant to do the right thing. Her intentions were otherwise and she had hoped that things would turn out differently. V responds in iconic fashion (and without any words that start with the letter V), “I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done”.

I have not come for what you hoped to do. I came for what you have done. Powerful words.

In counseling we sometimes say it this way, “don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk”. It’s a cliché but like many time-worn maxims it contains an element of truth. If intentions do not translate into action they are worse than useless. They can, in fact, be detrimental.

I am reminded this early morning that I have only one life. I do not want to look back and wish I had done all the things I had intended. As Antonio Banderas prayed in the movie 13th Warrior:

Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things.
This was not among them.
But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well.
For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought;
all we ought to have said, and have not said;
all we ought to have done, and have not done;
I pray thee God for forgiveness.

Do You Really Want A Sensitive Guy?

Real Men KnitWomen tell me they need a man to be emotionally sensitive, in touch with his feelings.

Two minutes later that same woman will tell me they want their man to stand up to them, to not let them always get their way. They want a strong, powerful man who is rugged and independent. They actually say that, “I don’t want to get my way.” (Am I to believe them?)

Well which is it?

I have written before of the influence of the myth of Prince Charming and the princess in popular culture. There is strong evidence to suggest that many women, for example, raised on Disney stories and fairy tales still yearn to be treated like a princess – adored, elevated, protected, honored by a strong and beautiful man. No where in Prince Charming’s resume does it require him to be emotionally available, or in touch with his feminine side.

There is a significant dichotomy at play in the dominant female heterosexual culture. Women confess all the time that they are looking for both traits in their man – strength and vulnerability. There is something attractive about a guy who strong and self-contained (if you don’t believe me wait until my upcoming article on How to Pick Up Vulnerable Twenty-somethings). A man who is powerful has long been an aphrodisiac. Most men of my generation were raised to emulate such guys – Eastwood, Arnold, Pitt, Stallone. Today many woman also are attracted to a man who can cry, is sensitive, and can even pretend to be a glittery vampire and lie beside you all night not asking for anything, only staring at you sleep. It is a tall order.

It is no wonder then that men are experiencing an identity crisis like never before in history. A generation often raised by females, guys today are not sure how to behave. We are still supposed to have muscles, though we now shave everywhere. We are supposed to have both masculine and feminine characteristics (not my contention but it seems that way to the average construction worker). Our fathers did not help around the house (though mine did), did not share their feelings, did not watch Househunters International. In fact, our predecessors didn’t do much around the house at all. My grandfather came home from work everyday and proceeded to drink himself sleepy. For all I know he may not have had actual feelings about things, it never came up. We had dress codes and opinions, not feelings. For thousands of years men knew who they were and what was expected of them. Women weren’t happy but we really didn’t seem to notice and if they did complain it was because we thought it was “their time of month”. It was easy to be a man, in peace time.

It’s hard to be a guy, really. I had the amazing opportunity to be a single parent for most of my children’s young lives so I learned the hard way that I can actually cook, do dishes, read and do homework with the kids, go to parent-teacher night, and talk about feelings. I am almost certain that I would not have learned those lessons if I hadn’t been forced to.

There is no training for men. We have had difficulty looking to male role models from our past. We have not been able to talk about our struggles until recently and now we have no idea how. Men are emotionally immature but in our defense we have had little practice. Recently I was out for drinks with my eldest son and a few close friends when I made the mistake of saying something to the effect that it’s cool that we can get together and talk about deep issues. My son turned to me and said, “Dad, we don’t talk about this crap when you aren’t here!” It’s true. Social protocol has dictated, for literally thousands of years, that we do the exact opposite. Men who gush are weak. Effeminate men or even those in touch with their feelings were ridiculed.

So please be patient with us. We are undergoing a cultural and anthropological shift that is unparalleled in history.
Most of us still are trying to figure out what a clitoris is.

What Would You Do?

I admit it, I liked Sister Act. So when I heard that one of the members of Sister Act 2 was in the band City High I decided to check them out. CH was a one-hit-wonder band of the early millennium who got famous for their hit “What Would You Do?“, a tragic melody about judging a stripper because she was turning tricks to feed her hungry child. The song is dripping with pain, including the line “ran away so our daddy wouldn’t rape us.”

I remember spending a week looking for a friend who was suicidal in the worst parts of Chicago in the early nineties. Dive after dive, bar after bar, knocking on hotel rooms with fifteen people living in one room, talking to hookers, visiting crack shacks and sleazy strip clubs. It is an experience I have never forgotten, a naive Canadian from the prairies walking down alleys alone at 3 a.m.

About a year ago I was at Main and Hastings in Vancouver, checking out Insite, the legal injection site on the meanest four square blocks in North America. As I left the building and turned the corner I almost walked into a beautiful little girl, no more than twelve or thirteen, shoving a needle in her thigh. If you have never been on Hastings just past Main on three or four square blocks of hell it’s hard to describe what it is like. Oh ya, you can watch the reality show based in Vancouver but nothing can give you that feeling of being in a human stew of 1000 junkies and prostitutes, the mentally and physically ill, Canada’s unwanted. There is a sense of adrenaline mixed with a bit of yuppie fear and caution. It is a wave, a tsunami, that pulses with a stench and vibrancy that must be experienced to be really believed.

It is a complex problem. I heard a politician say this past week that if the government would do it’s job than we wouldn’t have a drug problem. What an idiot. The power of using is far stronger than political will and addiction and addicts are problems that no amount of money or politics or even social services can eliminate. And to be honest, except for the Salvation Army , the Union Gospel Mission, the street nurses, and a few Christian groups, the larger community is really willing to get messy enough to effect change. East Hastings is a war zone and anyone who doesn’t think so hasn’t been there. It defies explanation and description.

These days, four days a week I hand out rigs, condoms, cookers and swabs to people trapped in addiction. I talk angusto people who have endured things I never imagined growing up. As a counselor you hear the most hurtful and damning confessions and stories. The lineup of human misery never ends. Then I drive home to my happy home in the suburbs where my amazing kids, a supportive wife, and a new grandson wait for me to show.

I have a friend Trista who lives and works at the intersection of Main and Hastings and is far better suited than I to speak about what goes on in her neighborhood. When I hang out with her I am humbled and embarrassed. Embarrassed that I pretend to be where the action is, and I become keenly aware of the fact that I don’t really know what is going on in the real world.

It’s very easy to criticize from the suburbs. Why can’t these people get a job? Why do they choose to live on the streets, abuse their bodies, and make the decisions they do? Why should I give money to the bum on the street when he’s only going to use it for drugs?

Many people who have grown up in the middle-class world cannot understand the sociology of growing up in a home where welfare is a generational inheritance, where the culture of neglect and abuse is so pervading that children grow up with no idea how to function in a society they have only seen on television.

“What would you do if your son was at home
Cryin’ all alone on the bedroom floor?
Cuz he’s hungry, and the only way to feed him Is to sleep with a man
For a little bit of money and his daddy’s gone
Somewhere smokin’ rock now In and out of lockdown,
I ain’t got a job now
So for you this is just a good time but for me this is what I call life”

Then she looked me right square in the eye
And said, “Every day I wake up hopin’ to die”
She said, “Nigga, I know about pain ‘cuz
Me and my sister ran away so my daddy couldn’t rape us
Before I was a teenager, I done been through more shit You can’t even relate to”

Mother_Teresa_of_Calcutta_6smWhat would you do? Almost every day I am reminded that before I judge the person in front in me I should realize that I really have no idea what they are going through, their pain, their challenges.

“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
Mother Teresa