Early Childhood Development: Why It’s Really Important To Spoil Your Baby

I went to a boring conference, not so very long ago. The speaker, it progressively became clear, seemed like he was under the influence of something. A conference organizer was heard to say that they had to hire a driver, that Mr. Speaker seemed confused, didn’t know where he was, and seemed to ramble. There was a uncoordinated feeling of aggression, though he was simultaneously quiet, even passive-aggressive – if that was a look. He made a few completely unscientific claims which caused me to mutter an expletive loud enough to be heard two or three rows away. I am way too ADHD for most conferences in general, but this one was particularly memorable. Don’t get me started on the sad fact that most professional speakers in the mental health field simply don’t have the speaking chops to warrant being paid to do this professionally. We have settled for people who write books, or have gone to a special course, or who happen to be the flavour of the month at your local health authority. Most speakers kind of suck. Like I said, don’t get me started.

While it may be true that this speaker was altered in some way, that really wouldn’t surprise or even dismay me anymore. Drugs are almost legal and scores of very smart people become addicted to prescription medications or smoke weed more than they know that they should. The list of professionals who have been walked off the property is probably longer than most people would imagine. But alas, this still isn’t our story.

This speaker, inebriated or no, reminded me that when it comes to early childhood development it is the very first part of the story, from a few months before that child is born until 3 or even 4 or 5, that is the most important. Humans do an incredible amount of growing, especially in the brain, during this initial few years of life. They are defined, in a very literal sense, by the experiences and impressions that imprint them in these first few tender months and years.

Now listen to this part. This part is important.

Any psychologist worth their salt will tell you that affection is one of the most important things you can give any child in the first three or four years of their life. We throw around words like “attachment theory” because the first people that love a baby will, in a very real sense, imprint a bazillion things through expressions of  love and cuddling and affection and attention. The people that tell you not to spoil your baby are flat-out wrong. Spending time touching that kid, reading them books, giving them hugs, and playing hide-and-go-seek will do more for a young human than any diet or program or trendy stupid crap young parents will believe if they are granola enough. Study after study points out that if a child has at least one adult who will completely love them and help them feel safe than that kid is going to have a much better chance at a complete and happy life. Loving your nieces and nephews and grandkids and those 8 or 10 kids of my friends that I love like an uncle is an incredibly important thing, and the more time you spend with those young ones, especially in those first three or four years, the more they soak in that safety and unconditional love.

That crap sticks.

This is why my kids are so intoxicated with their young children. I must admit to some guilt as well. We are evolutionarily compelled to become fixated on our babies and take way too many pictures, and send me videos every damn day of you life. Sorry, I was projecting. We love our children because that kind of stuff is primal and no one really cares about those pictures of your kid in a raincoat anymore. Family is family; everyone else’s kids are cute for only 5 pictures, 6 tops. Early Childhood Development practitioners would tell you that it is critical that you spend significant time rolling around on the carpet and dancing to those stupid children’s songs sung by neutered hipsters. Watch Baby Jake videos. Embrace the Disney.

Please, spoil your kids and your relative’s kids and be that amazing person in the life of someone you know. Invite your nieces or grandkids or friends kids over for a sleepover and use flashlights. Make tents and do hand-spiders and kiss them over and over and chew on their toes. Read about Attachment Theory.

And don’t forget, some day that beauty is going to be a teenager and tell you off, and you’re going to remember how nice it felt when they were two.

The Priest

I was raised Italian Catholic and on church on Sunday. Before I realized that boys could be fun, my goal in life was to become a nun. At some point, our old church minister was traded for a younger model with modern thoughts and long hair. People talked. A lot. I wasn’t there, but one day he had had enough and he delivered a sermon on compassion and understanding then cut his hair off in front of the congregation.
We never saw him again.
I never went to church again.

Courage can come with many faces, many small decisions, many fear filled moments of strength. And sometimes you just get tired of the lies.

He came from a middle-class family, or so it can be imagined. We don’t know who his first love interest was or why he decided to become a priest. These sorts of tales often have a mentor or a spiritual uncle that had taken the cloth. Perhaps he knew uncertainty and desired something secure, complete. We must fill in the back story ourselves; but like many good yarn this isn’t about where you came from, this is about what you did.

Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do.

In his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, author Kevin Dutton relates a conversation he had with a psychopath who refuted the notion that he was somehow more inherently brave than others. He was fearless, a military Seal with a reputation for a daredevil spirit and courage under fire. This patient argued that something cannot be considered an act of  ‘bravery’ if it does not involve fear or any of the other myriad of negative emotions associated with facing certain death. How can you be brave if you have nothing to fear?

For much more than a millennia the pontiff of Rome (and occasionally other places but that’s a history lesson for another day. And yes there was once three popes) held life and death sway over virtually all of the European world and parts further askew. The supplicant must contend with a millenia of ritual, obedience, and unquestioning loyalty. Becoming a priest is a holy thing, superior even to a doctor or lawyer, and only slightly below an end table on Friends.

Priests are made, not born. A young child, virtually a toddler, learns to speak the words and dip and weave in time with the Service. This is a rich culture, and our young friend must have burned with passion for something wondrous, magical, something far bigger than this pitiful existence. Such a calling comes with a price; a life which will never feel the touch of a lover. No children to mourn your passing or keep you company when you are old.

Conformity on a scale unknown to most of society. It is not only the nun who is married to the church, the Bride. Religious Orders are not to be embraced lightly in a subculture with more than 1600 years of practice in weaning out the unworthy, the impenitent, the uncommitted. It can easily be argued that the Church has not always done an adequate job of straining out the deviation, but that is for another time.

So then, what was in his mind on that day when he burned it all to the ground? Why throw it all away to make a point? But alas, this is not really my tale to tell, I heard it from Candace. It is, after all, her story not mine:

I come from small coal mining community in the East Kootenays, Sparwood is a pretty small town. For most of my life, there were maybe about 3500 people in the entire place, most of them Italian Catholic, and first generation Canadians. They were tough, no nonsense people with coal dust and religion deep down engrained in them. Politics were a strong topic of discussion, often loudly, almost with militant enthusiasm.

The church, though, was a different thing. No one spoke badly about the church. That was hallowed ground. So I thought. Catholic nuns ran the only school in town, a big stone mausoleum of a building. I sucked in the religion like coal dust. I wanted to be a nun. I went to Sunday School and church every Sunday. I believed in the sanctity of the church. I was devoted, I as an idealist. I even had the habit. Full gear with the cross at 6 years old. I have the photo to prove it. Crazy stuff!

The minister in town had been around for years. I don’t remember much about him really except that he never really hung around us kids, but always kept an otherworldly distance, enough that I honestly thought he had an in with The Almighty. Some deeper, mysterious connection that the merely mortal would never know. He left town for retirement when I was a young teen, amid talk that he and the church secretary were doing more than typing up the Sunday sermon. I wasn’t entirely naïve, but this was my first experience with any real ’adult’ gossip, let alone about the church. I had been taught to respect my elders, and to mind my own business. Rumours spread quickly in a small town, and while I tried to ignore most of it, I remember feeling a little uncomfortable. I shouldn’t know this, and, even more, how could it be true. My world was black and white. I believed that a priest was supposed to be entirely above those kind of mortal faults. Reality was starting to set in.

Shortly after he left town, a new minister arrived. He was young, energetic, and full of new ideas. And he had long hair. It was the early 70’s. Everyone young had long hair and new ideas. But this was the church. The Catholic Church. In Sparwood. The nuns had only recently changed their habits from the full length semi burka of the old guard to a less modest version that relaxed the tight, white headgear that completely encased the head, and, heaven forbid, allowed a shorter skirt. 

The new minister had a job ahead of him. Things went OK at first, but it wasn’t many months until the rumours began to spread; how this new guy was not what some members of the congregation expected, how his hair was too long, his ideas too at odds with the expected way things should go. I heard them vaguely, and dismissed them as people just getting used to something new. I was young and still naïve enough to think people would eventually get used to new ways and that the bad press would eventually dry up. I was obviously and sadly wrong.

The rumours persisted. In fact, they came with stronger wording, deeper passion than ever. I heard them more and more, as I often spent time with a new youth group the new father had begun as an effort to engage the young people in town. This was a first. It came at an important time for me, as I was a troubled teen, and badly needed a positive, caring example or two. I wasn’t the only one, as there was always a group of us in his home on a weekly basis, playing games and connecting, instead of getting into the trouble that could be easily had even in our small town. I liked this man as a human being. He wasn’t otherworldly. He really connected with his parishioners and I thought he really cared about us kids, beyond teaching doctrine. He really seemed engaged, and truly interested in people, more than almost anyone I had known in the church up to that time. I loved that he was approachable, compassionate, curious and human. I didn’t have to climb his pedestal to talk to him.

This was an entirely new type of priest, and I was excited to be part of this new, accessible church. I was late for mass the day he cut his hair in the pulpit, in front of the entire congregation. I came after the sermon ended. It was a very short mass. I understand that he gave a heartfelt talk on understanding and compassion. Most of all, I remember the congregation milling about outside after it was all over, speaking in hushed tones or not at all, lowered eyes, embarrassment and shame and concern in their voices. It felt like some kind of weird funeral. I was heartbroken. I never saw him again and I have no idea what happened to him after that. His actions may well have cost him his calling. I do know that I stopped going to church entirely.

My bubble had been burst, well and truly. Faith is a funny thing. I had placed faith in people –that they would be good and kind, that the truth would rise in the face of idle gossip. I believed that truth, my truth, would prevail in the end. I now know that these things are never just black and white. Good doesn’t always win over evil, positive over negative. It’s not like the movies. It’s never that easy. In my life, I am a conflicted character. I try to do what’s right, but I know that, often, I only succeed part of the time at best. I know I am flawed and I’m not entirely comfortable with that. I still admire those folks who bravely do the right thing, in spite of the cost.

Honour. I admire that. And, in spite of a decided knack to constantly screw it up, it’s something I still aspire to. And integrity. To try to do my best, even at my worst. I like to think that most of us are like that. But we get screwed up. We forget. We do stuff we don’t admire and often we don’t even see it. This guy, this man, he saw that. As a minister, but even more, as a human being. he chose to step up to the plate and show the rest of us what all those sermons on integrity, honesty, and truth really looked like.

Did his actions really matter? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that minister, whose name I don’t even remember – he left a lasting impression on me as a truly dedicated and real human being, and a genuinely loving and spiritual soul. I admire anyone who can forge a path against the tide, in spite of all it may cost. Those are the people whose actions renew my faith, inspire me, forge the path to the future. Wherever you are, thank you for that. In my eyes, that is truly the earthly and divine all blended into what is the best in all of us. And thank heavens for that.





Passing On What We Didn’t Learn

My father was an orphan. He grew up with a brother, little supervision, and almost no “life lessons” from a parental figure. His relatives were racist, religious bigots.

My mother is one of three girls. She came from a long line of alcohol and cigarettes, empties and ignorance.

Neither one of my parents really inherited much of worth from their forebearers . My grandmother, by her own admission, hated me. Eventually, as the years progressed, she learned to hate others as well. By most accounts she was a nasty piece of work. My grandfather drank beer for breakfast and filled his work thermos with scotch, in order to cope. He was, according to legend, a very bright man. Very sad. He taught me how many cases of Canadian beer fit in the back of a Buick. Marketable skills…

Parenting is a ridiculous proposition, when it comes down to it. Take a person or two, give them limited skills, make them young and inexperienced. Toss in a boot-full of low-income and sleepless nights and worry. As the kids grow older offer them few real tools and then take their kids and throw them into the meat grinder called “school”. Enter drugs. Enter peer pressure and poor self-esteem and pimples and loss. Welcome to the real world.

Recently, a good friend from a difficult background told me that he felt it was his job to “pass on what he wasn’t given”. He was attempting to raise children with values and ethics to which he had never been exposed. Like my own parents, he was trying to pass on lessons he had never learned. It was time to break the cycle of abuse and dysfunction.

Many of us can relate to the story of my parents. We were also not given the right tools and mentors. We watched while parents punched and swore, or had relatives who were abusive or neglectful, ignorant or narrow-minded. No one taught us how to grow up, much less help a child do the same. We never learned how to think in high school. School also never prepared us for real world finances, or communicating with our partner, or how to deal with stress, depression, or the grinding monotony of life. There was nothing on addiction, or the meaning of life, or how to develop impulse control. But hey, thanks for the calculus skills that I use practically every day in the real world…

Most of the stuff we talk about in counselling I never learned in a school setting. There have not been many lights for parents whose children are defiant, or mixed up, or broken. Sure there have been many books written, but somehow reading yet another book by a successful author doesn’t help as much as the book jacket promised. No one else is there when your child tells you to “go to hell” or comes home with a broken heart. If we are honest, most of us will admit that we don’t even have it yet worked out. How can we teach what we never learned?

There was a time in my life when I thought counselling was stupid. Weak people went to see a shrink, people who couldn’t handle the real world. I was an idiot. Parenting… living… in the 21st Century is insanely complex and confusing. The world is going through a historical “swerve” and even in our lifetimes things have changed so much some of us still think a moustache is cool. Methodologies that have worked for centuries are no longer relevant. Many of our hand-holds are being stripped away.

Take, by way of example, the challenges that the modern man goes through. Even while writing that sentence my hands started to automatically backpaddle and include the ladies. I have been conditioned by society to demean the average male for a myriad of reasons. When I was young we were supposed to be The Terminator. We would have kicked the crap out of Legolas, or those vampires that sparkle. Real men didn’t eat quiche. Manicures… well don’t even get me started. Men who were not “macho” enough were ridiculed. My friends who are gay report that they never even considered “coming out” for fear of actual physical violence. Verbal and emotional abuse was assumed. Just when we figured out the strong, silent type we were told we had to be sensitive. Sensitive? Some people do not understand what a profound mental shift that was for many men. Now give that guy a boy of his own to raise and sit back and watch the fun.

I no longer think counselling is stupid. Few of us are adequately prepared to face the complex situational and emotional dynamics of our present realities. And sometimes… it’s just helpful to have someone look at you across the room and confirm that you aren’t crazy. Every day I try to help patients look at life a little more realistically. They, in turn, teach me profound lessons about myself. Life is hard enough with help. Going it alone cannot be good. I am simply too ignorant of too much to assume I can adequately cope with this complicated thing called “reality”.

Keep going. Keep learning. Someone once said that change comes when we “hurt enough we have to, or learn enough we want to”. Personally, I prefer the second option. I’ve learned enough in pain. I’m tired of figuring everything out the hard way. The next lessons can come from wise sages and wounded prophets, life champions and scarred doyens. It is for this reason, as well as the sheer pleasure of it, that I strap on the headphones and listen to audiobooks day after day after day. Some of my friends actually read real books. Ten of my clients and friends have decided to go back to college, some in their forties and fifties. As I write these words I am laying in bed with my Macbook, one foot on my Nook and several good books in the night table. I am building my new library across the hall. I am not saying this to brag. As I have often pointed out in this website, there is just so much I have yet to learn.

I have to be honest with you, it’s much easier to grow if you read. Or fake read, like I often do. The more I learn the faster I grow. Some of us need to be creative because reading does not come naturally to us. You can start by changing the kinds of television programs you watch. Google your own mental health issues and include phrases like “cbt for anxiety” or depression, or a passive-aggressive spouse, or impulse control, or whatever. It’s like the old Canadian Participaction commercial, “Don’t just think about it, do it, do it, do it”. “Like” Psychology Today’s Facebook page and get their daily article feed. Go to other feeds as well. I personally use Facebook more as of a daily reader than a tool to find out whether or not my fake friends are at Walmart. Learners get better faster – that’s just the way it works. I am coming to believe that there are few shortcuts, only lessons I can choose to learn.

Pass on what you weren’t taught… because you taught yourself. No one is going to do this for me.

Goalies and Gatekeepers

Quotation-Khalil-Gibran-suffering-strength-Meetville-Quotes-194823I have never been very good at being a goalie. It has gotten me in trouble all my life.

There is something to be said for encouragement. I have always tried to be that cheerleader, even when someone didn’t believe in themselves. I’m not saying this to brag, I often suck at life. It has always been my heart’s desire to help people see the future and believe in hope, idealistic dreams, dragons and heroes.

There have been times in my life when I have been commissioned to be the keeper of the flame. I have led organizations – some successfully, others were flaming balls of amazing failure. I grew up with parents who believed in me, but few others. I was the mouthy kid, the highly energetic kid before we knew about things like ADHD, and way before it was trendy to talk about. I had grandparents who I saw far too often who were soul-destroying alcoholics who demeaned us children and belittled our dreams and aspirations. That has molded me, somehow, into the person I am today. I can’t abide dream-killers. I am an idealist though I have much evidence to the contrary. This all sounds somewhat self-indulgent but as a Canadian I must remind you that I have faults a-plenty, just ask anyone. I have people who hate me. I know people who firmly believe I am going to hell. I’m human, like you.

You can do it. I have to believe that or I wouldn’t know how to live. I don’t really know if you can become a millionaire or get that jetski you have been dreaming about but I am firmly convinced that anyone can be whole, can find the meaning of life, can make a difference. I have to believe that.

I would be remiss if I did not mention that most of us will not live up to our potential. As I have written many times on this blog, emotional/mental/spiritual health is not a given and often requires more effort than many of us can give. We are also not taught about this stuff anywhere growing up so most of us have had to stumble around, looking for band-aids and triage kits. Most advice is, frankly, bad advice. Like any profession the worlds of psychology and religion are replete with superstars trying to tell you how to live your life. Most of them are, unfortunately, very wrong. Get happy quick solutions and fad remedies don’t tend to work in the long run. In the long run we need to run a great deal longer than we thought we would have to. Most people end up as “realists”, pessimists too afraid to admit they might be negative.

Idealists get beaten by life. Even with a multi-billion dollar movie industry spewing out feel good cartoons and love stories we still cannot convince most people to believe in the improbably after they hit 35.

We thought we could find Mr. Right and we were wrong. We believed that we would reach all our childhood dreams and we fell short. What now.

My dad is back in college. At 75 he has decided to go to university to study children’s literature. He wants to write kid’s books. You see what I am spawned from? What chance did I have? Most people are preparing to buy their burial suit at that age and he’s starting the slow route on a four year degree. I like my pop.

Most childhood dreams belong in our childhood. You may not, in point of fact, grow up to be a princess or a firetruck. As Robert Frost pointed out, “Two roads diverge in a wood…”. Life is almost like that. As I grow older I can choose to bring that trauma, that pain, the dreams dashed and the people who have hurt me… or I can choose to live in a world of children’s books and magic. I am prone to become too analytical, too rational. This has often kept me from allowing myself to believe in mystery. The older I get the more I seek hope in the midst of truth.

I suck at goalkeeping. I still want to score.

The Island of Misfit Toys

It’s Christmas time. If you don’t believe me just turn on the television.

Miracle on 34th Street (1994 film)

There were years, many years, when as a single parent who wasn’t interested in dating I felt the sting of all the Christmas ‘perfect family’ tv shows. One year, while watching the newer version of Miracle on 34th Street I suddenly realized that at the end of the movie they shared a Christmas miracle that I could not. They found love, she got pregnant, and they got given a two million dollar house complete with Christmas cheer. Christmas in rich, white America.

For some of us being alone at Christmas is just a temporary bump in the road. We are between relationships, so to speak. For others, however, there is the terrible realization that we may never fit in, that we are… misfits.

You know who you are. You are the misfit toys.

For years I worked in a profession that was noticeable because of it’s homogeneity. It tended to attract the same temperaments – outgoing but controlled, opinionated but politically correct, dead smack in the middle of the introvert/extrovert scale. And passive-aggression, so many passive-aggressive leaders. It was a sub-culture, though a comfortable one for many.

I never really fit in. Don’t get me wrong, I really tried. I am, for lack of a clearer definition, a weirdo. I don’t necessarily play well with others. I enjoy being controversial, much to my own demise. I have written earlier about the well-known local personality who wrote to tell me that my biggest problem in life was my personality. That is still hard to digest some days.

I have changed a lot in the past couple years, or so I have been told. I have apparently grown-up some and learned about myself. Working as a counselor full-time has radically changed who I am. I get paid to perform self-analysis and it has been a very important ride.

I still have difficulty fitting in. I care about this less than I once did, but sometimes I cannot help wondering what life would have been like if I would have been less extroverted, or opinionated, or susceptible to such creative fits of passion. Don’t get me wrong, I have made peace with “me”. Unfortunately it has come at a price.

One of the things that helped me was to come to grips with the fact that I am not unique. Many of us, many, many of us, struggle with feelings of inadequacy or “less”. Even those of us with more acceptable temperaments worry that we will be misunderstood or rejected. Most of us can supply ample evidence to support that feeling. We have felt the sting of judgment, often over and over again.

You think you are all alone until one day you hear the bay of another dragon.

So here’s to you – you weirdos, you misfits, freaks, and artists. Merry Christmas Rudolf. You are fine just the way you are. If I have learned anything it is that I can never measure up to the expectations of my detractors; so I have stopped trying to impress. I am learning that the more I work on becoming a better me, weird or not, the healthier my life is and the lives of those I influence. I don’t really need to work on my marriage and relationships as much as I need to work on this guy. The healthier I get the more I can handle. The more complete I am the better I can be at reacting to stress and conflict, hardship and life.

The Muppet Christmas Carol

You are amazing just the way you are.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have things to work on, but then again we all do. The more you are ok with you, the happier you will be. The happier we all will be.

It’s Christmas time. Drink some eggnog even though it has a million calories. It’s not like you will become addicted, it’s only available for a month or so. Put it in your cereal and your coffee. Splash it on some rum. Smile, laugh, and if you do nothing else, watch The Muppet Christmas Carol. We can all choose to be happy, if only for a few moments.

Be Brave

I ran across this drug commercial a few days ago and it reminded me that each one of us, in spite of our challenges and insecurities, can make a difference.

No one knows your failures and shortcomings as much as you do. You don’t need someone pointing out your cellulite, or your balding pate, or the fact that you put your foot in your mouth. No one needs to remind you that you are not perfect. I often ask people, “If ten people tell you that you are beautiful and one person tells you that you are ugly, which one will you remember?” The answer is the same for all of us. We are a generation of people who wonder if we matter, wonder if anyone would love us if they really knew who we are. Many of us feel unremarkable and worry that we will never change the world, or even our little piece of it.

I have tried to do many remarkable things in my life, and usually failed. It is tempting, therefore, to think that we are somehow inadequate, or flawed, or “less”. No one is lining up to tell you that you are spectacular. There are all kinds of people who will remind you of your ugliness, or lack. Don’t believe them.

It has taken me most of my life to understand that I am worth it. I have never been famous (cable TV in Fort McMurray doesn’t count as famous), and will probably never be rich or on the cover of Time magazine. As a society we make a big deal about the pretty people who get handed movie contracts because of their photoshopped looks, or those who can hit a puck or a ball through a net or a hoop. Culture makes a big deal about someone who can sing, but not about those who can sing but don’t know anyone who will give them a recording contract. We tend to honor the rich, the connected; those lucky enough to be born into the right family with the right breaks.

This video is dedicated to the little people – to those who make a difference all the time even though no one is rolling the camera. Every one of us can change our world. Every one of us can make a difference in the lives of someone, even if no one else notices.

I have people who have changed my life and chances are you do as well. When I die I hope someone will say of me, “At least he tried. At least he tried to help someone, to give hope, to live sacrificially, to change his world.”

Fear keeps us from trying crazy and magical things. From attempting glorious failures and amazing screw-ups. So much of life is boring and mundane. I don’t know about you but living my life to make a living and pay a mortgage is not enough for me.

At least we tried…


English: JW Armband

One of my friends got “outed” recently. Apparently her crime was that she was friends with people whose lifestyle seemingly contradicted the morality code of the organization she worked for. Let me remind you, she didn’t actually engage in any questionable activities. She was guilty of being in relationship with people who engaged in things her organization disapproved of. She is guilty of taking a soft stand on a controversial issue. This is not a fictitious event.

Like most employees and and organizational types she had felt that she was part of a tight-knit community. These were friends and honorary family members. She feels the sting of rejection and it has become apparent that her friends were judging and rejecting her. She has been, albeit subtly, shunned by her tribe.

Ask an ex-Jehovah’s Witness what it’s like to live outside the fold. Ask a Christian who cannot be a part of something she once loved. Ask the gay kid trying to get by. Ask the husband rejected by his ex-wife’s family. Ask anyone who ever had to swim against the current. Ask the hero who fell from grace.

Anyone who tells you that it’s better being a round peg in a square hole doesn’t know what they are talking about and isn’t a round peg. Being an individual is painful in a society that is glutted with conformity and compromise and pretty rock stars buying illegal monkeys, superstars with perfect teeth and no moral backbone. The pressure to conform is intense and real.

What a wonderful thing it is, and a curse, to be an original – (stolen so long ago I can’t remember the author)

She Left Us…

I thought I would take a break from the professional jargon for one day and share a personal reflection. Please forgive my obvious self-indulgence.


When I was insane, all those years ago, I rarely understood what I had. I was overwhelmed by grief, drowning in my own head. All those years ago…




I have already written, in fact just recently, about my visit this summer with my mate Steve. Many things have changed in my life but he never did. While we were visiting my wife and Steve’s wife, Susan, talked about those bad days so many years ago. Susan may be forgiven her tiny betrayal, if perhaps because it was a small sin done in kindness and compassion. Annette asked Susan if Steve ever talks about that time and she said, “Steve never talks about it and the one time he did say anything it was only, “She left us.”


“She left us”. It staggered me when I heard it. A friend so close that he felt the sting of betrayal as only family could, and took it personally. Far from being offended I was humbled. That’s loyalty. I realized, probably for the first time, that there were friends who suffered beside me, in spite of my feeling so very alone.


I can recall, with vivid detail, the faces of those who had told me they were the most faithful of friends. People who, when the going got tough, bailed because it was too messy. Steve wasn’t one of those people. I’m thinking of a few friends locally as well. A few friends in Alberta and Saskatchewan and other points much farther away. Friends who aren’t easily frightened by my fallenness and not shocked when I have failed.


“She left us”. Three small words that have changed my life. Again.




You’re Yelling Again



I don’t yell. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m fairly certain it was a dysfunctional coping mechanism.
Maybe it was because I had relatives that yelled and I repress such expressions as a response to that situation.
Maybe I’m just too shallow.
Maybe I just like it rough.

As a mental health professional I am, of course, horrible at analyzing my own stuff. I self-diagnose all the time. I’m just not that good at it.

I am one of those lucky people who gets to hear people yell on a regular basis. Some professions have it much worse, but I do get my share.

Yelling is an interesting psychological and sociological issue. I have watched spouses curl into the fetal position as a madman controls the situation and hurls verbal abuse. Notice the almost orgasmic effect that “letting off steam” has on the angry screamer. I have seen that horrible energy transferred to the victims as they get emotionally gut-punched. Long after the yell-er is satisfied the object of their derision still suffers. Yelling is a very selfish act.

There was a time when clinicians would tell the angry young man to go home and punch his heavy bag for an hour till he “worked it out of his system”. Today we realize that constantly giving in to that urge to ‘boil over’ only builds a dependence on purging yourself of emotion – a very poor model for impulse control. Such need has little to do with control and more to do with complete surrender. It is no wonder, than, that people have been known to even stop making sense when they are in the throes of an angry outburst. Anger can literally make you stupid. The effect is almost sexual.

Have you ever considered stopping?

Many people do not even realize that it is possible to go for years without yelling. Screaming is just “how our family is”. It is such a normal part of life that no one realizes how abusive it is. There are so many dysfunctional aspects to yelling that I literally do not have enough energy to fully define its ill effects right now. The act is so intrusive, so esteem crushing, so negative, so unloving, so socially acceptable. I am suggesting that we strip away the veneer and identify it for what it really issue – a lack of self-control.

If you are struggling with yelling, this is not intended to make you feel like garbage. Many, many, many of us struggle with this as well. Yelling is so ingrained in our culture that it is rarely even addressed anymore. We blandly accept that angry person without offering any accountability. Our children grow up believing this is an acceptable form of communication and… the circle of life.

If you struggle with this difficult problem talk to someone who can help. Read about it on the web, look up phrases like “cbt (cognitive behavioural therapy) and anger, or yelling, or impulse control. Find out what is behind that anger – after all, that is really the issue now, isn’t it?

Don’t give up. You can do this.


Reflections While On Holidays

I just left my lifelong friend’s house in Cochrane, Alberta. One truism about life is that friends come and go, mostly. I have been close friends with Steve Price for well over twenty years and we know each other well enough that there is nothing I can do to impress him or drive him away, no more games, no posturing necessary. Steve has seen me at my worst, and that is worse than most people know. I trust him because he has proven that old maxim, “Real friends walk in when everyone else is walking out.” I have a few other friends like Steve and you know who you are. I’ll write about you next time Dave so don`t stress.

The thing is, there are far fewer true friends in my life than I once believed. When I was a very public figure I thought there were many people who I was close to. That is the key statement, people who I felt close to. People who, because of my value system, I felt very loyal to. I was raised to believe that loyalty was everything. Then my life fell apart and when the dust cleared there were only a few friends who were willing to get messy. Again you know who you are. A few years ago I went camping with some of these friends and in spite of differing beliefs and priorities I didn’t have to worry about being judged. Real friends are like that. I have a few of these hardcore friends, both male and female where I live as well, though fewer than I once imagined.

A few years ago a very close buddy decided to call it quits on our friendship. At that time things in my life had begun to stabilize and he offered me no explanation as to why he was done. I still struggle to understand, though I know that during that period of my life I was probably difficult to be around. Being friends with me probably wore him down.That’s the best I can think of and I will probably never really know the complete answer. I have found some peace, as time goes by, in spite of the uncertainty. I have also tried to learn and grow from this difficult hurt.  It makes my relationships with those who have stuck around even more valuable.

As a counselor I know many lonely people who have no one like Steve. Messy and damaged people are difficult to love, sometimes. It is easy to talk the talk, as they say. It is another thing all together to walk the walk with angry, or hurting, or messy people. A true friend is a rare and precious thing.

I strive to be like Steve. He has never been as utterly pathetic as I once was but I like to think that wouldn’t matter. It’s easy to be a friend when things are going good. Loving  people when they are flawed is something else altogether.

I look back at the guy I was when my life was in the toilet and I feel sorry for him. He was a mess and undoubtedly difficult to be around. I do know implicitly that he needed people like Steve in order to survive and dig himself out of the hell he was in. He desperately needed friends  who didn’t moralize or lose patience. Friends who refused to quit.

Today Scott is the healthiest he has ever been. This is due, in no small part, to my family, a few amazing friends, and people like Steve. He is a rock that cannot be moved, cannot be scared off. My wife is like that. My family and especially my sons are like that. They know loyalty. Leaving was never an option.

From time to time one of my friends goes through difficult and sometimes very messy times. They will make stupid and short-sighted decisions. They will get in trouble sexually or morally. They will say and do things that will drive people away. It is in those times that I am challenged to be faithful. I am fortunate that for some reason it is no longer as difficult as it once was to stick around and I think I know why. I have seen loyalty modeled in my parents, in my family, in my friends. When I am tempted to walk away I am reminded that my job is to be loyal, and loyalty costs.

I owe a debt that can only be repaid through actions, not words.

Thanks Steve, I love you.

All The Credit you Deserve

This morning my youngest was playing with an iPad. Well, I’ll let him take it from here…

So I’m on this iPad and it needs flash player to play videos, I go to get flash player and you need flash player to get flash player, so I need flash player to get flash player because I need flash player to get flash player.

Reminds me of a comedy sketch I once saw about getting financial credit. You go to the bank and ask for credit. “I’m sorry”, you are told, “You can’t get credit because you don’t have any credit history”. “How do I get credit if I don’t have credit”, you ask. Again you are told that you cannot have credit until you have credit. It’s a philosophical and moronic loop.

Life is kind of like that. I love this little story from an anonymous source:

“Sir, What is the secret of your success?” a reporter asked a bank president.
“Two words.”
“And, sir, what are they?”
“Good decisions”
“And how do you make good decisions?”
“One word.”
“And sir, what is that?”
“And how do you get Experience?”
“Two words.”
“And, sir, what are they?”
“Bad decisions.”

There is a vast difference between wisdom and knowledge. Wisdom takes years, knowledge takes education. Some of the dumbest people I have ever met have PhD’s. Unfortunately learning the meanings of life takes pain and time. Ignorance is easy to find, understanding is hard.

“Bad things do happen; how I respond to them defines my character and the quality of my life. I can choose to sit in perpetual sadness, immobilized by the gravity of my loss, or I can choose to rise from the pain and treasure the most precious gift I have – life itself.
Walter Anderson

Shooting Their Wounded

Pastor Ted

I was intrigued by a friend’s Facebook recommendation so late last night found myself on a Documentary website watching a very personal biography on Ted Haggard, disgraced evangelical super pastor. Twenty minutes into the documentary I realized I was feeling sorry for the guy. Let me explain.

I have very little pity for self-made rich hypocrites. Like most of you I get a sick delight when I hear that Donald Trump or Conrad Black has gotten themselves into something dicey. I love listening to religious bigots like Mark Driscoll make an ass of themselves. So why do I feel sorry for Mr. Clean, Ted Haggard?

Haggard didn’t even say he was “100% heterosexual” but was held accountable for it anyway. He couldn’t find a regular job after he got canned and when he did start selling insurance door-to-door he still could not escape his notoriety. As part of his separation package he wasn’t even allowed to live in Colorado in the family home for over a year and a half. Christians lined up to lambast him. He had no savings and was actually becoming poor. Watching this man have the pride kicked out of him was actually sad to watch. Worse still was the complete and utter free fall his life spun into.

It’s no wonder he started another small church. He only has one skill set and not many people want to hire someone with a religious degree and nothing else on the resume except “mega church superstar”. Even Ted Haggard has to eat.

Don’t misunderstand me, Ted was responsible to live a life in keeping with his elevated viewpoints and standing. He was, after all, the mouthpiece of evangelicalism for many and had the ear of the president. He hid his lifestyle choice and paid the price. The question we need to ask is, however, why did he have to hide? I fully understand that he could not “come out” to his congregation without staggering financial and spiritual ramifications. I get that. What is disturbing is that Haggard had NO ONE he could be honest with, no one he could tell without being prematurely outed and shamed. There was no mechanism in place for him to be honest without some dire consequence. I love what someone has written under the Youtube of “The Trials Of Ted Haggard” –

The message of the documentary is also a concise indictment of the distinct lack of care for the “unrighteous” demonstrated by Ted’s brand of Christianity and should be broadcast in fundamentalist evangelical churches as a moral lesson their bible apparently fails to teach them.

The point I guess is not necessarily the failure of fundamentalist Christians to walk their walk…it is that the walk itself is fundamentally flawed – the literal acceptance of implausible and unnatural moral standards fill otherwise rational minds with a twisted legacy of ancient prejudice and conceit, the only consolation being the relativists dream of escaping such an “objective morality” via grace. The situation is ludicrous. Of course you require grace to be saved ( from something??) because if the standards you set for yourself were not broken everyone would be absolutely miserable, which also explains why they are so frequently broken.

To not put too fine a point on it the problem with Ted Haggard is not simply Ted Haggard. The system propagates the notions that pastors cannot, must not, be honest about their own fallibility. I have known hundreds of pastors and I can tell you straight up, they are a fallible lot. The pressure to be “everything to everyone” is overpowering and it is no wonder than that so many clergy have “secret sins” that they are afraid to be honest with anyone about.

I spent some time, recently, talking to a man who had been a volunteer youth pastor in a church and went on to be convicted of child molestation. We talked about his journey and it became immediately evident that this person felt that there was no one, not even me, that he could talk to about his heinous problem. He was so incredibly shamed by his own religious rigidity that he could not even admit to himself, let alone others, that he liked young males. There was no mechanism in place to help him battle his urges or make good decisions. His shame and his guilt, combined with his aberrant behaviour actually served to prolong his crimes. I spoke to one associate minister who told me that after telling his senior pastor he was struggling with his sexuality (and hadn’t done anything “wrong”) he was told to get out of the office while that senior pastor called the board to tell them. The associate was soon unemployed.

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

It’s just another job. Expecting your clergy to be any better than you is unrealistic and profoundly erroneous. The real tragedy with the Ted Haggard story, the Jimmy Swaggart story, Jim Bakker, etc is that we are still surprised at all. Throw millions of dollars at a guy who has little accountability and buckets of power and influence and then freak out when he makes poor decisions. It’s akin to being surprised with Justin Bieber does something stupid. He’s a dumb kid with millions of dollars and cars of “yes” men and women. Why are we shocked?

The only difference between Haggard and so many others is that he got caught.

Who can clergy be honest with? They have copious evidence to support the assumption that their parishioners believe they are more understanding than they in fact appear to be.

Leadership is lonely. Trying to live up to impossible standards while trying to make a difference must be tough. Doing all that with a good sense of self-esteem and balance seems almost impossible. As I have often heard, “it’s the easiest job in the world that will totally break your heart.”

Have fun with that.

This Stuff Almost Writes Itself…

Originally from The Huffington Post:

Pat Robertson is an idiot…

Responding to a question from a viewer, Robertson said that married men “have a tendency to wander” and it is the spurned wife’s job to focus on the positive and make sure the home is so enticing, he doesn’t want to stray.

“I’ve been trying to forgive my husband for cheating on me,” the viewer writes. “We have gone to counseling, but I just can’t seem to forgive, nor can I trust. How do you let go of the anger? How do you trust again?”

While Robertson’s co-host hedged on the question, calling forgiveness “difficult” and spousal infidelity “one of the ultimate betrayals,” Robertson got right to the point.

“Here’s the secret,” the famous evangelical said. “Stop talking the cheating. He cheated on you, well, he’s a man.”

The wife needs to focus on the reasons she married her spouse, he continued.

“Does he provide a home for you to live in,” Robertson said. ‘Does he provide food for you to eat? Does he provide clothes for you to wear? Is he nice to the children… Is he handsome?”

Robertson also offered a little advice on the “tendency of man.”

“Recognize also, like it or not, males have a tendency to wander a little bit,” Robertson said. “What you want to do is make a home so wonderful that he doesn’t want to wander” or give in to the “salacious” magazine pictures and Internet filled with porn.

In January, Robertson told viewers that “awful-looking” women can cause marriages to lose their spark.

Loyalty Is Hard

Most of us can count on one hand the number of authentic, lifelong friendships we have. We would like to believe our friends at work and play are deep and meaningful but we know, because it has happened before, that after we leave we will gradually lose contact with people we have cared about. This is a natural, even healthy part of life. Friends come and go, the circle of life.

We have all been hurt by someone who said they would always be there for us. Perhaps we were more invested than they were, we made assumptions and believed that the other person cared as much as we did, but we were wrong. I too have been blindsided, more than once, by someone I loved with abandon only to find out that they had completely different feelings and assumptions.

Every day I counsel people who have been damaged by someone they loved. It helps, perhaps, that I have experienced a little bit of that pain and know at least something of what it is to ‘endure’. People disappoint and rare is the friend who you cannot shake, cannot offend enough to leave. I aspire to be someone like that, as many of us do.

In his book, You Can Make A Difference, Tony Campolo tells the true story of two men who were traveling together on a train out of Victoria Station in London. Twenty minutes into their journey, one of the men had an epileptic seizure and if you’ve ever seen this happen they you know how frightening such an attack can be. The man stiffened and fell heavily out of his seat onto the floor of the train. When this happened his friend immediately took off his own jacket, rolled it up, and put it behind the stricken man’s head. Then he blotted the beads of perspiration from his brow with his handkerchief and talked to him in a quiet manner to calm him down. A few minutes later when the seizure was over, he helped lift his friend gently back into his seat. Then he turned to the man sitting across from them and said, “Mister, please forgive us. Sometimes this happens two or three times a day”. And then, in the conversation that ensued, the friend of the epileptic explained. “My buddy and I here were in Vietnam together, and we were both wounded in the same battle. I had bullets in both my legs and he caught one in his shoulder. For some reason the helicopter that was supposed to come for us never came to pick us up. My friend here picked me up and he carried me for three and a half days out of that jungle. The Viet Cong were sniping at us the whole way.

Understand, he was in more agony than I was. Repeatedly I begged him to drop me and save himself, but he wouldn’t let me go. He got me out of that jungle, mister. He saved my life. I don’t know HOW he did it and I don’t know WHY he did it…but he did. Well, four years ago, I found out that he had this epileptic condition, so I sold my house in New York, took what money I had, and came over here to take care of him”.
Then he looked at his friend and said,
“You see, mister, after what he did for me, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for him.”


Real love is like that. When you truly love someone, not just think you do, but love them with every part of yourself there is nothing they can do to drive you away. I love my family like that. There is nothing my children could do, no crime or indignity they would commit, that would make me love them less. I’m reasonably sure you can understand what I am saying. Friendship, however, is not held together with blood. There is no legal contract, no external pressure forcing you to care. Friendship is about loyalty.


I do not hear much about loyalty, outside of movies and documentaries about the mafia.

Trust, faithfulness, sacrificial love, unselfishness, commitment –  character traits that are not automatic or easy to assimilate. Loyalty is inconvenient, it is costly. It walks in, as they say, when everyone else is walking out. It’s easy to talk the talk, make promises, spew platitudes; but it is another thing altogether to walk the walk. Loyalty shows up at three in the morning and holds your head when you throw up. Loyalty doesn’t keep track of slights or demand tit-for-tat.

Loyalty is hard.

Cruising The Pacific With My Dad

grand_princess_tony_rive_2_470x352I’m on vacation with my dad this next week or two. He’s led an amazing life and we are spending time, between pina coladas and trips to the mainland, working on his memoirs. He’s big into cruises and so we are spending time in the sun together.

As I write this it is still Thursday and the trip is still in the future. I am unsure how it will all shake out but I am fairly certain it will be an enjoyable time with my dad, laughing and talking and reliving a lifetime of memories. This in itself will probably turn into part of the story, part of the adventure.

For me, life has always been about stories. I do a great deal of public speaking and no one tends to remember the amazing insights I have trolled the internet and my library. Tell a good story, however, and people remember it forever. When I have occasion to listen to other speakers, or go to church, I am constantly surprised by how few good stories I hear. For some reason orators have a tendency to believe that I am there to glean information. While this may be true in principle, it is the stories I remember. Perhaps this is one of the reasons people tend to go to church less than they once did, the world has become about sound bytes and tweets and updates and the religious community is still convinced that forty-five minute monologues are sacred and unchangeable. And let’s be honest, most sermonizers I know are only moderately interesting or talented to begin with. There are not many Churchills, or Martin Luther Kings, or Campolos out there.

My father, however, has a lifetime of good stories. Stories too amusing or insightful to let die. In spite of appearing caucasian now, he was actually born a “poor black child”, literally. His mother had a kidney infection and he came out of the womb black as night. He grew up as an orphan, his father died soon after his birth, falling from a skyscraper a few days before he took a different job. His mother died when he was eleven and he wasn’t allowed to see her in the hospital for the six months before she passed because of some asinine policy. A nurse managed to sneak him in on one occasion only.

My dad quit high school to join the air force. After telling an officer to politely “go to hell” he was assured that he would never be promoted beyond corporal. He retired at the highest rank available, in charge of the ground forces at his european base, then the last man to turn out the lights when his last base closed. In the meantime he received the military equivalent of the Order Of Canada for a myriad of reasons. He did alright for an orphan high school drop-out. He is a hero to his grandchildren and pretty tops in my books as well.

I wonder, sometimes, what kind of legacy I will leave when I shuffle off this mortal plain. I hope they will be able to say of me, “at least he tried”.