If You Are Successful You Can Do Whatever The Hell You Want

579281_10151511787388258_450744459_nTiger Woods is on top again. In honor of his recent success, Nike, who never dropped Tiger as a sponsor in spite of his foibles, has launched a new advertising campaign strategically called Winning Takes Care Of Everything. Apparently it doesn’t really matter if you are an adulterous letch as long as you can hit a little white ball into a hole better than anyone else in tacky pants and spiked shoes.

When you consider how young the potential audience is for such an ad, how many children idolize Tiger or want to get a new pair of Nikes, it is singularly irresponsible, even immoral, for a company that has made its billions off the backs of the general populace, to blatantly try to convince us that adultery is fine, ruining the lives of innocents is just peachy, as long as you make a comeback.

The Criticism of Celebrity Rehab

Celebrity Rehab with Dr. DrewAre we still so naive that we assume television is actually like real life? Do people still believe shows like Celebrity RehabIntervention and Extreme Makeover, Home Edition have anything to do with reality? Is there really a Rembrandt hidden in that abandoned storage locker? Unfortunately the recent suicide of Celebrity Rehab star Mindy McCready has served to illustrate the problem with glib culture and our fascination with star-studded solutions to important issues.

The sad part of the story, that few seem to be talking about, is the unbelievable fact that some of the pseudo washed up stars undoubtedly believed that by going to a reality show to deal with chronic addiction issues they would receive quality help with their problems. Apparently they have been living in Glitterland for so long they think that it is possible to be authentic with cameras rolling and an audience. Imagine the shock on the faces of the winners of Extreme Makeover when they find out their taxes have gone up ten-fold and they can’t afford to pay the utilities on their new million dollar mansion. Reality’s a bitch. Cracked.com has an excellent expose on the reality behind the reality shows here.

Going to rehab, or treatment, or whatever you wish to label it, is a daunting enough thought without a television audience critiquing and criticizing. The work necessary to deal with and overcome a serious addiction takes years, not twelve episodes. Believing that a televised intervention or an hour with Dr. Drew will make any substantive difference is ridiculous. In the real world there is not a limo to take you to a treatment center after the family reduces you to tears and shows you the golden path to success. I have been involved with dozens, even hundreds, of family meetings with addicts and things simply do not go the way they do on television. There is much more yelling and far less contrition. Even if you could get a commitment for treatment there is often a six-week to two-month waiting list to get in. Even Detox can take a few weeks. Welcome to the real world. Adding in the cameras and the lights and the looming audience is a sure-fire recipe for disaster. How can anyone hope to heal with the cameras running? This does not even take into account the skewed life experiences of media celebrities who have little or no experience with real life and are ill-equipped to handle even the most mundane hardships.

Mindy McCready (album)

So why are we surprised then that five people, at last count, have died following a stint on Celebrity Rehab? Mindy McCready serves as a sad reminder that many of us are tempted to take short cuts and are not realistic about the true cost of dealing with our mental health. Real therapy is gut-wrenching and should not be on display for the general audience. I feel bad for Mindy and others who have been sold a lie, dressed up as a photo-op. Wholeness comes from confronting our demons, usually one at a time, and wrestling them into submission. There are no shortcuts to wholeness.

Maybe it was Dr. Drew himself who gave us the last, best word on the subject – “Mental health issues can be life threatening and need to be treated with the same intensity and resources as any other dangerous potentially life threatening medical condition. Treatment is effective. If someone you know is suffering please be sure he or she gets help and maintains treatment.”

Chasing Tornadoes

i_believe_in_chasing_tornadoes_round_stickers-p217161373895334849en7l1_216One day, while living in Denver, Colorado, we heard that there was a tornado brewing in our area. This may seem like a big deal to you if you live somewhere else, but in Colorado tornadoes are a fact of life. I witnessed dozens of funnel clouds every year and often they would touch down, usually in a trailer park. God hates trailer parks. It’s not bad enough that you live in a home that can burn to ashes in four minutes. For some reason God has this habit of skipping houses with minivans and spanking the trailer folk.

Back to the true story. My wife is listening to the radio and she hears about this tornado heading right towards our neighborhood and she starts to get nervous, especially since my dad and I had gone for milk almost an hour ago and hadn’t gotten back. She started putting two and two together and started to shake her head and think to herself…. “they wouldn’t!”

Ok so my dad and I are cruising home from the Quickie Mart and we turn on the radio and we hear about this tornado heading right towards our neighborhood. We start to get excited. We had never seen a tornado from like, real close, and thought it would be cool to go looking for it. Actually it was my dad’s idea so that explains a lot about the kind of upbringing I had.

So here are two stupid Canadians in a Dodge Colt driving towards the tornado. We’re passing vans and cars and your basic fleeing mob going the other way. It was awesome, there was no traffic in our lane.

How close can you get to a tornado? It turns out you can get very close indeed. Fifty feet if you are stupid enough, or so I’ve heard. I blame my father. What kind of parent would let someone like me chase tornadoes?

The moral of the story is, Canadians are idiots. No, wait, that’s not it. The moral of the story is – it seemed like a good idea at the time. In retrospect, although it was still very cool, we were flirting with disaster.

At the time we believed we knew what we were doing.
At the time we thought we knew the score.
At the time.

When I was struggling with dark depression, at the time I felt I was making the best decisions for my future. At the time.

When I was lonely and horny and had no one to hold, at the time I thought I was making the right decisions for my life. At the time.

When you are struggling with mental health issues and chronic pain and fatigue and loneliness and stress and financial problems it is tempting to make decisions that feel right… at the time. Unfortunately few decisions that are made when we are at our worst turn out for our best. At these times most of us have lost our objectivity and the pain has sapped us of our motivation to do what is difficult. Very often what seems “like a good idea at the time” is in fact very detrimental to our future lives and we are unable to see it. In these moments we need to be very willing to accept the advice of those who love us and can see things more objectively. I have failed to take such at advice on occasion and have usually come to regret it.

Here are a few examples to leave you with:
listen1. When you are infatuated with your new romantic interest you probably do not see the whole picture; understand that you are not qualified to make long-term decisions at that moment.
2. When you are in love and people are screaming at you that your lover has big problems you need to listen to them because you are not being objective.
3. When you are depressed you will not make good decisions. Yes I mean you.
4. If you are at a vulnerable, hurting, or damaged place in your life if it feels good than chances are you shouldn’t do it.
5. Good advice rarely sounds good when you are in pain.
6. When you are struggling, depressed, or hurting, your inner voice will tell you to do things that are selfish, destructive, and short-sighted. Don’t listen to that voice.
7. If you think no one understands what you are going through you are probably right. Talk to someone.
8. Real change takes a ton of time and effort. Get-fixed-quick schemes don’t work in the long run. Ever.
9. Most of your friends are not qualified to give you advice. Remember that.
10. Get off the couch. Get out of bed. Open the curtains.
11. You will fail. Failure is an important part of getting better.
12. Ninety percent of success is just showing up, even when you don’t feel like it.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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

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.

It’s Not About Success

i climbed that

Some time ago my family was rock climbing just south of the border. We were having a great time when a teenager and his girlfriend stopped to watch and make conversation. As they stood and watched my eleven year old attack the rock face the guy began commenting loudly as to his performance, skill and faults. He started critiquing everything; criticizing my son while at the same time bragging about his rock climbing prowess. He faulted my kid for using a harness and rope (only beginners needed the security of a rope). He explained in great detail how my child was taking the easy route whereas he would only go up the hardest possible course. This went on for some time until I turned to him and said, “I hear you doing a lot of talking, how about doing some climbing?”

Suddenly I was barraged with a steady stream of excuses. He didn’t want to get sweaty; he hadn’t brought the proper footwear; he wasn’t sure he had the time; blah, blah, blah. Being the compassionate, mature person that I am, I turned to him and said, “What’s the matter, you chicken?”

You can look like the greatest climber in the world, own the best equipment, have an expert harness and shoes, but until you get your butt off the ground you’re just a spectator.

Many people have that approach to life. Sam Malone (from the sitcom Cheers) summed it up for us when he said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, its how good you look while you’re doing it.” It’s all about appearances. It’s all about looking good, smelling good and acting good.

There is something wrong with that, and it’s bigger than just an issue with climbing rocks. In counseling I see it all the time. People want the appearance of change but are not willing to pay the price for it. They are still looking for the magic pill.

Let me be honest with you. If you have complex emotional or psychological issues you cannot be fixed in eight sessions. You should be able to see marked improvement but you have taken years, even decades, to get where you are. One session of EFT or EMDR is probably not going to sort you out. The best cognitive behavioural therapist in the world can’t “fix” you in a few sessions. Anyone who tells you differently is selling something. Seriously. Real growth is built on things like perseverance and failure. That’s right, failure. Ask anyone who has battled a serious addiction problem. Most of us quit dozens of times before it took. If that wasn’t your experience than count your blessings.

Overcoming depression, anxiety, trauma, etc. is usually built on a series of failures. You tried to get up early today and you couldn’t do it. You try again tomorrow and probably screw that up to. So you keep trying.

It’s not about success, it’s about momentum. When you are dealing with depression or anxiety, ptsd or bpd, it’s not all about one good day, or one great win. Good things come to those who keep showing up.

Thomas Edison and his early phonograph. Croppe...

History is replete with illustrations to prove this. It’s Edison’s anecdotal story of saying that he found hundreds of ways to not make a lightbulb. It’s the single parent who gets up one more day and does what is right. It’s the student that, in spite of hardship and pain, keeps showing up to school. Momentum is that person who fights and fails and gets up one more time. It’s that definition of success which says, “falls down seven times, gets up eight.

As the saying goes – ninety percent of success in life is just showing up.

Guest Blogger – My Dad on Death and Dying

My dad was an orphan whose father fell off a skyscraper a few days before switching jobs. Howie was one year old. His mother died when he was eleven, after being hospitalized for over six months. Dad was not allowed to see her because of hospital policy. He lived for a time with his older brother and sister-in-law, but grew up on the streets. He worked to provide for himself since he was an adolescent and eventually joined the military. Growing up my dad never had only one job. I remember vividly how he would come home from the Air Force and change uniforms to go work at the Liquor Store, then later somewhere else. He was not content to stay poor and raised us in a middle-class family. He has never complained about his life.

This is his blog post:

Have you ever been emotionally stressed or disturbed about how other people provided an unhealthy influence about death and dying and it’s effect on you?

To share thoughts on such an a topic as this is a little dangerous. The subject touches on influences inherited from family upbringing, relationships, personal theological beliefs, and what you have or have not been taught.

Also in a day when it is no longer fashionable to share personal feelings which might offend anyone there is no easy solution. If you have such a topic to write about, however, then you must disregard opinion and be honest with yourself and the reader.

First I want to share my thoughts on “death” and specifically “funerals”, then finish I will finish off by sharing my thoughts on “dying”.

My grandparents were “old school – don’t let anyone know your personal affairs, children should be seen and not heard, and don’t ever read a newspaper on Sunday, as it is the Sabbath” types.

On Death-

When it comes to death I believe it is a time of transition for the person dying and the loved ones left behind. For a person of faith some people, myself included, feel it is a graduation to a higher realm in heaven. For the agnostic or atheist it depends on the individual. On earth it is a time when a former life can turn into a legacy to be cherished by loved ones……or sadly in a lot of cases mean nothing.

Funerals is when it gets complicated. I really thought, and I still do think, that my relatives ideas for funerals was sick, inconsiderate, and almost retarded, when there were grieving children left behind. Tradition and “we’ve always done it this way”  reasoning sometimes are a curse when it comes to planning funerals Of course children have no say in what transpires at a funeral because no one puts themselves in the child’s place or family tradition rules.

This is where I apologize in advance if I am offending anyone  when I say that

The controversial tradition of having to have an open coffin for funerals is barbaric. It is thoughtless and can be very traumatizing and have lifetime psychological effects, especially on a child. I speak from experience. This was the case in both my wife as a little girl of 11, losing a grandmother, and in my situation as a child of 11 losing my widowed mother. My wife has several times shared her deepest feelings on this, and to discuss them with me again 61 years later still bothers her because her memories of grandma are as a cold corpse in a coffin, not a loving grandmother.

In my own life my memories of many nights at a funeral viewing and a lengthy funeral where I was seated 10 feet from my mothers open casket left indelible scars on my memory. I am still get bothered by this over sixty years later. It was one thing to suffer from viewing a cold grey corpse but the tradition of having to kiss the corpse sent shudders up my spine when I had to do this. Family tradition be damned…I will never subject my loved ones to remember me as a cold grey pasty corpse. I have already told my older brother, who was my guardian, that  I will not participate in this tradition when he passes on and he totally understands, however his wife simply must follow tradition.

For me I want people to remember a smiling, youthful, mischievous, old person who enjoyed life to the fullest, loved taking risks, and believed family was everything.

I also do not want my loved ones to inherit an administrative nightmare as my brother and I did by my mother letting a friend be executor and a relative being her lawyer. This was a recipe for disaster. Being only 11 when mom died the estate had to be put on hold with the Provincial Supreme Court until I was 21 years old. Over the ten years the Executor friend, the relative lawyer, and the Supreme Court, literally financially raped our estate of 75 % of the value.

My wife and I have good wills – a living one , and a dying one. Both my wife and my funeral arrangements are paid for. I have ensured a trust company and my oldest son be co-executors. Believe it or not, and a lot of people won’t believe it, it’s cheaper that way than having Uncle Charlie or whomever take care of everything (who as Executor legally is entitled to 3% of your estate ) even though they do not have the skill or experience. It can, in fact, be substantially more expensive to have a relative assigned.

People do not realize the mammoth amount of succession laws and tax implications there are to deal with. An executor who is ignorant of this can cost your loved ones extra heartaches and money. If some children have loans from parents which are unpaid this can cause stress among siblings if no one like a professional trust executor (who gets paid the same as Uncle Charlie) is handling the finances. Nothing causes problems, divisions, and hard feelings more than inheritance money mismanaged.

As far as my attitude about the act of dying——–I would hope my heavenly Maker would tend to agree with me when I say I have a good relationship with Him. After providing several miracles in my life, two involving almost certain death I know he knows my name. I am not afraid of dying and I have a contentment about after my death, however I really don’t want to rush the experience or suffer. The only grief I have about leaving this world is the effect on loved ones.

As a guy who likes white water canoeing, roller-coasters, and who believes that age is just a number I would finish by saying I have had a blessed life and it has been a wonderful ride.

Weekend Musings – There Are Victims And Then There Are Victims

“A benchmark of emotional management and responsibility is the realization that our past can no longer be blamed for our actions in the present.“
Doc Childe and Howard Martin

Every day I work with people who are victims, real or imagined. They grew up in a bad home, someone has rejected them, the white man has dragged them down, people have taken advantage of them, they have been abused, raped, abandoned, the list is endless. There is no shortage of people to blame.

Usually the client or person I am talking to has legitimate issues. They are dealing with things that most people can barely imagine. They are trying, the best they know how, to find some anchor in a life that has been beyond their control. Many patients I have spoken with have gone through horror stories and are endeavouring to move forward. They are the reason I get up in the morning and go to work excited. They are my heroes.

Others are looking for something to pin their pain on. They cannot see any personal responsibility, they will not own their own complicity. They sit and we talk and it is always someone else’s fault. Often they have legitimate complaints but they wear their victimization like a crown and filter everything through with a pre-disposed diagnosis. This week I met with a young man who told me that the reason he could not pass in school was because generations ago people oppressed him. I reminded him that he was not in fact alive a couple hundred years ago and though he has had to suffer historic abuse and that has undoubtedly profoundly affected his life, perhaps the reasons he is failing in school have more to do with the fact that he is skipping and spending his considerable income on crack. He called me a bigot.

I come from generations of alcoholics and the pragmatically poor. My dad was an orphan whose father fell from a skyscraper during his last week of work before going to a new job. His mother died when he was 12. He completed grade 9 in school. He had no social safety net, no social worker looking out for him, no strong family to provide for him, no one to blame. So he didn’t.

Years later my father would stand before the Governor General of Canada and receive the military equivalent of the Order of Canada, our highest civilian honor. He had, in fact, finally finished his high school equivalency in his forties. He had worked his butt off to make something of a shunted life. He is my son’s hero. Wednesday he will be our guest blogger.

Every now and again I will have occasion to feel sorry for myself. Maybe things aren’t going smoothly or my friends have nicer houses or boats. Sometimes I wish I had a family with money and a house on a lake. But then I remember how fortunate I am to come from a heritage that simply would not give up.

As i sit here writing this it just hit me, I have never heard my dad complain about his lot in life. Ever.
Wow.

“People spend too much time finding other people to blame, too much energy finding excuses for not being what they are capable of being, and not enough energy putting themselves on the line, growing out of the past, and getting on with their lives.”
J. Michael Straczynski

 

Casual Fridays – Lessons From Life

Ford Fairlane photographed in College Park, Ma...

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~ James Baldwin

I did not really grow up in a strictly religious home. My grandparents were alcoholics and they taught me different lessons than you would probably learn at “Johnny Church Member’s” grandmother’s house. By the age of eight or nine I knew how to play Bridge, Texas Holdem, Blackjack, Craps, 21, 31, 333, Follow The Queen, Stud, Baseball, Woolworths, and various other derivations of many poker games. I learned that you had to be at least thirteen before you can sneak beer from the basement. I learned that everyone drank, that only certain types of beer, always Canadian beer, did not taste like “panther piss”. I also learned that children didn’t matter. I learned that mouthy little kids like me were to be “seen and not heard”. I learned that drunkenness was a daily thing, not a special holiday activity. I learned how to swear. To this day I can pack more empties in the trunk of a Ford Fairlane than anyone I know.

My grandmother was a poor gambler but didn’t know it. She thought she was an excellent player and indeed seemed to be so to an eight-year-old child. She understood the fundamentals of the game and would beat me every time we played. She would usually take my allowance. It was a very tender family.

By the time I was eleven or twelve, however, I began to win. Eventually two things dawned on me: First, she wasn’t that good. Second, she had taken a great deal of my boyhood money and it was time for her to go down. Somehow I convinced her that we should play for higher stakes and I began the carnage. Slowly, relentlessly, I drove her into the ground.

I looked at my grandmother. This was the person who had taught me how to play. She was the woman who had raised my mother. She was an old lady on a pension, and I took her for everything in her account. At eleven years of age I damaged her financially. I watched her sign a cheque in defeat. It was for hundreds of dollars. Did I feel guilty?

I remember thinking at the time, “this is the greatest day of my life”.

As I look back I wonder why I did not feel any remorse. My grandmother was not a nice person. She did not know how to express love, and one could argue she felt little as well. She was a bitter, angry little alcoholic who would later disown me because I won an argument, and not even an important one. When she found out I was engaged she commented, “I don’t know the woman but she must be a slut to marry him.”

I learned a great deal from my grandmother. I learned that family is not that important. I learned that it is easy to lie to cover up addiction, that beer was consumed before lunch for ‘medicinal’ reasons. I learned that bitterness worked. I learned that I didn’t matter. I learned that love was conditional.

As I ponder that part of my life, and the subsequent apathy I felt when she died, I realize that I, on occasion, feel ripped off. I did not have grandparents that I could love and cherish. My father was an orphan. The grandparents I had were not nice people.

I look at the grandparents that my children have and I’m thankful for all four of them. They each have brought something unique and wonderful to the table. My children love them all dearly. When the boy’s papa died last year I was saddened and thankful for his life and his legacy. I am jealous of the relationship my sons still have with their remaining grandpa and grandmothers.

And thankful. Very very thankful.

p.s. – next Wednesday my father will be joining us as our weekly guest blogger!

Entitlement – What The Hell Is Wrong With Us?

ENTITLEMENTCTV News released the new figures on consumer debt in Canada yesterday. In the report the writer points out that in the past five years, debt loads have increased 400 per cent more than the rate of inflation. “Debt’s outpacing us and continues to outpace us, so at some point in time there’s going to be a reconciliation,” Higgins said.

Entitlement

It is a word we are all familiar with. An epidemic of our own making. At least in North America we have spawned the most coddled generation ever known, and they are demanding Smart Phones and iPads and texting plans. Turn on the television and you can watch twenty-somethings argue that the new house they are contemplating buying does not have granite counter tops or ten-foot ceilings. Couples think nothing of spending thousands in credit on vacations they have not worked for. There is a pervading sense of entitlement, that we have somehow earned a lavish lifestyle built on credit payments.

The deeper issue here may just be an ingrained selfishness, combined with an unrealistic expectation of life. We assume we are going to have money and credit companies keep trying to prove us right. I have patients in their early twenties who are $60-70,000 in debt with little or nothing to show for it. This is consumer debt, usually at 19% interest or worse.

And it is not just the teens who are feeling the need for greed and self-indulgence. It is little wonder that my fifteen year old feels abused by life because he does not have an iPhone. His friend’s parents apparently have unlimited access to funds, in spite of the fact that they are single parents with multiple credit cards. Matt’s buddies have extensive and expensive phone plans with unlimited data. These kids feel hard done by if their parents do not pay for their $50/week paintball addiction or do not give them rides wherever they want and whenever they want. These same teens insist their parents buy them cars and trucks while they are still in their teens… and they usually get them. What the hell is wrong with us? Are we so guilt-laden from our divorce? So afraid of our children missing out? Are we so insecure that we need our child’s approval, or so desperate to be cool that we are willing to sell out a fundamental tenet of good parenting?

We are the problem.

I routinely ask my clients to watch shoes like Til Debt Do Us Part or Princess, both with the same host. While I would never tell a client to watch Dr. Phil or Oprah, I am convinced that Gail helps people deal with the reality of debt and financial bondage. The problem is, however, that the issue is actually a psychological and emotional issue as much as it is a financial one. What is it about us that we believe we are entitled to trips and toys and two hundred-dollar haircuts, handbags worth thousands and weekly trips to the spa?

And let’s be honest, reality television is not helping – rich, arrogant, young and beautiful people who have been surgically enhanced flaunting their money and low IQ’s so that our children can learn that they deserve the best and should dedicate their lives to things that do not matter.

Christmas is coming and the urge to spend what we do not have to impress our children and friends can be overwhelming. Commercials push and prod with amazing tenacity and we are all tempted to spend more than we budget. What are we hoping to accomplish? Do we realize the message we continue to send to our family when we indulge in such technological hedonism with little regard to the psychological ramifications of what we are preaching?

The issue is not neutral, but profound and important. I cannot help but feeling that we have sold our souls for a stupid phone.

Guest Blogger – Self Harm/Cutting Part 1

This week our guest is Sarah. Check her out! this is the first instalment of a three or four-part journey into self harm, cutting, mutilation, etc.

Part One is called “Down The Rabbit Hole”

“Hey…Uhm, this is sort of an awkward question.” “Shoot.” – “Did your father really die?” “Yes, why?” “Because you seem so happy…”

People often think death is the catalyst for even the most introverted to break down and finally feel that it is OK to not be OK. The little girl in this story did not learn this lesson yet, struck in the summer of grade 5, she returned to school like all her peers and continued being happy because why shouldn’t she be, what is death? Death is going to a solemn ceremony where they paid respect to a cold carcass.

Death is cold. So people act like death is contagious. She touched him because he had been warm on the hospital bed while they manually pumped air into his lungs, but this time he was not her father, she did not know who her mother was softly caressing. For the longest time the little girl would look back in hindsight and regret most, not her bratty attitude while he had been alive, not even his absences during the most part of her life, but that she had irrevocably ran out of tears during his final service. Of the most dominant memory from that entire blur, had been the instinctive and almost desperate will to demand yourself to blast the water works right alongside your mother and sister. She had been faking.

It is OK that the little girl did not understand death. She went on with life.

She met a boy in grade 8, like any other freshman high school-er she was head over heels and walked on faerie dusts. 3 months it took for her to defeat every moral she might have taken had she even foresaw this event coming. She did sexual favors for him – felt like the most grown and sensual teenager out there, got dumped, and then threatened to be blackmailed. She moved. A fortune of coincidence, and convinced herself that she will remake herself, she will not have any sexual intercourse until the age of 18. In this smaller, secluded area, she met another boy, whom for the first time she thought she could describe as love.

But love for her had always been a damned thing and she left when his mother stormed upon her doorstep during the summer of grade 9 and insinuated in front of her entire family that she is a whore. As of now, she probably doesn’t blame her. The girl might even add that she bravos this woman for having the prescient sight, and only briefly hopes that they had been on better terms for the message to come across better. But it hadn’t. So after 9 months of separation, where she lost him, her best friend to him, and proceedingly all her fellow peers because, alas, she cried.

So she went under the knife. 2 months, back together – Sex; Unprotected, then ignored, and eventually dumped in front of his pastor. She thought ‘What a disgusting person I am.’

See, people had always historically viewed self-harm as almost the most emotionally imbalanced act where you are not quite sane and most of the time plagued as the depressed and literally almost always ostracized despite good intentions. The girl does not blame them; it is only human to not want to reside with someone who does not even put in the effort to converse. She is not fun to be around, she was the happy one. And when the smiles are gone, the party dies, and laughter suffocates, eyes are bleak and unaware of the world around them.

It was after the exhausting night. The fight remained inside the girl, she hated her. Hated that woman to openly offend her, proclaim to her entire family that she is undisciplined. Who is she, nothing but a scumbag aunt who owed her family sixty thousand dollars, with the nerve to even fuck things up now that he was gone. It was her birthday night. Inevitably, her mother asked her to sit at the small dining table. It was one in the morning. The girl obliged. But the woman who regarded her had not been what she had expected. It was definitely not pride, not humor, not anything else but exasperation.

And something inside the girl hit a core. Perhaps selfishly, she thought ‘How could you. How could you look at me that way and not even bother to defend me. You are my mom – you’re supposed to be there for me.’ She cried despite herself, and the woman told her one thing above all else that the girl will quietly harbor – “Do not cry; be strong. You have to be strong.”

Perhaps it was not so much the words said, but the tone embedded. She had been so tired. The little girl had hated her also. The skanky, provocatively clad woman who returned at 6 in the morning did not deserve the respect of her mother. She would come home, and she would sometimes be happy, sometimes very angry so the entire household shuddered and covered their mouths to shush their sobbing, but most of the time she disappeared from sight. Then she started attracting gentleman admirers. The girl despised her. She was betraying him. The woman had laughed at her – because the school counselors called home to report her suicidal thoughts.

Afterwards she had beaten her ‘Why can’t you be a normal kid? Why do you have to make so much trouble for me?’  But she was asked to take the girl to a professional; so of course, you go to a family clinic, where it is an elderly Chinese man who probably grew up with no such thing as sentiment. They laughed together ‘How dramatic, she’s just depressed because her father died.’ All the while the little girl was silenced by this eloquent woman. Had she not been the one to cry and whisper to his license, locked inside a room for the entirety of a week? Had she not been the one that frightened the girl to such an extent it became the greatest incentive for her to finally start crying at his funeral? And now she is boasting, almost, at how well she handled this situation and how poor her daughter is in contrast. The girl stopped trusting her. She also stopped trusting counselors.

She remembers crying on the phone to an old friend about the young boy during his 9 months absence. She kept saying she deserved it. Ah, so now she’s learned something about herself. Where did such a thought come from? Cuts, scrapes, maybe even cat scratches she could’ve passed the initial ones. It hurt. More than she had anticipated. But it was good because so. It scarred. And it repeated, like an addict, the dosage deeper each time. She is not insane, she is not mentally unstable. She executes with a lucid mind and clear eyes. And when her mother comes home she is at the computer doing work like any other day. She does not cry for herself. It will always, no matter what, stop with no reasoning but a habit to stop crying. It was apathetic. It is.

Suicide has always been a contemplative subject for her. But it will always remain so because, despite her hatred or depression during a period, she longs to succeed, she wants to prove herself. Most of all she desperately wants that woman to finally see her, and listen. That was the reason why the girl had been drawn towards school counselors’ right? A separated, quiet place where she is allowed to be weak, to cry and speak and be heard.

It’s funny because we spend most of our lives using our most common etiquette to apologize for unfortunate events that are not our fault. It’s this innate, built-in social marking that drives us to always reply with sorry at the news of someone’s death. Oh, I’m sorry. You hurt yourself? – Sorry. I’m crying? Damn, sorry. Even that silly little girl, glorified him upon all her school wide writes, as if that would hide her lack of memory of him – what a phony, but she is sorry all the same, for something beyond her control. Of course, that word does nothing to the receiver; they do not need your condolences, least the awkward apology. They are not damaged goods because they have death or self-harm somewhere in their history. They are sad, whether they’d like to admit it or not. They want someone to listen to them, even if they always felt or think and feel that they don’t trust anyone to open up in such a vulnerable state. Or better yet, feel they’ve rid themselves of all emotion and are above and beyond this mundane sharing. They sort of hate themselves too, even if they know logically that we should never beat ourselves up for past mistakes because at one point or another, it had been exactly what we wanted. They are not stupid. So don’t tiptoe – they have eyes too. They are also prideful, their ego bruised and mayhap a bit saddened that their family members are concerned about their less than enthusiastic state – and this is where ‘shit, I didn’t hide it well enough. Sorry’ appears again.

It is like circling a wild horse, trying to tame it.  Not everyone can do it. Not everyone has the patience to carry out that task, just some things; some persons are worth it – to you. But above all, they are frightened, as the confused horse is. Frightened not only of you, but of themselves, they do not know what they want, or need, they kind of want you, and really don’t at the same time. They’ll fend you off, and all the while repeat to themselves that they are a bad person. They don’t want their stories to be digested the same way media gobbles tragedy, where the world has become desensitized. They are selfish as any other person. Therefore human, just as you, one of you – As you’ve guessed, I’m the little girl.

I’m still just a young girl, a tad sad, quite profoundly lost, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what I’m looking for and I definitely do not have the expertise to advise you on what to do with someone who has experienced death or inflicted self-harm. But I’m OK, I’ll survive. If there’s one thing I can tell you – Laughter is contagious.

The Origins of Shame

Interesting and disturbing article via Psychology Today:

The YouTube video below was brought to my attention by a long-term client who also happens to be an excellent therapist and works extensively with concepts of shame in her own practice. It’s fascinating, informative and provides a neurological basis for an understanding of the kind of shame that I write about. The primary lecturer, Allan Schore, and the other researchers don’t discuss shame, in particular—they approach this topic from the perspective of attachment theory; but as you’ll see, their explanation of neurological development in the infant helps us understand how an early and deep-seated shame takes root.

You’re no doubt familiar with the nature vs. nurture debate concerning the relative importance of heredity and the environment. Nowadays, the prevailing view seems to be that it’s neither one nor the other but an interaction between the two that defines us. Even so, most people assume that you are born into the world with your complete genetic makeup and that you then interact with your environment. The primary lecturer in this video—Allan Schore, a member of the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at UCLA—challenges this view:

“One of the great fallacies that many scientists have is that everything that is before birth is genetic and that everything that is after birth is learned. This is not the case.” He goes on to explain that there is much more genetic material in the brain at ten months than at birth. Only the brain stem or “primitive brain” is “well advanced” at birth; the rest of the brain continues to unfold and develop for the next two years as neurons become myelinated and interconnect. This development does not occur in an automatic and predetermined way; rather, it is powerfully affected by the environment, in particular by interactions and relationships with the primary caretakers.

It’s a more nuanced view of the nature vs. nurture debate. Not only is it nature and nurture, as most of us already believe; an individual’s particular genetic makeup (nature) also continues to evolve during the first two years of life under the influence of the environment (nurture). In other words, what happens to you, emotionally and psychologically, during those first two years, and especially in the first nine months of life, will powerfully influence your neurobiological development, determining how your brain takes shape in lasting ways. Most important among the brain parts that develop during these early months are those that involve the “emotional and social functioning of the child.” And if those parts of the brain are to develop appropriately, “certain experiences are needed. Those experiences are embedded in the relationship between thecaretaker and the infant.”

At about the 5:45-minute mark in the video, Schore makes the following statement: “there’s something necessary…that the human brain needs in terms of other human contact, for it to grow. It’s a ‘use it or lose it’ situation. Cells that fire together, wire together. Cells that do not, die together.” The idea is related to the notion of critical periods: organisms have a heightened sensitivity to certain environmental stimuli during specific periods of their development. If the organism does not receive appropriate stimuli during this critical period, it may never develop certain functions, or develop them with great difficulty or in limited ways.

So what is Schore telling us? If an infant doesn’t receive the kind of emotional interactions it needs from its caretakers during the early months of life, its brain won’t develop normally. Certain neurons that should have interconnected will instead die. “Use it or lose it”—if you don’t get what you need during those first two years, that experience will affect you for life. As my own client translates it, this means “brain damage.” You might be able to modify that damage with a lot of hard work, but neuroplasticity has its limits. You will never be the person you might have been if you’d gotten what you needed during that critical period of emotional development.

A deeply sobering thought. You can call it what you like—bad parenting, failure of attunement, insecure attachment—but when things go wrong between parent and child in the first two years of life, you are permanently damaged by it in ways that cannot be entirely erased. The awareness that you are damaged, the felt knowledge that you didn’t get what you needed and that as a result, your emotional development has been warped and stunted in profound ways—this is what I refer to as basic shame. The concept lies at the heart of the work I do.

Schore’s view invalidates the simplistic theory that mental illness is the result of a chemical imbalance in your brain. It’s not that you lack sufficient serotonin in your neural synapses; rather, the existence or lack of certain neurons, and the interconnections between them, has been permanently altered by failures of attachment during the first two years of life. You can’t fix that with a drug. Cognitive-behavior therapy might teach you some useful techniques for coping with your damage but it won’t make you into a different person. You’ll never be just like the person who went through the emotional experiences she needed during that critical period.

Two other lecturers in this video link the experience of secure attachment during this critical period to the development of both a fundamental sense of self-esteem and the ability to feel empathy for others. The relationship to shame and narcissistic defenses against it is implicit. Either you get what you need from your caretakers during those early months and your brain develops in such a way that you have a fundamental self-confidence and security in the world; or you don’t get what you need and the residue—the neurological damage—is basic shame. Either your caretakers are emotionally attuned to you and you develop (neurologically) the capacity to empathize with other people; or those caretakers let you down and as a result, your constant struggle for a sense of your own worth and importance powerfully limits your ability to empathize with other people.

Near the end of the video, Schore stresses the importance of joy in the attachment experience—that is, the infant’s attunement with its mother in the experience of her joy and interest in her baby is crucial for optimal development. If you don’t have that experience, if you don’t feel that your mother experiences joy in your presence and finds you beautiful—it will permanently damage your brain as it develops. In an earlier post on my website, After Psychotherapy, I wrote that the baby whose mother doesn’t adore it (or feel profound joy and interest in her baby) “never gets over it, not really.” Now I can say why: it’s because the neurological development of its brain was permanently altered by the failure to get what was needed during the first year of life.

Watch the video here.

Joseph Burgo, Ph.D. in Psychology Today

How To Argue With Your Emotional Teenager

I have, for some time now, been working with high risk and aberrant behaviour youth as a youth and family counselor. Few things in this world are harder to deal with than a teenager with a sense of entitlement, immature emotional development, poor discipline, and a bad attitude. Those of you who have gone toe to toe with a teenager can verify what I am saying.

It simply doesn’t work.

It’s all about energy. Yelling at a belligerent who is yelling back at you rarely, if ever, leads to a group hug. It’s Einstein’s definition of insanity all over again – doing the same thing and expecting different results. Unfortunately, however, most of us continue to yell. Yelling feels familiar, and it releases pent-up emotion and frustration. The majority of us learned it from our parents who learned it from their parents. We swore we wouldn’t be that kind of parent when we grew up but sometimes, well sometimes that kid frustrates us so much we have no choice.

One more time. It doesn’t work.

If you want to win the argument, salvage the situation, or whatever it is you want to accomplish, you need to change the energy if you want to change the result. You need to change the rules of the argument if you want any hope of a positive outcome. Here’s a good guideline – Do not emotionally engage a screaming teenager unless you want to have a fight.

Stop arguing. Stop emoting. Stop gushing. Smile.

There is an old maxim: Love me, hate me, just don’t ignore me.

Why is that? Perhaps the reason has something to do with the fact that the vast majority of us hate to be ignored. We feel disrespected. Something inside of us rebels against apathy.  When it comes to an argument with an irrational person a second factor comes into play as well. It is very hard to argue with someone who will not argue back.

When your out-of-control teenager is looking for a fight, seeking to make a point, and prepared to bully you to get their way, nothing will disarm and frustrate them more than a parent or person who simply smiles and says nothing. It works, I have used this methodology and taught it to dozens of parents. At first it drives them insane, later it shuts down the yelling effectively and with dignity.

There must be a more effective way to engage angry teens, while at the same time helping them to understand that emotional bullying is not just wrong, it’s ineffective. Those of us who were taught to yell by our parents inherently understand how ineffective their yelling was.

So why did we decide to use this dysfunctional method ourselves?

Coming This Week

  • How to Argue With Your Emotional Teenager
  • Living My Life To Impress A Five Year Old/Saying Goodbye To That Critical Voice In My Head
  • Change Your Life 1% At A Time
  • The Church And Simplistic Solutions
  • Cheesy Stuff That Works

*Looking for Guest Bloggers who have experience and understanding about:
1. cutting
2. spousal physical abuse
3. childhood sexual abuse
4. bullying
5. lifelong body-image issues
6. Anything that has profoundly impacted your life

email me for more info or to volunteer info@scott-williams.ca

Guest Blogger – Rule of Stupid on Self Blame

Today’s guest is Rule of Stupid, an amazingly honest, fearless blog with the best header picture I have seen. Check him out!

Scott has kindly invited me to write a post for his blog. The invite came from a post Scott wrote, and in particular a phrase he used about fears we have – “if people really knew us, if we really acted in an authentic way, that no one would like us”. The phrase “if you really knew me you’d hate me” haunted me for years and I’m going to try to share some of my story in the hope it might help any readers.

I had a troubled time growing up. My mother was dysfunctional, my father had left when I was a baby and we were poor. When my mother re-married it was to a dark and brooding man who brought a lot of pain and abuse.

The trouble is, when parents inflict trauma on a child the child has to cope, but doesn’t have any coping strategies. Every message, biological and cultural, tells the child that parents look after them, and that parents are, to all intents and purposes, God – all powerful and always right.

So when parents bring pain, the easiest way to make sense of this is to put the blame on the self. “Parents are good, but they hurt me, so I must be bad.” This is the coping strategy that often results from bad parents.

Sadly, a strategy that pays off so young is incredibly hard to shake. In fact the strategy soon becomes invisible – we don’t even know we are doing it – so it just becomes the norm. We then grow up with a permanent sense that everything bad that happens is somehow our fault.

This is the origin of the all to common “if you knew me you’d hate me” mantra. The self-blame has morphed into a blame that pre-empts our mistakes – it is now a general attitude to ourselves.

Another tragedy is that the belief can create the reality. If we think we are rubbish we will shy away from making friends – then our loneliness will increase our sense that we are rubbish. On the flip-side, we can horribly over-compensate and become brash and insensitive – “people won’t like me anyway, so I won’t care about them either!”

We come to operate in so many ineffective ways that our lives can become one big, self-fulfilling prophecy of loneliness and misery.

So how did I get out?

First, I have to say it took years, and I can’t write a fifty-page post. Instead I’m going to try and summarize the most helpful thing for me.

Love.

For me the love that saved me was my wife. For others I know, however, it has been love of music, a friend, writing – the object doesn’t matter. What matters is that we find something outside ourself that we want so bad we’d do anything for it. Even be ourselves!

When I first picked up a guitar I fell in love, and I remain in love today. I loved music so much that I played in front of others. I discovered that I could confess to them in song, both showing myself and still hiding myself behind the safety of the phrase ‘it’s just a song’. While still terrified of the world my passion for music saw me take to the stage. I learned to talk between songs and found parts of myself that people liked.

For a while I was a musical clown, creative and funny, and I enjoyed it. Then I met my wife – and she wanted more than a funny guitarist. I couldn’t hide behind a mic any more.

But again, I loved her enough to try, to risk, to dare. I slowly, painfully revealed more and more of myself, and as I showed myself to her, so it became natural to show those things to others.

No-one has ever rejected me for my honesty. My friendships have only ever grown stronger.

I once believed many things that are not true. One was that everybody else had it sussed out except me. They didn’t. Everyone struggles.

A second was that once I had it figured out, things wouldn’t hurt any more. They will. Pain is part of life for everyone – but so is pleasure. Hide from pain and you lose pleasure too.

Another was that there was some magic trick, some arcane knowledge or potion, some secret that would make me alright, take away the pain, give me confidence. There isn’t one.

But that isn’t bad news – it’s the best news you can have – because if there’s no secret, no hidden magic, then healing is available for everyone. And it really is!

So here’s the bad news.

It’s going to hurt.

My wife and I argued. I went through some very dark depression. We struggled and we hurt – but we kept going, thank God. That’s the only secret – if it’s even a secret – that you keep going.

Breaking the belief that we are ugly inside, shameful or that people will hate us is both the easiest thing and the hardest thing in the world. There is only one way, and that is to find out – to show yourself, to dare, to risk. It is scary, it is painful, but it is also beautiful, liberating and like slowly seeing in colour for the first time.

More than anything I can say with absolute confidence, with the knowledge of experience, that the pain of facing the fear is less than the pain of suffering under the fear without end.

You are not china, you are not fragile – you have survived everything so far, you have survived what gave you this pain! You can survive being the real you and when you do you will rejoice in it.

Coming Tomorrow: The Biggest Complaint I Get About Men, Hands Down!

Casual Friday – Stampy The Elephant

elephant chopperMy son Nathan came to me and admitted he had been slacking on his homework. One of his high school teachers never read his assignments and after a while Nate caught on and decided to test her. He stopped doing the assignments and instead began writing about his fictitious pet, Stampy The Elephant. For over two years he never once completed a home assignment, and the teacher never caught on.

Nathan is no fool and recognized he would have to be subtle, tell no one, and give every appearance of doing his assignment. Without a doubt he spent more time endeavoring to evade this work than he ever would have spent doing the assignment. He was careful to include the name of the assignment in the first line. The assignments looked unremarkable and Stampy’s name did not usually appear in the first few lines.

Here are a few examples of sentences in actual assignments he turned in:
writing on World War One:
World War One was really cool because me and Stampy played in the rain, it was a weird day.

on the sociological effect the war had on Canadian cities:
World War One wasn’t in Montreal because that’s where me and Stampy were.

on exercise:
People like to walk, because that’s what me and Stampy do. I hate Charlie (a classmate looking on) because she says mean things to me right now. She probably doesn’t even like Stampy The Elephant.

on rampant consumerism and the effect on Canadian culture:
I’m going to buy a nice car. I think that would be very exciting. Canada has many problems that could be solved if Stampy and i had a nice car.

Looking back, and talking to Nathan some time later, I have come to realize that Nate was learning important lessons about life. That teacher taught him several things that she wasn’t aware of. She taught him that effort doesn’t matter because it is all about looking good. Nathan learned that teachers are lazy and easily manipulated. When he told me about it I knew as a good parent that I should force him to do his best even if no one is looking. As a parent I wanted to encourage him to do his best, take his education seriously, and strive for excellence.Part of me wanted to challenge him to be a young man of integrity regardless of who noticed. But part of me wanted to see how long he could get away with it.

To this day he has a low opinion about teachers, in spite of the fact that he is training to be one very soon. I will often hear remarks about how little they work, how they don’t really care, how they are not the brightest. Of course most teachers are hardworking, dedicated and committed; and I have sought to correct any misconceptions. It  is hard, however, to argue with the elephant in the room.

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
Albert Schweitzer

“We never know which lives we influence, or when, or why.”
Stephen King

We Believe In You

It took me fifteen years to get my black belt in Sun Hang Do Martial Arts. Some people do it in four but apparently I am a slow learner. That and the fact that I took a ‘break’ for ten years. I had been only a few months from my black belt exam when my life fell apart. Soon after I rebroke my knee, and because of the state of mind I was in, didn’t think I could come back. For ten years I avoided people I knew at Sun Hang Do and lived with regret. Getting a black belt was something I had dreamed of since I was nine or ten years of age.

A dream that had died.

A few years ago, however, I ran into an old friend and martial arts master, Dave Kinney, who encouraged me to try again. Coming back was difficult, humiliating, and more physically demanding than I would have believed.

But I am a stubborn person.

Last May, fighting off two weeks of Mononucleosis, I showed up for the infamous black belt test. As the eight-hour test was about to start, Dave’s brother, and another amazing guy, Brian Kinney, came up to me and said he wanted to help me have a good day. He opened his wallet and produced a business card with a dime taped to it – a memento of a talk I had given during another black belt test twelve years earlier.

A memento that he has kept in his wallet all these years. Another brilliant martial artist and friend, Kumar Bandyo, still has his as well.

Sometimes it is easy to wonder if you make a difference in this world. The martial art I take part in is dedicated to changing the world. That morning Brian reminded me that anyone, even me, can make a difference.
Brian is the third member of Sun Hang Do that has told me he still had his dime, and the only one to produce it. Thanks Brian, that really touched me.

Here is the story I used, not my own, so many years ago. After telling it I handed out a business card with the dime taped to it, the Sun Hang Do Logo on the front, and the words, “we believe in you.”

In 1965 the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers was a guy named Bart Starr. He was a great football player but more importantly, he was a great dad.

He had a son, his namesake, Bart Jr. Every time Bart Jr. brought home a paper from school with good marks, or did well in life his dad would write him a note that said something like, “Son, I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you, Dad.” And then he’d take the dime and scotch tape it on a piece of paper. That dime to his son began to be a symbol to him of his dad really believing in him.

One weekend the Packers went to St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and Bart Starr played the worst game of his entire career. He was intercepted three times, literally lost the game for his team. He flew back to Green Bay, got off the plane and went home, totally deflated and feeling down.

He walked into his bedroom that night and on the dresser was a note from his son. It said, “Dad I really believe in you. I’m proud of what you’re doing. Keep going, I love you….. Bart. And taped to the note ….. was a dime.

When you feel like you are losing and no one cares, when you wonder if you can make it; it’s good to know someone is cheering you on.

Here’s your dime.

Dime Bar

Drinking Games

18 ... legal drinking ageThere is something about the cultural dimension of social problems that eludes us. When confronted with the rowdy youth in the bar, we are happy to raise his drinking age, to tax his beer, to punish him if he drives under the influence, and to push him into treatment if his habit becomes an addiction. But we are reluctant to provide him with a positive and constructive example of how to drink. The consequences of that failure are considerable, because, in the end, culture is a more powerful tool in dealing with drinking than medicine, economics, or the law.     Malcolm Gladwell