Archive for the ‘Commentary’ Category

Forgiving An Unfaithful Partner Ambivalence Takes Over

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016

#divorce #betrayal #infidelity #betrayal #marriagecounselling #brokenfamily @childrenindivorce

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Truth in the therapist’s office is an elusive thing. I could go all week convinced that I no longer wanted to return to my marriage. I missed my children very much. But every time I checked in with them they were doing fine. They were so accustomed to having me gone that it was normal for their day to begin and end without seeing me. When my wife started bringing guys into the home, they took it right in stride. I was the only one suffering the consequences of separation, or so it seemed.

To overcome my lonesomeness, I taped pictures of my children on the kitchen cabinets. On returning home one night, I poured myself a stiff one and the cork came out of the bottle. I began to grieve. I’d look at the pictures and miss each one of the kids and the times past when we were all together as a family unaware and unthreatened. We were like a lot of families. We were going from one day to the next, taking life for granted, overcoming the problems that came along, and then we’d awake one day and realize that a chapter had come to a close. The time together then was special and now, in the flow of events, it was somehow complete, encapsulated with a beginning and an end. We could never go back, but we could remember it as we pushed ahead confident of the continuity in our lives.

Clustered as in an era . . .

Someday we’d enjoy recognizing not only that we had all grown older but also that we had lived through something special with one another, something that time and the order of things had taken away from us, but once taken, became incorruptible. Our days and months clustered as in an era, each complete with its own distinguishing character that ran through our time like a theme. Perhaps it was as simple as when we lived in a certain house. Or perhaps it was when we were all happy with the fellowship at the church where we belonged. The times would be recalled in their completeness. “Oh, gee, remember that time we were all so excited about moving to Detroit.”

I missed those days. I knew who I was then. Or at least, I was content in letting the roles I filled with others define me. I had a sense of the future and a sense of purpose. Now confusion reigned. I didn’t know my wife any more. I had seen a side to her that I never knew existed. She didn’t appear to regret the separation. I saw no grief in her brown eyes. We had grown accustomed to sharing our feelings. That was gone. I was alone with the desolation I was feeling.

It was those times, those chapters, that caused me to grieve all alone, alone as I never thought I’d ever be, in a dingy furnished basement apartment instead the home with my children laughing as they prepared for bed. Darkness at the end of the day flooded my musty apartment with futility.

Author's family, 1974 - Two years before the breakup. Front (l - r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l - r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

Author’s family, 1974 – Two years before the breakup. Front (l – r) James, Joseph, author, Eric. Standing (l – r) Bertha Finfrock, Bette Finfrock, Gregory and RAchel.

For all that, however, I didn’t pine for my wife’s company. She had moved out of my life. I knew she was dating other men. My 12 year old son, in all apparent innocence, invited me into the house one night only for me to find her entertaining a man in the living room. I backed away and left before she knew I was there, though I had to wonder about my son’s motives. Perhaps he wanted to see what kind of trouble could be provoked by my unexpected appearance. More likely, he just didn’t give it a thought. Whatever the case, in those brief moments, I realized our house had become hers. Nothing belonged to me any longer. The new furniture we bought was being systematically shredded by the two household cats, and nobody seemed capable or motivated to stop them. I  shrugged. Why not? The ripped up furnishings struck me as a metaphor. Everything was at a distance, dreary testimonials to the faded life we once enjoyed as a family.

But it wasn’t a clean break, even after all the months apart. I could be alone all week and begin to pull myself together, reach moments of fragile resolve that I would eventually come out of my funk. The panic attacks were less frequent. Then, I’d see my wife’s Ford round the corner, and my heart would leap up as it did when I was a teenager – one of those take-your-breath-away down the spine zingers. That surge of inexplicable feeling meant something. But what? Fear? Anger? Love? I didn’t know. Did those emotions feel the same in a person? It felt, at least for an instant, that my head was in one place and my heart in another.

I never resolved my ambivalence. The chance was taken out of my hands when my wife called a halt to everything. She didn’t want to try any longer .I didn’t insist that she continue. Her final decision came while we were working with our third counselors, a couple of my wife’s choosing who practiced co-joint therapy. After spending weeks with them on her own, I was invited to join in. It was the first indication from my wife that she wanted to work things out. During these last sessions my ambivalence returned. I confessed to the feelings I experienced when I encountered her by chance but I didn’t report my confusion in the counselor office.*

Too much uncertainty . . .

Yes, I’d admit, I wanted things to work out. Yes, I still wanted to work on our marriage. I didn’t admit it to myself, but I didn’t want to be the bad guy, the one to walk away. No wonder the psychologist found working with us a challenge. My feelings felt true in the moment but once away from the therapeutic setting my doubts returned. I don’t know how I would have handled things if we decided to give it another try. There had been a time when rolling back the clock and having all the trouble simply go away was what I wanted. Now, that was unrealistic. Too much fear, too much distrust and too much uncertainty had entered in.

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda

Author with Family, 2009 L-R: James, Rachel, Eric, author (seated), Greg Grandson Baden and wife Melinda Joe not pictured)

Restoring trust in our relationship seemed impossible. I don’t think I have ever known at any point in my life the full extent of my motivation for doing anything. There were those moments of abandon when doing something was a joy, when my self -consciousness evaporated, moments when doubt never entered my mind. Yet here I was negotiating my future in the therapist’s office, and I couldn’t trust my own feelings. I wasn’t fully disclosing. Had I been, I would have admitted something like, “While I’m here I feel one way but as soon as I walk out the door, I know I will feel differently.” I was letting circumstances control me. I needed to commit. I needed closure, as much for myself as for everyone else involved – the children, my wife, even my friends who wondered how long things were going to be strung out. I wanted to hear an expression of regret or sorrow over what had been lost – something that resonated with what I was living through. I wanted to feel safe again. My ambivalence kept me from asking her for anything, whether to stop seeing other guys or for an expression of regret or something as simple as more time. It was not a conscious strategy but I wanted her to do as she felt prompted on her own. Perhaps she sensed my ambivalence and that’s why she walked out.

I knew attraction drives a couple forward in their relationship and culminates ultimately in committing one another. It didn’t appear that it was there for us. We had to move to a different place, a place that substituted hope and good will for desire and trust. We could never again ignore the knowledge we had gained about one another.  It would mean commitment. It would require an expression of remorse and full forgiveness from both of us. Trust would take time, lots of it. Every late night return from work would require an explanation. Every out-of-town seminar, a full report. The only reason we’d take the shot would be that both of us thought it was our best chance at happiness – not for the kids, not for our parents, but for us, selfishly. Putting an end to the pain was not enough any longer. Time would take care of that eventually. We had to make a water rescue of sorts, get pulled from the tempest and dry off back on board again with life going on as it had before the storm overtook us. Neither of us was fully aware of what it would take. Guarantees are never part of any proposition, but promises would have to be kept. I don’t think either of us had faith in a solution once we had lost faith in one another.

If we had a chance at all, a good start would be tot acknowledge and  grieve over what had passed out of our lives – grieve to the point of anguish. Gone forever was the dream that together, despite the troubled beginning to our marriage, we could make things work. We’d be the model couple with the liberal beliefs and the beautiful family. Struggling with the low income, with the unrealistic plans and seeing them fail, we still had the courage to put our hearts into it. We had been dear, trusting friends. We lost our sense of magic – the faith that because we wanted it we could make it so. However laughable that may have been to others, it was purity itself to us. Time eventually would wash away our simple script. We would not have noticed it being slowly carried out to sea and merged with the depths that cannot be recalled in the passing of years. But our lives had collapsed in crisis. We had too much ground to cover and too little time. We were suddenly part of the world we had tried to hold a bay. We had worked hard.  Our effort alone was cause enough to mourn. Our youth was all but spent.  If we could have acknowledged all of it – the richness of the days as a family together that others have a lifetime to release at their leisure – and pulled it back into mind, despite the anger and the hurt, perhaps then we could have looked at one another to see if any hope remained. As it turned out, we walked away, wept alone and moved on.

*Each of the therapists we worked with insisted on confidentiality. I respect their wishes despite the passing of years and the death of my first wife. I believe it would be unethical to quote any statements made by either or us and any observations on the part of the professionals.

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Affairs, Fodder for Comedy, Not a Laughing Matter in Real Life

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

#divorce #infidelity #marriagecounseling #betrayal #affair

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

I never thought I’d marry more than once. I remember driving down I-35W in Minneapolis one winter night after my first wife Elaine disclosed she was in love with another guy. I kept saying divorced over and over to myself because I could not get the idea to fit with ny definition of myself . But like a lot of things I never expected in life, it happened.

My wife had her reasons, all stuff I didn’t want to hear. She, too, felt as though life was passing her by. Midway through her thirties, she realized she had missed the carefree years. The women’s movement was in full swing. She wanted to be part of it but felt she had forfeited her membership by marrying as young as we did. There was still time. She was still young and very attractive. She also had complaints about me.

I wasn’t an easy man to live with. Selfish. Controlling. My views of marriage were very conventional, sexist in many ways. I had not made her happiness a priority. I was resentful at being held back in my career by family issues and the burden of providing support. My college classmates were all moving up in the world. I was envious. I finally landed a job where I could make up for lost ground and I was consumed by it. I was unavailable most of the time. I traveled a lot and left her with a house full of teenagers to raise. I took too much for granted.

Shared expectations . . .

Elaine did not share my aspirations for financial success. She grew up in a working class home. If anything, she was distrustful of the upper-middle class values, country club membership, and all the trappings. Other than returning to school to get a degree in nursing, I didn’t know what she wanted out of life. We almost never discussed it.

We tried to take a vacation with the children in the middle of everything. I was reeling from her indifference toward me, sensing something was wrong but not knowing the cause. We took a hike with the kids up one of the hillsides near Dillon, Colorado. I was in terrible shape – overweight, no stamina, short of breath from smoking. I stopped to rest while my wife went on with the children. While I waited, I scratched my name onto a gray rock that fit my palm, and I threw it down the hillside as far as I could. The meaning of the metaphor, hopelessly melodramatic as it is, was clear to me at the time, but the impulse that prompted me to act it out was still buried in my subconscious. I had been thrown away. My self-esteem since a teenager had been almost totally dependent on my wife’s affection and affirmation. That must have constituted a hell of a burden for her. Every time I was unhappy, it was her job to make things right. It was pretty much the same job my mom had as I was growing up.

When we finally got to a marriage counselor, there was so much to sort through that, after a couple of initial meetings, our counselor decided it would be better to work with us individually before tackling the tougher stuff that had our relationship all jammed up. “She can see your anger,” the therapist said during one session. The statement struck me as strange. I didn’t know that I had been all that angry. I was a storm trying to find its center – lots of lightning and violent downdrafts of depression. “I feel like a money-making machine with a dick on it,” I said in one later session and was surprised to see my wife react with dismay.

Ever Been Tempted . . .

“Haven’t you ever been tempted,” the therapist continued. “You’ve been away from home a lot. Haven’t there been any situations where you might have done something?”

“I’ve been tempted often enough,” I said, “but it’s a long walk from the hotel bar to my room. I had time to think things over. Besides, I got nervous. It was something I’d never done. I couldn’t do like other guys, just chuck it and make a move.” The therapist was disappointed. She must have wanted me to admit a comparable guilt. I had nothing to confess. Yeah, I lusted after other women. Found myself obsessing over this one or that. But I never had whatever it took to act on the attraction. I’d be the one guy in a thousand who’d get caught and there’d be a terrible price to pay. The moral injunctions of my Catholic upbringing reigned me in. My emotions got all jammed up. My own history was a restraining influence. I had paid enough for the sexual transgressions of my teenage years. I had profoundly disappointed my parents. I threw away any chance at enjoying carefree years to discover my intellectual strengths and preferences. Marrying shaped my life before I was of age to decide much of anything for myself. The little head had ruled once. I was not about to give it a second chance.

The therapist wanted me to see the human dimension in my wife’s conduct. To see it as a frailty that all of us fall victim to from time to time. I get that today, but at the time, her appeal was misdirected. My mind was elsewhere. My life was falling apart. My self-image had been shattered. I had been living a lie. My wife fell in love with another guy. It was an affair. It had gone on for months. I didn’t know what or who to trust any more.

Less the Flailing and Panic . . .

The Author, 1976 "No idea who I was.

The Author, 1976 “No idea who I was.”

Perhaps things would have cleared up a little for me if the therapist addressed my pain, let me express it and talk it out. I might have been able to move to a more settled place, grab hold of something in the torrent to lessen the flailing and panic. As it was, I was so distrustful that I obsessed on nearly everything my wife said. One business trip to Washington, DC, I felt compelled to walk the streets of the city to control my raging doubt, and as I walked, I obsessed on what she had said as I left the house to make sure that I had understood its meaning and could believe her. At work, unless someone shoved something right into my face, I couldn’t concentrate. I’d close the door to my office and brood. I’d burst into tears and embarrass myself.

My wife, meanwhile, went passively along when all the ramifications of what was taking place swamped my thinking. She didn’t move out. She couldn’t afford it. She didn’t ask for a divorce. She was glad when I went off on business. She was in the driver’s seat but refused to put her hands on the wheel. The consequences were clear for me. Daily contact with my children was at stake. I’d need to change jobs so that I could stay home if she left home? I didn’t know whether I could afford to support myself living alone and the family also? I didn’t know how the children would react. I didn’t want them hurt.

For that matter, I didn’t know what I wanted. If Elaine turned to me full of remorse and begged for forgiveness, I don’t know what my response would have been. The months leading up to her confession had been some of the most unhappy in my life; the weeks after, sheer hell. No. There was no easy stopping place. No timeout. No fix-fix, as if it were all pretend. I needed time to decide but anxiety stole every moment from me. For all I knew she was still seeing the other guy. I finally did the unthinkable. I called him and implored him to stop seeing her until I had a chance to do whatever was needed to reorder my life. I pleaded. He agreed.

My wife was angry at her lover’s decision to put their affair on hold. There was a dimension to her rage that I understood. She stormed about two guys deciding what was right for her as if she had no say. That’s what guys do, right? Stay in charge. The male code called for punching the guy’s lights out. But I wasn’t feeling angry. All I felt was a disabling anxiousness, as if I had been hit across the broad of my back with a baseball bat.

Just Watch Me . . .

It took years for me to understand. I was bottled up. Crippled with anxiety. I told our counselor during our first meeting the I was traumatized. My wife’s betrayal was not the only cause for my severe disorientation. My world was collapsing. All of the avoidance and pretense was crashing down. I was 35 years old and had never been through a disappointment in love. My family was my justification for everything. Being a father, a husband and a moral man were huge parts of my definition of myself and braced me from the outside. On the inside, I hardly knew who I was. I was a pleaser. A chameleon. I sought the acceptance of others even to the point of forsaking my own perspective. I was raising a happy family, unlike my father who ruled a stormy home in which fights broke out suddenly and frightened my sister, my brother and me. I was going to earn more money than he without benefit of professional degree. Just watch me was my mantra. I’d make up for all the disappointment. Everyone would say that I had done all right. I’d been a good son after all. But now everything translated into the indictment that I had failed. I didn’t have the ego strength to remain stable and confident of who I was, all of which should have been the product of taking life head on instead of hiding in a marriage. I couldn’t see it then, but most of my anguish was from a crash of my own making, errors in my navigating my way. Many causes were yet to be discovered,  tasks that had been abandoned or never addressed, but for the moment, I had not equipped myself to cope with a crisis.

To be continued . . .

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Immature Social Behavior is Determined by Group Norms

Friday, October 28th, 2016

#Secondmarriage #Marriagecounseling #WilsonLearning #Sociallyappropriate

This is the a third autobiographical article in a series. To start at the beginning of the series, click here.

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

Donna, my second ex, insisted she was right about one thing. – I hadn’t grown up. From her perspective, I’m sure that it must have seemed that way. I’d certainly been through enough harrowing life experiences to make me a steady hand in wrestling with the perplexities of adult life. I wasn’t always realistic. I wasn’t always appropriate. Her diagnosis was that I was a victim of “Peter Pan Syndrome.”

Not being grown up is a tough one. To start with, what does it mean? Immature? If that’s the case, how does a guy find a remedy? Throw himself in to a variety of really troublesome situations. Rob a bank. Go to jail. Find the wrong person to fall deeply in love with. Piss off an employer. File for bankruptcy. Whatever it takes to make himself miserable because growing up often means that you have overcome difficult circumstances and prevail despite the setbacks. The hotter the fire, the finer the steel. Still, this seems like the wrong way to address the problem. It’s very hard to grow up at some point in your life when the time period during which the task should have been achieved has already passed.

What was not be taken into account way my history. Wilson Learning was a very casual, fun place to work. When we partied, we tried to outdo one another with stories and jokes. Several of us took a stab at standup. On campus, things were relaxed and casual. Lunch time often turned into a pickup game of touch football. Spontaneity was applauded  I never remember being accused of inappropriate or immature behavior with any other group at any other time in my life as I was with Donna and her associates. My behavior in the decades since has never been characterized in the same negative light. I was an outsider. That’s all there was to it and I was treated in a manner that was completely consistent with the initial judgment many made about me. What once brought laughter now reaped disdain. What once was ingenuous was now childish. What once was assertive now was arrogant. Appropriate, it turns out, is a relative term.

Perhaps what others looked for was a measure of cynicism. Of worldliness. For the ability to act as if a marriage is still working when a mother knows her current husband, as a stepfather, seduced her teenage daughter. (Actual case.) To agree that marriage vows are suspended whenever either partner was more than 50 miles from home. (Another actual case.) Being adult meant maintaining a certain unflappable demeanor. Lots of outlandish things can be going on but they didn’t distress the mature person. Politics mattered, sanely discussed. Issues of all sorts mattered in the abstract. But the carnal and the venial dimensions of events, the human side, were taken in stride. C’est la vie.

Time to Grow up . . .

“Time for both of you grow up,” one therapist said to me as I was trying to cope with the pain of betrayal and uncertainty about my family after my wife revealed she was having an affair – the implication being that I was only hurting because my wife and I were not adult enough to accept that grownups have affairs, and we were making ourselves miserable by clinging to some fantasy the fidelity mattered.

Once I moved to North Carolina, I didn’t feel that I fit in. The group of people with whom we socialized had known one another for years. I was a newcomer, an unknown. So many things set me apart. My speech was Midwestern. I didn’t hold a graduate degree. I was not an academic. I had no professional credentials. The repartee was not easy for me, I, an extrovert, wasn’t at ease among buttoned down hyper-rational would-be intellectuals. I never felt on equal footing with most in the room.

“And what is that you do?” the conversation would begin. I’d try to explain. “Hmm . . . I see,” was the predictable response once I concluded my summary. But the comment was usually dismissive, as if whatever it was I did for a living wasn’t very important. Many academics believe it is important to understand, but what’s really missing in their interaction with outsiders is genuine curiosity. Curiosity indicates a desire to know more but it also signals a failure to comprehend. Academics don’t like appearing as if they are missing the point.  A con man came through the community a year or so before I came to town and in a matter of days fleeced a whole batch of Donna’s friends all of their life savings because none of them was willing to admit they didn’t understand what he was proposing.

Donna was a psychologist who practiced in partnership with Kathy, the wife of the Chairman of the Psychology Department at a local university. The two had become passionate about John Bandler and Richard Grinder’s Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). My work experience included sales and marketing for Wilson Learning Corporation, an acknowledged leader in the development of sales and management training programs based on popular psychological models of the day including Transactional Analysis, Maslow’s Hierarchy, David Merrill’s Social Styles and others. I served a term as Director of Product Development for Wilson which put me in charge of the program designers, writers, and television studio. I was frequently invited to speak on the principles of program design.

Donna and Kathy wanted to market their services on a broader scale. Both were certified NLP trainers. They wanted to package the program and present seminars. Donna undertook the task of writing a proposal on how the two would approach designing, marketing and selling their program. She and I agreed that I was qualified to serve program designer and head of marketing.

An Unaccountable Lapse . . .

Kathy and her husband John did not like the proposal. The tension between the two women was palpable. To avert what was building up to a full-blown conflict, we decided that the four of us would discuss the proposal at dinner in a prestigious local restaurant. The first contested point was the position to which I had been assigned. Kathy wanted her husband as program designer and head of sales and marketing. John held a Ph.D. in psychology but had no experience in the art and science of program design. He had never sold so much as a magazine subscription to anyone at any time in his life. Donna immediately acknowledged that putting my name forward to any position in the company was a mistake, an unaccountable lapse on her part. Oh my, the relief. Smiles all around the table. John was appointed in my place. I was not to be part of the project.

As it turned out, the two women never put a program together.  John did not know how to begin and so never took the first step. I was relieved, but I also go the clear message that my credentials or experience carried no weight. I was just a another businessman to be tolerated in the intricate and immensely more important world of academia.

My boss from Wilson, a guy named Gary Quinlan, came to town and invited Donna and me out to dinner.

“That went well,” Donna exclaimed on the way home. “I like Gary. I think I made a good impression on him as well.”

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“Well, I was thinking about it earlier today and I decided the best strategy for me was to find some way to be a resource to him. He seemed really pleased when I told him that I thought I could help him control you.”

Control  me?  Donna did not discuss this with me before proposing it to my boss. Her proposed collusion reinforced any perception that Quinlan might have had about my reliability. I had never had problems with doing my job. I led the company in sales one year. Some of Wilson’s very successful programs were developed or updated under my management. The implication was clear. Donna was still treating me as an immature person, one incapable of self-regulation. She enhanced her own standing in Quinlan’s eyes. Rather than be my advocate, she became my critic. She would have been outraged if roles were reversed, if I suggested to her partner that I could help control her. I found it belittling.

After a while, I wanted to avoid most of Donna’s friends, Kathy in particular and her husband John who seemed to think his role in our friendship was to approve or disapprove of nearly everything, from the music I liked to the restaurants we frequented. Kathy was the woman who, after hearing me say that I had just returned from my father’s funeral, blurted out, “That’s nothing. My mother has cancer.” How’s that for impulse control? One year, Donna committed to having Thanksgiving dinner with Kathy and her husband. I was flabbergasted. She had not consulted me. I knew my children expected a more quiet, family style holiday but neither they nor I had any say.

An Unrelenting Message . . .

I woke up to it every morning. The message was that I was not important. Our marriage counselor was seeing us each independently as we worked on our issues. I’d come back from my session, and while it was agreed the sessions were confidential, we nevertheless gave one another a general idea of how things went. “I worked on our relationship,” I’d report. “I’m trying to understand what is going on between us.”

“How about you?” I’d ask when my turn came.

“Oh, I had to work on some issues that involved Kathy,” she’d explain in a tone of voice that signaled I was expected to understand. Right up until our last session, when I went with Donna to the therapist to announce I was leaving her, she continued to come home with the same report. She never worked on the trouble in our marriage. It never took precedent.

I had made a dreadful miscalculation, one that led to some of the most unhappy years of my life. I had not taken the time to find out what I was getting into during our brief courtship. I had crawled out from the wreckage of my first marriage and I took on a second before my healing was complete. More follows in the next post.

Thank you for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look the some of the previous posts. Please feel free to enter your comments in the space provided below.

Certainty Never a Given in Remarriage

Thursday, September 22nd, 2016

#Divorce #Remarriage #Therapy #Doubt

John J. Hohn - Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

John J. Hohn – Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

“You didn’t!” a friend exclaimed when I told her that I posted my most recent article. “I’d have thought you’d write it and throw it away.”

“Why? It was part of my life, all those years ago.”

“But why now, so long . . . What, over 30 years . . . after it all happened?” she continued.

“Gosh, I was hoping I’d get credit for keeping my mouth shut all that time.” My friend laughed. She knew I was kidding.

It is difficult to know just how far one should go writing a autobiographical piece. I struggled with it, especially when it came to deciding how much of the truth should be told. There is always more. More is almost always worse. Worse is almost always hurtful, or at least embarrassing, to others, if not myself. I had more that I didn’t write. I still question whether I went too far or not far enough. I tried to draw a line between what seemed to me to be deliberate acts – those one makes as a matter of choice – and idiosyncratic behaviors which are habituated to the point of being unintentional, predisposed and a likely reaction given a person’s psychological makeup. To illustrate, most of us learned as preschoolers that lying was not a nice thing to do. Unless we are pathological liars, a rare condition, when we are untruthful it is usually by choice. When I lie, for example, I am usually trying to make myself look better in the eyes of others or to avoid negative consequence of the truth. I think I am very much like others in this regard. (Or the one I really like: What do you call a person who lies 99.9% of the time?  – Answer below*)

My friend thought that I sounded angry in the piece. If that is true, I failed.  I was angry then. I’m not now. There’s a huge difference between who I was at the time the events took place and the guy who is finally writing about them today. If I regret one thing in the piece upon rereading it, it’s that I admitted to any anger at all. I wish I would simply have owned the hurt that fell to me through the actions and thoughtlessness of others.

A Watershed Event . . .

What my friend was probably trying to say is that I should have let go of my anger and my hurt years ago. I’m going to insist that I have. Any conclusion reached to the contrary upon reading my article is evidence that I failed as the author. Those things happened. They happened to me. I wept about them. I stormed around in therapy to overcome them. They are real moments out of my life. Today, I am glad that they happened.

The failure of my second marriage is a watershed event in my life. I would never have found the happiness that has been mine for the last half of my life had all not taken place. I won’t even attempt to imagine what my life might have been like had I chosen to stay put. I had no guarantee my children would have been happier. No guarantee my spouse would have been happier. No guarantee that I would eventually be more solvent financially because, with my marriage stabilized, I’d be more successful at work. No guarantee that I would be happier even if those around me were, although I usually take others into account. Doing nothing would have spread the misery out for years. As it was, I took a short hard dose of it and moved on. If I failed in writing, I failed on the side of not sounding grateful, of not acknowledging the courage it took to move on with my life. I benefit from 20/20 hindsight in all this, but I counter that I was resolved then and ever since never to give up on my own mental health and my own happiness.

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Author John J. Hohn and Melinda F. Hohn Married, 1986

Some therapists might want a person to believe that eventually all memories can be stripped of emotion and brought to mind as clinically sterile facts. They should stand stainless on the sanitized slate of a lifetime. I’ll don’t agree. Dump the excess, yes, the disabling tsunami of emotion that sweeps away all perspective and rational explanation, but memories always carry some feeling in them. A person who claims not be troubled in the least about the past is a person who seldom bothers to think about the journey of life and the path it follows.

Most of us, or course, live as our beliefs direct us. We like to think if we live by the rules we will be happy. Sometimes, however, it is important to question the rules. Who made them? Why? Suffer in silence, for example, is really idiotic. Whoever made that rule must have wanted terribly to avoid being inconvenienced by responding compassionately to the cries of another. Best possible interpretation is that we all need to avoid a crippling case of self-pity. But then, how does one overcome self-pity in silence. Sounds like a real challenge to me. Fairness and sense of justice ultimately have a role to play as far as I am concerned. If the victims of cruelty never speak out against their fate, their oppressor is free to move on with impunity to make others miserable.

Up for Grabs . . .

Of course, if you shed all your baggage, including most, if not all, of your beliefs, you encounter life on a different plane altogether. You make a good friend of doubt, not always the most congenial of companions. Where once you enjoyed certainty about life, heaven, hell and all the rest, suddenly everything is up for grabs. It very uncomfortable at first. You may not really be ready to move forward with your life, to grow and expand your horizons, until you confess in all humility that you really don’t know much at all. When you’ve nothing left to be indignant about, it becomes a comfort to know that you cannot possibly be wrong. Doubt, by definition, is never wrong.

Doubt gets a bad rap because people who are certain equate doubt with intellectually lazy. They’re wrong, of course. (I’m certain of it.) What’s really going on is that a belief system relieves a person of the need to think. Beliefs are intellectually slothful, bordering on self-indulgent. Think about it. It’s comfortable  to wake every day to the certainty that life is meaningful beyond question. Your life is on auto-pilot because what you believe tells you that everything will turn out all right. Suppose the thought trots in on little cat feet to question, “What if none of this has meaning? What if man is an accident of nature? What if death is the end of me?” It takes a perverse kind of courage to let tabby back in the house if these are the messages that tag along after her. Doubt is like the coat you took off upon entering the house only to find yourself wandering around wondering where to hang it up. You may go the rest of your life holding on to it. You may go the rest of your life without the comfort of certainty.

What can happen is that doubt brightens a person’s life. It opens doors that stood closed and forbidding. It leads to doors that you didn’t know were there. Doubts, open, intellectually honest doubt, a state uncertainty, leaves the mind and the emotions open again almost as child’s to let the sights and sounds and events of every day register as fresh and new. I’d bet if a survey were taken the results would prove that the most unhappy people around are those who cling to some system of belief as a way of making life make sense to them. Doubts don’t need to make life makes sense. Life is to be lived, not understood. Travel alone, or travel with a partner. The choice is always there but don’t do either because somewhere something is telling you “you’re supposed to.”

*A liar.

To be continued . . .

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Misery is Optional – Oh Yeah! Says Who?

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

#Divorce #Remarriage #EarlyMarriage #Loss #StartingOver

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

I sent a birthday greeting to a fellow senior only to be told that he doesn’t observe birthdays any more. OK.  Next year I won’t say a word. But he’d better not forget mine. I want to recognize all my birthdays from here on. I turned 77 last spring, and it’s a hell of a lot younger than I thought it would be.

I insist on observing all my birthdays because, damn it, it took a lot to get this far. My high school girlfriend gave birth to our first child just six weeks after I turned 18. She was a year older than I. She had to give up college. That was OK then, because – after all – she was a girl. (See my earlier post about pregnancy in the 1950’s). We married and had five kids before we turned 26. Yes, of course, we were Catholic. Maybe that gives insight into my articles about the Church.

The Church and society have changed over the years. But if you’re older, it doesn’t help to realize that much of it was arbitrary all along, like suits, white shirts and ties at the office. No sports jackets, please. Some rules had nothing at all to do with a person’s morality. No meat on Fridays must have helped the Italian fishing industry for decades. Imagine! Going to hell over mackerel. Lobbyists running wild in the Vatican.

All Kinds of Dependencies . . .

My first wife and I broke up after 19 years. I doubt either of us knew where we wanted to go next with our lives. Marrying young can retard a person’s development. Everything I should have learned about relationships and myself were postponed because I was living life under water with my marriage. We had kids to raise. Jobs to find. Bills to pay. We were pretending that we were all grown up. I’m sure either of us realized that all kinds of unhealthy dependencies were being created between between us. Once we separated, and the dependencies became exposed, I started reeling from some gaping holes in my psyche.

John  J. Hohn, Newly Divorced - 1976

John J. Hohn, Newly Divorced – 1976

I wandered around for a year-and-a-half afterwards seriously disoriented and in search of myself. I needed to cram 20 years of maturing into 18 months. I wasn’t very good at it. I recall the afternoon I walked into a meeting with my colleagues at work and finally took over my own body and mind again, a strange sudden sensation that meant, oh my God, I’m me again (or the grammatically correct I am I, although stated thus poses a hell of a paradox as I become both the perceiver and the perceived with distortions entering from all directions). But I’m not talking about a strictly rational event. It was beyond rational. My everyday self, the me I awoke to each morning – confused, grief stricken, angry, hurt – finally slid out from all those emotional burdens and I became the guy I had known myself to be all my life. It was as if I found my long lost big comfy bedroom slippers and stepped into them. I could feel it.

The reunion with myself, although energizing, did little for my judgment. Given the earnest hours in the psychologist’s office, I started deciding how my life would take shape moving forward. It was a second-wind. A second chance. Emboldened, I slammed headlong into another person’s destiny. Throttle to the firewall, I was in the wrong lane. A collision was inevitable. Right, I remarried. Woof! What a mistake.

Into the Mountain Side . . .

That second marriage lasted almost five years, about one year longer than my life’s savings. During those years, I made a number of regrettable decisions. I gave up the best-paying, most satisfying job I had ever held. I moved from a hometown community where I had friends to a new city where I hardly knew anyone. Moving strained my relationship with my kids to the point of open antagonism. I ended up half a continent away from my own parents. When the break up came, it was nothing short of a crash into the mountain side for me.

When I left. I was broke. No place to live. When my car broke down, I walked to work. My peers were running for office at the country club, taking extended Caribbean vacations, and  skiing at Aspen. I had a college graduate’s starting salary at a local bank. Age 44. Broke. Hell yes. With no end in sight. My kids qualified for Pell Grants in college. My ex, meanwhile, drove around town with a bumper sticker that read, “Misery is Optional” And for her, why not?

My Children Taken During the Early Years of My First Marriage(L - R) James, Joseph, Gregory, Rachel and Eric. Detroit. 1966

My Children Taken During the Early Years of My First Marriage(L – R) James, Joseph, Gregory, Rachel and Eric. Detroit. 1966

She was a professional woman with the resources to move on with her life. She remained in the home until she was comfortable with leaving it. She had found an enduring new love interest while were were together and she had many friends to support and comfort her. Ar first, the  bumper sticker struck me as a petty bit of grandstanding as it implied being unhappy was a matter of choice. My experience after my first marriage attested to the contrary. Getting over the unhappiness and tumultuous disorientation of a major disappointment in life is a process, not a decision. Choice may be responsible for a calamity, but once the disaster takes place, it ain’t over baby until the fire is put out and the wounded attended to. That takes time.

The pain of betrayal, the sting of rejection and the despair over failure are real feelings, every bit as real as hunger pangs when starving and fear in the face of danger. They happen as a condition of a person’s circumstances and there’s no wishing them away. Emotionally healthy people don’t avoid or deny feelings. The only way out of the fire walk through it, not pretending that the flames don’t exist. Get a guide, a therapist, a friend who has survived the same passage, or a family member who can be patient and compassionate (often a rarity in itself.)

Anyone reading the bumper sticker who did not know my ex wouldn’t care one way or the other. Anyone who knew her would know that, just as she was proclaiming, she wasn’t miserable. So what’s the point? As a message, Misery is Optional, must have embodied some other intention. Possibilities include, “Others may think I should be unhappy that my husband moved out but I’m not.” Or, “Most people are unhappy when their marriages break up, but I am not.” Or a little more generously, “I was unhappy for a while after my husband moved out, but now I’m not.” If you lost something you weren’t committed to in the first place, yes, then misery could also be optional. You pick. Multiple choice. A little ambiguity is fun now and then. Bumper stickers are a limited medium.

Forget It . . .

What’s really happening, I guessed, is that my ex thought misery was an either/or state. It isn’t, of course. Everyone experiences a little misery in life. It’s part of the human condition. It seemed to me she as declaring she had decided not to be miserable. Great. Pretty heady trick. I didn’t think it could be done. I still don’t. All that she achieved, as far as I could see, was making our divorce a degree less private. I thought the bumper sticker begged questions where none normally would be invited, and at one level, it demeaned the sanctity of grief. The irony is that it was probably slapped on the car under a degree stress.  Doing so, I thought, would never have occurred to a contented person, in which case the message was ironically at odds with itself. Making too much of it am I?. I should put a sticker on my car that reads, “Forget it.”

My Children - a more recent picture L - R: Joesph A. Hohn, Rachel Hohn Gioannini, James M.Hohn, Eric J.Hohn,  and Gregory M. Hohn. Summer 2006

My Children – a more recent picture L – R: Joesph A. Hohn, Rachel Hohn Gioannini, James M.Hohn, Eric J.Hohn, and Gregory M. Hohn. Summer 2006

Given my life at the time, I was pretty miserable. Confused.  Painfully disappointed. Angry? Yeah. A little. Not so much at her or my circumstance but over the way the news spread about my alleged thoughtlessness and cruelty in leaving. I felt I was up against a highly efficient propaganda machine. Over night, friends angrily snubbed me in public.”She was hurt,” the waitress at a local sandwich shop said as she set lunch orders in front of my friend and me. Was this vengeance, I wondered, for there was not a word anywhere about how I tried to exit as thoughtfully as I could — waiting to tell her I was leaving until we were in a session with our marriage counselor and then acceding to her request for two week trial separation. I didn’t storm out of the house. I didn’t fight and run away. I wanted to avoid rancor and blaming. There was no ensuing drawn out court battle. All I wanted was to get over with it.

Nobody seemed to take into account what I had staked in the marriage. I thought that I had arrived. Our big home – five bedrooms and four-four-and-a-baths, two fireplaces, family room and living room, casual dining and formal dining room – large wooded lot. I sold my part ownership in a airplane and my lakeside cabin in Wisconsin to keep up with out life style when my income fell off sharply. I wanted to provide a secure, welcoming home for my children. I wanted level flight for myself for the rest of the way out, but being older doesn’t assure one knows how to achieve a degree of happiness.

The bumper sticker, all ambiguity aside, could have been intended simply to let others know, “I’m over him.” Good! I never wanted to make my ex unhappy. I can be responsible for what I do but not for how a person interprets my actions. I just wanted my own life back no matter what. The trying circumstances during first several months starting out all over attest to how important it was for me to move on with my life.

No. Misery is not an option. It’s a relative state. Perfect happiness is beyond everyone. I chose the road less miserable and that has made all the difference.

To be continued . . .

This is a first in a series of autobiographical postings. Please watch for future entries.

Special thanks for my friend Joe Frisina for his help with this article.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through some off the other pages I have posted over the years on a variety of subjects. Please feel free to enter your comments in the area provided below. Please come back. You’re always welcome.

 

 

Black Panthers at War – General Patton’s African-American Tankers

Saturday, April 23rd, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Mention the Black Panthers, and anyone born after World War II will probably recall the political party that was founded as part of the Black Power movement in the 1960s. Less likely is that anyone recalls a group of African-American G. I. tankers who fought under General George Patton in his armor campaign in Europe in 1944 and 1945. In The Black Panthers at War, author Gina M. Dinicolo mentions the men of the 761st tanker company adopted the name “Black Panthers” for their group, but history proves that the designation did not stick. By contrast, consider the legendary African-American fighter pilots of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Red Tails made history escorting allied bombers on raids into Germany. Or the Red Ball Express. African-American drivers kept the allied forces supplied as they pushed across Europe. Their commitment and endurance completing 36 hours stints in the cab garnered recognition and praise.

Institutionalized Prejudice . . .

African-Americans were relegated to support functions for the most part in World War II. As cooks, truck drivers, mechanics and logistical support, few were exposed to combat. Author Dinicolo points out that the prejudice against blacks was institutionalized in the years leading up to WWII. Army manuals stated that the performance of black Americans was expected to be less than that of whites. Her introduction focuses on the racial tensions and violence that were part of life in the U. S. during the years leading up to the war. The prevailing prejudice was blacks did not possess the skills or the willingness to fight. The armed forces remained segregated during World War II, but the demand for manpower dictated that blacks were needed on the front lines. They would go into combat, however, as a black unit, perhaps led by a white officer, but black throughout the ranks.

Cover: The Black Panthers at War

Cover: The Black Panthers at War

Nobody today doubts the ability or willingness of African-Americans to perform valiantly in combat. Viet Nam dispelled that final shard of ignorance and bigotry. Writing of the 1940s, the theme of lowered expectations of minorities is carried out through the final chapter of Black Panthers at War. One chapter is dedicated to baseball legend Jackie Robinson who was court marshaled on a charge of being disrespectful toward a fellow white officer. Robinson was acquitted but left service because of the charge. Aside from detailed reporting of the frequent incidents of discrimination within the ranks and among the civilians, the author does not expand her perspective beyond the context of the time in which the action she reports took place. Her book adds little in helping readers understand the nature of prejudice and its implications as the conflict and misunderstanding continues through to the present day.

Dinicolo makes an all-out effort, however, at claiming the tankers’ share of fame and recognition, but her story drops several rounds short. It fails to enshrine the heroism and sacrifice of the men it is all about. Dinicolo’s flaccid prose doesn’t create a sense of tension and eminent danger. By attempting to provide the stories of several men in the 761st, her narrative becomes diffuse and superficial. Her prose doesn’t excite much empathy or compassion. The battle scenes are not dramatic, with little sense of challenge or urgency. She relies heavily on mundane modifiers to lead readers. Economy of expression is sacrificed to stating the obvious.

For example: “Germans would kill anyone trying to take the town.”

Dusk becomes “A shortage of daylight . . . “

“Enemy fire resulted in a series of tremendous explosions.” (What else?)

As an author, she’s not in the battle, not with her troops.

Well Grounded in the Facts . . .

Gina M. Dinicola, Author

Gina M. Dinicola, Author

Dinicolo follows several men from enlistment to the battlefield. She is well-grounded in the facts about their training and the battles in which they participated. But her ultimate failure to identify with her subjects becomes evident when she refers to the infantry as “doughboys,” a World War I nickname long out of use by World War II. Dinicolo compounds the gaff by shortening the nickname to “doughs,” a title of her own creation never to be found in print or film about WWII.

A model for any writer in undertaking a military history of any group is Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. Ambrose captures the Esprit de corps of his company, provides insight into his subjects without resorting to lengthy biographical sketches, and holds the readers by organizing his story around various themes, whether the conflict with the officers in training or the horror of post traumatic shock syndrome. Readers realize the Ambrose’s intention. Dinicolo, on the other hand, adds too much to the mix, almost as if she is compensating for a lack of dramatic focus. The men of E Company in Band of Brothers may, in the final analysis, simply have been another group of guys – white guys – caught up in a war like thousands of others their age. Ambrose found the unifying heart to their efforts. The same story could have been written about nearly any other company in the U.  S. Army at the time, but E Company is proxy for all of them. Readers take their experience as representative of all the G. I.s.

The same opportunity was available to Dinicolo. But she relied more upon the 761st being African-American to set them apart. Otherwise, their experience was much like any other company in the conflict. with the extraordinary exception that they faced prejudice, derision, and bigotry and served anyway. They fought for a county that treated them as second-class citizens. What Dinicolo fails to develop is why these brave black men fought. Blacks in the United States did not see World War II as a white man’s war. They saw it as every man’s war. A war against their country, inequality notwithstanding. A war for democracy. A war against tyranny, injustice and the exploitation of others – conditions of life that African-Americans endured in varying degrees in the U. S.

Blacks Harbored No Doubts . . .

Black Panthers at War chronicles the achievements of very brave and talented soldiers. Any criticism of the work about them should not detract from the magnitude of their accomplishments. That said, any student of World War II and the history of racism in America will find it hard to avoid being disappointed in Dinicolo’s work. Blacks, after all, harbored no doubts about their ability. What they achieved is not the greater because white America thought they were less than capable. Astonishment on the part of any is indicative of prejudice. In an ideal world, their accomplishments would never have been set apart because of race. Instead, they would be recognized for their extraordinary valor, tenacity, skill and drive.

A byproduct of finding one’s rightful place in a society is that achievements, more often as not, go unnoticed. Being part of the crowd carries some assurance of anonymity. Dinicolo never claims the record of the 761st is exemplary because of the racial mix of the company. On the other hand, she does not establish the dynamics of the group or the heroic dimensions of their achievements on a scale that makes them any more exceptional than what others experienced and survived. The same could be said of Ambrose’s Company E. The difference between the two groups is not race but the way in which their stories are told. Black Panthers at War is rich in subject matter. Too bad so little is explored at any depth.

This review first appeared in bookpleasures. com, a web site in somewhat shorter form.

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Helicopter Parenting – Overparenting an Epidemic

Wednesday, January 13th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

#overparenting #childrearing #parental

Helicopter parenting is the term for it. In The Overparenting Epidemic, George S. Glass, MD and David Tabatsky cast a wide net. The authors want to engage parents in an examination of their own parenting practices. Toward that end, the authors gently guide readers with self-assessment exercises and oblique anecdotes about some of the outlandish things others have done. They want readers to buy into the possibility that, yes, they too might be guilty of overparenting.

Because of the amount of time Glass and Tabatsky spend on explaining the syndrome, it is obvious he realizes most parents will not see themselves in the mirror that is being held up to them. Parents with unruly, self-absorbed, disobedient children seem overly confident that their approach is the right one. They know. Everyone else is unenlightened. Perhaps they have formulated their helicopter parenting style in reaction to the way they were raised and that adds unlimited energy to their quest. The outsider, even if a family member, can only guess at what drives them. The subject of raising children is one of those volatile issues that almost never gets discussed.

Parents of today are the progeny of the boomer generation, a generation that has enjoyed the highest standard of living, even at lower economic levels, than ever before in our history. An era of technological abundance challenges parents today in a manner none could anticipate twenty years ago.  A boy’s father years ago could help his son fix an electric train. Doing so provided an opportunity to be together and bond. A father today cannot be expected to repair a handheld device that puts television, games, a camera and a telephone into a child’s shirt pocket.

The authors give a quick history of child raising theories from Victorian times through the current time. Dr. Spock, the oracle of the mid-twentieth century, is cited by Glass as often misunderstood. They also provide a summary of the parenting styles; i.e. authoritarian, authoritative, and permissive.

"The Overparenting Epidemic" by George S. Glass and Book Cover

“The Overparenting Epidemic” by George S. Glass and David Tabatsky-  Book Cover

Overlooking the phenomenon of self-deception, they offer a multiple choice instrument to help a parent-reader identify his or her parenting style. This is all very helpful material, but the cure only begins with the diagnosis. Commitment to making a change is the next step, and it may involve profound adjustments in how an adult sees the parenting role. Deep personal reflection, no small undertaking in itself, is part of the process. Some parents pour too much of their own well-being into succeeding at raising their child. To compensate for their own unfulfilled aspirations, some raise the bar too high for their youngsters. The consequences are never apparent in the moment. Children are to be delivered into adulthood as stable, productive, secure, happy individuals. With the finish line always in the future, denial comes easy. Until that day arrives, the parents know best, for good or ill, and push ahead ignoring the signs that common sense might tell them that they could  be taking the wrong approach.

Helicopter parenting is not by definition permissive. It can be authoritarian, restricting children from activities their peers enjoy. No TV with parental approval. DVDs likewise. No fast food. The parenting style can be intrusive. The American culture is gross and course, and children need to spared from experiencing it. Parents become directive at school, at scouts, on the pee-wee sports field.

Parents can be permissive in some areas and non-negotiable in others. An uncle reported that he called his brother’s family during the Christmas season to extend his best wishes. “The boys liked their toys,” his sister-in-law reported.*

“Can I just say ‘hello’ to them?” uncle inquired.

“Hans. Dillon. Your uncle wants to talk to you. Come to the phone.”

A long pause.

“They said they don’t want to talk to you.”

“What the hell was I supposed to do then?” the uncle concluded in relating the event. “Tell her that she should put her little punks on the phone to teach them politeness and concern for others?”

George S. Glass, MD - Author

George S. Glass, MD – Author

“Their mother fixed three meals for six people when we were there,” a grandfather reported. “A separate meal for each boy because the mother knew that neither one would eat what was placed on the table for the adults. They also would not eat what the other wanted. Then, finally she set the meal for the adults. Whatever happened to ‘clean your plate?”

To counter the energy driving parents in their mission, Glass admonishes over-protective parents to “let go.” The regrettable truth is the message may not be enough to bring about the changes to help both parent and child find every day a happier place to be. Too many parents are driven to make up for the perceived failures of their own parents. They establish their own approach out of their own feelings of insufficiency and low self-esteem. Their children will do so much better. The tragedy is, of course, as children attain legal age, the unhealthy entanglement goes on and on. Glass, himself, suggests at one point that parents may need their own twelve-step program to disengage from an obsessive and damaging parenting style.

The damage done, as mentioned earlier, will become more apparent as the children move through adolescence and into early adult life. Those who have not learned who to relate to others, even if it means insisting on traditional conventions of polite behavior in the home, will continue to find it difficult to connect with others. “I might as well not bothered,” an aunt reported. “I hadn’t see those two girls in at least a year. There I was, in the hone, and they didn’t so much as say ‘hi,’ let alone give me a hug. They walked right by me as if I wasn’t there.”

Children who grow accustomed to having parents jump in and save them from failure or a difficult relationship often grow up expecting rescue rather than fending for themselves. They may have difficulty handling the complex feelings of failure when it occurs in real life — and failure is part of life. Glass urges parents allow children the freedom to experience life within the manageable dimensions of childhood, even if it means occasional disappointment and failure. The doctor has a contemporary message that echoes Kahlil Gibran, Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you.

Author David Tabatsky

Author David Tabatsky

Children who are not taught to respect boundaries and the property of others may find it difficult maintaining proper decorum as adults. “The minute they entered the house,” one man reported, “my grandsons disappeared. We found them when we heard them jumping up and down on our bed in the master bedroom. Imagine! When I was a kid, you didn’t go into a parent’s or a grandparent’s bedroom, let alone jump up and down on it. ‘Get off the bed,’ my son ordered. They stopped jumping but they didn’t get off the bed. They sprawled out on it and looked at him. He didn’t say another word. I guess that was good enough for him. They didn’t obey him and he didn’t insist on it.”

Estrangement of grandparents from grandchildren often results when the family elders lose patience and find they cannot agree with the way the home is being run. “The inmates are in charge of the asylum,” one grandmother remarked in grim humor. At its most destructive, the rift can carry through to creating distance between the parents and the grandparents. “When they finally left,” one grandfather reported, “I needed to get massage therapy to take the knots out of my upper back. I was that tense. You can’t tell anyone what your really think, you know.” A conflict in values is the most difficult to resolve. It often results in limiting contact and remaining distant.

Author Glass appeals to parents to use common sense. He realizes that helicopter parenting is as damaging for the adults as it is for the children. He urges parents to take a minute and consider what they are doing. The chapters toward the end of the book give advice that is tailored to the various scenarios that can be found in the home of parent who does not let go, use common sense, and trust that their child has all the resources necessary to him or her to deal with the day-to-day world.

The weaknesses in the book lie not in the message but in the delivery. The book needs to be tighter. Examples of overparenting abound, to the point of numbing redundancy. Rhetorical questions are over used. Readers will consider Dr. Glass’ analysis and recommendations because of his experience and credentials. They don’t need to be goaded into thinking by a barrage of rhetorical interrogatives.

Most readers will get past these shortcomings because the book is timely and important. Glass avoids jargon and psyche-speak to produce a work that is clear in its message. Dr. Glass is preeminently qualified as the author and his work should prove to be an important guide to parents everywhere.

*Quoted statements are fictitious and for illustrative purpose. They are not from the author’s book.

This review initially appeared in somewhat reduced form in bookpleasures.com.

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Elephants, Mankind’s Last Innocence Endangered

Monday, December 28th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

When Cecil, a magnificent twelve year old male lion, was killed by Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, the world took note. Finally, a cowardly act so outrageous in its cruelty gave rise to an outcry from thousands. Perhaps now, in the anger and grief, attention will be focused on the barbaric slaughter of the animals of the wilds of Africa. One person who has taken up the cause in a persuasive and powerfully eloquent manner is Mary Baures. A psychologist, Baures pours her clinical knowledge and compassionate nature into her book, Love Heals Baby Elephants: Rebirthing Ivory Orphans. Her depiction of the plight of the elephants and rhinoceros is impassioned, poetic, poignant and compelling. She describes Cecil’s death in a manner worth repeating to keep the horror of Palmer’s cruelty well in mind.

His (Palmer’s) Zimbabwe guides tied a dead animal to the back of their vehicle and lured Cecil, a beautiful, black maned lion with twelve cubs to protect, out of a safe area in Hwange National Park. They chose him because he was massive, a warrior with big black chunks of dreadlocks. They shined a spotlight on Cecil to blind him, then Palmer shot him with a bow and arrow. Cecil was injured from the first shot but escaped and fought to live forty-four hours while the crew tracked him and killed him. The team . . . tried to destroy the GPS tracking collar, probably visible when they led him out of the park and into the spotlights before the kill. Palmer butchered an Oxford University research subject ….

Author Mary Baures

Author Mary Baures

To drive her point home that Palmer is typical of the sport hunters who are the scourge of the savannas that are home to the beasts of the wild, Baures at one point observes. “Palmer’s treatment of his victims mirrors those of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.”

Baures also mentions Jimmy John Liatuad whose obscene pictures depicting him standing two-thumbs up on his kills, including an elephant and a rhino, should inspire a boycott of his Jimmy Johns restaurant chain. Liatuad is a coward, a bully and a mindless killer.

Baures’ plea is all the more powerful because she brings her trained eye to her subjects. She cites examples of creatures working out of a sense of compassion for one another. Baboons, in one situation, drop mangoes from the tree tops to an orphaned baby elephant so that it can survive. In another, a hyena protects an orphan baby elephant from attack by a pack of her own kind. Her descriptions of the nurturing and rebirthing of the tiny orphans is especially moving. The newborn of the elephants, like humans, take much longer to reach maturity than other mammals. The horror of seeing the mothers slaughtered in front of their eyes is traumatizing, just as it would be for a human child. They need to recover physically and psychologically. Most, tragically, do not. Only about one-third of the orphans are ever rescued. Some die after rescue because of the severity of their injuries and the shock of seeing their mothers butchered. Those who do recover must learn to trust again, most of all the humans, representatives from the same species that killed their mothers. The miracle is that the tiny creatures, with the support, nurturance, and affection of the rest of rescued herd, eventually learn to accept others again, find a home and learn to play among the their new found friends. Eventually, and probably with greater discernment than most humans, they find a way to accept the attention and love of their human keepers.

We have stepped outside of nature . . .

Men are capable of outrageous cruelty toward their fellow beings because we have stepped outside of nature. The author quotes Albert Einstein observation that the task for humans “is to widen ‘our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature.’” The enormity of our crimes against our fellow beings is staggering. “Fifty years ago,” the author reports, “there were 450,000 lions. Now (2105) there are only 23,000.” At one time, three million elephants roamed the African savannas. Their number has been reduced to 30,000. Yet the slaughter continues.

Elephants at the water hole. Once they numbered 3,000,000, Poachers and reduced their number to 30,000.

Elephants at the water hole. Once  3,000,000 strong, poachers have reduced their number to 30,000.

The ivory trade funds organized crime who attack with helicopters, off-road vehicles, rocket launchers and rapid-fire semi-automatic weapons. To prevent detection, they use gun silencers and sedation to capture their prey who they butcher in the field and leave the caucuses to rot, often with their babies clinging by the remains, vulnerable and alone. Baures supports her statements with facts. She writes, “The illegal wildlife trade is the world’s fourth largest criminal activity, with annual profits of $20 billion.” She reports that 1,200 rangers from thirty-six countries have been killed in the line of duty. Rangers are charged with the task of protecting the wildlife in their area.

Baures’ reporting is balanced. She justifiably rails against the cruelty, insensitivity and horror of the hunting and harvesting body parts. She balances her righteous condemnation with insight into the wonder and awe of the creatures she observes. Elephants have brains four times as large as human brains. Their capacity for memory is not a myth. They exhibit psychic abilities far beyond those known to most humans. They have an inspiring capacity for love, compassion and sharing affection. One event report was especially moving:

Mystical knowing . . .

When Lawrence Anthony, the elephant whisperer, died in March 2012, thirty-one elephants from two herds arrived after traveling 112 miles. The marched in a solemn line for hours to pay their respects. . . . They were led by Nana, the matriarch, and had not been to his (Lawrence’s’) reserve at Thula for a year and a half. They continued their grief vigil for two days before heading back to the bush. Their knowledge of his passing speaks of the mystical knowing of elephants. (Reviewer’s note: Nobody told the elephants of Lawrence’s death.)

“They are loving,” Baures writes, “wise and peaceful. Perhaps the telepathic abilities of elephants come from their rootedness in the Earth and their collective sense of self.”

“Unlike us,” the author observes in a later passage, “they don’t conceive of themselves as separate from other creatures or from the vast universal mind. Love melts away the boundaries between self and other creatures and may explain elephants’ extraordinary knowing.”

“You are our last innocence,” Baures writes.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of the intelligent animal.

A young elephant, probably an orphan. Look at the eyes of this intelligent animal.

Readers are urged to buy the print versions of Love Heals Baby Elephants because of the many wonderful pictures included in the text. This reviewer found the Kindle format too confining and lacking in detail when viewing the photos. The book has a casually rushed feel to it which is completely understandable. Given the Palmer horror, the time was at hand to get the word out. The flow of the book is almost conversational. Also, the title is a bit misleading because the book is not confined to discussing only elephants. Wait until you read about the ostriches Pea and Pod and the great fun they have playing among the behemoths of wild. The plight of the rhinoceros also falls within the author’s concern. Black rhinos have been driven to near extinction in malicious harvesting of their horns in the false belief that powder made from them is an aphrodisiac. (The horns consist of tissue much like fingernails, with no food or  medicinal value.) Ms. Baures has a straightforward, easy to read literary style. While her subject at times becomes somewhat technical, her explanations are in the language of a layperson and easy to follow. Her poetic nature shines in passages, some planted like gems and set out as pleasant, insightful surprises for the reader.

Years ago, Rachel Carlson wrote Silent Spring which became a bestseller. Mary Baures deserves that same recognition for the power of her compassionate message. Hopefully she will be as instrumental in forcing a long overdue change and that as humans everywhere we grow in our awareness that we are sharing our Earth with our fellow creatures. They deserve our respect and compassion. We diminish ourselves every time we forget our relationship with them.

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Cast Overcomes Flawed Script in The Three Musketeers at The Barter Theatre

Monday, September 14th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

The Three Musketeers was presented for the first time ever on Saturday, September 11, 2015 at The Barter Theatre in Abingdon, VA. Artistic Director Richard Rose made sure his audience was aware of the occasion in his opening remarks. Over they years, The Barter has many notable successes in presenting dramas that were not originally written for stage. Whether the company will enjoy the same with this play was still somewhat in doubt at the final curtain, although with the audience on its feet for an ovation, all bets are on the side of a good run.

The performances by the cast are uniformly strong. Joseph Matthew Veale is perfect as the young, idealistic D’Artagnan who arrives in Paris with a letter of introduction from his father that will allow him to enlist in the King’s Musketeers. Veale is an energetic presence on stage, thoroughly the young man from the country that he claims to be. His strong voice and athletic moves convince the audience that he will succeed at whatever impossible feats he attempts. He is at a loss for words when he meets the beautiful Constance. Their encounter is delightfully humorous and goes beyond the laughter to reveal a thoroughly believable innocence in D’Artaganan – a point of contrast with almost everyone else in the story, save Constance herself.

The plot gets underway quickly as D’Artagnan’s letter is stolen by the nefarious Rochfort. Rochfort is the strong-arm henchman of arc-villain Cardinal Richelieu. Nick Koester, as Rochfort, is an arrogant, cruel sociopath who takes his orders directly from Richelieu. Koester has the physicality for the role and delivers a flawless performance. Richelieu, meanwhile, is impeccably portrayed by Michael Poisson. Poisson brings a chilling surgical touch to the dark role of Richelieu as he delivers his more vicious lines with rapier precision. His final concession to D’Artagnan is a calculated acceptance of his circumstances, and the audience is left feeling Richelieu is not going away; he may have lost a battle but the war will go on.

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

The Barter Theater, Abingdon, Virginia

Nicholas Piper as Monsieur de Treville is also perfectly cast. Piper plays Treville as the politically savvy commander of the Musketeers, a position that must have been as muddied for him as it was for the audience in that the King has soldiers as does the Cardinal, and they are often at odds with each other as well as the musketeers. Yet Treville always seems to know the score even without being entirely sure of where his own men are in the city. His Musketeers respect him, although any one of them could physically get the better of him. It must be the touch of the director, Katy Brown, that Piper, like other major characters, refuses the easily accessible melodramatic reading and chooses a more mater-of-fact delivery that makes his performance credible, perhaps all the more so because it runs counter to audience expectations of swashbuckling histrionics.

Sean Maximo Campos as Athos might bring Johnny Depp to mind for some in the audience. Personal tragedy drives the wily Athos, and Campos delivers as much as any audience has a right to ask in the final but unfortunate scene of the Act I. Porthos and Aramis, competently played by Andrew Hampton Livingston and Justin Tyler Lewis respectively, exchange quick witted repartee with their buddy Athos. Hannah Ingram’s Milady de Winter is a reserved villainess, stealthily in step with the other characters. The audience knows from the onset that she is a really bad lady. Ingram’s confident portrayal never lets the image slip.

Annie Simpson plays Constance Bonacieux, the youthful blond beauty with whom D’Artagnan is smitten. And why not. Simpson is angelic. One of the funniest lines in the show takes place when D’Artagnan falls to his knees proclaiming love to Constance upon first seeing her. Bewildered, Constance looks to her father. “He’s from the country,” her father observes as if it explains everything. The father, by the way, is played by the versatile Zacchaeus Kimbrel. Kimbrel appears in several key roles. His portrayal of the narcissistic, affected King Louis is wonderfully funny.

Derek Smith’s set design captures the darkness of the story line. Not everything turns out OK, after all, as American audiences might like. Sumptuous costume design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan dispels any notion that Musketeers is to be dismissed as mere fantasy.

Richard Rose has pushed the envelope for The Barter several different times during his years as the Artistic Director. The Three Musketeers is another one of his laudable efforts. It remains to be seen, however, whether Rose’s reach has exceeded his company’s grasp. The acting, under the very capable direction of Katy Brown, is superb. Stage combat is seriously dangerous stuff. With the season advancing, perhaps the actors will become more relaxed in the combat scenes. In the first show, however, the action was awkwardly hesitant. Audiences accustomed to cinematic portrayals may find the sword fighting to be noisy, staid and unrealistic.

The Barters Three Musketeers (l to r) Campos, Lewis, Veale and Livingston

The Barters Three Musketeers plus one (l to r) Campos, Lewis, Veale and Livingston

The program does not list a playwright. Katy Brown is named dramaturge. The weakness in the show is not in the acting, the direction, or any of the production qualities. It’s in the script. Without giving the show away, the action in Act I is sustained by the suspense that Richelieu’s plot is going to bring down the queen. The plot is resolved before Act I ends. No tension whatsoever sustains the audience in the final scene of the act which comes off as something thrown in by the playwright to quickly background the audience for the rest of the play. This is where Campos puts Athos through a tortured drunken soliloquy about his own tragic past. Athos’ intoxication as the reason for his disclosure. Drunkenness is a gimmick, in other words, because there is nothing in the story line motivating Athos to confess to anything. The entire scene has the audience wondering where the plot is going next. It’s great acting; but bad drama.

A better script would have placed snippets of Athos’ past history earlier in the act. Milady de Winter should have been handled in the same manner and it would have created more intrigue for her character. Perhaps her fleur de lis branding would be discovered earlier. Other credible means hinting at the relationship between the two could be worked into the script. Curiosity should have been building about these two major characters throughout. As it is now, the justification for the last scene of Act I is not presented until after intermission in Act II. It would have been far better to sustain the suspense of the Cardinal’s plot to discredit the queen through the end of Act I or even beyond and integrate Athos’s tragedy organically into the flow of drama.

As it stands, the drama comes off as two one act plays strung together with the last scene of Act I serving as a lynch pin. Perhaps this weakness in the story line was to be overcome by thrilling sword fights and swashbuckling action. It wasn’t. There is good writing in the script but the basic development of the story is fatally flawed and unworthy of the legendary Dumas. The entire script needs a reworking that it is not likely to get.  It would be challenging task, but if the play has a future at all, the hard work of rewriting is needed to rectify its defects.

Audiences are nevertheless likely to be pleased throughout the current season with The Three Musketeers which is a tribute to The Barter, its production staff, and its company of fine actors.

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Market Downturns Disclose Hidden Investment Goals

Sunday, September 13th, 2015
Author John J. Hohn, Retired Financial Adviser

Financial Adviser John J. Hohn, Retired

#stockmarket #investing #capitalgains #portfolio

Market downturns bring out the worst in some. People may not know it, but they often want more from their investment portfolio than gains and income. Like other major arenas in life—some load more baggage onto a portfolio than it was designed to carry.

Making more money guarantees nothing except make a person wealthier. Assuming grinding poverty is not the cause of unhappiness, money can do nothing to change anyone’s self-esteem. An unhappy person will be an unhappy investor. When the market is going up, they are not making enough. When it is dropping, they are losing too much.

If you want to make good investment decisions, define your goals. Write them down and review them from time to time.

A legitimate goal on the list might be funding college education for your children but not “help me overcome my disappointment with my children.” A legitimate goal might be to retire early but not “help me get my spouse to agree on when to retire.” Sound silly? Truth is that these  unarticulated goals lurk in the darker recesses of the subconscious, just beyond the investor’s awareness. They draw life and breath from all the unhappy, worrisome areas  in an investor’s life. They surface when things don’t go well, especially a market downturn. They are the stuff of panic.

A financial advisor is not a psychologist, no expert at intervening in a personal crisis. He or she has limited training in helping a client overcome negative feelings about losses, missed opportunities, or the failure to do better let alone about disappointments in past losses, a troubled marriage, rebellious children, wearisome job, or life itself.

Wall Street Stock Exchange

Wall Street Stock Exchange

The financial industry attracts predominantly two personality types—the stridently confident, self-absorbed extrovert and the pensive, analytical, technically oriented introvert. Neither receives much training in handling clients who are upset, or angry, or sad, or whatever. They don’t want to be burdened with helping a client define what is really wrong with life. The client may not think he or she is presenting the  advisor with such a loaded agenda, but the energy driving the client’s side of the discussion — the worry, the anger, the disappointment — often is disproportionate to what is happening in the dollar-and-cents world of the portfolio.

A story may illustrate the point. One couple, clients of mine, owned a successful small business. They worked out of their home. They had no children and financial success became a focal point in their lives. Their aggressiveness spilled over into their investment style. During the dot.com craze of the 1990’s, they bought large blocks of Silicon Valley startups that soared with the trend.

A Loaded Agenda . . .

When the speculative surge collapsed, their portfolio took a terrible tumble . She had made most of the stock picks initially, giddy over the projections that analysts were making in what was then dubbed the “new economy.”  It was beyond her to admit that they had been carried away by the hype and failed to harvest their profits in a timely manner. Their stocks were always going to up no matter what. She did not want to acknowledge she had created a long list of failing choices.

She and her husband measured their loses from “peak to trough”—from the highest point an issue achieved to the lowest level to which it had fallen. Forget that at any given moment at least ten percent at either end of the scale is usually not supported by the fundamental value of the company. Stocks are almost always over or under valued. One that has run up dramatically is probably over bought; one that crashes, over sold. But according to their way of looking at things, they had sustained real dollar-and-cent losses that totaled hundreds of thousands. Their portfolio became an album of misery and lost fortune. As if that wasn’t enough, with the market downturn she blamed him for not selling when the time was right. Tranquility at home got tossed onto the pile of losses.

Trading Floor - U. S. Stock Exchange

Trading Floor – U. S. Stock Exchange

At this point, they came to see me. I did not see the anger and bitterness in their concerns, only that they felt defeated and discouraged. Despite their losses, they were wealthy by any measure. None of their life goals were threatened. But that was not their game. They had one rule; make as much money as possible. It was unrelated to anything they wanted in life like, say, a trip around the world, a home at Lake Tahoe, or an art collection. They wanted wealth for the sake of wealth. When a person doesn’t know what is sufficient, no amount is ever enough.

Discouraged, they told me that they didn’t want to make investment decisions any longer. I took them at their word. Rather than deal with their trouble, they decided to turn everything over to me and thus escape from it. Bad idea.

She never forgot that they missed a chance at making huge profits. She never forgave him for not making the right call on selling. (The decision to sell, by the way, is far more difficult to make than the decision to buy.) He took me aside one day and asked me to go easy on selling all the big losers in their portfolio because it brought the whole subject up again between them and he was weary of the conflict.

I made a sale one day that generated a capital gains tax bill of $25,000—the maximum long-term capital gains tax rate at the time was 15%. Doing the math, the couple had gains in one issue of $166,667. The forecast for the stock had turned negative. I felt that I had finally taken them out of a position at the right time. The couple received a confirmation of the sale in the mail. Their monthly statements provided all the detail about their gains and losses.

Relative terms . . .

Wall Street Bull Bulls make money. Bears make money. Hogs get slaughtered.

Wall Street Bull
Bulls make money. Bears make money. Hogs get slaughtered.

When we had discussed capital gains taxes, I proposed that using losses to offset gains in other successful positions would minimize their capital gains tax bill. Minimize and maximize are relative terms. Precision is needed to avoid misunderstanding. Capital gains, for example, might be expressed in as a percentage of the total portfolio. Thus 5% of a million dollar portfolio would direct the advisor to not exceed $50,000 in net capital gains. Doing so would limit the taxes due at the end of the year to $7,500 at the maximum rate of 15 percent. Taxes are always a consideration but should not override other tenets of sound portfolio management. Profits generate taxes. It’s that simple. Nevertheless, this couple wanted to avoid all capital gain taxes. They benefited more than most from living in a free-enterprise, capitalistic economy, but  they did not want to pay anything whenever they profited. They were experienced investors and yet never understood the avoiding taxes was impossible if profits were to be taken at the most opportune times.

They didn’t read the confirmation of the sale when it was mailed to them. They didn’t read their monthly statements that reported the capital gains and losses for the month and the year-to-date. So when their accountant called to report that they needed to write a check to the IRS, it came as a huge surprise. My relationship with them came to an abrupt and angry end. Stocks with large losses were still in the portfolio—stocks that I could have sold to offset their capital gains, stocks that I did not sell because, even beaten up as badly as they were, they still held out the potential of regaining their strength. A market drop is rarely measured and rational. A lot of good companies get caught in it along with the troubled issues in the outgoing tide. Furthermore, I wanted to respect the husband’s wishes by not calling their attention them.

The game was up . . .

She left a long, vicious message on my answering machine that destroyed any chance of appealing to them on the basis of friendship. The proceeds could be reinvested in stocks with more promise that would make up for the amount spent on taxes. Given any period of time, they could have continued to enjoy growth in the market, but in the uproar over the taxes, time was lost in discussing the issues. As a final proposal, my compliance officer offered to reverse the sale, even though it was months later. The clients realized, of course, that their losses in value would be far greater than the amount of the capital gains taxes. Not placated, the compliance office finally told them that they were free to take their complaint to an arbitration panel—a step most brokerage houses want to prevent. That was the last I ever heard of the case and the last I ever saw of the couple.They went to every attorney in town and got none to accept their case.

They took their problem marriage and their inability to set realistic goals to another unsuspecting financial advisor. The saga will play out all over again when conditions are ripe.

Investing is always on a continuum. Just as it is nearly impossible to foretell the end of a movie by viewing a still shot of one scene, standing dead still with a view of the market as if it were a snapshot is also a mistake. The market and the economy are dynamic. Good investors stay poised to act as conditions change. They realize that the real challenge is to have the money they need at a given point in time; i.e. to start a business,  for retirement, or other life goal. Human psychology is a serious, sophisticated subject. It is beyond the scope of any postings I ever plan to make except to note some relatively simple steps to take the intrigue out of the investing process. Make sure that goals are realistic, well defined, written down, and shared.

Money has a limited, important role in life. Managing it successfully is not difficult. It may be a broad subject, but one with very little depth to it. Keeping a clear head for making decisions is very important. Loading up the portfolio with expectations that need to be addressed or realized elsewhere in life burdens a portfolio beyond its nature to carry. The minute one tries to make wealth do something that it cannot, decisions become flawed and success become less and less likely.