Posts Tagged ‘family’

Ambivalence in the Aftermath of Betrayal Imperils Reconcilliation

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.

Passive-Aggressive Life Style Becomes Ingrained in Families

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer, Reviewer and Commentator

#PassigveAggressive #Eldercare #Ageism

Passive-aggressive behavior can become so ingrained in a family that it becomes a way of life. Those caught  in it often don’t recognize their own dynamics. In  the The Hanged Man, Sheldon Kopp wrote that the power of passive-aggressive behavior comes from inducing proactive persons to “impale themselves on their assertiveness.” Get the other guy to act, in other words, then if something goes wrong, that person is to blame. Kopp was talking about more than the co-worker who is chronically late for work or the forgetful spouse who can foul up an evening out. He was writing about those unfortunate humans who are so unhappy with themselves that they adopt passive-aggressive posture in almost all their relationships. They become consummate victims, ever the object of slights and injustices. Their muted anguish over perceived wrongs becomes the stuff their existence. They may not show it, but they are angry. They are not often very forgiving. They do not see the world around them as most others do. Or as Eric Berne described in Games People Play, they play at a level that is calculated to hurt others – physically, emotionally or both. Make no mistake. Victims are powerful. They can hurt those who try to interact them.

Here is a story that illustrates the point.

Aunt Ruthie died. Mourners dined in the church auditorium upon returning from the cemetery.

“I’m surprised you made it,” Ruth’s son said to his Uncle Vince, Ruth’s younger brother.

“Why’s that?”

“You paid so little attention to Mother over the years.”

“That’s strange, Ruth never said anything to me about wanting to see me more often,” Vince answered.

“Well, she wouldn’t,” the son explained. “That was not her way.”

“She never said anything when we talked on the phone. Never wrote. I’d have made an effort otherwise.”

“Yeah, well, like when did you ever call her?”

“Always on her birthday and during the holiday season. Why? She complained about my not being in touch?”

“She was hurt.”

“It would’ve been easy enough for her to say something.”

“She complained to everyone one of us, the rest of the family. We saw she was upset.”

“Why didn’t you say something to me? Or to my brother. He’d have passed it on to me.  You know, something like ‘Mother’d  like to hear from you.’”

“Not my job to run the family,” the son said.

“Ruthie had a cell phone. The nursing home has a computer available. Seems like she’d have said something. Called. Or written.”

“We all have things we have to live with. You only came to see her . . . what . . . three or four times the last ten years or so. ”

“I don’t recall being invited. When I did come, she didn’t seem ready. I took her out to eat.”

“She wasn’t one to invite others to her home”, the son said.

“I live 1,250 miles away  Not exactly a Sunday drive to get to her place,” Vince protested.

“We all knew you’d have some excuse like that.”

“Look. I visited Ruth as often as I did anyone else in the family member, except for my children.  I visited her as often as I did my brother. He never complains. Cuts both ways, you know. She never came to visit me either.”

“Ever think that she couldn’t afford the air fair?”

“My brother said she spent thousands on to televangelists.”

“So, who was going to stop her?” the son replied.

“That’s not the point. She could have come to see me. She had all the resources,” Vince said, exasperated.

“She was uncomfortable on airplanes. The seats were too tight.”

“So she was completely helpless, right?”

“She didn’t like it when people were critical of her. She was in debt when she died, you know. The bank was foreclosing on her house.”

“I heard that and couldn’t imagine why. The house was free and clear when her husband passed away. She had social security and his survivor pension.”

“Mother just got tired. She didn’t like living alone. She bought lottery tickets and liked going out to the casinos. She had Swans deliver meals. Her freezer was packed full of them,” the son explained.

“None of you urged her to take better care of herself?”

“Wouldn’t have done any good.”

“Did my brother know about all of this?” Vince asked.

“Oh, yeah. He’d come up here and talk to us like were supposed to do something. At least Uncle Len came to see her regularly.”

“He lives less than 200 miles away. He doesn’t have to fly half way across the country, rent a car and then drive another 170 miles. You’ve got to look at both sides. Ruthie was invited to my granddaughter’s wedding and didn’t attend. A two hour drive from her home, and she didn’t bother to go.”

“She was hurt about that. She didn’t like driving, you know. She was uncomfortable behind the wheel.”

“Lots of people her age drive.”

“She wanted to get one of us to drive her,” the son explained.

“Why didn’t you?” Vince asked.

“None of us was invited.”

“Ah, for Pete’s sake,. None of the cousins were invited from either side of the family. The couple felt that inviting them looked like trolling for gifts. If it meant Ruth getting there, an accommodation could be made  Didn’t anyone ask?”

“Yeah, like we should call and invite ourselves.”

“Ruthie could have called. She was an invited party. She could have made the request. Nobody would turn her down,” Vince countered.

“I don’t suppose it occurred to you to come get her.”

“Me?” Vince chuckled, “with all the folks living right here close to her. It never crossed my mind.”

“I’m not surprised.”

“Your Uncle Len could have bought her. Her home was practically on his way.”

“Uncle Len didn’t volunteer. We just supposed he didn’t want to.”

“So, nobody asked. Not Ruth. None of you.”

“I knew that it would be useless to talk to you about Mother. Just forget it.”

Negative Inferences are Deliberate . . .

The outcome of any exchange with a passive-aggressive personality is usually predictable. Escalation will take place as the more assertive party tries to correct the false impression or erroneous interpretation of their actions. The false impressions and negative inferences are deliberate, of course. Maybe not consciously so, but allowing for the benefit of the doubt is not in the repertoire of a passive-aggressive person. Frustration and  anger are the payoffs for them. The wheedling, jabbing and evasiveness eventually strike home. Score one for passivity.

Nothing anyone says will make any difference. Passive-aggressive people build a life around ignoring what others think. Reaching an understanding is rarely their objective. They are playing a game, consciously or unconsciously.

Anyone taking the time to look into Ruth’s life would have discovered that she was an accomplished passive-aggressive manipulator. She thrived on failure. Failure brought more attention than achievement. Generous and thoughtful people who came into her company soon found out that they could not do enough for her. The bar was always raised. Higher and higher until resentment ruptured the relationship. Ruth saw herself as incapable of returning any favors. Any consideration. As a result, she didn’t.

Thrive on Failure . . .

Ruth’s game went forward on the strength of two beliefs. First, you were not to expect as much from her as you would anyone else. She could afford a computer, but didn’t buy one. Owning one meant others would expect her to email. She had a cell phone because she expected others to call her, but she did not use to the phone to initiate contact. She could write but didn’t. Most of her peers, men and women in the mid-seventies, still drove cars. They maintained a healthy style of living so that they could engage with others as they moved into their later years. Ruth, however, was obese. Her children saw her as disabled. At age 75, she took to a wheelchair and gave up entirely on getting around on her own. To suggest that she was capable but not trying, to urge her to try in the most compassionate terms, was tantamount of sacrilege. The people around Ruth, her children primarily, ignored the obvious.

Second, Ruth’s game also went forward on the belief nobody should ever do anything to hurt Ruth. Don’t correct her. Don’t cross her. Don’t suggest anything, or she will be hurt and the transgressor will suffer the blame and endure the guilt. Ruth never forgave. She never forgot.

Our culture benefits every day from the contributions of women who overcame obstacles and challenges much greater than those Ruth faced. Role models were available everywhere. Heavy women, slight women, tall women, blind women, deaf women, cancer survivors, combat survivors, divorce survivors, widows, authors, dancers, singer, actors — the list goes on and on. Yet for Ruth the  task of making a phone call to express a wish was too much. Writing an email was too much. Even when doing so was in her own best interest.

Roth’s childhood and her years as a  young adult may have been less than fortunate. She never missed a meal. Never suffered from a serious illness. Her family was well-off. Yet she was entrenched in her way of relating to others. Like most of us, she may not have been extraordinarily talented in any area of her life. She probably found herself on the outside as a youngster. Was she not attractive enough? Bright enough? Athletic enough? Musical? It didn’t matter. Trying was so hurtful that she stopped trying. She got attention by standing apart and looking for sympathy. Her parents worried about her. They wanted to do more for her. She was unfortunate. She didn’t have all the things going for her that other girls had. Ruth managed to get her parents to play into her helplessness.

The truth is, of course, Ruth could do all the things normal people do. Slowly and surely, however, less and less was expected of her until she did not need to do much at all. She convinced everyone around her, as she did herself, that she was not capable. It was easier caring for her than it was to demand that she take care of herself. Nobody insisted that she do for herself and move with the rest of the family in the stream of life. Eventually, she was surrounded by enablers, other passive people, who did not have the courage, or perhaps, the wisdom to confront her.

From the conversation above, it is evident that Ruthie’s model of passivity has been passed along to at least one of her children. It will take energy and courage to break the pattern that may go on for generation after generation.

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Blending Families Successfully – Destined to be a Classic

Saturday, January 30th, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Blending Families Successfully, by George S. Glass, published in 2014, deserves much more attention than it is getting for all the wisdom brimming between its covers. Dr. Glass is a board-certified psychiatrist with years of experience in counseling parents and individual clients. In Blending Families, he gets out from behind the desk very quickly and speaks to his readers directly in an authentic conversational tone. The result is a genuinely warm, caring guide through the stormy passages following the collapse of a marriage and all the goes into starting over again.

Blending Families Successfully is the second book to be reviewed on the web site. She my earlier post on The Overparenting Epidemic.

Second Marriages Fail . . .

The rate at which first marriages fail has dropped over the recent decade, but the percentage ending in divorce is still very high when measured against historical norms. Worse yet, as Dr. Glass points out, second marriages fail at a greater rate than first marriages. One major contributing reason is that remarried couples clash over how the children of the new family are to be guided and raised. Glass begins his examination of the reasons behind these failures by focusing first on the difficulties the newly divorced parents face. Any reader who has lived through divorce will feel right at home with a chapter entitled “How Did I Get Here?” Most will recognize that awful feeling of having lost direction in life and contact with the true self. Glass knows. He shares of his own experience, from the many years he continued as a single parent through to his own remarriage and the blending of the family to include his children and his wife’s, and (yeah, get this) their own new baby. Within a few pages, most readers will very much in touch with the author and sense his presence.

George S. Glass, MD - Author

George S. Glass, MD – Author

“Divorce can render even the most secure person a mess,” Glass declares in an early chapter. A great deal of trust goes into every act during the normal day of a married couple. It may be as simple as trusting that the bills will be paid or the car serviced. But when a couple separates, the to-do list is refreshed right from the start. Going to a PTA meeting brings back painful memories have attending with a spouse. The future is not clear any more. Or as Glass observes, “It (divorce) creates vulnerability were it may have not ever existed.” Alarming and realistic as that description may be, it is a comfort to those who have suffered the mental disorientation and anguish that accompany the loss of marriage. The author knows all about what lies in store. He knows what it takes to get through it all.

Children Come First . . .

Glass focuses on the children of the broken marriage. “No matter how chaotic, unhappy or disinterested their parents may have been, children, particularly younger ones, prefer an intact family. . . . More than that, it (divorce) almost always comes as a shock to them and one they will always remember as an event that changed their life.” The author cautions against dismissing the children’s concerns. The suggestion that they may be better off after the divorce than if they continued in a household where strife ruled is often a statement of denial. Continued concern for the welfare of the children is a must. As the author writes, “In my practice, I can often date the onset of an individual’s loss of self-esteem, lack of motivation or poor performance in school to this point in their life, when a divorce changed everything.” In a later chapter, he reminds readers, “They (children) need time to grieve the end of their biological family before they can move on and greet a new life.” Bringing a partner into the home to share the bed while the children are there and have not had a chance or the time to adjust is a serious mistake, one that will lead children to believe they do not count.

Dr. Glass takes an almost avuncular tone in some of his advice. “If you fall in love – or think you have – too soon after the divorce it probably means you haven’t examined yourself sufficiently.” Don’t be in a hurry, he admonishes. Get to know yourself first, the new person who emerges with renewed self-assurance and strength.

Blending Families Successful - cover

Blending Families Successful – cover

The most frequently visited posts of this web site over the years have been articles concerned with step-parenting. (The click here for the most recent of those earlier posts.) The amount of correspondence this column has received attests to the ongoing challenges and rewards to blending a family. Glass, again, insists on being realistic. He writes, “Life as a step-parent can run the gamut from the best experience in your life to the worst, and quite often it provides both.” The line brings to mind a man who remarried when his own children had left home and took on the role of stepfather to a seven-year-old stepson. “Things went well between us,” he said, “because I played with the little guy – a lot. There was no need for discipline, and when there was, his mother handled it. One evening, after he had graduated from college and moved away, my wife and I went to visit him and he invited us to go out for dinner. At the end of the meal, he said, “You know, I have always loved my dad. We stayed in touch all through everything that happened. And that was great, but what you guys, you have been my parents. I am so proud of what he said.”

As mentioned earlier, what makes Blending Families Successfully so very comfortable is the author’s reporting on his own experience. But the book goes well beyond the story of his blended family. The selected episodes and the words Glass shares from his work with clients are especially poignant. Readers draw comfort from the realization that others have lived through the same painful, confusing passages. Non-judgmental and compassionate, Dr. Glass gives direct advice. No psycho-babble. The advice is laced with understanding. Go slowly. Be patient with yourself. Glass knows current trends and fads. He offers advice about dating, when to introduce children to a special other, how to manage expenses after the marriage, relations with former spouses, how to communicate with the ex, and many other areas of concern.

This reviewer, thirty years into his marriage and blended family, found the book full of insight and sound advice from trying to save a failing marriage  through starting over, remarriage and from there on to the end of your days, Blending Families Successfully belongs on your bookshelf. To be read, certainly, but also to be retained as a reference, as a guide, as a comfort. Glass is a name that should become synonymous with blending families as Dr. Spock is with raising children. Blending Families Successfully is destined to become a classic. Counselors everywhere should make it available to the clientele.

This review initially appeared in somewhat condensed form in bookpleasures.com, a web site dedicated to reviewing books.

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Michael Sears’ “Saving Jason” Doesn’t Raise the Bar

Friday, January 22nd, 2016
John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Saving Jason by Michael Sears is a faced-paced, contemporary mystery that most readers will find hard to set aside. Sears covers all the bases for the genre in this, his fourth novel. Jason Stafford, his hero, is a wealthy New Yorker with a tragic past. His first wife, a model (of course), was murdered, leaving him to raise their autistic son who carries his father’s name. Stafford himself is an ex-con, having done time for some shady brokerage dealings. He handles his wealth with ease, and upon his release from prison finds himself another model to take up with. She becomes pregnant and he gets on board again with an old boss at Becker Financial who pays him seven figures just poke around and make sure nothing is beginning to smell like trouble in the firm.

Stafford encounters a suspicious aroma in the small brokerage firm, something to do with penny stock, which true to its name, usually sells for less than a dollar a share and is not subject to oversight by the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Stafford’s boss, Virgil Becker, is not convinced anything is out of line but gives his super snoop free rein to follow his instincts. Stafford checks in with the firm’s compliance officer to make sure that he is not at cross-purposes with them. The courtesy puts him in the presence of yet another beautiful gal, who despite her svelte looks and manner, is really a tough cookie who runs a tight ship. She’d rather Stafford just stay out of her way.

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Michael Sears, Author of Saving Jason

Stafford, however, is his own agent. Compliance be damned. The trading activity in penny stocks bothers him, although on the surface everything appears completely legit. He quickly discovers that there is more than what meets the eye to the suspicious transactions. Nosing about, he gets chased out of a Long Island pasture by two bull bison, his life threatened by thugs he doesn’t know and stalked by a politically ambitious District Attorney who insists Stafford knows more than he is letting on. Truth is, Stafford doesn’t know all of what’s going on. His investigation is spelling trouble for everyone including Virgil Becker who’s arrest in a sham publicity stunt by the DA but scandalous enough to put Becker Financial in play as a takeover. It’s a perfect storm and Sears orchestrates everything magnificently.

In the middle of everything, Stafford maintains his relationship with his pregnant girlfriend. She’s a physical therapist and a looker that might have a guy consider throwing his back out. Marriage is not in the wind, not with an independent contemporary New York City woman. She helps Stafford care for his seven year old autistic son, and it is the relationship between the father and the son that becomes the soul of the story. Sears is at his best with it. The crusty, cynical exterior to Stafford gives way to a genuinely caring, nurturing father. The son, referred to as “the kid,” is realistically depicted with just the right touch of humor and a large measure of compassion and understanding – and endearing picture of both.

Saving Jason - Book Cover

Saving Jason – Book Cover

To escape the threats and harassment, Stafford and his son are taken into the witness protection program. They are whisked out the wide open spaces of the southwestern dessert. The plot, complicated as it is, bogs down a bit as this point, or perhaps it’s Stafford’s own boredom at being so far away from the action that makes it feel that the story has come to a standstill. But wait. Whoever wants a piece of Stafford is on to him and his son. They are found in hiding and are forced to move — just what the book needs to keep the story going. And if being charged by bison seems a stretch, or a throttle-to-the-firewall chase of semi-trailer tractors (Stafford had never driven one before), how about a herd of javelinas (forty-pound stubby wild dessert pigs) charging the shooter drawing a bead on Stafford. The little buggers knock the guy down. He misses his shot, and to top it off, the dude breaks his leg in the attack so he can’t continue in pursuit. Javelinas have been known to attack, but the timing on this is too contrived. Sears charges on with detailed machinations that have one hacker genius cause the stock market to drop. It’s fiction, right? The concepts and the terminology are all there, but bank ownership of penny stocks on margin and an artificially induced drop in the market to trigger margin calls? Sorry. (Too much for this retired stock broker.) Authors fail anytime a reader is forced to recognize that a story is fiction

None of the credibility issues matter, however. Why? Because Michael Sears can write. He has Stafford coming off as a well-rounded, completely credible protagonist. Sears’ narrative is fresh, sensitive, full of humor and human understanding and thoroughly engaging. Saving Jason is a very entertaining novel by a writer who has the capacity, talent and the insight to produce a classic. For all of its charm, however, Saving Jason slides under bar rather than forcing it to be raised.

This review first appeared in slightly altered form on the web side bookpleasures.com.

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Helicopter Parenting – Overparenting an Epidemic

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

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

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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Philip Kenney’s “Where Roses Bloom”

Sunday, December 13th, 2015
John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer/Reviewer

Where Roses Bloom, Philip Kenney’s recent book of poetry, is an impressive body of work, especially when the poet’s novel, Radiance, is included in any consideration of the author’s output. The title might suggest sentimentality in his approach. “Roses,” as a word, has many connotations. But do not be misled. Kenney’s work is fresh, challenging, and poignant.

Kenney is thoroughly at home in the contemporary poetic aesthetic that decades ago abandoned traditional form, rhyming and meter. Readers invoke more subjective standards in judging a poet’s work. The two measures that come to mind immediately for Where Roses Bloom for this reviewer are accessibility and perspective. Kenney’s work is immediate. Readers are engaged and enthralled rather than mystified or perplexed. Kenney wants to reach his readers. His work evokes feeling through freshly moving scenes and situations that ring with authenticity.

As for perspective, Kenney places himself as the poet staunchly into his verse. He has a unique voice. He has not hidden behind convention, intricate conceits or gimmicks. Perspective, after all, helps the reader establish the author’s proximity to the concepts and feelings of a work. At one extreme, the poem can stand alone as a work of art saying little or nothing about the poet. Some of the greatest poetry in the language represent the standard in this regard. John Donne, Alexander Pope, John Milton. William Carlos Williams. The poet is in the work by implication as the mind and heart behind the composition.

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

Phil Kenney, Poet and Novelist

At the other end of the continuum, verse is inseparable from the poet. The writer’s thoughts and feelings are presented as such. The writer is in the poem in person. Disaster can lie at either end of the continuum ranging on the one hand from self-indulgent, narcissist compositions to cerebral esoteric works on the other that come off as clinically precise but fail to give readers a handle or buy in.

Kenney is in his poetry. Readers can feel his presence.

Where Roses Bloom is almost three books in one based upon the subject matter and the approach Kenney takes. The first is a short collection of longer poems about others Kenney has observed. These poems struck this reviewer as a in the tradition of Edward Arlington Robinson (Richard Cory, Mr. Flood’s Party) in that the focus is on appearances and the extent to which people will go to maintain an image, or if not an image, a state of apparent composure. Kenney is a psychotherapist. He is a seer. In his Preface, he carefully explains that the personalities depicted in his poetry are composites and do not represent any one person or character. As he writes of himself in The counselor: A self portrait

To me I resemble the tavern keeper

All day behind the counter

Not knowing who will drop by,  I listen

And fill the classes.

In the same poem, he writes:

Next to the wisdom that is yours I sound abstract,

Contrived, while yours is the beauty

Of flowers blooming on a desert floor.

In Toes, Kenney draws one man’s story to the end as follows:

He never spoke a word of those toes,

Though for years they had not straightened,

For years they tucked their heads

Under the ball of his foot,

Like frightened snails in a shell

And never came out.

Observations as captured in the imagery in the passage above set Kenney’s verse apart. Metaphors represent thought and feeling in a way that is emphatic and powerful. In some passages, as in the above also, the poet may work a little too hard for his reader and economy is forfeit. The repetition of “for years” is superfluous and the passage could effectively ended on the penultimate line after the word “snails.”

Philip Kenney is a father, a husband, a son, a brother and a pet owner. In this second group, he writes about all. He seems at his exuberant best when writing about his two sons. Saturday, for example, is “The day of bacon and French toast: Hoping the boys will sleep in.” In Make me into something, he writes:

Once upon a time, when they were little boys,

A collection of wiggles and shrieks,

I threw them to the couch and made each into pizza pie.

It was a dramatized game of tickle, which is

Travel to the outer limits of pleasure.

Some of the longer works really are prose poems. The generous phrasing takes the reader by the hand to assure nothing slips past. A few lines later in the same poem, he continues:

Rolled out the dough, rolled it back I into a ball

Kneaded it with my fingers (this killed them)

Flipped it high in the air, twirling like a galaxy,

Spread it out on the board, gingerly applied the sauce

And cheese; pepperoni sent the squealing to heaven.

Any man who has been a father to sons feels the fun and laughter in this piece. His poem Georgio, Georgio, Help! is filled with the same glee. The passage quoted is but one of several moving poems Kenney has composed and dedicated to his sons. They are full of fun, whimsy, tenderness, and, yes, love.

Of his elderly mother’s efforts at signing a birthday card, he writes, The failed attempts stained a happy greeting. They lay on the paper like dead inchworms Dried out and curled up. The poet’s mother is the subject of another moving piece, Her last possession, which closes with the stanza below:

You and I can’t comprehend

Existence without memories –

But there she is

Walking down the corridor,

A smile, that determined look,

Her last possessions.

For all the intimacy conveyed – the preciousness (at the risk of using the abused word) – readers will come to know Kenney as an observer of all the life around him. He relates to his everyday surroundings. The squirrels, the birds, the moon, the sun, a daddy-longlegs, even a fugitive from justice are all in his world with him. Readers find him immersed rather than standing apart. He writes of being nearly overwhelmed, and if not that, of bringing his perception of his own life down to the smallest things that are close at hand and real for him. Touchstones. In the refining and narrowing of his focus, readers come to know a man who is very much aware of himself, the mystery of his existence, and the joys that are available to him every day. Humility enables vision just as pride or avarice diminish it. There is no grandiosity in Kenney’s work. He is a keen observer.

Kenney’s wisdom shines in several of his poems. In a third grouping of compositions, his tone turns more pensive. His subjects, more universal. His comments about what troubles about the world today are often oblique, as in Hours of Blue, he writes:

We the tall strangers, oblivious

To the blisters on our skin

To the eruptions in our brains

Lost wanderers, fearful of dying

Fearful of longings, unable to stop the plunder

Unable to listen, or be quiet.

Or more allegorically in What the cats trust

Instead of believing in the forgiveness of God

Why not recognize the absence of judgement?

And stop setting up rituals of repentance.

And when the hand of being

Picks you up from beneath the wheels of a car,

Don’t swipe at this with your claws.

Where Roses Bloom - Cover as Presented on Amazon

Where Roses Bloom – Cover as Presented on Amazon

All of Kenney’s poems seek a reassuring resolution. He is no cynic. That said, readers will not come away from his work with an understanding of his beliefs or admonitions of faith. The poet stands for peace. Peace within. Peace in the world. If anything, he urges movement away from trouble, tension and distress toward acceptance, contentment, and serenity. But he doesn’t preach. He demonstrates. He urges. He portrays. The scope of his work spans most of the stages of life – childhood, the ages of love, of parenthood, of the diminishing years, of old age and passing beyond. His work could be tighter. He could leave more to the reader than he does. Pagination orphans lines at times that can result in a poem being misread if the reader is not alert. He could find alternatives for words like rose, precious, cherish – typical stock response evokers, but his integrity and the authenticity of his vision is never in doubt. His images are fresh and arresting. He knows his subject. He doesn’t talk about anything but of it. Where Roses Bloom needs to be read and reread. For the book is indeed like a bloom itself and it opens to yield more every time it is shown the light.

Thanks for visiting my web site. Philip Kenney’s books are available at Amazon. Simply search under his name. While you are here, I invite you to look through the other pages of my site. Please feel free to enter a comment in the area provided below. May the joys of the holiday season be with you.

Toxic Relationships are Painful to Endure

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

#c0-dependency #toxicrelationship #selfesteem

Toxic relationships. In this article, I  refer to one party of a toxic relationship as the toxic person, or TP. He or she is the individual you cannot let into your life without inviting in a lot of anger, resentment, ridicule, hateful harangues, and exasperating evasions.

John J. Hohn, Writer

John J. Hohn, Writer

Ever wonder why a certain relationship never works. It may show promise from time to time. An affable level can be reached at intervals to accommodate  exchanges about the weather, sports and other breezy subjects, but even at those times, it’s an illusion. There is no neutral ground  in a toxic relationship. It’s a mine field. One false step – a wrong word, a careless observation, an inadvertent facial expression – and all hell breaks loose. You’re distressed. You work  hard to explain yourself and to correct what you see as the misunderstanding. But all your efforts are to no avail. If that has ever happened to you, especially if it’s a pattern and happens again and again with the same person, you’re probably in a toxic relationship.

The relationship is usually an important one – a family member, a relative, or worse yet, a spouse. You feel obligated to remain on good terms. Toxic relationships thrive on an imposed obligation of some sort. Toxic personalities have no confidence in their own ability to attract love and hold others dear. They rely on external pressures on the relationship, the rules of engagement as it were, to bind others to them. It’s an older or younger sibling. It’s a boss you can’t fire or customer you can’t afford to lose. It’s an associate at work or a neighbor you cannot get away from.

When conflict erupts, the TP will find reason to blame you. He or she refuses to understand. Expect attacks on your character with a viciousness that can be disarming and hurtful. Make no mistake. For however strong you feel in standing up to the attack, your self-esteem is at risk. You may begin to doubt yourself,  your self worth. You are tied up in knots because you can’t make mollify the TP, and what’s worse, you can’t let it go. You feel impaled on your own good intentions and compelled to try harder.

Start with Yourself . . .

The best place to start in dealing with a toxic relationship is an examination of your own motives. First, it’s important to recognize that you are not bound to the relationship. You can walk away. It may mean changing jobs, separating from a spouse, moving your residence, or isolating yourself from a family member. It may seem unthinkable, yet others do it all of the time and find happiness and fulfillment . You may need to contend with censure and criticism from family and friends.  No matter what, in order to find the strength to break the strangle hold a TP has on you, you must see yourself as a free agent, someone capable of changing his or her circumstances regardless of how difficult it may be. Marshall your support. Prepare in advance for taking the step. Look at what you do as final. Most of the time, the step away is lasting and that’s a far better thing than staying exposed to damaging attacks on your mental health.

Stop seeing yourself as a victim. The toxic relationship is painful. Don’t translate the pain into “poor me.”  The toxic person wants you to feel one-down. He or she wants you to feel guilty, hurt or misunderstood. That’s how the toxic person maintains power in the relationship. If you’re sorry, if you’re penitent, if you whine about not being understood, the TP laps up. Stay centered. Continue to be diplomatic. Be as thoughtful as you can be. Above all, do not let the toxic person push you into the victim’s position. Accept that he or she has misunderstood, perhaps intentionally. Accept that there is nothing you can do about it and move on.

Another reason that you want to avoid the victim position is that victims often end up seeking revenge. Hurt converts to anger. Anger fuels the need to get even. Getting even means lashing back, and when that happens, you have just put another rock in the TP’s pile to fire back at you. Apologize to set your own feelings right and then move on. Until the nature of the relationship changes, nothing you do will make any difference. The only thing you can control is your own own behavior — your feelings, your thoughts and your actions.

More Instinctual than Thoughtful . . .

The toxic person lives a life very different from you. He or she lives in conflict with several people almost all the time. It feels normal to them. Anger and resentment are close to the surface at all times. It is unrealistic to think that the toxic person wants the same tranquility and peace of mind that you seek. He or she may say as much, but the key is to watch what they do. He or she wants to win; wants to come  out on top. The toxic person’s interactions are more instinctive than thoughtful. Don’t expect a TP to recognize the impact of his or her actions and words have on others. The toxic person is steeled against the reactions of others. They react only as they perceive a threat.

Avoid being trapped into thinking that you can make it right. You may still feel like you should be able to get along. You may still think you can make it work. Maybe by finding the right words, somehow a better approach, you will break the bonds of conflict, free yourself of the pain forever, and you and your problem person will enjoy a full and joyful friendship the rest of your lives. Wrong. That’s not going to happen. Unrealistic expectations are a harmful piece to bring into a relationship. They are your contribution to the conflict and to your own hurt. Let them go.

Be realistic about what is possible. You can only control your half of any relationship. If the bully TP relies on making others feel guilty, or hurt, or inadequate to gain power in a relationship, he or she is not going to change just because your tactics are different. At best, keep your cool, stay centered and don’t get sucked in by all the negatives thrown at you. Set goals that that enable you to exit the relationship with your self-respect intact. Respect your own vulnerability. The toxic person wants a relationship with you as an arena to fuel a need to win out over others. Love is not part of the pay off. Expressing love will not make much difference. It will not prompt the toxic person to treat you differently.

Nothing in Second or Third Place . . .

Your goals for any encounter, or for the relationship itself, almost never  coincide with the toxic person’s goals. You may want to reach a reasonable understanding on an issue  or establish a basis for better communication going forward. The toxic person’s goal in all encounters, consciously or unconsciously, is to defend and protect his or her badly damaged, fragile core self. That comes first. There is nothing in second or third place.

The toxic person’s arsenal of rhetorical and psychological weapons arrayed and ready for conflict are truly impressive. Remember, your problem person has been refining his or her skills for decades. He or she has survived by them. The toxic personality is challenged by intimacy. They are too well defended to allow anyone to get close. Opening up to another means acknowledging his or her own inadequacies, grieving over losses, purging anger once and for all – all tasks that are best completed in the hard work of psychological counseling. Letting people get close, as it does for all of us, means being vulnerable and open to hurt. Do not expect the toxic person to open up. Chances are your have never seen him or her cry. You rarely see them joyful, relaxed and having fun. Most of the time, the toxic person does not live in the moment. He or she is a prisoner of past hurts and disappointments, the painful passages in life that toxic person has not yet made successfully.

Playing in the Fast Lane . . .

If you do not have the credentials and an expressed, mutually agreed upon contract to deal with the toxic person’s psychological and spiritual problems, get the hell out of the way. You’re playing hopscotch in the fast lane. The best you can do is prepare yourself by studying the tactics the toxic person is likely to use against you and learn to deflect them. Additions can be made to any list, but here are some of the most frequently encountered.

Refusing to accept an apology or even acknowledge it.
Holding grudges even after you have apologized
Betraying confidences
Re-framing a discussion – changing the subject
Refusing to forgive
Refusing to reason – playing dumb on the simplest concepts
Never apologizing
Creating a sense of obligation
Using guilt
Never allowing the benefit of the doubt
Character assassination – killing the messenger and ignoring the message
Indifference
Lack of empathy and compassion.
Emotional expression confined almost entirely to anger.
Intolerance
Judgmental view of others
Imputing motives to others
Assuming authority
Fixed, inflexible views on politics and religion – not open to other ideas
Rarely displays uninhibited joy and laughter; or grief for that matter
Rationalizing
Psychobabble
Righteous indignation and defensiveness

It’s an impressive array and challenging to go up against. Don’t let your pride be hurt if you turn and run. It may be the wisest thing to do. Watch this web sites for more discussion.

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Marilyn Monroe — Icon: The Life, Times and Movies of Marilyn Monroe

Thursday, April 17th, 2014
John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

John J. Hohn, Writer and Reviewer.

Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962, yet she has remained alive in the minds and hearts of people throughout the world ever since. While 600 books have been published about the actress, Gary Vitacco-Robles’ biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, is a prodigious achievement that easily relegates the efforts of all others to obscurity.

Meticulously research, Vitacco-Robles digs for all the details; i.e. Marilyn’s attire, choices in reading, housekeeping habits — the minutia that is part of her day-to-day existence. The result is that the reader experiences Monroe almost as if she draws breath, steps out of the pages, comes into the house and sits down to chat.

With a sturdy, straightforward prose style, the author takes a balanced, compassionate approach to his subject. He begins with Ms. Monroe’s great-grandparents and traces her lineage through her out-of-wedlock birth to a mother who was hospitalized off and on throughout her life due to mental illness. Marilyn is shunted from household to household as a child. By the time she attains age 16, she is a ward of no less than 12 different caretakers. The impact of being abandoned, rejected, and abused is beyond calibrating.

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Gary Vitacco-Robles, Author

Vitacco-Robles, a psychotherapist, reports objectively about the damage done Marilyn during her nightmarish childhood. About one of Marilyn’s early successes, he writes:

The little girl who had never been told she was pretty and who bathed in the dirty water left behind by others, now commanded attention. There was no turning back.

At another critical point in the text, he observes:

Marilyn compensated for her lack of parental support by endearing herself to motherly and fatherly figures who could help her attain her dream of becoming an actress . . . Acting had now become more a religious calling to Marilyn, and like spirituality, it provided her with purpose and meaning. 

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

The author offers clear insights as Marilyn matures and confronts her demons. He avoids the jargon of his profession and debunks many of the unsubstantiated claims of others. Marilyn, it turns out, did go into psychoanalysis very intensively at one time. In addition, she began working with Lee Strasberg in Actor’s Studio where she was required to delve deeply into her own emotional past to give power to her performances. She eventually gives up on her therapy sessions because she decides that they are not good for her. Strasberg and his wife, however, nurture her through her strongest film achievements.

The book is filled with quotes from the greatest stage and screen actors and directors of the era who testify to Marilyn’s power and sensitive delivery in her roles. She was, and often still is, seen only as a dumb blond, a sex symbol, but the author breaks through this stereotyping to depict Marilyn Monroe as an incomparable artist.

The author reminds his readers of the prevailing cultural values of the times. These references provide a backdrop of relevance to his subject’s struggles and triumphs. He presents a synopsis of all of the films in which Marilyn appeared, even those in which she had bit parts, and for good measure provides much more detail on each in an addendum. He takes the time to draw poignant thumbnail bios on many Hollywood personalities – actors, directors, producers, hairdressers, coaches – helping readers viscerally grasp the impact of Marilyn’s interactions with the people around her.

The book takes Marilyn’s story up to 1956, a year in which she goes over the top and finally achieves the recognition her hard work and extraordinary talent have earned. The author reports on Marilyn’s three marriages, giving a studied, objective view into each. Her first marriage to James Dougherty was arranged by her legal guardian when she was only 16 years of age. He abandoned her for the merchant marine. Then along came Joe DiMaggio, the Yankee Clipper, who was physically abusive, controlling, and jealous. The reader is treated to a good dose of adolescent behavior on the part of DiMaggio and Sinatra as the latter goads the ballplayer into breaking into an apartment one night where they expect to find Marilyn in bed with another. The author adds credence to his reports by using the testimony of friends close to Marilyn in writing about such incidents.

Nitpicking, the text is nearly flawless except in the handling of some proper names. Bennett Cerf is correct; not Bennett Cert. Bob Fosse; not Fob Fosse. And finally, is Miller’s home on “Goldmine Road” or “Gladmine Road?”

This review covers only volume one which ends with the marriage between Arthur Miller and Ms. Monroe, an event that surprised many at the time but makes perfectly good sense once those unacquainted with both parties grow to know them better. The second volume, according to the publisher, is due out at the end of the summer, 2014. Vitacco-Robles has written a monumental, definitive work on one of greatest actresses and enduring public personalities of all time. The next volume will carry Marilyn’s story forward to her untimely death in 1962. Readers have every right to expect that the same balanced, compassionate treatment will follow the actress through to what ultimately must be viewed as a horrible tragedy.

This review was initially written for and published in bookpleasures.com.

Thanks for visiting my web site. While you are here, I invite you to look through some of the previous posts and the other pages of the site. My novel Deadly Portfolio: A Killing in Hedge Funds, is available in the Kindle version through Amazon for $1.99. Watch for the sequel to it, Blood Lots, which is due out sometime this summer.