Archive for September, 2013

The cycle of life

Posted: September 24, 2013 in Controversial, Kids, Parenting, Random

In relation to my last post, a friend and I engaged in a discussion that ties directly to my concerns of what kids learn from situations.  He shared with me an ongoing discussion he has had over the years about how is it that some people, more specifically families, tend to get locked into this cycle of success or failure.

Let me share some examples.  He knows two doctors and they had three children.  All of them also became doctors.  All five of them are wildly successful in their field and in life.  There is no reason to assume that the children of this generation of that family will not have similar success stories.  Many of us, him included, know many families who seem no matter what they do stay mired in poverty or near poverty and their children do the same and the cycle continues.

The question was talked around was what seems to be the root cause of this, and over the course of several conversations the best answer we could seem to arrive at with any evidence is that it all stems from the choices made at critical junctures and this drove to the general character of the individuals making the choices and how those traits were passed down from parents to children because they were modeled.

So for the doctors, they placed an emphasis on education, on bettering themselves and their community, on thinking of other than self, and it appears that their children learned those same values.  On the other hand, when people are focused on self, on living for the here and now, on not caring what happens to others, those values can be passed down to the kids as well.  The latest discussion about this was related to the recent incident with Nan that I talked about last time, and how her focus on self-centered decisions appears to have locked her into a very sad state of reality.  She has no degree, she now has four kids, and she is in a relationship with someone who has a serious inability to make good decisions, which will only hurt her further.  He has not paid taxes in over ten years as she found out when the IRS went after him and he’s had drunk driving issues and other problems that show where his focus is.

It is difficult in these discussions, both my friend and I agreed, to not immediately sound elitist.  To fit into that mold that the 99%ers scream about (we are not in the 1% by the way, so we would fall into that 99% yet seem to not think with the herd) of the rich who just focus on getting richer.  However, is that the case or is it more that we just focus on what are rewarded as less than poor choices.  Those families that succeed do so through a lot of hard work contrary to what the lower income wage earners believe.  I do well enough and it is hard.  I do not sit around and eat caviar and have women give me massages all day while I sip cocktails by the pool and through some miracle money keeps pouring in.  I go to work every day just like everyone else and struggle with problems that need solving, I simply solve those problems with what appears to be a different mindset.

I had plenty of those friends who went to work and then came home and complained about the “man” and how unfair it was.  I chose not to get sucked into that philosophy in large part because my parents did not share it, so it seems to go with the theory of my friend that success breeds success and failure breeds failure.  I do not know the answer, but it makes for an interesting discussion especially when you look around at those you know and see how often it seems to correlate.  One of my uncles fell into the “woe is me” mold and married a woman who was similar.  She had two children from a prior marriage to what seemed like a similar negative man, and those kids have done not much of anything with their lives.  So the single biggest decision for the success of your kids seems to be in whom you select to raise them with.

So this led to an interesting digression on a situation such as mine where they have what appears to be a mix of both households, ours leaning towards success, and both others leaning towards significant failure.  Poor choices have led to no degrees at an advanced age and therefore limited career prospects.  Further choices of not wanting to actually work for a living but instead wanting to grumble about how unfair life is pervade both Bert’s and Nan’s household.  While only one point of reference my friend feels that just having the example available in our household will be enough because we’ve never met anyone who says I want to be poor and never try or amount to anything when they have a choice.  It just sadly appears that the reality of if you have a choice seems itself to be a choice.  When all that is modeled is that the weight of the world is too great and that there is nothing you can do about it, kids seem to learn that is accurate and do not even try.  I’m not sure if this is all true, as I still see examples in our kids of them picking up on the easy lifestyle on the other side and not just gravitating to the promise of success through hard work and dedication.

My friend also felt that having a traditional household versus a single parent also played a large part in setting those beliefs.  He cited some study he had read that indicated the Nan’s daughter has about a 5% chance to not live in the same situation Nan finds herself in.  No idea if that’s accurate but just food for thought.  His point was that in analyzing the study it came down to what I talked about in the beginning, it’s not so much the physical family situation for are in that determines your future prospects it is more the mental situation.  Being positive, willing to try and not give up and not make selfish short sighted decisions sets you up for success over time.

My friend and I continued to talk about if this perspective was more a result of our success or of our age and seeing things more clearly, and we both felt it was the latter.  You just have more examples of dozens or hundreds of people we have known that we can directly understand versus a much more limited pool when we were in high school or college.  We’ve got experience with people from other countries and not just our own families.  Older people are not just wiser because they are older, it is because of the accumulated experience they have lived through that is not able to be replaced by theory.  Life is hard and it is hard for all of us.   The proverbial silver spoon is a myth except for a very small handful like the royal family of England.  Even the kids of rich people in this country struggle if they do not develop a work ethic.  What I don’t have a lot of are children of divorce and which household they pull their success or failure from.  That’s what concerns me most and where my focus is now.

Fissures

Posted: September 21, 2013 in Anger, Divorce, Family, Kids, Parenting

One of the first things that I covered in this blog and that comes up in divorce recovery is the subject of relationships.  With children involved in the divorce it is something that is stressed even more and our state had a parenting class we needed to go through that made mention of not bringing anyone into their life for at least several months.  Nan had chosen to avoid this information and the kids were aware of her situation in some cases before we were even divorced.

Now as we sit here nearly three years after it all began, Nan had a situation that showed the wisdom of that guidance.  It was nearing the end of one of her weekends and I received a call.  Listening to the message a bit later, it was Cindy sobbing so uncontrollably that it was difficult to make out what she was saying.  I had my wife listen to the message as well, and she was unclear either, but we knew she was asking us to come pick them up early as there was something going on.  I called Nan, and in the background her daughter is crying, all the kids seem to be yelling and we can barely hear Nan.  Shortly thereafter we were on our way to get Cindy.

Piecing everything together from when Cindy broke down at breakfast in tears again the next morning and then said she wanted to talk she explained how Nan’s fiancé had left after complaining that Nan wanted to spend time with the kids.  Nan had shared some stuff with my wife when we picked up the kids.  I went to wait in the car, as I was not going to get sucked into Nan’s dramatic life.  That part of my experience was done with, and my focus was on the kids.  By the time we left all three had decided to come home and it was obvious whatever had happened was big enough that they were all shaken.

Nan was convinced this was it.  She had said he had done things like this before, but never in front of the kids, and she would have none of it.  I’ve heard Nan pontificate like this before and did not get too excited, as I’ve found that has little value, as Nan usually does not stick to her choices but rather continues to make poor ones.  If what I heard was correct, that he said what he did in front of Cindy (Cindy says Marcia and Greg are not as upset as her because they were asleep when this incident occurred), which just continues along the track for my kids of adults telling them they want nothing to do with them, that the source of this was that he felt Nan was spending time with the kids and he did not want her to, that he resents having to spend any of his money on my three kids for the short time they are there, and that he’s done this type of thing in the past, Nan’s decision to part ways, while tough and certainly difficult, was the right thing to do.  I do not see anything changing in the future, since it has not in nearly three years and the longer he is around the tougher it will be for everyone when he does leave.  Right now their daughter is barely one.  So right now his leaving upsets my three kids.  Later it will upset his daughter as well but by the next afternoon when Cindy called Nan she found out that he was already back, so my expectations were fulfilled in less than 24 hours.

My interest in this lies in the impact on my kids, and that’s where I focus caring what happens.  If this man is truly as he appears, even though I felt this was the case from the start when I met him, I do not gloat in being “right”.  I worry about the emotional impact on my kids as I saw it first hand that Sunday night with a crying child who was totally withdrawn and convinced it was her fault.  It was another divorce all over again.

To recap since it has been a while since I explained the situation, Nan’s fiancé is about fifteen years older than her in his mid-50s.  He was no other children, was married for a brief time before and I was told his wife died.  He was supposedly sterile yet Nan got pregnant less than six months after our divorce was final.  Now that the alimony ended he is struggling with the situation since he’s got to man up and take the “package deal” as my wife says.  He wants the situation to just be Nan, him and their new daughter.  My three kids are a problem.  I felt since Nan basically did not see them for months when the divorce first was going on that he felt over time she might get there again, and his actions seem to indicate exactly that.  Nan shared that he wants her to come down to the docks and sit around and kibitz with his friends.  She reminds him the kids are there, he says bring them, she says they have no fun there with a bunch of adults sitting around drinking and talking.  He gets upset that Nan does not want to hang out with him, and when she suggests he come spend time at the house with them, he’s not interested.  To me the writings on the wall and now that the gravy train has dried up with the alimony that should have ceased a year ago when she was pregnant and we already knew they were living together, the pressure has just ratcheted up and he’s not liking it.  He blew up, they made up.  I do not fantasize at all that this is the end of it.  My kids are taking the shrapnel in the meantime and it is not making me happy.

So now because of Nan’s choices, naiveté or just sheer stupidity, she has no clean way to break from this guy even if she wised up and saw that he just does not want this.  She said herself when we picked up the kids that “It was stupid to think you could turn a fifty something guy who’s basically been single his whole life into a family man”.  She gets it, but just as the Nan I was married to, she never gets it.  She just does what is easy, and what is easy right now is to get back together with him and keep living the fantasy that it will all work itself out.  Our marriage was constantly that way and her pattern appears to be the same and it confuses the kids and gives them a poor example of a healthy relationship.  There is nothing I can do about it except provide them a stable alternative as we do for Bert’s kids as well.

She has a child with this man which ties them together for life in some way, a poor choice to say the least.  They have not been married, and may never get married, which sends a contrary example to what we are trying to instill in the kids in our household.  Instead of making certain that the character of this man was what she should connect with, she made the decision too many make in having a child before she understood who it was she was having it with.  One of my friends said it best.  “She makes the mistakes and poor decisions many people make as teenagers except she makes them as a 40 year old woman and still does not learn from them.”

I understand I’m pulling this together kind of like a voyeur, just knowing the bits I see since I do not have nor do I want to know the details.  I am not going to quiz my kids on what happened, though I know it was pretty serious to make them act the way they did.  I’m going to have to help them sort this out and it will cause confusion in their ability to forge relationships.  Marcia posted on Facebook (which I think was a bad idea in general, but it’s the way of the world these days) and was surprisingly reserved yet gave Nan support by saying Nan will be stronger without him.  Now he’s back and who knows what confusion that will create, but it does not show a good model.

Having a fight is one thing, but when you get involved with a woman who has kids and then express, loudly as I understand it and repeatedly that they are a burden and are not your problem and other things, that should send alarm bells.  To Nan it did for a time, then the fire was out and she’s trying to convince herself that it was all made up and the fire really did not happen even though the burned shell of a house is all around her.  This is what I expected, but for my kids’ sake was hoping would not happen.   For those going down the same path, learn from this mess I’ve written about and avoid putting your kids through it.  I’m hoping this does not escalate or turn uglier, but all I can do is help my kids as I can.  Certainly a few people have pointed out that it is good that they feel our environment with all the blending drama is comfortable enough that in a crisis all of them wanted to come to it.  I get that and it is good, but it does not make the pain for them any less, and when I’m sitting there trying to console a sobbing Cindy at the breakfast table it’s little consolation.

God presents us with chances every moment of our lives to learn something.  Those of us who use that gift and make something of it improve our chances for success in life by at times immeasurable ways.  In this truth I solemnly believe.  In the dark moments of life, I believe He provides us the most powerful ways to improve.

When we are young, everything new is scary but perhaps also exciting.  We learn that not everything is to be feared.  Different names are provided for those initial concerns.  The boogeyman.  Monsters in the closet.  Things that go bump in the night.  We learn that these things do not exist and we are able to overcome bigger fears because of that new found knowledge.

There are however some things that we find are not so false, and are not so easy to overcome.  Recently I came face to face with one of those things with my wife.  Like the lions of Tsavo, for some the ability to learn and understand is easier because they are not imperiled.  The hunter played by Val Kilmer is like that.  His past experience had taught him that even though these lions were more formidable than anything he had ever encountered he had built up the resilience to overcome that fear and prevail.  For others, like some of the workers, superstitions and never shaking the boogeymen of childhood for whatever reason, or perhaps seeing a family member carried off by a lion at one time or another taught a different lesson.  They were afraid, at times paralyzingly so, of something the hunter saw so very differently.

In the aftermath of our few weeks in the summer brought on by machinations from Bert, Peter and several others are still going to counseling.  Recently Peter’s counselor said she was going to refer him out because he needed to talk with someone who had a specialty in the issues that occurred and this created a situation that tossed my wife into a tailspin.

For reasons that make little sense to a rational person, Bert like to take these opportunities of a new individual to replay all the past history, as he sees it of his and my wife’s life together.  These situations are never pleasant for my wife and this was no exception.  What transpired was sadly similar to the analogy I provided above.  My wife had indicated ahead of time to the new counselor that due to her past abusive history with Bert she was not comfortable having a joint session with him and especially with Peter.  For whatever reason, when she arrived there her request was not granted.  As best I can tell, the counselor felt like the hunter, that she had seen a predatory lion before and knew how to handle him and could therefore disregard the concerns of the superstitious laborer who did not have the experience she had.  As we were to find out, just because the hunter is comfortable and believes the laborer should be, the mind will do what it will when confronted with the ghost of abuses past and the darkness of being ignored by those who mean to help yet again.

For whatever reason, my wife walked away from the intake session in a very bad place, and she stayed there for several days.  She visited her counselor after a few days and was encouraged to withdraw from things for a few days and process.  Again, we ran into two perspectives, where she was reeling from this and I just wanted our life to go on and her to shake it off, which she was having a nearly impossible time doing.  We had some direct conversations as she pulled out of this but I did my part and remained as caring and focused as I could.

So what did I take away from God’s teaching moment?  Ultimately that we emerged in a better place and with my wife having a clearer picture about what set off this chain of events and that she needs to stand her ground with any future counselors and not let them play the hero who can reconcile the irreconcilable creature that is Bert.  If they want to try that on their own, that’s their business.  Stalking the lion in the rushes is up to them.  My wife does not need to be used as the bait.  The lesson was that worrying about how she would be perceived by the counselor when she refused to simply go along and attend the joint session was the wrong choice over standing firm and asserting the position God had graced her with.  He had pulled her out of a terrible situation and created a new life for her with someone who cares and loves her and there was never a reason to re-enter that old world, even at the behest of a counselor who claimed to know better.  She was right back in the darkness where Bert had the control and she felt she had none and even though she would like to be strong enough to handle that, it turned out she was not.

Why does God reveal things when He does?  We will never know.  Many things came to light over the last several months as we lived through the situation caused by Bert’s malice.  For my wife many of them were revelations from the mother of Peter’s half brother and who lived with my wife and Bert for a time and with Bert after my wife left.  The details are not important so I will not go into them here, but the key to understanding is that things my wife believed she understood and that the kids might not have been aware of were shown to be untrue in several conversations she had with this mother.  Adding all the burdens together these revelations, the pressures we were going through to get past the false accusations, the frustration of the children, the added schedules of the counseling sessions and other new requirements on an already very busy schedule and finally the ill advised choices by Peter’s new counselor resulted in the pot boiling over.  I certainly do not understand God’s timing in this and why there was just more and more, but we relied on what we knew to be true, that He loved us and it made sense to Him and just did the best we could.

Without the blow up, perhaps my wife would never garner the fortitude to realize that no matter what in the future she stands her ground on this.  She may have continued to pacify any future counselors to not “make waves” because it was not so bad.  By hitting the bottom, maybe this was God’s way of telling her to realize that she never need again subject herself to these situations.  That’s a lesson more than worth learning.

Our pastors have indicated that this entire process is perhaps just a tool God is using to hone us even further for our purpose of helping other divorced people through the process.  We certainly have new understanding of police, agencies and counselors than we did in the past and certainly it will adjust our advice on those topics.  It also provided us with situations with the children and others that also add to our experience.  We take these and look for future lions in a different way.  We will continue to have encounters with other ghosts and other darkness in the future and trust that God is always preparing us for the battle, if only we will listen and learn.

How well do you know me?

Posted: September 16, 2013 in Communication, Fun, Random

Last week I came across a Facebook posting on a friend’s page that talked about the changes in the world, specifically around communication, more specifically the cell phone and what the world was like for those of us over the age of 40.  It referred to things like not knowing who was calling until you picked up the phone, about actually having to be home to get an important phone call and about how we had to actually write on letter with paper and pen, then package it up in an envelope, walk to a mailbox and wait several days for the recipient to get it versus the nearly instantaneous possibilities of e-mail.

In addition, I read a daily devotional that had to do with things people send you in e-mail and those two things together formulated into some of the thoughts that led to this post.

When I was a kid, the way I learned about my friends was really focused on the spoken word.  If I wanted to know their favorite color, I’d ask them.  If I wanted to know what sports they liked or what they thought of that TV show last night, I’d ask them.  Sometimes I’d get information through others, commonly known as gossip, but I would not know the validity of it, though truth be told I guess even if they told me directly they could be lying.

Move to today and think about how people learn about each other.  If you are looking for someone to develop a romantic relationship with, chances are pretty high that you will use a dating site like eHarmony or Christian Mingle.  Fewer and fewer people are meeting at bars, or at school or just outside in the world.  Why is that?  I think a big part of it has to do with learning about someone before you meet them.  The dating sites give you pictures, words, sometimes audio and video.  Sure just as when I was a kid, this can be fabricated, but you then have the deeper side of the equation, that fueled by Google.

In seconds, you can Google someone and learn a lot about them.  There may be public records of course, but many times you find articles, lists, files and who knows what else.  We once were tipped off by an anonymous call to Google a candidate and found an article indicating he was just that past weekend arrested for drunk driving.  Water cooler talk used to be the lightning fast way for rumors or gossip to circulate, now things are available in the blink of an eye, sometimes even placed on the internet by the individual themselves.  This creates a dilemma of sorts.  Shakespeare I believe said “All the world’s a stage”, and at no time in human history has that been so literal as today.  We are all the actors in our life and unlike just a few decades past when I would choose what I would tell my friends or others, that control is being taken away a piece at a time.  What implications will this have for us as a species?  We could write an entire book about it, but if you are just bored one afternoon ponder that thought and see what a fascinating and possibly scary journey you go on.

So people can find out about me, you, or anyone else with a few clicks of a keyboard and a few minutes of time.  Employers are more and more doing this before they even interview a candidate.  Some professions require and some would just rather not deal with any controversy.  In my case I have an innocuous story I wrote about my honeymoon with my ex back in the early 90s that still floats around on the internet and is one of the first things you see when you Google me.  For me it’s just an interesting bit of trivia, but what if it has been an article I wrote about a controversial topic or a post on someone’s wall that placed me in a bad light like Paula Deen’s recent comments?  This article is still there for all to see over 20 years later and I have no reason to assume it will not still be there 100 years from now long after I’m gone.  That embarrassing or poor thought out moment is now not just a point in time, but something with an infinite life to follow you around forever.

Turning away from the general interest in strangers, what can these new technologies help us learn about those we are close to?  In my line of work I worry a lot about computer viruses.  For years, when family and friends would send me links or those e-mails to pass along to 10 people and change the course of history I would delete them.  Too much risk, but then I read that daily devotional that changed my perspective by showing me a new way to look at these annoyances.

You see, those links and forwarded notes and pictures have a different purpose.  They provide me a priceless glimpse into what those who know me and who I want to know and love better think is important.  It’s just another version of the premise that Facebook claims is its formula for success.  If a movie that a critic loved carries some weight, a movie a friend who shares our same sense of humor carries even more.  That link my dad sends me or that joke my brother send me or that cute video my friend shot over give me that same thing I got from the lunch room or playground talk decades ago; a window into what that person finds interesting and makes them tick, but the benefit this process has is that I do not have to know the right question to ask, or think of that topic today.  They already broached the subject and told me they find dancing ferrets or the president’s latest decision or my cousin’s newest tattoo fascinating or disturbing or worrisome.  These missives I was deleting for fear of getting infected are really gems that help me get more connected (yes, I know that rhymed).

In an era when people we do not even know can find out more about us in ten seconds than my friends might know about me three decades ago in a year, we should focus on the positive value of these new occurrences.  Sure the dangers still exist and we should not just start clicking on everything we are sent, but it is just as bad to do the polar opposite and just delete everything without a glance.  Even that link you choose to avoid because you are pretty sure it leads to an infected file can give you that all important glimpse into the heart of a loved one by the explanation they sent along saying, “This made me laugh”.   Take the opportunity to connect and learn that these messages provide.