Here Comes The Bride

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His was an interesting story. When he threw the first snippet of information my direction, I took the bait. I said, “I write a daily blog. Yours sounds like an interesting story. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask more questions. Of course, I won’t divulge your identity or the name of the place where you work, but yours is definitely a story that perks my interest”. He responded: “That’s not a problem. Everyone here knows my story”. Though he didn’t explicitly say so, I gathered he was a man with few secrets. It is really difficult for one’s life not to be an open book when you live in a small community.

 

So have I shared enough of the background to capture your interest? I don’t know the age of the man with whom I was talking. I’d guess mid-forties, but he could have been younger. For that matter, his age could go in the opposite direction. He was definitely old enough to make mature decisions and exercise prudent judgment, but by his own admission, he had not always excelled in that category.  That was particularly true in marriage.

 

We were in a restaurant yesterday afternoon for a late lunch. The venue was something other than Mexican food, but it, too, was a culinary delight from another country. The General had placed her order and when asked if she wanted low, medium or high spice, she opted for low. When I placed my order and the waiter asked me the same question, I opted to go with medium. That’s when the General said: “Okay, I’ll go with that too.”

 

The guy looked like a no nonsense kind of fellow. I simply explained: “She hangs on to every word that comes out of my mouth. Of course she wants exactly what I want. That’s always been the case. It never varies”. I then added with laughter: “Yeah, that’s right! You can count on it!”

 

I guess you could say that’s when he took the bait. He responded: “I set the ring tone on my phone for my third ex-wife as: “You’re right”. Was he referring to the last song Nirvana recorded? If so, the official title would have been: “You Know You’re Right”. It was the last song Kurt Cobain wrote and recorded. He obviously was at a very dark place in his life. Shortly thereafter, he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The song was recorded in 1994, but didn’t become a hit posthumously until 2002. Nirvana was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

 

I never listened to Nirvana and I know nothing about Kurt Cobain other than from

name recognition. I was startled to read the lyrics to: “You Know You’re Right”. It is not a feel good song. I guess like Country Western music, even grunge band lyrics tell a story. With his last lyrics, Cobain shared his story. It was autobiographical.

 

The lyrics are unsettling. Yet, they seemed to fit the dimension of what the waiter was sharing, particularly if by the time he added the ring tone to his phone, his wife was already his soon-to-be ex-wife.

 

The lyrics sound like a sad farewell: “I will never bother you / 
I will never promise to
 / I will never follow you / 
I will never bother you

 / Never speak a word again
 / I will crawl away for good

 / I will move away from here
 / You won’t be afraid of fear / 
No thought was put in to this
 / I always knew it would come to this
 / Things have never been so swell / 
I have never failed to fail / 

Pain
 Pain 
Pain /

 You know you’re right / 
You know you’re right
 / You know you’re right”

 

Like I said, “The waiter had perked my curiosity, but after reference to the third ex-wife, how much further could I go? I didn’t want to invade his privacy and obviously his experience with wedded bliss had fallen short of expectations. When talking with folks, I prefer to focus on their strengths rather than their disappointments.  Obviously, the topic of marriage carried a disappointing dimension.

 

Okay, so I opted to take a chance with the hope I wasn’t being offensive. I decided to ask another question. After all, he voluntarily brought up reference to his third ex-wife. So I asked: “So how many times have you been married?” He said: “Four”. I cautiously asked while I held my breath: “Are you single now?” He said, “No, I’m married”. Okay, so when it comes to marriage, unlike baseball it was not: “Three strikes and you’re out.” Wife number four was the magic number.

 

He went on to explain: “The owner (referring to his employer) said I didn’t make good decisions related to marriage. Consequently, my employer offered to make the next decision for me. My employer made the arrangements for my fourth wife. I am married to one of my employer’s extended family members. Ours is an arranged marriage. The owner handled everything.”

 

Wow! Wow! Wow!   I had the immediate thought: “This guy knows how to play with fire.” His answer to my next question really caught me off-guard. I asked: “So how long have you worked here?” He responded: “Twenty-six years.”

 

No wonder the owner (his employer) had the full picture when it came to understanding his lack of prudent judgment in asking the question: “Will you marry me?” This was not a casual employee with whom the employer was only briefly connected. Twenty-six years is a long time to be in an employer/employee relationship. So was the owner throwing caution to the wind when he or she paired an extended family member from another country with his or her employee and friend? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it obviously has worked out well.

 

Had I been more daring, I would have asked what ring tone he has assigned for his current wife? I’m hoping it is Frank Sinatra singing: “Love Is A Many Splendered Thing”, but I wasn’t bold enough to ask.  I did mention that he was obviously a very trusting and brave man. He certainly had more to lose than just a wife if things didn’t work out well. After all, twenty-six years is a long time commitment to an employer and when you mix marriage and work together it immediately becomes all or nothing.

 

In case you’re wondering, I left a very generous tip. His was certainly an interesting story.

All My Best!

Don

 

 

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Out Of Bound Crazy – That Really Stings

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Sometimes the General drives me a little crazy. Actually, I may be significantly understating her effect on me. God as my witness, it shouldn’t be this difficult!  After all, she’s old enough to know better. She plays the “damsel in distress” card a lot more than circumstance dictates. 

 

Yesterday it came in the form of a text message before I got home from Houston. She was at church for the Wednesday night children’s program and guess what she discovered?  She discovered she had a passenger in the car.  It was a red wasp.

 

Most people who’ve lived as long as the General intuitively know that you roll all of the windows down in the car and you bid the little stinger goodbye.  Not the General! “No sire!”   Did the General jump out of the car while it was still in motion?  Actually, she didn’t include that information in her text, but I had the fear that it could happen. Like I said, “She sometimes makes me a little crazy”. The text message simply read: “There is a wasp in the car. Can you stop by the church before 7:00 p.m.?”

 

When it comes to insects, the General’s judgment is faulty.  When she was nine months pregnant with our firstborn, she saw a grasshopper and jumped off of the porch.  Give me a break!  That was almost 46 years ago. You’d think by now she’d stop overreacting, but although things change, some things remain the same.

 

My fear of snakes is a rational thing and most normal folks would be inclined to agree (value judgment on my part). The General’s fear of something as innocuous as a grasshopper is out-of-bounds crazy!  Yet, I could talk until the cows come home and I’d never be able to convince her that she’s over the edge for no good reason. I won’t provide her a lesson plan on eradicating a wasp from a vehicle, but the chances are slim to none that leaving all the windows up is going to effectively work. An attempt at gentle redirection wouldn’t do any good.  It would be a waste of my breath.

 

So I arrived at church shortly after 7:00 p.m. yesterday and took the opportunity to visit with folks while the activities came to a close.  At the General’s urging, I then drove her car home and she drove mine. She didn’t seem overly concerned that I was in harm’s way, but she dogmatically wasn’t getting back in the car until I could affirm to her the wasp was gone. Guess what? “I drove home with the windows down and the sunroof open”.

 

I didn’t see a wasp!  At 10:00 p.m. last night she wanted me to go out to the garage again and look in her car to see if I could locate the missing wasp.  Dutifully, I looked in both the front seats and the back. There was no wasp.  Of course, she wanted to know after I gave her my report, if I looked in the cargo space in the back?  I think I’ve already told you, but she makes me a little crazy!

 

Do you remember the movie Irreconcilable Differences?  Roger Ebert says of the movie: “The opening moments of “Irreconcilable Differences” are not promising. A lawyer is advising his client about divorce — and when we see the client, she turns out to be a little girl. Her plan is to divorce her parents, because they have (she stumbles over the word) ir … ir … rec … concilable differences. Right away, I was bracing myself for one of those smarmy movies about cute kids and mean parents. I could foresee the series this movie would inspire: “Kids’ Court,” with a different little plaintiff every week. It turns out that I was too cynical. ‘Irreconcilable Differences’ is sometimes cute, and is about mean parents, but it also is one of the funnier and more intelligent movies of 1984, and if viewers can work their way past the ungainly title, they’re likely to have a surprisingly good time”.

 

I thought about the title of the movie Irreconcilable Differences between my initially coming to rescue the damsel-in-distress at 7:00 p.m. and her 10:00 p.m. plea for me to look in her car for the wasp one more time.  The trigger for the memory of the term “irreconcilable differences” had to do with my car.

 

I mean it was the perfect evening! At 8:00 p.m. the weather couldn’t have been more pleasant.  It was 84 degrees outside and there was no wind. What a perfect time to go for a brief ride in the convertible.  I sent a text to my daughter to see if they were open for a brief visit?  She welcomed the opportunity for us to come over.

 

As we were leaving, I sent her the text: “The car is ready!  – Top down with the motor started – We are on a roll”.  This was going to be delightful!  I could feel it in my bones. Like I said: “It was perfect convertible weather”.  Did I mention the General dashed my hopes of it being a perfect anything before we got to the gate at the end of our driveway? 

 

“It’s cold!” were the two words that first came out of her mouth. With the press of a button, she rolled the window up on the passenger side of the car. Within ten seconds, she was asking for me to do the same. If you think it was a genuine question, you are wrong. It sounded like a mandate to me.

 

Of course, that wasn’t my only clue that all was not well in Denmark. The request that I roll up my window was followed by a mandate for me to turn off the sound system.  Maybe she doesn’t like the sound of Adele singing.  I don’t know.  What was definitive is that she didn’t want the sound system turned on and she wanted both windows rolled up.  Apparently that was as close as she could get to accommodate my plans for a perfect evening.

 

Okay, so my spiritual gift is pouting. I played the “pitiful Don” card, but it really didn’t garner any brownie points with the General. She didn’t care.  As I turned off of RR165 on to HWY 290, an 18-wheeler passed us.  The General couldn’t resist the opportunity to say: “If we are hit by that, we’re dead”.  Like I said, she makes me a little crazy!  The same would be true of her car, but it would have been wasted words to point that out.

 

When it comes to vehicular fun, the General and I have irreconcilable differences.  I may think twice before I invite her to tag along with me with the top down again.  She obviously has an aversion to letting the good times roll. That really stings and I didn’t see a wasp in her car or mine. Like I said, “My spiritual gift is pouting” and she has the skill set to push all of my buttons.

 

All My Best!

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Don

Deadly Force – Well Almost

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Sometimes warning labels are important. Let me say up front that this story is rated “R” for violence. Consequently, disclosure of the identity of the would-be victim is withheld. However, the story is shared with his permission. He credits the grace of God that he is still on this side of eternity and able to tell his story.

 

It began as a casual conversation related to travel and places to vacation. The friend we were visiting with yesterday afternoon suggested that if the General and I hadn’t been to Costa Rica, we owed it to ourselves to go. Almost as an afterthought, he added: “Costa Rica is not only beautiful, it is also really an affordable place to visit.” That revelation perked my interest. It also caught his wife’s interest. She said more to him than to us: “I am not the wife you spent time with in Costa Rica. I think we, too, should go.”

 

Now my interest was really perked. Costa Rica could wait. I was interested in knowing about his previous wife. I can’t remember exactly how I posed my question, but it was subtle. The friend’s wife is 100% gold. I certainly didn’t want to offend either of them by attempting to play twenty questions, but I was curious. She responded: “You really do need to hear his story. It is really interesting.”

 

He made a playful response: “Okay, I’ll tell you about the shooter. She tried to kill me!” Someone once jokingly told me, “If there is anything worse than a wife, it is an ex-wife.” Perhaps in this man’s case, it would serve him well to leave well enough alone. Honestly, the former Mrs. sounds dangerous in a deadly sort of way.

 

For starters, they hadn’t been married very long. She was expecting and he wanted to do the right thing. After all, this was his first child and he wanted to be a responsible and caring father. He was in his early thirties at the time. It wasn’t exactly overnight, but over a period of several weeks, painful knots or lumps on the bottom of both feet began to form. After undergoing a myriad of medical tests by different practitioners over a series of some time, his health continued to deteriorate. I can’t recall the symptomology that surfaced next. I faintly remember that it had something to do with inflammation of his head and face. He was frightened by the symptomology. Apparently so was the wife. She drove him to the hospital emergency room and let him out.

 

He was hospitalized for a week. During that period of time, his wife never visited him at the hospital. The doctors didn’t determine a definitive diagnosis, but the longer he was hospitalized the better he began to feel. Of course, he was no longer drinking the coffee his wife lovingly (or not so lovingly) brought to him each morning. Could it be by happenstance or purposeful intent that the Mrs. was poisoning him with his morning coffee? At least from his perspective, that was a distinct possibility.  Of course hindsight is always 20/20.

 

So why did he go back home? Did he have a death wish? He responded, “Absolutely not! I wanted to be a good father to my son.” He admits to his regret that he wasn’t at a place where he wanted to be a good husband, but don’t the two go hand-in-hand? Overall the marriage lasted for seventeen years before it totally fell apart by turning deadly.

 

So what’s wrong with this picture? Maybe I’m a little more cautious or cynical than my friend, but if I really believed for an inordinate period of time that someone was trying to kill me, I’d be hard-pressed to want a daily dose of that. I don’t care how good the coffee tasted. However, I’m assuming he stopped drinking her coffee after he got out of the hospital.

 

Seriously, if you really thought someone was capable of killing you, how could you continue the relationship? It defies my imagination.

 

I can truthfully say of my friend after hearing his story: “He has defied death time and time again. The magic potion in the coffee was just for starters. Before the marriage ended, it came dangerously close to being deadly”.

 

They were separated at the time, but he agreed to meet her at a hotel somewhere between Dallas and Austin. At some point during their conversation in her hotel room, she gained leverage in getting his full attention when she pointed a Colt 45 Series 70 pistol at him. He also mentioned that the pistol had a hair trigger. He knew the details because it was his gun. At a distance of five or six feet, that seems like a deadly scenario.

 

He said, “I honestly thought my life was over. She said she was going to kill me and then kill herself. I tried to come up with a plan in my head, but nothing seemed to be working. I thought about jumping through the plate glass window and over the railing on the second floor, but that seemed pretty risky”. When I asked how he orchestrated a favorable outcome, he responded: “I guess you could say I’m good. I persuasively talked her out of killing me. Of course, I had to call the lady I’d been dating and break it off with her. It was a close call.” He took the pistol and the cartridge from her possession. Don’t you know that came with a big sigh of relief?

 

At some point the next day or the following, he telephoned his wife’s psychiatrist and asked what he should do. The psychiatric said, “I’m in no position to advise you, but you might consider taking her to the emergency room.” At least he was now goal directed.

 

Wouldn’t you know it, when they got back to Dallas his wife wasn’t in agreement with the plan. She didn’t want to go to the emergency room. Instead, she suggested that they go to his brother’s house in Dallas. How she knew where the brother’s Colt 45 pistol was located, I can’t recall. But I do recall that for the second time in as many days, he was facing down the end of the barrel.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I have a healthy respect for instruments of death. Apparently my friend does as well. He had gotten a stay of execution the previous day. The chances of that happening twice were few to none. The gun was pointed at his chest. Her target was within a deadly aim. He jumped from where he was setting and the bullet went through one of his arms instead of his chest.

 

Fighting for his life, all bets were off on who would be the winner. It was a full blown wresting match. He struggled to get the gun from her. Apparently there is something about the need to have a strong hand grip on a Colt 45 pistol for it to actually fire. It is a built in trigger safety. In the process of fighting, he hit the back of his head on the corner of a concrete wall or post. He didn’t realize it at the time, but he was bleeding profusely. In the process, the revolver went off again and he was hit between his thumb and index finger on the hand with the uninjured arm. The would-be assassin (aka – his wife) bolted from the room. A short time later, he made it to the door and looked outside. She was postured at the end of the concrete porch next to the stairway. She called out, “Come with me”. I’m not sure how he phrased it, but long story short, it was the equivalent of, “No Thanks”.

 

He was rushed to Parkland Hospital by ambulance and taken from the emergency room to the basement for surgery. He recalls fearing that somehow he was going to die. It didn’t happen.  Of himself he says: “I should be a dead man, but God permitted me to live for a purpose. It is now my quest to fulfill that purpose.”

 

All My Best!

Don

A Catalyst For My Thoughts

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Yesterday morning, a new employee at one of our agencies asked me how I got into this work. Was it something I always wanted to do or did I simply fall into it by happenstance or divine providence and get hooked? In my case, it was the latter.   The simple question asked of me yesterday morning proved to be the catalyst for thoughts that played themselves out in the processes of my memory later in the day.

If I had been thinking on my feet, I would have told the new employee asking the question that it was the money!   Now that is really funny! When I started to work for child welfare in 1970, I made $6,000 a year. Did you hear that? Factor that any way you want and it comes up as an average of $500.00 a month. Of course, 46 years later, the beginning salary probably is still the same equivalent in purchasing power.

Truth be told, most folks in the child welfare field don’t gravitate toward the work because it is their goal in life to be included in a Fortune 500 company. If they do, they are obviously delusional and have some form of mental health issue. Six figure incomes, creature comforts, a Porsche in every garage, and a winter and summer home is not the type of incentive that motivates people to this field of work.

Of course, I did have a boss once that drove a new Jaguar. Interestingly, her husband also was an associate commissioner for the Texas Department of Human Services. To say that the creature comforts surrounding the two of them were a bit out of the ordinary is an understatement.  The husband reportedly had “family money” from Houston. Those resources served as a buffer to keep their family from the ranks of the middle class. Of course, one other possible explanation for lots of creature comforts and fast cars could be Mafia connections. It probably wasn’t true in my boss’ case, but it would have made an interesting story.

Perhaps altruism is the term (some sense of concern for the well-being of others) that serves as the primary motivation. The common denominator that most folks in the human services industry share, regardless of employment (public or private), is a desire to intervene and make a difference in the life of a child or a family in crisis.

Has it really been almost 46-years since I started to work as a wet-behind-the-ears children’s protective services worker in Tom Green County, TX? At that time, the agency worked under the auspices of the Texas Department of Public Welfare. This was long before the day of specialization. As a child welfare worker, one carried overall responsibility to do whatever needed to be done regarding the welfare of children. The scope of service delivery was much broader back then than it is now.

I did child abuse investigations, removal and reunifications, placement of children in foster care and adoptive homes, case management for children in foster care and formalized court reports related to any number of things.

It was all outside the purview of anything I had ever experienced before. Prior to reporting for work, I had not been academically trained or prepared for the tasks before me. Yet, the most important piece of the work seemingly seemed second nature to me. It was simply the desire to make a difference in the lives of children and their families. I intuitively had ability to see folks through the lenses of empathy and compassion. In addition, most parents being investigated didn’t see my demeanor as threatening. I lived with the belief that abusive parents often didn’t have the skill set to do it differently without someone investing the time to teach them different techniques and an understanding of child development. Most often, the parents simply were perpetuating the cycle of abusive treatment that had been passed on to them by their parents who were also at a disadvantage. That is not to say that change couldn’t take place. It often did.

Thinking back on that first child welfare unit, I remember the names, personalities, strengths and characteristics of each staff person. Interestingly, I am still in contact with some of those people.

My first child welfare supervisor continues to be a close friend. She reads my blog regularly, or at least I think she does. I don’t get many “likes” from her. Actually, I’m not sure that I’ve ever gotten a “like” from her. However, if she strongly disagrees with something I’ve shared, she makes no secret of her differing opinion and reaches out to me privately to help me understand the error of my ways. Actually, I have such a high level of respect for her and for her passion for making a difference for children from hard places, that I take her redirection seriously.   Did I mention that she is really smart?

One of the books that she recommended I read to gain a better understanding of the impact of trauma is “Death in Life, Survivors of Hiroshima”. This was light years before the focus on trauma informed care became best practice. To say that my first supervisor was visionary is an understatement. In many respects, she still is.

She is also a great problem solver. Last year when the General and I went to Washington D.C. in June, we arrived at Reagan National Airport to find they were out of rental cars. Consequently, we waited for a very long time to get transportation. Reading of my plight, my former supervisor offered the helpful hint that Uber is a better and less expensive alternative than driving in the Nation’s Capitol. Consequently, since that time I’ve never once considered driving a car in Washington D.C..

I had the thought yesterday that periodically there is value in reflecting back to the motivation and satisfaction experienced in the early days of one’s work. I think there are questions we have to continue to ask ourselves:

  • Is my work just a job that pays the bills and provides a sense of security, or is it something much more? Is it one of the passions of my life that gives me a reason and purpose for getting up each morning?
  • Does my work provide me an opportunity to do what I do best? Is it compatible with my primary level of interest?

The kinds of questions are important if survival is part of one’s quest. I recently read that unhappiness on the job affects a large percentage of the American work force.

  • One fourth of employees view their jobs as the number one stressor in their lives.
  • Seven out of ten people are neither motivated nor competent to perform the basics of their job.
  • 43% of employees feel anger toward their employers often or very often as a result of feeling overworked.

John Ortberg expressed it this way: “Such misery can’t help but sour families, populate bars, and pay the salaries of therapists. If 70 % of us dread Mondays, dream of Fridays, and slug through the rest of the week, won’t our relationships suffer? Won’t our work suffer? Won’t our health suffer?”

One of the by-products of child-welfare or family services work is the frame of reference and the sad reality it provides concerning human nature. Consequently, every circumstance, both work related and perhaps even personal, begins to be analyzed from a “child welfare mindset”.

Whether consciously or otherwise, I frequently find myself attempting to analyze or evaluate safety and well-being issues for children in any number of settings.

  • How many times have I dashed into a grocery store or shopping mall for a quick purchase and before emerging noticed at least one episode between a parent and child that is at least borderline abusive?
  • How many times have I observed a child in a non-work related setting where the child presented a sad countenance and appeared withdrawn and aloof and I couldn’t help but wonder why?
  • How many times have I overheard a conversation from the people at the next table in a restaurant and wanted to intervene and provide a quick training session on conflict resolution techniques?

I can’t say that old child welfare workers never die, but I will say until we do, we’ll always be child welfare workers.

All My Best!

Don

Finding Home

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I dreamed about my dad last night. Unlike many, thoughts of my dad are not filled with fear. Consequently, the dream last night was not a nightmare. The dream was wrapped in a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving for all that I was provided and took for granted. As a kid, I didn’t realize how fortunate we were.

Actually, I’m not sure that until recently, I’ve come to realize how fortunate my brothers and I were. After forty-five years in child welfare related services, you’d think it would have occurred to me earlier, but it didn’t. In the past couple of weeks, a couple of men I’ve known for years shared personal information about their childhoods that surprised me. Each of the men has a high profile responsible position at their places of employment. In addition, they appear secure in their attachments to family and are responsible and credible individuals. The common denominator shared by the two men related to the level of fear they experienced as children in negotiating issues regarding their father.

Both report that simply seeing his car in the driveway as they came in the door following football or basketball practice after school was an automatic fear or flight response situation for them. Both men were terrified of their fathers. Could they get into the house and sequestered in their room without having to face the verbal or physical assault that was almost an everyday occurrence in their family? I can’t imagine living with that sense of terror.

I’m not talking about individuals who grew up in the child welfare system. These are men whose families were intact and for all sense of reason and purposes were the pillars in their community. Many were leaders in their church, but tyrants to live with in their homes.

Perhaps some of you reading this account will have pause to reflect back on your experiences and sadly be compelled to identify with an environment of fear. If so, that saddens me. At the core of my being, I believe it shouldn’t hurt to be a child.

My dad was a stranger to the concept of shades of gray. He lived in a world of black and white when he articulated what he wanted. Generally speaking, for the most part it was non-negotiable, but he wasn’t abusive. He was one of how many serviceman who came home from WWII, married and started their personal boot camp? However, he didn’t have the demeanor of a drill sergeant.

One of the speakers at our conference yesterday talked about finding home.  He focused on the security and support he and his older brother received from the boys ranch program in which they grew up. They felt grateful for the security and support. It was an environment in which they thrived. Forty years later, the conference speaker is still thriving. He has a very responsible high profile position. I guess you could say, “He’s made good.” He’d be the first to admit he didn’t make it on his own.  He had the privilege of finding home.

It is interesting how simply an expression of kindness; sometimes by strangers can be a turning point or memorable support system for children. The speaker referenced another alumni of the foster care system. He, too, is successful and at the top of his game. In addition, he is an awarding winning author. He credits his love for books back to his childhood.

He recounts sitting on the steps outside the foster home where he lived reading a book. A lady walking down the street spoke to him and asked what he was reading. He provided the name of the book and indicated it interested him. The following day the same scenario occurred. The lady asked once again what he was reading and he responded to her question. The third day brought the same response, only this time the lady asked why he was still reading the same book. He replied, “This is the only book I’ve got.”

It was the kindness of a stranger that turned that around for him. The next day, the lady brought him a box of books. The author shared the horrors of his story in his book: “A Chance In The World: An Orphan Boy, a Mysterious Past, and How He Found A Place Called Home”.

The author doesn’t sugar coat his childhood. He and four of his five siblings were separated from their alcoholic mother and placed in separate foster homes. “He was age 3 at the time and remembers nothing of her, only the day he was taken to another home, where he was left out in the cold. He was moved to a second foster home, and it’s there that he was beaten, burned and forced to scrounge through garbage for food”. He lived in those conditions until he was in high school and found the courage to talk with a school counselor. He feared for his safety if the talked”.

The focus of his award winning book isn’t exclusively the horrific abuse he encountered. The focus of the book is his triumph over adversity. He was determined that tomorrow would not look like yesterday. He made good on that promise to himself.

The bottom line is that you can’t tell by looking. There are highly successful competent people who come from environments you’d never suspect. Not everyone has always had an easy time of it. Some folks you’d never suspect come from hard places.

It may simply be the kindness of a stranger sharing a box of books that proves to be a turning point in providing a kid hope. With the encouragement and support of others, it is possible to find a way to break away from the limits or circumstances one find debilitating and abusive.

All My Best!

Don

 

Their’s Was A Perpetual Love Affair

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She was a lady with class. She obviously liked having it done her way, but she had the where-with-all, the resources and the connections to make it happen. Second class wasn’t part of her demeanor. She would have none of it! It wasn’t that she was pretentious. It was more that she was successful, knew what she wanted and was unwilling to settle for anything less. Add that up and factor it anyway you want, but for her it was the formula for class. From my “John Q. Public” perspective, I think she pulled it off nicely. She was a lady of prominence and self-respect. In many ways, she had paid her dues.

Her husband once took a job where their home was provided as part of the work related expectation and compensation. No sooner had they moved in than they moved out. Let there be no mistaking it, she wasn’t going to live in a firetrap. She was a woman of means, had her own money and wasn’t going to be dependent on the State of California to get it right. Good for her! For that matter, has the State of California ever gotten it right? (Oops, sorry, I couldn’t help myself) She wasn’t going to live in the substandard conditions of the Governor’s Mansion and she didn’t. From her perspective, the term Governor’s Mansion was an oxymoron. At least that was true in California.

If there was an Achilles’ heel in her demeanor, it probably stemmed from interpersonal relationships with their children. He had a son and daughter when they married, and together they were parents of both a son and daughter. Just for the record, blended families don’t always fare well. In addition, isn’t it true that what most of us know about parenting, we learned from those who fulfilled that role in our life?

Family conflict and interpersonal relationship issue sometimes surfaced in the press, but she didn’t try to cover it up. It “was what it was” and there was no denying it. Whether justly or unjustly, folks in public office are denied privacy in their personal lives. She didn’t try to camouflage anything; she simply owned it.

Until you walk a mile in a person’s shoes, it is best not to be judgmental. When it comes to children, it hurts my heart when they aren’t the subject matter of a parent’s priorities. I see it happen all of the time and I can’t understand how a parent can be oblivious to the kind of damage they are doing to their child.

It is a matter of record that the first six years of her life were not ideal. She was the only child of a car salesman and his actress wife who lived in Flushing, Queens, in New York City. Shortly after her birth on July 6, 1921, her parents separated and subsequently divorced seven years later. Chasing her dreams, her mother traveled the country pursuing roles as an actress. Consequently, her care was left to an aunt and uncle who attempted to fill the gap.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to “fill the gap” when a mother can and doesn’t choose to serve the best interest of her child? Of course, the same could also be said of a child’s dad. Either way, it is the kid that loses out. She described longing for her mother during those years. She said, “My happiest times were when mother had a job in New York and Aunt Vergie would take me by train to stay with her”.

When she was eight-years-old, her mother married a prominent neurosurgeon who subsequently moved the family to Chicago. The prominence and lifestyle provided in the lap of luxury was a stark contrast to anything she’d ever known before. Her stepfather adopted her in 1935 and her last name was changed to his. Even in reflecting back over the course of many years, she describes him “as a man of great integrity who exemplified old fashioned values.”

Too many years have passed since her family was in the limelight and the media actively highlighted their woes. I simply don’t remember the storyline, but after looking at the information in her autobiography, I couldn’t help but wonder if she assumed parental responsibilities with a deficit in really knowing how to embrace motherhood. I am not suggesting that any of the subsequent conflict with their children was of her doing, but I’ve simply been in the child welfare business long enough to know that parenting deficits have a way of subsequently showing up years later regardless of socio-economic standing or what appears to be a very charmed life.

Of course, the love of her life was her husband. She wanted what was best for him and she wanted what was best for them. She almost lost him once. A twenty-five-year-old would-be crazed assassin gunned him down, in broad daylight. The gunshot wasn’t lethal, but from that day forward she lived with the fear that the next time she might not be as lucky. Theirs was a perpetual love affair.

Incidentally, the twenty-five-year-old would-be crazed assassin was acquitted on charges of attempted murder by reason of insanity. For the past couple of years, he has spent 17 days a month at the home of his eighty-nine year old mother. For the remainder of the time, he returns to the hospital where he’s been institutionalized since 1982. Frankly, I was shocked that the former would-be-assassin is now sixty-years-old. Apparently, the jury is still out on whether or not he poses an imminent risk. Reportedly, letters of recommendation both for and against permanent release from the hospital have been presented to the Judge for his decision.

I was saddened to learn late yesterday that Nancy Reagan died earlier yesterday morning.  She was ninety-four years-of-age. She will be buried at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, along side the grave of her husband.

In looking at materials reflective of the Reagan years, I was startled with the discovery that Ronald Reagan was the oldest of any U.S. President to be inaugurated. I am still reeling from the news. President Reagan accepted the responsibility for providing leadership for this nation and did so for two consecutive terms of office. He was sixty-nine-years-of-age when he first took the oath of office. Somehow, knowledge of that information has helped me craft a different perspective. I reach that landmark in a couple of weeks.  Perhaps instead of planning to wind-down, I should be gearing up for full steam ahead.

R.I.P. Nancy Reagan – You were a lady with class.

All My Best!

Don

GUILTY AS CHARGED

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It doesn’t happen often. Actually, I can’t remember the last time it happened. If I can orchestrate it differently, it won’t happen again. The General and I were both getting ready for the day at the same time yesterday morning. She was “doing her face”. I was shaving. We have a fairly large bathroom with separate sinks. There shouldn’t have been a problem.

I might also add that I’ve been shaving since high school. The reason I know that’s true is that I remember the “after shave” I wore. Even in high school, it didn’t hurt to smell good. If you do the math, that is well over half a century ago. As I write this, I’m remembering “English Leather”. Wasn’t that a step-up from Old Spice? English Leather was in a rectangular shaped bottle with a large wooden cap.

If I’m not mistaken, my dad and his dad both used Old Spice. Of course, what kid doesn’t want to smell like his dad or granddad? Whenever my youngest grandson is visiting, he always wants to know which bath soap is mine when he’s going to take a shower. He says he wants to smell like me.  I take that as a compliment.

For now, I’m content with him thinking it’s the soap. The soap does have a scent. Jake is a little too young to be wearing cologne. Besides that, he doesn’t have to smell good. He has the looks and is animated enough to charm the socks off a rooster.

I haven’t thought of English Leather or Old Spice in years. Do they still make that stuff? That seems like a lifetime ago. I guess you could say that I’ve traded up several times over when it comes to aftershave or cologne. I’ve passed the point (either that or I never had it) where I could look good. However, if you don’t mind shelling out the dough, anyone can smell good. I figure that smelling good is as important as keeping your shoes shined. It all gets back to the personal appearance and good grooming.

I’m now smiling. Just as I typed “English Leather”, I received an email notification on my computer screen from FragranceNet.com. They are having a sale. I haven’t checked, but I bet you dollars to donuts, you won’t find English Leather as a smell-good alternative on FragranceNet.com. The same is probably true for Old Spice. However, I bet you can still get both at the nickel and dime store.

To my knowledge, I’ve never used the expression, “Bet you dollars to donuts” before. I have no idea why I had that thought, but I wrote it down anyway. Beyond that, what does the expression actually mean? I’m giving you my best guess without doing the research. Consequently, my logic may work or it may be flawed. “Donut” probably is an abbreviated term for “doughnut”. I’ve heard money referred to as dough. That equation probably has something to do with bread being a necessary staple for life. Bread is made out of dough. The purchasing power of a dollar (dough) to buy ingredients to make bread ultimately sustains life. In other words, the expression “bet you dollars to donuts” means you’re betting on a sure thing. You are confident you are going to win.

At any rate, as I was shaving yesterday morning, I was doing so as I’ve always done. You know the routine. You turn on the hot water and wait a moment for it to heat up. You splash it on your face, apply shaving lather and use your razor to shave. Periodically you rinse off the razor under the water. The total process is very brief. That is particularly true in my case since I wear a full beard. I’m only shaving the outlines. I don’t know, with me it probably takes 30-to-60 seconds to complete the process. I’m only guessing, but it doesn’t take long.

I had just lathered up my face and taken my first swipe with the razor when the General asked, “Do you mind turning off the water?” I know the General like I know the back of my hand. She asks questions all of the time for which there is only one correct answer. “Do you mind turning off the water?” wasn’t really a question. It was a point of redirection. The General thought I was wasting water. The question was a subtle command for me to “turn off the water”.

In fairness to her, I probably should say that she didn’t come across as dictatorial, demanding or punitive. She asked a simple question, knowing full well I’d cater to her suggestion and get out of hot water with her by turning off the hot water. Did I mention, the General doesn’t always get it right?

When she asked the question, I opted not to respond by asking if she turns off the water in the shower when she shaves her legs. An attorney friend once told me that in the practice of law, it is always best never to ask your client a question on the stand if you don’t already know the answer. Since I didn’t know if the General shaves her legs with the water on or off, I opted not to ask the question. Some of you are probably thinking you didn’t know I was that smart. I like it when I can throw you a curved ball.

Instead of fighting fire with fire, I answered playfully. Isn’t hat one of the three characteristics needed? Make the answer playful, firm and short. In response to the question: “Would you mind turning off the water”, I playfully responded, “Yes, I would. I’ve been shaving this way all of my life. It only takes a minute. I’ll have the water turned off soon.”

The General opted not to respond with lecture #783 that relates to the need to conserve water. She couldn’t have been more pleasant. I didn’t even think she was being passive-aggressive when she mentioned a few minutes later that I had stuff scattered all over the house. There was only the unspoken directive in her observation that I needed to correct the problem. Sometimes I’m clueless when it comes to figuring out what she is talking about. I cut to the chase and asked, “What do I need to pick up?” She said, “You left used K-cups next to the Keurig and you didn’t put the container of nuts you were eating last night back in the pantry”. I managed not to verbalize: “Guilty as charged.” Instead I hurried to correct the problem. Did I mention, correcting both of those issues took less time than it takes for me to shave?

All My Best!

Don