We

I was at a meeting this past week to address some concerns I had about a young teenager, whose future I am involved with.  It happened to be with a psychologist, but that is not an intrinsic part of my point – although it is troublesome to me.  The man was not new but was new to the case and had been updated from the old worker.  He pretty much began our conversation by telling me that he was aware of, and understood, my concerns.  And immediately I knew that this man, at least at this point, was not to be trusted.

What kind of stupid talk was that?

How could I be so certain that he was not to be trusted?  Because I had two huge concerns. The first I had spoken of to the former worker, and more than once at that, and I figured that he’d been updated on it. But the second, even bigger, concern I had never voiced to anyone.  Ever.  So not only had he not – no way – been updated on it, but he sure as hell couldn’t have “understood” it.

This is an example of something I call “not seeing the invisible” or, at least not covering for the possibility that there could exist things that you might not see.  It is arrogant.  It is common. It is culturally accepted. What would have been wrong with him telling me that he had been updated from the earlier worker on what she understood to be my concerns? Then repeat them for me in his own words perhaps.  And then ask me two questions. First, ask me if he had understood accurately what he’d just reported to me; and then second, ask me whether or not that covered the whole of my concerns.  A “no” from me to either one opens up a real conversation.  A “yes” to both gives us a common ground to start this new relationship from.   Either way we begin on the firm ground of mutual respect.  We become what I call a “we.”

Why couldn’t he have been open to the possibility that third hand information is rarely accurate enough, even among professionals?  And why was he not covering for the possibility that I had other concerns that either I had not spoken of to the first worker or that she had not understood the seriousness of and therefore hadn’t updated him?

I, of course, dealt with all this – I made visible all my concerns – and to his credit the man saw it and fixed it.  So I trust that he will fix what he sees: he’s a good man, he appears to have integrity.  But I still do not trust that he will cover for what he doesn’t see.

And I kept thinking: what chance does a kid have with “helping” folks such as this, when the kid does not have the internal resources that we develop as we grow up; or the external protections that our families provide for us?

Covering for what one doesn’t see appears to me to be the main work that any person in the helping professions must learn to do.  Actually I think it goes deeper than that.  Anyone in any relationship needs to do that.  I have had some pretty serious experiences in my life where a problem had clearly developed in the relationship and yet the other person made all sorts of assumptions and then acted on them without ever checking with me first – as this psychologist hadn’t done. Rather than being open – to the possibility that there might be something going on that they don’t see.  But that openness would require a stance of vulnerability, at least to this extent: I could be wrong; I may have done wrong; I may not see what it is I did wrong; I may have to change my stance.  Let me enter into a conversation to find out because it’s the only way to find out.  Let me enter into a conversation so that the other person and I are on the same page.  I call it, as I said, creating a “we.” And it is not something that happens anywhere near enough.  What do we do instead? We create an “us.”  Not: let the two of us, as equals, create something real between us, which means having a conversation. (And a real conversation eschews “blame.”)

The man I met in prison, Micheal (sic),one of the three who beat up Abe, has done exactly that: he has entered into a conversation with me, despite the reality that he contributed to the death of my son.  He wants real and he’s going after it with the father of the man who died in part because of his actions.  Courageous, no?  My respect for him is deep.

What stops us from that – from asking questions?  Well for one thing, to ask questions is to reveal our recognition that we don’t know everything that we think we should know.  I suspect the usual suspect here: the fear of being blamed by the other or ourselves if we find out that we did wrong, especially if the wrong came about because we assumed wrong.  I can’t count the number of times I have heard people defend themselves from something that they finally see was wrong, by immediately jumping to: “I didn’t mean to hurt you; I didn’t intend to do wrong.”  Who the hell cares?  That’s not the point. Most of the evil in this world is not done intentionally; it’s done stupidly.  The point is to solve the problem and move on.  Where do we get this idea that the wrong is mitigated enough as long as I did it unintentionally?

Conversation requires assuming that we might not get it; listening to the words of the other person, both unspoken and spoken; eschewing blame but holding accountable; and making sure, ultimately by asking questions, that one is responding to the other person.  In my experience? There is nothing more wonderful, nor more powerful. I think it the source of many of the miracles I have experienced in my life.

But, sadly, there appears also to be nothing more rare.

We.

Jack

 

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Getting Past the Self-Blame

This past week I was taking my son (see “Rant on Can’t” – post before last) to his bus stop as I do every weekday morning so he could catch the bus to work.  The weather report was on the radio and the prediction for one day this past week was for it to be 70 degrees. My son turned to me and said, “70 degrees is good, right?”  Now, had I made some comment of joy prior to him saying that?  Probably. I am in Syracuse as I write this morning and it is 34 degrees so I am well sick of the cold by this late in April.  I was certainly happy to hear “70 degrees.” But what does it matter? He heard the weather report; he may have heard me comment; and he added the two together to come up with the conclusion that 70 degrees is a measure of good weather.  And then he checked it with me to confirm.  All that is what thinking consists of, doesn’t it?

I thought of his teacher and the teacher’s life-deadening perspective on “limits.” And it reminded me of why the phrase “developmentally delayed” is so much more accurate than the word “retarded.” My son’s experience of learning has always been – and still is to a lesser degree – screened first by his determination to not feel the laser sharp pain and humiliation of being called “stupid,” or worse, feeling stupid.  I doubt that he ever felt “stupid” on his own anymore than I feel “stupid” because I can’t do brain surgery.  No, the feeling of stupid came because he had internalized what the culture surrounding him had announced as true.  And then he used (for evidence that they were right) the irrelevant but true facts of the things that he saw he could not do, or did not know how to do. And then – my favorite theme apparently – he blamed himself for being “retarded.”  [in recognition of the pain that that word has inflicted upon him over his life, it is a word that is absolutely forbidden in my house, by the way. We never let it pass without comment.]

It is a very short jump then – and a sign of emotional health – that he refused and refuses to place himself in any circumstance where he might feel stupid.  What has astonished me for over twenty years now is that he apparently unconsciously figures out in advance what those circumstances would be and avoids them with a ten foot pole. Brilliant, no?

For him then to ask me if 70 degrees is a good thing….no, he didn’t ask that. For him to confirm his hypothesis that 70 degrees is a good thing reveals how internally strong he has become in accepting himself as whole.  That affirmation of himself – which is what it is – is not only what thinking always leads to, it is what loving oneself is all about.  And that is what spiritual freedom is.  With it, the world then opens itself to us – or more accurately, we become open ourselves to the world, no longer worried about defending ourselves from it.  And what better definition of psychological freedom?

Every so often, I remember learning as a kid that God has a very special connection and  relationship with those whom we define as handicapped.  He gives them less in order to witness for the rest of us what we really need in this life. But it’s a measure of God’s trust in them, in their ability to take it that they have been so chosen.   I’m sure I am not remembering it right – but the point is there: at best, nobody is better than anybody else. And at worst (for us): “the first shall be last and the last shall be first.”

The real handicaps come into existence when we fall for the blame for being ourselves that are thrust upon us by others.  For African-Americans in our culture, James Brown got to the heart of it a generation ago (two generations?) with his song “Say it Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Followed shortly thereafter with Jesse Jackson  and the phrase he used over and over and over: “I Am – Somebody.”

Some years ago – and,  if I have written this before, apparently the price of reading a blog over time is dealing with repetition from the writer – there was a very discrete moment in time, when I realized that this son of mine would be okay when I was no longer alive. Something happened on one of his jobs and one of his co-workers said something about him being retarded.  My son went up to him – he told me – and asked him what made him think that he was “so much better than I am.”  I don’t know if that really happened. But my relief came from knowing that my son knew that’s the truth of it. You don’t let the attacks inside you: you respond to them straight out.  He knew when to respond, and how to respond, to attacks on his “self.”

Would that the rest of our society was that far along…….

Jack

 

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Blame. Still Again….

Since I work for an agency that helps to create, or recreate – and then hold together – new families, an article in today’s Times – entitled “Lessons in Domestic Diplomacy” * – caught my eye.  There are some good ideas in the article, and towards the end the author straight out says, “To stop fighting, stop saying ‘you’.”  In other words, eliminate blaming. I don’t know how you can possibly blame someone without using the word “you” and it’s cousin “your.”  But, for me, the most interesting thing in the article is that the word “blame” was nowhere to be found.   It is the blaming itself that destroys – the use of the word “you” is how people blame. It is the means.  But I suppose there could be other ways of blaming, without the use of the word.

I sound, I know, like a broken record on this, but I see it everywhere. Two weeks ago, the top article, on the front page of the Times was titled, “Rise in Egypt Sex Assaults Sets Off Clash Over Blame.”** If you run the word “blame” in the Times search engine, you get 379,000 results.  I just went through the few pages at the beginning of the list and it is overwhelming to see how pervasive that word is.  And that is just Times articles, not the whole internet.

Are they using “blame” as a synonym for “accountable?”  I ran “accountability vs. blame” on Google and found this sentence: “To be blamed for something is to be made accountable in such a way that deserves disciple, censure, or some other penalty, either explicit or tacit.”  Uh huh.  Penalty.  Deserves penalty.  Uh huh.  What’s the missing word?

The missing word is anger.  Blame is not about responsibility, nor accountability, nor solving the problem.  Blame is about expressing, or more likely, inflicting our anger onto someone.  And it is always about the past, not the present nor the future, which are all that matter.  When my son Irving got killed because the drunk driver of the car Irving (stupidly) was riding in hit a tree at a curve in the road on a rain swept night, I didn’t blame the driver.  I knew that it could just as easily have been Irving, presumably also drunk, driving that night.  I don’t even know what happened to that guy long term. But I know his father showed up at Irving’s funeral.  All I wanted was for that kid to wake up and never get behind the wheel of a car drunk again.  I wanted to “solve that (for me, very personal) problem.”

Seventeen years later, when Abraham was beaten so bad that he later died from his injuries, there was obviously more intention to hurt here than with Irving’s death. But still, I didn’t blame the guys who did it. I simply wanted them to wake up and decide never to do anything like that again.  Should prison have been involved? I don’t know. I don’t care. But what was missing was any focus on “solving the problem.”  Putting them – putting anyone – in jail in order to wake them up hasn’t really been proven to work too well. It may often be necessary, but it is almost never sufficient.

And it’s not just about eliminating blame in one’s approach to life. During this past week, I had two very intense conversations where I realized that blame is built so automatically into our culture, that it is not enough to avoid it – one must consciously make decisions and build processes, rules, protocols, to build it out of our systems, out of our approaches to life. One of those, certainly, is the rule I started this posting with today: forbidding the use of the words “you” or “your”.  People, especially vulnerable people, are too prone to automatically blame themselves when things don’t work for them.  For instance, if we place a child for adoption with a family who later kick the kid to the curb, unless we have built in ways to prevent the self blame from taking root at those times, those kids will automatically, and probably silently, blame themselves for the breakdown.  Especially when that’s the only way families ever kick kids to the curb: by blaming the kid.  Thus, our naming of the reality of “counterfeit adoption.”  Telling a child “it’s not your fault” usually has the paradoxical effect of reinforcing their self-blame.  Telling a child about the concept of “chocolate milk” as an analogy for authentic adoptions and using the phrase “counterfeit adoption” as a name for the experience when adults kick their “adopted” kids to the curb, actually work to prevent self-blame from taking root.

It is my experience in this world that far more evil consequences come from stupidity rather than intention. It is our responsibility, as Aunt Rita insisted day after day after day, to figure these things out through thinking.  She was so right.  Thirteen years after her death, and she continues to influence my world.  Now that’s a person who was real…..

Jack

* [http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/14/fashion/negotiating-peace-at-home.html?ref=fashion&_r=0]

** Online headline differs a bit from the paper edition I quote.

[http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/world/middleeast/egyptian-women-blamed-for-sexual-assaults.html?pagewanted=all]

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My Rant on “Can’t”

Because I have had so many kids in the school district, I once knew many many many of the teachers and administrators – all long retired now, if even still alive.  Some of my kids were in the special education department and I certainly knew those teachers well.  One day, having a conversation about his program for one of my kids who had – and still has – severe academic learning problems, one of his long time teachers told me that I had to accept the fact that my son “had limits.”

Let’s see now: I adopted him……… I lived with him………….. I was impacted by his abilities (and otherwise) every day of my life, and had been for years by that point.  But I was now being given this revelation from this teacher whom I had known – and once respected – that my son had limits.  I simply said to the teacher words to the effect (well….somewhat stronger than what I write here) that I full well knew, better than anyone, that my son had limits.  But having watched him grow and learn things beyond anything that anyone had ever predicted for him, neither he (the teacher) nor I (the father) yet knew what those limits were.  Therefore, he, the teacher, was to eliminate that concept from his belief system, as I had eliminated it from mine, and teach my son.  Would my son reach some limit someday?  I don’t know. I’m sixty two, have I?  The point is to avoid – desperately avoid – making any kind of self-fulfilling prophecy about any other human being, especially one who is in our care and responsibility.

I can’t jump up from my roof and reach the moon. Nor can you. Is that a self-fulfilling prophecy that I am making?  I don’t think so. I think that it is a legitimate use of the word “can’t.”  It is a situation that is either evident or easily verifiable.  But I say all the time when I am watching these unnecessarily graphic TV shows that are broadcast nowadays (“Criminal Minds” and “Chicago Fire” spring to mind) that I can’t ever become a doctor or even a nurse because I can’t deal with all the blood, and gore.  In that situation, the use of the word “can’t” is really a misuse.  I actually mean that I wouldn’t want to or I couldn’t easily see doing it.  But using my much used “imaginary scenario” tool (see posting June 25, 2011) I could well imagine realistic situations where I would deal with all the blood and gore; e.g. helping an accident victim who is right in front of me or some such.  To get Chris Huntington back in my life right now? Or Aunt Rita? Or Gilbert, Irving, Ricky, or Abraham? Or many others? I would deal with any blood and gore that I had to in that imaginary scenario. So: not “can’t” but rather “won’t” or “don’t want to,” would be the proper words for my position.

But there is a third use of the word “can’t” and it’s that use that leads to this posting.  It’s the use that the teacher was doing. And I have seen it elsewhere plenty of times.  People use it to tell us what a third person “can’t” do.  Based supposedly on the objective evidence of what the person has done or not done. And the evidence is real, and sometimes even overwhelming.  But as Chris Huntington taught me so well: there is nothing that is not mutual.  To use a wonderful old and very wise saying: “It betrays more [about the user of it] than it conveys [about the person being referred to].”  It’s what the psychiatrist I wrote about three weeks ago was doing when he implied that he knew with the certainty of God that the boy he was treating required the meds he was on, no matter the alternative explanation that I was able to give for the better behavior.  And, of course, the unwillingness to explore options.

This use of the word “can’t” tells us little or nothing about the person it refers to despite all the evidence that is pulled out to convince us (or maybe themselves.) But it tells us loads and loads and loads about the user of it: beginning with the person’s incredible hubris, arrogance, and conviction that the person they are talking about is somehow “broken” in a way that they themselves, of course, are not.  When spoken by a declared enemy, say an angry cop for a drug dealer, the disrespect is at least out there, able to be confronted.  But when spoken by a helping person, especially a professional such as a therapist, a social worker, a teacher, a psychiatrist, or even – hell, especially – a parent, it is buried underneath layers of “niceness.”  And buried destructiveness has no peer in the power of the destruction because it attacks the very identity as a human being of the person we say “can’t” do, feel, think, change, or whatever.

Want to know how to catch it in another or even in oneself?  Look for “feeling sorry for.” That will reveal it every single time.

Jack

 

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Again, the Bureaucrats….

With Sunday being Easter and my promise to post every Sunday, I am going to do a little cheating here and post early. Then I am going to do a little more cheating, and post what I have written for another place that I write.  There will be some overlap between both groups. Forgive me for that.

Last summer, Family Focus created what we call “The Chocolate Milk Club.”  It is a way for regular folks to help us with our mission by sending us $25 each month.  The mission, as readers know,  is to find adoptive homes for the foster kids still waiting for families.  But all the means that we use to do that work is to do it in a non-bureaucratic way, protecting as best we can the kids that we work with from the bureaucrats.  Sometimes we protect in a small way; sometimes in a huge way. But always we need to protect, because kids without parents need such protections beyond anyone else.

Each month I write an update for our Chocolate Milk Club members. Here – at the suggestion of my boss – is the one I have written for March.  It is my hope that some people reading the blog will come join the Chocolate Milk Club [http://familyfocusadoption.org/thechocolatemilkclub.html]  and stand with us.

Jack

===============================================================

THE CHOCOLATE MILK CLUB MONTHLY UPDATE

                                                                                                      March 2013: VOL 1: ISSUE 8

My grandson, David (pseudonym), is thirteen and for various behavioral reasons he is currently in a psychiatric hospital. [I adopted him through FFAS even though he calls me grandpa.] He also has diabetes 1, requiring an insulin shot after each meal.  Ordinarily, he lives with me.

At the beginning of this week, I spoke to the head of his unit, the psychologist. I told the man that I wanted to take my grandson out on a day pass yesterday for lunch and a movie.  David, of course – and maybe more than many – due to his eternal dietary restrictions, would want to go to McDonalds for lunch. The visit was approved.

However, yesterday, not three hours before I was due to pick him up, the nurse called asking me if I could bring the McDonalds’ food to the hospital for my grandson to eat before we left so that she could give him his insulin shot.  I told her that that was ridiculous. My plan was to sit with him at lunch and discuss his future and make our plans for him to come back home, which he is very nervous about.  She then wanted to know if I could take him to McDonalds – six miles away – and bring him back after he ate so she could give him the insulin. Doing so, however, would have meant us missing the start of our 1:30 movie, planned on by he and I for over a week.  And approved, let us all remember, on Monday morning by the powers-that-be.

I told the nurse that I could count his carbs, do his finger stick, figure out his dosage, and give him his insulin.  That, after all, is what we did when he was home five times a day, or more, but always seven days a week.  I had been taught to do that; I was required to do that; I knew how to do that; and I would be doing that again when he came home. And, by the way? David himself could do all that.  But, she told me, that that was not allowed.

So what could I do?   I went through a drive-in McDonalds on my way down and ordered all our food.  When I got to the hospital, I asked her where we were to eat.  I was told, and I knew from experience, that we could go inside the locked doors, but then when we were done, we would have to wait until someone came along to unlock the doors.  That has been as long as 15-20 minutes in the past. Even when I use my cell to call the front desk to ask them to send someone to open the doors.

Or, she told me – and she was very nice, and very apologetic – we could eat right there in the reception room. The reception room, where people walk by at all times, in and out of the hospital. Very conducive to this private and very important conversation that I needed to have with my grandson.  And then she gave David his shot, before he’d eaten a thing – which means that we could have gone to McDonalds as we’d planned anyway.

I was furious.  David asked me if we could eat in the car, but I sure didn’t want to do that as there was no place to put down the food etc.  So we left, found a park bench right outside the door, and sat there, juggling the food, and the drinks, and attempting to get through this serious talk.

Now mind you, when a person has Diabetes 1, they are always at risk for going too high or too low on their blood sugar. Too high will kill you long term; but too low will kill you today.  To protect against that, one always needs access to what’s called a glucagon needle. They are very expensive. And they are rarely ever needed.  But they could be.  Did the hospital give me one to take on our trip to the movies? No.  And that is not the first time that I have taken him out, and always without it (I keep one myself in the car.)

So, what was this about, this refusal to allow me to give him his insulin?  Protecting David? Or “looking” like they were protecting David? You know the answer. It was about bureaucracy.

And why wasn’t I told this insulin problem prior to yesterday so that I could have come earlier, perhaps? Or gotten tickets to a later movie?  Why? You know that answer too.  Bureaucracy and the right hand not knowing – nor caring – about what the left hand is doing.

And what happens to a kid with no family – as David was before I adopted him – and therefore with no protection from the bureaucrats?

———————————————————————————————–

The Chocolate Milk Club is the best answer we have yet devised to this everlasting problem of bureaucracy hurting our kids.  It wouldn’t have helped concretely yesterday, I know that.  But it helps me to know that we are not facing this nonsense alone.  There is a “we” behind us. And it can, and does, help concretely lots and lots of other times.  It allows us to bypass bureaucratic restrictions on spending money on the kids. Hell, one time I was with a six year old down in NYC on some mandated something or other.  Whatever we were doing took hours and hours, well into the evening.  But there were no provisions to buy the child dinner. None. Zero. The money it would cost was very specifically NOT to be reimbursed. We did it, of course, anyway.

The Chocolate Milk Club income gives us the money, but believe it or not, just as important is the support of our like-minded fellow citizens who are helping us to say: personal trumps bureaucratic every single time.  We stand together on this. I wish we had thousands of folks standing with us.  Maybe then, to copy the commercial, we’d be saying, “Can you hear us now?”

Thank you for being a real part of our solution.

Jack

 

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Falling Over the Brink. Or not.

On one of my visits home from college, one of my younger sibs/cousins came into the house to tell Aunt Rita that (their friend) Richie’s parents had sent his sister “back.”  I knew that Richie was an adopted kid, but my experience with adoption at that point was limited to other of my cousins who had been adopted as infants.  I had five of them in two different families and I couldn’t comprehend any one of them being “sent back.” They were family.  They still are.

I remember Aunt Rita being taken aback, bewildered, and saying that she didn’t know such a thing was even possible.  That’s all I remember. Was Richie’s home a foster home? Had the sister been adopted? Not yet adopted? I had, and still have, no idea. But the memory has stuck with me now for over forty years.  Something didn’t sit right.

This past week I met with a family who is actively planning on giving up their adopted and years long finalized child.  The child’s behavior is dangerous and he should not be living at home, or even in the community.  I get that.  And politically it is absurdly difficult to deal with this kind of problem.  The system sees parents – certainly adoptive parents – who ask for residential help for their child as “neglectful” parents.  That in itself – via the Child Protective System – can lead to terrible – and unnecessary – consequences for families.

But there are options that families don’t even seriously consider when trying to solve this kind of problem.  For instance, we don’t dream of killing the child.  I read the other day that there are three million children in the US currently living with relatives other than the nuclear family. I can’t remember where I read it, but I was astounded at that high number: there are less than 500,000 other kids in foster care. So clearly families turn to family most of the time when there is trouble.  How is it that the thought of giving up one’s child only seems to get carried out by adoptive parents?  Granted that the adoption world is the world that I live in, but I have never ever ever heard of a birth parent going to court to surrender their birth child to the system because of the child’s behavior.  Such surrenders happen, under pressure from DSS, because of the parents’ behavior.

This concept of adoption somehow allowing the possibility of ending the parental relationship reveals nothing about the kid, and everything about the parent.  There are times when it makes sense to legally walk away from one’s child. For instance, if there is no other way to protect the family due to a child’s dangerous behavior, and the system’s bureaucratic blindness, then legally surrendering one’s parental rights paradoxically becomes a requirement of true parenting.  For the Jews during the Holocaust who gave their children to Christian families to protect the children’s lives, it was the ultimate model of what it means to be a parent: sacrificing everything, including your relationship with your child, for the protection of the child.  But in either case the good of the child is the object, not the satisfaction of the feelings of the parent. The key is that in either case, the disconnect is intended as temporary, a function of current circumstances. And in either case, the decision has nothing to do with whether the child was adopted.

I now know at least six children – probably more – whose adoptive parents walked away from their child. And in every one of those cases, it is obvious to all but the walking away parent (and their supporters) that they did it because the child did not satisfy their wishes, their feelings, their beliefs.  I’ve been there, right at the edge of walking away from one of my own kids, before I pulled myself back from the brink.

That day that I pulled myself back, I changed forevermore. It was that day that I learned what it feels like to choose unconditional love.  Not deep attachment, not deep feeling, not – as one of my adoptive families put it – “like plus.”  On the contrary, that day I learned, as my mother had told me when I was a young kid, that “like” has not the slightest thing to do with “love.”  They are two entirely different experiences, springing from two entirely different places within us.

Hallmark doesn’t get that. Neither do these adoptive parents who walk away from their children, revealing not a broken adoption, but rather a counterfeit one.

The damage that they inflict upon the children’s thinking, believing, and trusting is beyond anything the children ever inflicted upon them.  They, of course, believe it to be the other way: every last one of them.  They insist – without using the words – that the child has betrayed them (that’s what I was sure of when I came to the brink) when in truth it is they who are betraying their already betrayed child (the abandonment by birth family).  They gather their evidence; they call upon their allies; they use their logic as the ultimate weapon.  And they walk away feeling justified.  They know that they are right.  All the evidence proves it.

But what they don’t know is the experience of love – and commitment to the good of another human being – as being unconditional.

That sure appears not to be an American word, so let me translate. It means “no conditions; none; ever; no matter what.”

The Family Focus mantra: adoption is like chocolate milk. Once those two are mixed together, it is impossible to separate them.  Not difficult; impossible.

One does not give up one’s children for any reason other than the good of the child. Ever. Or the child was never your child to begin with.  It was all counterfeit.

Jack

 

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“One Flew East, One Flew West….”

It seems to me that either one believes that all human beings are equal to oneself in dignity and are entitled to the respect that we would give to “our own” or one believes that some human beings are intrinsically better than and more deserving than others.  I had two experiences this week – the same day actually – that struck me with the difference.

After meeting with the social worker for the boy in the state psychiatric hospital last week (see last posting), I met with the boy’s psychiatrist this week.  There has been a huge positive change in this boy’s behavior over the past two months.  The hospital staff, across programs, have noticed it and commented on it.  Prior to the change though, there was a change in the boy’s thinking, which led him to recognize in his gut that he’d been the emotional target of his parents – who’d ended up giving him up for adoption.  A very freeing revelation for him.

The issue now, for me, is whether or not it is now time for him to be weaned off the psychiatric medications, which have served – no matter what they say otherwise – to control his otherwise out-of-control behavior.  Thus the meeting with the psychiatrist.  I am convinced that the anger that has been released in this kid from recognizing that he didn’t deserve what had happened to him now makes the meds unnecessary.  Weaning the boy from them would tell us for sure; would build up his confidence; and would protect him from who-knows-what-future-physical-consequences may lie in store for him by having his thirteen year old body being subjected to this routine of four daily psychiatric meds be given to him.  Those of us of a certain age have a deep emotional reaction to one of them – thorazine – due to our experience of seeing Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”

The psychiatrist told me that he would not wean this young teen off the meds as it is the meds that have brought him to this level of behavioral stability.  (Did God tell the doctor that, I wondered?) When I pointed out that this now is the exact time and the exact place to try getting him off and see what happens, he told me that that was not so. He told me that just as some diabetes patients have to take insulin for the rest of their lives, and some folks with high blood pressure have to take meds for that for the rest of their lives, so too, some folks who are mentally ill have to take – he specifically said this – thorazine for the rest of their lives.  Really?

That distancing from this kid – he is, after all, mentally ill – made me mentally ill.

We had a psychiatrist at one of the institutions I once worked in with the same attitude towards his “patients.”  We simply called him “Doctor Doom.”

That evening in the mail when I got home was a letter from the man I met in February or March of 2012 (see blog postings from that time) who was one of the three convicted of manslaughter in the beating of my son, Abraham, that led to Abe’s death (see postings from August 2011).  I haven’t heard from him – Micheal (sic) – since I met him that day in the prison.

He was writing to tell me that he has his first parole hearing coming up this spring. He wants me to write to him to give him my opinion, based in part on our meeting, of whether or not he should be released.  He apologized once again for “the pain that I have caused you and your family.”

I was very happy to get that letter.  It took guts for that man to write to me and to risk me then doing everything in my power to keep him in prison.  I had not paid any attention to when he gets out of prison and did not know about the parole hearing.  I suppose my supporting him would help him with parole just as I suppose my opposing him would hurt him.  And certainly that has to be a motivation behind him writing to me.  But I don’t believe it’s the prime motivation. I think Micheal is looking to see if I will continue to be as real with him as I was in that prison visiting room.  Remember, I went to see him because I wanted something from him: I wanted to know what had happened that August night.  All human motivation, as Chris Huntington taught me, is  mixed. No one but God Himself is capable of doing anything for one pure reason. We don’t work that way.  Our job is to continue to grow over our lifetimes and thus to get our motivations as clean as we can.  That is the best we can ever do.

I gave Micheal’s letter to one of my adult sons to read.  My son’s response was that it was “considerate.”   Micheal’s realness in that letter came across even to Abe’s brother.

And I thought:  whom do I trust more?  Hell, which do I trust at all? This man who was partially responsible for my beloved son’s death or this psychiatrist who is very responsible for this other boy’s continuing to be written off as “mentally ill.”

Without a doubt, it’s Micheal.  I miss Abraham, desperately at times, but I’m proud that it’s Micheal whom I trust.

I took risks in meeting Micheal; he’s taking risks in telling me about his parole hearing and putting it in a letter (he could have had his family reach out to me by phone or in person.) This psychiatrist is taking all the risk that a robot might.

Yes, it’s Micheal whom I trust. I’m proud of it.  I’m also proud because I am certain that Abe would stand with me on this.

And I am most certainly going to help Micheal with parole.  Why wouldn’t I? He wants – unlike one of the others convicted of Abe’s death – real.  And real in the end is the only thing that protects any of us.

Jack

 

 

 

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