The Choice You Make: Conflict or Harmony?

My Dear Readers,

Conflict is a reality within our lives.  In fact, we unconsciously want conflict.

Why? Because we find balance and calmness in conflict.  As a result, even though conflict among our loved ones can be painful to watch, we often feel the need to be the bystander.

Typically, when individuals seek psychotherapy, it is because the individual wants it.  Psychotherapy is like hopping on a train: it can be a rough journey, but in therapy, the individual seeks a “safe, secure space to spill their spoilage.”

There remains an old saying:

“You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

Simply put, I need help for my son.  I am an African-American woman who at a young age had two children.

I had my two children at a young age. At the time, my husband was an excellent provider, and we lived well. However, our lives went downhill in the late 1980’s when he fell into the grip of crack cocaine addiction, and I made the decision to end the relationship.  As a result, my ex-husband was never involved in my son’s life.

I went on to marry another person who was a great stepfather to my children.  He was always involved in their activities, and was very supportive of them.  Unfortunately, he passed away after a long illness when my son was in his early teens

This was the beginning of a very difficult time for my son.  He had problems in school, began associating with a rough group of kids and started smoking marijuana.  We managed to keep it together for a while, but when he turned 19 years old, I caught him selling drugs out of my home.

This behavior was clearly unacceptable.  I put him out of my home, and he has been living on his own for the past 10 years.  He now has a good job with benefits and has left the rough crowd and the drug scene.

So what’s the problem?  The problem is the tension and poor communication between my son and his father. I have attempted on numerous occasions to get the two of them together and have failed.

My son is angry with his father for not being involved in his life.  When speaking of him, he refers to him as “the sperm donor.”  On the other hand, my ex-husband is angry with my son because during the one time he attempted to reach out to him, my son severely cursed him out. His father now feels disrespected as a man and has ceased all communication with him.

In general, I am very concerned about how this is impacting my son’s life.  At one moment he can be calm and laughing, but the minute his father’s name is mentioned, he goes into rages, and afterwards, shuts down. I have spoken to him about counseling, but he has rejected it, saying that nothing is wrong with him and he can handle himself.  However, he is unable to see that others are being impacted by his behaviors and negative moods.

I am going to reach out to his father once again to see if he would reach past his own anger and help our son.  I would appreciate any advice that you have so I can pass this on to my son.  It hurts me to see him in so much emotional pain.

A Mother’s Love, Seattle, WA.

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My Dear Woman,

First, I want to extend my condolences regarding the passing of your beloved.  It appears that now that he has passed away, you are turning your focus towards the relationship of your son and his biological father.

Although I was born in New York City, I was raised in the segregated South.  We have a saying “You don’t call the plumber when the toilet is working.” That can also be loosely translated into” if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Both quotes describe aspects of human nature—the inability to simply leave things alone and avoid attempting to correct, fix or improve what is either already working or sufficient.  One of the consequences of not leaving things alone is that your efforts are risky and may backfire or create problems that you did not intend.

Before you go further and perhaps create confusion, ask yourself the following:

  • Why am I unable to listen to what my son is saying?
  • Why am I determined to force a relationship between my son and his biological father?
  • What damage am I creating in the relationship between my son and I?

Your son is no longer a child. He is an adult.  He has the right to determine or decide whether he wants his biological father involved in his life.  Furthermore, he has the right to have or hold onto his anger.

Although you may have compassion and remember that his father was an excellent provider during your son’s infancy, the reality is that regardless of what reason, excuse or justification he or you may have, your son feels that he was “abandoned.”  It is essential that you do not seek to change or repair their relationship. Ultimately, it is up to them.

Follow the model Five R’s of RELIEF,

  • Step to side, take a moment, take a breath (RESPITE);
  • Own your feelings (REACTIONS);
  • Process what is occurring in front of you (REFLECTION);
  • Share your words (RESPONSE) and
  • Give yourself time to review what has occurred (RE-EVALUATE).

Your son is wounded by the abandonment.  Furthermore, he may still be grieving the death and loss of the stepfather who raised him.  Finally, due to his unresolved anger, your son may be responding to his own internal conflict associated with his feelings toward both father figures.

Be honest with yourself.  Are you, by your actions, stating, “I know what is best for you?” Are you really attempting to force them into a relationship that neither wants?

Although you say that your intent is to improve communication between father and son, it is not your wound to heal.  Both individuals are emotionally wounded and have victimized the relationship. It is their relationship to fix.

Instead of the biological father being “bad” or the son as being “disrespectful” it would be helpful for both individuals, using the Five R’s of RELIEF, to examine the following:

  • Why do I feel wounded? (Answer: drug involvement).
  • What actions or behaviors bind us together? (Answer: drug involvement)
  • What were the actions or behaviors that led to both of us being ejected from the home? (Answer: drug involvement).

There is no right or wrong here.   Both individuals at an early point were in emotional pain and turned to drugs as a means of medicating the emotional pain.  This contributed to the ongoing wounding of both people.

They must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing the wound.  Both individuals must want to seek common ground, but this is not possible as long as they continue to live in fear of each other.

Individuals with long standing emotional pain may choose to live with the pain rather than take the opportunity to move forward and learn other coping methods. Individual psychotherapy rather than counseling would be a different way to allow both of them to work towards what is so desperately needed: emotional balance.  In psychotherapy, the therapist becomes the guide and companion on the journey called self-discovery.

The therapist’s role is to provide a Safe, Secure, Space for their patients to Spill their Spoilage.  It is within this environment that the therapist and the individual seeking treatment walk the journey together, uncover hidden pain and trauma, and work through it together.

Concluding Words

My Dear Woman,

In life, there are things we want and yet cannot have. Regardless of your good intentions, you will fail in achieving your objective of improving communications between father and son.  Your son is no longer a child.  As an adult, he has a right to choose his own direction, even one that you strongly disagree with.

Both men, father and son, must want to improve their relationship. Before they do this, however, they must want to stop the bleeding and begin the process of healing their individual wounds.

You cannot do this work for them. Your involvement is clearly not desired.  By continuing to force the issue, you risk damaging your relationship with your son.

They have the opportunity to stop being victims and survivors.  If they choose to do so, they can become empowered, and begin to drive, strive and thrive in their journeys.  The song remains the same: Fear is here. Forever.  You must choose to live in or live with your fear.

The Visible Man

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And One Day, They Will Come For You

My Dear Readers,

Fear can be powerful and overwhelming.  Many of us grapple with it every day.  The foolish will try to convince themselves that they fear no one, but most of us struggle to overcome our fear.

The wise, however, will realize and accept that fear is simply an emotion that we actually want in our lives.  Fear, in and of itself, is here and it’s here to stay.  The individual must stand at the crossroads and choose whether to live their life IN fear, or WITH fear.

Below is such a story…

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“They are coming for me.”

“What do you mean?”  I ask. “They are coming for you?”

“It’s just a matter of time,” he says. “They’re coming for me.  And one day, they will come for you, too.”

These are the words coming from one of my patients. He’s not delusional. He’s not seeing others in the room—he’s not having hallucinations. He’s not hearing voices either. Paranoia is a possibility, but I need to find out more about him.

Let’s call him Daniel.  He is African-American and 64 years old. He recently retired as a family support worker in one of the local school districts in the Puget Sound area of Washington State.

He is a veteran of the US Marines, having been honorably discharged after serving two tours in the Vietnam War. He has been married for 27 years, has four adult children, and three grandchildren.  He owns his home, and his mortgage is just about paid in full.  This is a man who has never been in trouble with the law.

Then out of the blue, I received a call from his wife saying that he had locked himself in the home, refusing to come outside, and had been wearing the same clothes for a week.

In my session with Daniel, the one sentence he keeps repeating is “they’re coming for me, they’re coming for me.”  Understanding that sharing internal secrets with a stranger is extremely difficult for many African-Americans of his generation, my goal was to provide Daniel with an avenue to speak, and to release himself from this dark place. I was happy that he agreed to sit down with me once again and process the anguish he was going through.

In the war, Daniel was a member of a group of Marines who had been overrun by a larger North Vietnamese unit.  Out of supplies and ammunition, they fought to the last man.  Daniel was one of the few to survive.  Daniel had spent many years dealing with traumatic memories and was now just beginning to normalize his life.

So, what happened?  Was it memories of the Vietnam War?  Had Daniel relapsed into old emotional wounds of his post-traumatic stress? Perhaps.  His relapse didn’t appear to be specifically related to the war in Vietnam; it seemed to result more from the war he’d been fighting here at home since being discharged from the military.

Daniel had kept it together for many years following the war.  He had been successful in his work, marriage and family, and he’d never been in trouble with the law.

Although Daniel felt safe in his self-imposed exile at home, he could not release his demons.  He could not talk to his wife or pastor.  He wanted to, but couldn’t free his psychological self from pain and suffering.

I initially considered a diagnosis of paranoia, but as we spoke, I realized that Daniel didn’t meet any of the indicators.  I was able to understand that essentially, Daniel had been traumatized during his experiences in the war, and due to a recent direct observation of an impactful event, his trauma had been triggered.

In the sub-field of traumatology, there are eight specific types of trauma that a person can be exposed to at any given time.  It is possible that an individual as in the situation of Daniel can be simultaneously exposed to a variety of different traumas.

The types of traumas, which Daniel was responding to, are race-related stress, racial profiling, historical trauma/inter-generational transmission and the invisibility syndrome.  The cause of his exposure was vicarious trauma via repeated viewing of scenes that are the basis of the distress.

In more detail:

  • Race-Related Stress– a single race-related adverse event such as being threatened with death or injury because of one’s racial appearance.
  • Racial Profiling– suspicious behavior being attributed to an individual due to membership in a specific racial group.
  • Historical Trauma/ Inter-generational Transmission-cumulative massive traumas associated with historical events that affect a given culture, group, country, religion or ethnicity, and are passed down from generation to generation.
  • Invisibility Syndrome-the internal struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.

In January 2015, while walking in downtown Seattle, Daniel observed and nodded to another African-American of similar age who had been walking using a golf club in the method of a cane to support his walking stride.

Daniel witnessed this person being stopped by a police cruiser, wrestling with a white female police officer over his golf club.  He watched in horror as the police officer violently threw the elderly man on top of the police cruiser, handcuffed him, and tossed him aggressively into the cruiser.

Daniel was terrified. He quickly turned away and went home, later seeing repeated media coverage of the incident.

So, to be clear, what happened to Daniel was the triggering of his vicarious trauma by repeated viewing of the initial incident that resulted in the feelings of panic.  This alarmed Daniel’s wife Betty, and she took him to the emergency room at the local hospital.

The emergency room physician told her that Daniel was showing symptoms of psychosis, paranoia and delusions and that he should be hospitalized immediately.  The basis of his diagnosis was Daniel’s suspicion and distrust that the physician considered baseless. However, since Daniel was not a danger to himself or others and did not require hospitalization, the physician indicated that this was not a bad paranoia, and instead was a good, acceptable type of paranoia.

Poor Betty was so confused.  Her spouse is paranoid and delusional, which is bad, but it was a good type of paranoia? If paranoia in general is an indication of mental instability, how can it possibly be good?

So the physician providing the psych consult explains that in some cases, healthy cultural paranoia is a “defense mechanism” for African-Americans and other races and cultures who have had to respond to the repercussions of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment.

After hearing all of this, Betty contacted me.

I believe that Daniel is healthy.  He has a good understanding of his culture.  He isn’t just “paranoid” in the classic clinical sense.  Following a full psycho-social work up and history, it is clear that Daniel’s “radar” or “vigilance” had been triggered by the incident he witnessed and the repetitive viewing through the media had forced his vigilance into overdrive, thus becoming “hyper-vigilant.

In our therapeutic process, Daniel was able share with me his story of growing up in Alabama during the Civil Rights Movement, witnessing repeated acts of police brutality, which triggered race-related stress, and the fact that he recently saw the film Selma, which returned him to those memories he sought to escape in coming to Seattle, which was responsible for historical trauma and inter-generational transmission.

Regarding Daniel’s experience in witnessing the arrest in downtown Seattle, he noted in his discussion with me that the elderly black man arrested had done nothing wrong, and that the police officer did not have a cause to stop, detain and arrest him—that she simply racially profiled him. Consequently, Daniel, felt that for the grace of God, that could have been him, and that brought him feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and made him feel less of a man, which is the invisibility syndrome.

In session, Daniel shared that he had been living his life with the hope that if he simply followed the rules, kept low, minded his business, and paid his taxes that “they,” meaning the police, would leave him alone. After this incident, knowing that the elderly black man was no different from him, he lost that sense of security.

Daniel cried hard and long that day.  It was a good thing, because now the healing could begin.  Using the Advocacy, Balance and Empowerment (ABC) Model, our work then centered on helping Daniel to gain personal empowerment. Utilizing this model, Daniel was able to learn to advocate for the psychological self, attain balance within and display calmness with the external world.  Daniel is doing well today.

Concluding Words

“Healthy Cultural Paranoia” is a clinical descriptor that seeks to justify vigilance utilized as a defense against being psychologically overwhelmed by racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment.

As healthcare professionals, we must be cautious about using terms like healthy cultural paranoia where its basis, paranoia, is the foundation of the mental illness.  We must police ourselves against the possible confusion and damaging impact upon others should they start to see normal and natural responses to traumatic events as being “paranoid.”

When it comes to physician diagnosis, there is always the possibility of overuse or hyper-extension.  When this occurs, it is up to the individual to seek secondary assistance to return to a normal level of functioning.   This can be achieved by checking in with someone sharing the same background or experience or in extreme situations such as Daniel’s working with a trained mental health professional to obtain access to the root of the issue.

Daniel’s regression was reinforced in that after this experience, he now lived his life in fear of that one day “they would come for him.” Prior to this, he thought that since he was now elderly and retired, he was no longer at risk.  In observing the harsh treatment of a black man who is similar to him, he realized how wrong he was.  Now, Daniel is empowered.  He has advocacy, balance and calmness and can now live with fear instead of living in fear.

Until the next crossroad…the journey continues.

Dr. Kane

 

 

Moving Forward: Out Of Prison and Back On The Streets

Dear Visible Man,

I hope you can help me.  My son is about to be released from prison, and will be living with me and his younger brother, who is currently in high school.

My son did two years for drug possession and sales.  He did not finish high school, and does not have a skill or trade he can go into.  I am concerned that he will want to go back to the fast life he was living and the quick money he was making.

I am happy to have him home, but I am worried about how to deal with him.  What is the best way for me to help him transition into everyday life?  What are the psychological issues I can expect to deal with?

I am also concerned about how he will impact his younger brother.  My younger boy looks up to him and I do not want him to follow in his footsteps.  My younger son has not has never been in trouble with the law. He plans to attend college and wants to go to medical school.

I have always put up bail money and paid for attorneys when my son got into trouble.  I don’t want him to go back to the same behavior, and I am getting too old to continue working two jobs to keep him out of trouble.  I have always protected him.  Can you help me?

Sleepless & Tired in Seattle

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My Dear Woman,

It is good to hear that your son has a release date and will soon be reunited with his family. You have raised some very serious concerns that are impactful not only for you, but for the African-American community as a whole.

Specifically, there are many of our young people who incarcerated and will be, as you said “coming back” their homes or to the community they left prior to incarceration.  Many of those “coming back” may be on some form of supervision such as parole or probation.

As a mental health professional, I believe language is very important. When it comes to language, I hold three basic and simple values:

  • There is power in words and the ways in which they are utilized.
  • If we are what we eat, then we are what we say.
  • Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Your question was:

“What is the best way I can help him back to everyday life?”

First, you must want to change the way YOU are looking at this question.  You must want to get out of the way. The REAL question that is not being asked is:

“What is the best way he can help himself back to everyday life?”

You must to stop protecting your son from himself. It is understandable that you are concerned that your son may have difficulty regarding his re-entry into the community, but it is his behavior of drug possession and sales that has caused him to go be incarcerated.

He, rather than you, must ask this essential question.  He must want to be successful in a society that will be suspicious of him and may direct hostility toward him because of his labeling as a felon, parolee or ex-convict.

Returning to the question:

“What is the best way I can help him back to everyday life?”

Your son is not going back to everyday life.  The life he left, the life he knew prior to incarceration is gone. There is no going back.  Instead your son is returning. He is returning to his community, hopefully with the intent to begin a new life that will include a new direction with a different focus, different goals, and different objectives.

You want to help your son, but it is important for you to understand that your son, in his incarceration, may have been been institutionalized. In other words, he has been leading a highly structured life while being in prison. So, consider creating expectations for your son regarding the following:

  • Household tasks
  • Curfew limits, telephone contact
  • Consumption of alcohol on the premises
  • No drugs on the premises (no exceptions)
  • Time limits placed on enrolling in educational or job training programs and/or seeking employment

Be aware that although he is your son, it is possible that the time he spent in prison may have been focused on identifying ways to manipulate the system to benefit him while he is “doing time.”  As a result, if you give an inch, he may take more.

It is essential that you take a “tough love” approach, requiring adherence to the structure you put in place.  In addition, you may want to work as a partner of the judicial, parole, and educational systems to keep your son from falling back into old behaviors.  Your son must be aware that you are unwilling to tolerate illegal activities, and that you will be in contact with his parole officer as needed.

Regarding your question,

“What are the psychological issues I can expect to deal with?”

As with the previous question, your focus on what you can do may be blocking the path of your son taking responsibility for what he can do.  It would be helpful for your son and yourself to reframe the question to the following:

“What are the psychological issues he can expect to deal with?”

Research shows that up to 50% of young males returning from incarceration will have symptoms that meet the base criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder.

Additional issues that may arise from anxiety and depression from the following:

  • Adjusting to a community in transition.
  • Responding to societal rejection due to the labeling of felon and ex-convict.
  • Lack of useable skills or employability.
  • Difficulty establishing intimate/meaningful relationships with women.
  • Internal conflict or pressure to return to comfort zones and old habits established prior to incarceration such as drugs and petty crimes

The commitment to change and move towards transformation must not come from you.  It must come from your son.

Regarding your younger son, you cannot make the decisions that will impact his future. Is he truly committed to obtaining a college education and therefore becoming a physician? Or realistically speaking, is the dream no more than a fantasy? Your son stands at the crossroads.  What will he do? Which way will he turn?

It is for him and for him alone to decide whether to follow his brother’s path or to instead keep to his vision of going to college and becoming a physician.  Either way, it will be a long and difficult road. There are three simple questions for him to ask of himself:

  • Does he have belief, faith and trust in his journey?
  • What does he really want for himself?
  • What is he willing to do in order to obtain what he wants?

As your younger son comes closer to adulthood, your role as a “parent” will change.  Instead of having the current roles of director, supervisor, manager and/or caretaker, you must want to “transform” to the role of “advocate, bystander and consultant.

Of these three roles, it is always the “bystander” role that the parent finds the most difficult to accept.  This is especially true for African-American parents like yourself who have sacrificed themselves in order to “save” their sons from the system.

This behavior is due to desperation of parents who live in fear of their sons becoming victims of either black on black homicide, racially profiled by law enforcement or involvement in the juvenile detention or adult penal systems.   This form of behavior imprisons both the parent and child in the developmental stages of “existence” and “survival.”

In order for parents to be of the most assistance to their young adults, they must want be able to live with fear and again, not in fear. The parent must want to acknowledge the young person’s ascent to adulthood, and in doing so, must be willing to step aside and allow the young adult to benefit from their own successes and to learn from their own mistakes.

Concluding Words

My Dear Woman, the last concern I will address is regarding your own journey.  I fully realize that what I am asking seems impossible.  It may appear that I am asking you to remove the shield of armor that you have encased around your sons.

In you, your sons have the model of what they can be, the hard working parent who is struggling working two jobs to provide for her children.  Allow your sons to see the best and the worst of you.  Take the plunge– Have belief, faith and trust in the manner and ways you have modeled appropriate behavior and values for your sons.  Let them decide which path they as individuals will chose to take.

Should either of your sons choose the negative path and face the judicial system again, stop seeking to save them from the system  Instead seek the following:

  • play an advocacy role by attending court hearings,
  • play a bystander role by watching him respond to the consequences of his actions and finally,
  • assume the consultant role of helping him frame and process the experiences.

One day you too will die.  No one is going to step in and save your children from the system.  They, like all adults will have to make it on their own. As we seek to protect our children from the system, we must ask ourselves the following:

  • Are we living in fear? Do I have belief, faith and trust in the values that I have taught my children?
  • Am I really seeking to save my child from the system or am I seeking to save him from his own actions and behaviors?

 “Once burned, we learn. If we do not learn we only assure ourselves that we will be burned again and again and again until …we learn.”-  Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

 The Visible Man

 

 

Deadbeat Dads: The Traumatic Impact of Male Privilege

My Dear Readers,

The position I hold within the mental health community is a special one.  I am a clinical traumatologist, which means that I specialize in treating and studying trauma and its impact upon the human psyche.

Trauma in and of itself is unique. There are actually nine different types of trauma that a person can experience on a daily basis, and many of these types can occur simultaneously.

As both a healthcare provider and a member of the African-American community, I often assist others in responding to external traumatic impacts such as racism. However, I am choosing the year 2015 to focus on the impact of male privilege within the African-American community.

The reason for this focus is simple.  Trauma can be as deadly as a malignant cancerous tumor.  Unprocessed trauma can have long-term negative psychological effects.  So, what interests me is exploring how unprocessed trauma intersects with male privilege in the African-American community, and whether these effects are limited to just the African-American community.

First, let’s define the term.  Male privilege is a term for social, economic, and political advantages or rights that are made available to men solely on the basis of their gender. A man’s access to these benefits may also depend on characteristics such as race, sexual orientation and social class.

Male privilege occurs in communities regardless of race, so male privilege is not limited to the African-American community.  However, the impact of privilege manifests itself particularly in the African-American community as lack of access to education and opportunity, and the inability to achieve one’s full potential, both on the men themselves, and others who are impacted by their actions.

There are very few who would deny that racism has prevented African-Americans from full access to the places where key political, economic, and social decisions are made.  This denial, coupled with the way that black men are viewed and have historically been dealt with, has placed the African-American community in “survival” mode.

It is in this survival mode that the community has closed in to protect its males and in doing so, has granted benefits to them that have been denied to them by the larger and predominantly white society.   As the resources in the greater society available to black men decline due to the effects of incarceration, severe mental illness, drug addiction, homicide, and others, the African-American community continues to absolve men of specific responsibility and in doing so, reinforces male privilege.

This is having a devastating effect on and exacerbates traumatic outcomes within the African-American community by damaging the interpersonal relationships between men and women, and extending its harmful impact to children and adolescents.

This phenomena is better understood from the voice of a woman who, in telling her story, speaks on how male privilege has impacted her family.

Below is such a story………

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Dear Dr. Kane,

I hope you can help me.  I really don’t know what to do.  I am a black woman and the single parent of three children.  I have a son in college, a 14 year-old daughter, and my youngest, a girl,  is 4 years old.

I know that there are many other women in my situation, but I am writing out of concern for my children.  They have not seen their father since I divorced him two years ago after discovering he had an affair that resulted in another child.

Although we have three children together, my ex-husband was able to manipulate the system and was only ordered by the court to pay $500.00 per month for child support. Can you imagine, $500.00 a month when we have three children? It is even more sickening that he has refused to pay that.

In the two years since we divorced, he has not been consistent in his payments. In fact, the last payment I received from him was in November 2014 for the grand amount of $1.17.  You read that right—he sent his three children $1.17 which, if divided three ways amounts to $0.39 per child!  As a result, I provide for my children as much as I can on my elementary school teacher’s salary.

For a person who was too impoverished to pay child support, he’s spent thousands of dollars fighting for joint parental and decision rights and court ordered visitation.  Now that he has it, he refuses to contact his children regularly or be involved in their lives whatsoever. Although he lives no more than five miles away, he has not seen his children in two years.  My four-year-old has started to call one of the dolls she plays with “Daddy,” and lately, she has been calling her older adult male cousins “Daddy” as well.  When I sat her down and reminded her that these relatives were her cousins, she only smiled at me and did not respond.

I am also worried about her older sister.  She is a “daddy’s girl” and has taken it very hard that her father has refused to contact her.  She has become emotionally withdrawn and routinely isolates herself in her bedroom.  I am thankful that at least she continues to maintain excellent grades.    However, I know that my daughter is deeply hurt by her father’s actions.  When I ask her if she has contacted her father, she becomes silent.  I have attempted get him to contact her but he refuses to do so.  Instead, he tells relatives that I have turned the children against him.  I have never said anything negative to the children about their father.  Although the four year old is too young to understand, my other daughter is devastated by the lack of contact.

He does not do anything for his children.  There is no acknowledgment of their birthdays, and there are no gifts from him for Christmas.  He failed to attend his daughter’s graduation from middle school.  He refuses to pay any part of the cost of tuition and books for her private school.

Due to my financial situation, I was forced to sell the home we shared as a family, and we—my two daughters and I—are now residing with relatives. My teenage daughter lives in a room the size of an extended closet.  My four-year-old shares a bedroom with me.  She recently said to me, “I lost my daddy when we moved from the old house.”

I wish he would act like a man, act like a father.  Where is his sense of responsibility? What can I do?  For their sake, should I reach out to him again?

Pulling My Hair Out, Tacoma WA

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A WORD FROM DR. KANE 

As a traumatologist, I see a number of possible issues that face this family, both as individuals and as a whole.

The Female Parent

As I read, I can hear the guilt and powerlessness she feels regarding how the children are being affected.  She may begin to constantly question her choices in men, and as a parent, she may attempt to use herself to fill the place of the children’s father or seek out men to replace him.

As you can see from her letter, she is an excellent provider and role model for her children. She will often sacrifice her personal wants and needs to seek economic success for her children and encourage them not to copy her failures, particularly in choosing men.

It is feasible that that she will have trust issues when it comes to men and will  consciously and unconsciously communicate these concerns to the children.

The Eldest Son

The eldest son may feel shame regarding the actions of his father towards the younger children.  He may seek to “man up,” or elevate himself psychologically to the status of “man of the family,” as well as seek to distance himself from the traits he sees in his father.

As a young adult, he will become the protector of his younger female siblings. Like his mother, he will also sacrifice his personal needs and wants to protect them from further injury from other men, including their father. He will work hard to serve in the father role and will take on such duties as escorting his siblings to activities that require the father’s role or involvement.  He may be the one who, when the time comes, walks his sisters down the aisle of matrimony in his father’s place.

He will have to learn to balance his own unresolved feelings of anger and resentment towards his father with his commitment to being there for his siblings and finding himself as he enters adulthood.   He may also have difficulty developing intimacy with women as he seeks to prove to himself that he is not a “loser” like his father. He may have a sense of ongoing bitterness and unresolved anger that will last a lifetime as he continues to reflect on the reality of his father abandoning the family.

The Adolescent (Daddy’s Girl)

Not enough concern can be stated regarding this specific individual.  She may do well academically and excel in sports activities on the surface, but she will continue to harbor deep psychological pain due to her father’s abandonment.

She will be successful in masking her emotions, but it is highly likely that she will have deep and intense trust issues regarding relationships with men.  Such feelings will no doubt impact her ability to form interpersonal relationships with others, especially men.

The 4 Year-Old

Of all the individuals involved, this one is the most vulnerable.  She was two years old when her father abandoned the family.  Unlike her siblings, she only has fading memories of him.  As those memories continue to fade, in calling out “Daddy” to other men, she may be seeking to maintain some loose association with him.

Her comment regarding losing her daddy when the family moved from the old house shows that she is acknowledging the loss of her father, and as a result, the little memory of him that she has.  Her mother’s concern that “daddy issues” will be a continual presence in her life even as she enters adulthood is a very valid one. She may very well seek out father figures in her intimate relationships as she moves towards adulthood.

Concluding Words

There were several reasons why I chose not to write in my usual format for the Visible Man for this week’s entry, but the biggest one is that I wanted to focus on the impact that follows when a man uses his privilege—in this case, his ability and willingness to just walk away from the family he created. By doing this, he has not only increased the suffering of the four people directly involved, but he has created trauma in them that they will take into the larger community and into their interactions with others, creating more traumatic experiences for those they may encounter. From there, the trauma continues to spread, like ripples in a lake.

It is my hope that this blog will be a wakeup call to the numerous African-American men who have walked away from their families, showing them the impact of their actions, and as a call to action for political, social, and economic leaders within the African-American community to recognize and support those who are suffering in silence and the impact that mental trauma such as this has on the larger community.  The time to do something is NOW.

To Deadbeat Dad:

You have utilized your privilege to abandon your family. As you age and become frail, you may want and need the attention of the same children you have left behind. You will one day regret the way you have treated your children. You cannot hide from the truth of your actions.

As fathers we can make mistakes, and given the opportunity we can also take actions and learn from such mistakes.  Do not use the demise of your marriage as an excuse for abandoning your children.  This is not an error that can ever be corrected once your children have grown.

“To err is human” is a common expression, but we should not believe there is always room for error. In some cases there is no room for error. None.

One day, when you are fragile, you may have to ask your children for a glass of water.  If it is too late, you may have to understand how your actions have caused them to turn their backs to you.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

Refusing To Cross The Color Line: I Want A Black Man!

My Dear Readers,

There are times in our lives when you may achieve most, but not all of what you want.  In pursuing education, money, status, and success, we can encounter frustration and failure. However, it is okay to want something, and yet, feel pained when it is not achieved in your desired timeframe.

We do not control the journey we call Life; we just walk the journey and learn from our experiences, including those that frustrate us.

Below is such a story……..

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Dear Visible Man,

I am an African-American professional woman in my mid-thirties.  I hold a PhD in organic chemistry from Harvard, and I am single.  That’s why I’m writing to you.  I am single!

I am well educated, own my home, am a world traveler and serve as a top executive within a pharmaceutical firm in the Puget Sound area.  I am successful, I have a rewarding income and as you may expect, I am very independent.  So what is the problem?

Black men!  I want to be involved with a black man.  Where the hell are they?  I can’t seem to find an “eligible” African-American man that is suitable to build a long-term relationship with, let alone grow into a healthy marriage.

No, I don’t want to be with just any black man.  I want to be with one that is compatible with me, earns a reasonable income, has his own living space, and is self-sufficient.

All I come across are men who are unemployed, broke, living with their mothers or grandmothers, or have “baby mama drama” that I don’t want to deal with.

I don’t respond to catcalls from off the street, and I am tired of losers. One guy invites me out to an expensive restaurant and expects me to treat him to a meal and then wants me to pick up the tab for his cab ride.  Where are the real black men, the ones from the old school, who know how to treat a lady?  Where are the gentlemen like my father and men from his generation?  Don’t they exist any more?

I want a man, a real black man.  I want to be with a man who can be proud of his and my accomplishments, and not one who is jealous or intimidated by our financial and educational differences. I don’t want someone fresh out of prison, and I don’t want to take care of someone else’s problems.

My friends are always suggesting that I cross the color line and date a white boy, but that burns me up. If I want to get my needs met, I’ll just handle that myself. I just do not want to cross the “color line”.

Nothing’s wrong with white guys, but if a black man is what I want, it doesn’t make sense for me to settle for what I don’t want. It especially upsets me when this is suggested to me by other black women. When I talk to women of other races and ethnic groups, that suggestion is never made.  It only comes up with black women when the subject of dating arises.  It’s like a challenge being thrown down.

I am not a racist.  If others want to be involved in interracial or biracial marriages, that is fine for them, yet not for me.  Life for black folks is hard enough. Realistically speaking, I just don’t want to spend the time to school my non-Black spouse on Racism 101 or black history, culture and music. I have also seen the hell that these couples and their kids go through seeking acceptance from black and white people.

I would rather wait until the right black man comes around, but where are they? Where do I go?  Why don’t black men just man up?  I am not seeking a provider, but a partner.  Where do I need to go? I am not the problem!

Seeking Answers, Tacoma, WA

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My Dear Woman,

Wow.  Your letter is powerful.  As I read your words, I can feel your anger, pain and frustration.  It is clear that in driving towards academic and professional success, you have been unable to achieve an objective that is important to you, which is an intimate relationship with an African-American man.

I want to frame this in terms of the Five Stages of Development in the Journey of Self Discovery: existing, surviving, driving, striving and thriving.

  • Existing-the bareness of life. The individual is just sentient, with little or nothing to offer. Death would be a welcome relief or escape.
  • Surviving– daily struggle. This individual holds on to life by living in fear…day by day.
  • Driving-empowerment. This individual seeks direction, and is motivated to find it.
  • Striving-setting the pace. This individual is actively pushing to define success for themselves and achieve it.
  • Thriving– enjoying the fruits of what has been achieved. This individual lives with their fear instead of living in their fear.

It is clear in your writing that you are a person who is a high achiever, a go getter.  You have worked hard to reach your goals.

It seems to me that you are transitioning between the stages of driving and striving. The more you travel and fail to find black men who meet your expectations, the more frustrated you become.

The answer is to take a respite. Take a break, take a breath, and continue to breathe as you meet the challenges at the “crossroads” of your life.  Remember that there are other travelers on similar paths and as “time” and the journey permits, you may encounter the individuals that you seek.

Being frustrated at your friends for encouraging you to date outside of your race is simply a reaction.  Own it.  It is your anger, and not theirs.  What do you expect of them, to find you a black man?

Like you, they are also aware of the “shortage” of available black men.  It is clear that they are concerned about your well-being, otherwise, they would simply remain silent.  Don’t be so quick to bite at the hand that is being extended as a source of help and support to you.

Your frustration at black men for not being good enough or living up to the values of previous generations requires reflection.  Get out of the clouds and come down to reality.  Allow yourself the opportunity to balance your mind and your feelings.

Are black men of your father’s generation really stronger or better able to cope with the similar pressures of racism, oppression and discriminatory treatment?  There is no research data that leaves us with that indication. Black men today are impacted just as much by “race-related stressors” trauma on a daily basis as black men of previous generations were. The black men you are encountering may very well be at existence or surviving levels of their respective journeys.

How many black men were in the doctorate program you attended?  Even now, how many black men are present within the corporate structure of your organization? Be thankful that you had the benefit of wisdom from members of your father’s generation, but understand that such wisdom came at the expense of much blood, emotional trauma and silent tears.  You have risen on their shoulders.  Do not trivialize the struggle of those who have not had similar benefits.

When it comes to your frustration regarding your past and present dating experiences with black men, give yourself the time to formulate a thoughtful response. When a person does something that is either upsetting or offensive, consider carefully what your reply will be.

What do you say when a person offers you a gift? Thank you, of course.  When a person exposes who they really are, they are showing you their true selves.  Embrace the action and treat it as a gift.

Having said that, it’s clear that the men of which you speak are not the ones with which you would want to have an intimate relationship, so keep it moving! As one door closes, it provides the opportunity to open another.  Let’s place closure on the experience, tend to any emotional wounds derived from the encounter, and keep it moving.

Reevaluate your attitude about your preferences.  At the end of the day, this is about you.  It is okay for you to know what you want, and that doesn’t make you a racist.  It’s your life. Seek what you want.  However, review, re-frame, and re-design the way you accomplish your goals.

Concluding Words

I would encourage you to revisit your words and its possible traumatic impact upon others.  Earlier in your correspondence there was a reference to the following:

“My friends are always suggesting that I cross the color line and date a white boy.   That burns me up.”

You may not consider yourself to be a racist, but you continue to use language that is demeaning. Regardless of the ethnic group, your focus should be on seeking a partner; someone who shares your goal of shared equality.

By using the term “boy” in this situation, you risk the misinterpretation of your intentions as well offending others who may continue to recall the traumatic memories of growing up in a society in which regardless of age, education, professional or marital status, individuals of a certain race were referred to as “boy”.

In referring to your feelings about developing a relationship with an adult male of another different racial group, use specific language that indicates what you want to say.  Apologies and regrets do well for one’s intentions, yet do little to heal the wound that is often the outcome.

Finally, in response to your repetitive question, where the hell are the black men?  The answer, black men are here.  It is true that it may be difficult to find the quality of relationship that you are seeking however, as you continue this journey be clear of the following:

  • What are the character traits in the person I am seeking?
  • Why are these character traits essential to me?
  • What are the reasonable actions or steps I am taking to accomplish this journey?
  • Where am I looking or more specifically, what activities am I involved in that assist in furthering my goal?
  • Who are the allies (of both genders) who can be of assistance to me?

Hopefully we will meet at the crossroads again one day as we all continue to travel our individual paths of self-discovery.

“Intimate relationships should be treated like shoes at a department store; they should be placed on and discarded until there is a right fit.”

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

Wanting more, but not willing to settle for less?  Then walk the journey of self-discovery!

The Visible Man