White Privilege: Carrying Your Own Weight

 

“To move the needle of diversity, we need to challenge what we believe about ourselves…

…what practical actions can we take to foster diversity in our own lives?”

-Lisa Sherman, President & CEO, The Advertising Council

My Dear Readers,

This week, I want to highlight the actions (or, in some cases, inaction) of mental health clinicians.  We help our patients heal from their trauma, but also often experience feelings of guilt and sense of powerlessness in our own responses to the enormous issues of privilege and racism that exist within the sphere of the work that we do.

I belong to a professional organization of clinical social workers here in Washington State. We, as an organization, have made the commitment to hold annual training sessions on diversity, and this year, the topic is race and privilege.

This year’s class is to be taught by a prominent African-American scholar, a skilled presenter who has a way of assisting others who are uncomfortable with the subject in a manner that feels less intrusive and diffuses tension.  In the invitation letter, the organizer described her admiration for the presenter’s “willingness to make herself vulnerable as a way to engage us and get the conversation going about race and white privilege.”

I do not want to minimize the value of diversity training, but this created a number of concerns for me.  Why invite an African-American speaker to come to an organization consisting predominantly of white privileged individuals, to speak about white privilege and racism?  If we are looking to learn about concerns regarding racism, white privilege, and implicit bias within the white majority, why wouldn’t you bring in a member of the same group to speak to those issues?

Lisa Sherman, President & CEO of The Advertising Council, and a white female, observes the following:

The place to start is at the source: by getting honest about our differences and our unconscious biases towards others.  No matter how open we think we may be, bias affects us all.  According to research by the Perception Institute, 85% of Americans consider themselves to be without bias, when in fact the vast majority of us carry biases that exist and operate beneath our conscious awareness.  We do 98% of our thinking in our unconscious mind.  And that is where we collect and store our implicit biases.

When I think about this in the context of the comment regarding the African-American presenter’s “willingness to make herself vulnerable,” I noticed that this is an example of privilege in and of itself.  It is African-Americans being required to educate white Americans on their own biases instead of white Americans working on those for themselves.  Instead, shouldn’t white Americans look for practical actions to foster diversity in their own lives?  Specifically:

  • What actions will the participants take to impact the lives and the ways people of color and the ways in which they continue to be underrepresented, unseen or dismissed?
  • How does an organization, which prides itself as “non-activist,” take action other than diversity trainings to assist in the lives of people of color knowing that these individuals continue to be underrepresented, unseen or dismissed?

Some suggestions:

  • Identify white diversity trainers. It is time that organizations encourage their membership to look within the white community to educate them rather than consistently place the responsibility and burden on professionals of color to do so.
  • Create safe environments where white members can meet on a regular basis and discuss their feelings of guilt, shame, and learned helplessness.
  • Stop being self-indulgent and take active action within the communities in which they are based and those nearby.
  • Cease offering the diversity training and CEUs at a reduced cost. The actions can be viewed as a bribe by the organization leadership and serves to weaken the purpose and validity of the intended training.

Concluding Words  

The vulnerability of African-American professionals are their own business and their own responsibilities.  It should not be used as a means of assisting others to “look within themselves.”

Most mental health professionals have to continuously practice their own self-care and self-education in order to serve their patients in the best way possible.  Just like you would attend additional training to support new patients, white American mental health professionals must want to examine their own lives, influences, and biases to see where their privilege assists them in a way that it may not assist their colleagues or patients of color.  Once people of color point out the privilege, it is not incumbent upon those people of color to fix that perception for white Americans… they must want to do it themselves—and then, actually do it.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

 

Advertisements

The Privilege of Being Privileged

“I am an invisible man. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. 
When they approach me, they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination– indeed, everything and anything except me.”

–Ralph Ellison,  The Invisible Man

My Dear Readers,

Finding a single topic to focus on this week has been a challenge—there are so many directions to go!  Either way, your responses to my recent writings have provided some good food for thought, and I have noticed a common theme in some of your recent responses, most notably to My N-Word in the White House (May 9) and to Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference (May 16).

—————————-

My N-Word in the White House

In this post, I reviewed this year’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner, where African-American comedian Larry Wilmore referred to our first African-American President Barack Obama as “my nigga,” as part of a joke that he told.  I received numerous emails from parents raising black children who are pulling out their hair regarding their children’s use of the N-word.

One email that piqued my interest was the one I received from a set of white parents who wrote in about their adopted African-American son, whom they have raised from infancy to his current young adulthood.  The parents write the following:

Your posting about the comedian who referred to the President as “my n—a” left me feeling despondent.  Sal, our son, is one of those young people who sees no problem with the use of this term.  It was somewhat mollifying to reflect that he may well have come to that determination even with black parents urging him to reconsider, because as you point out, many young African Americans use that term with one another.  My husband and I have broached that subject many times with him. We know that when things happen to him, he often wonders: “is it because I’m black?” This time, it’s us that wonder: “Do we not understand because we’re not black?” Is this the reason he ignores our arguments about the use of the term?

Hair Raising, Woodinville, WA

————————————–

Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference

I received a volume of criticism questioning the attachment of race or color to the concept of love and respect within a father/daughter relationship.

Dr. Kane,

You are an asshole.  Why are you always linking race to everything you write about when it comes to black people? When are you going to let people be just “people?”  After all, under the skin, we are all just people.

A White Guy With No Name

————————————

The common theme here is white privilege.  In the case of the white parents, they are realizing for perhaps the first time that their privilege may inhibit them in relating to and understanding their son’s point of view.  On the other hand, in the case of the father/daughter relationship, the writer simply wants me to take away the concept of race in the interaction.

For white parents raising African-American children, you simply lose the privilege of having white privilege. You are loving and raising children who, simply by existing, will have a tougher life than you can conceive of, and will have access to a culture that you will not have access to.  Regardless of the love that you share with your children, your children have different forefathers and ancestors, and are subject to a different reality than what you have experienced.

Having said that, regardless of race, a parent’s reality is that despite our teachings, our children may demand to use the language and words that they decree as “fitting” for their generation.  This isn’t to say that you should allow your son to use the word.  Feel free to demand the respect you deserve as parents—there is no cultural reason why your child should be allowed to use words that are offensive to you under your roof.

However, in general, as parents we must want to pick our battles, and there will be many to choose from as our children move forward in a world that fears them, not for the content of their character, but for internalized fears associated with the color of their skin.   We must understand that race will always play a major factor in our lives.  If you seek to ignore or deny the reality of the impact that your son’s race has upon his life, you will be acting out of your privilege—and you have the safety of your dominant group that empowers you to do so—but it will irrevocably harm your son, who does not share that same privilege, and it is not something you can pass along to him.

The response about injecting race into my writings was an interesting one. Will race ever be a nonfactor in human relations?  I suppose so, at some point. Man eventually landed on the Moon.  A black man eventually became President of the United States.   Both actually occurred in my lifetime, so I’m sure that anything is possible.  However, this is still an era where a black man can simply be killed by stepping out into a darkened hallway and then left to die, as happened with Akai Gurley, who was shot by (former) NYPD Officer Peter Liang, who had his second-degree murder conviction downgraded to criminally negligent homicide, and was sentenced to probation and community service.

What happened to Akai Gurley could have happened to the son those white parents wrote in about—and that is a direct result of the reality of racism that people of color face in this country.

Concluding Words

A white colleague and friend once remarked that when looking at me, he saw a friend, he did not see color.   Ben (not his real name) is a good man, but still, a man of privilege.  He, like many of my clinical social work colleagues, is not able to understand the issue of privilege and often willingly close their eyes to the difference, and hence, the damage, that happens to the friend that they care so much about.  Such is the danger of privilege, not only to those who don’t have it, but to the privileged as well.

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

Adult Children: Disrespect or Deference?

Obey without question.  Your life and that of the family may depend upon it.

-Unknown

Do as I say, not as I do.

-Unknown

My Dear Readers,

Occasionally, I receive letters that, in my mind, speak to different concerns than what is being directly addressed by the writer.  Essentially, the unwritten message that is transmitted by the letter sometimes is more telling than the actual topic of the letter.  This week’s letter is one of those.

As a clinical traumatologist, I have long held that African-Americans continue to respond to complex psychological trauma as descendants of people who suffered slavery, segregation, and domestic terrorism. This psychological trauma lurks throughout their daily lives, seeking an opening in which it can strike, creating disruption, discord, and distrust.

In this week’s letter, the surface topic is a conflict in communication between a father and an adult daughter.  Between the lines, however, is FEAR that is reinforced by generations of complex psychological trauma.

Below is such a story….

——————————

Dear Dr. Kane,

I am writing with the hope that you can help me resolve a conflict I’m having with my adult daughter, who lives with me. My pastor, who I asked for advice, maintains that per God’s law, a child must always obey the parent.  My daughter, however, is a strong-willed and independent black woman.  This no doubt contributes to our conflict.

This all started when my spouse passed away several years ago.  My daughter now wants to care for me, getting all up in my business regarding my health.

For instance, I went to the emergency room recently. When my daughter found out, she was extremely upset.  She said that she was upset because I kept here in the dark about my health issues.  I told her that I didn’t want to worry her, but she stopped me in my tracks when she said that by not telling her this vital information, I was lying to her.

I was stung, angered and hurt by her remark.  As a parent, having spent 30 years protecting, raising, providing and ensuring that she would have the education and the will to care for herself, I am disappointed that she would disrespect me in such a manner.

I realize that we are of two different generations, but I am old school Mississippi in the way I was brought up; I would have never disrespected my father.  My father’s word was law, just like his father’s, and his father’s before him, and was never to be questioned.

But, I want the war between us to be over.

I have many issues of my youth that I have never spoken about. I do not want my past life to be a concern. My daughter has read your writing and respects what you have to say.  What can I do to get her to see this issue my way?

Clash of the Titans, Seattle WA

———————-

My Dear Man,

I appreciate that you have taken the time to write.  However, you should take this time to ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I really want to happen here? Do I have a hidden agenda?
  • Do I really want the war to be over?
  • Am I seeking feedback on my behavior?

There are several deep issues here regarding parent and adult children interaction that I can and will respond to.   However, to clear the air, I want to respond to the questions that have been stated.

What do I really want to happen here?  Do I have a hidden agenda?

Of course you have a hidden agenda.  You’re assuming that since your daughter has respect for my writing, that she is going to change the course of her actions if I agree with you that she should do as you ask.   However, what exactly are you asking for?  Secrecy?  For her to ignore your healthcare matters?

Do I really want the war to be over?

Nope.  You want the problem to go away.  You want what you cannot have, a spirited independent daughter who will always obey you.   And, you seek to hold onto the old ways, the ways of your fathers.

The assumption that you make in your letter is that the ways of your fathers worked and therefore, not only is it good enough to work now, but it is in the normal evolution of things—and that something is wrong with your daughter because she dares to break from that tradition.  But, if that is your logic, then why did you spend, 30 years protecting her, raising her, providing for her, and ensuring that she has the education and will to care for herself?

Could it have been that you wanted your daughter to

  • Have more choices than you or your spouse?
  • Be empowered and never have to depend on a man for her livelihood or direction?
  • Stand on your shoulders and upon your death, be able to strive, thrive and do more than simply survive?

Am I seeking feedback on my behavior? 

No. It is clear from your writing that you are looking for opinions that support your point of view. You quote your pastor, who provides the power of “God’s Law” as a justification.   You have identified four generations, including you, of your daughter’s male relatives that dictate that parents rule without question.

Your forefathers lived during a time of domestic terrorism in which they had no governmental protection.  Therefore, it’s logical that in order to protect themselves and their families, parents would require strict obedience to their direction.  However, in this day and age, many African-Americans do not live under the similar life threating restrictions.

You are seeking to hold onto the patterns established for you during your own childhood.  You and your daughter are responding to a legacy of unprocessed psychological complex trauma passed down from your grandfather and his ancestors, and now you are passing it down to your daughter. As a result, your desire for blind obedience from your adult daughter may be a signal that you are living in fear.

Your daughter is showing you:

  • Love, trust, commitment
  • Sacrifice, duty, validation

You have responded by:

  • Being deceptive, keeping her in the dark
  • Lying by omission (not sharing the truth is the same as telling a lie)

Rather than hold tightly to your fears, consider the POST model of partnership, open communication, strategies for success, and teamwork approach.  Specifically:

  • Partnership-Re-evaluate your restrictive attitudes. Take actions that show that you and your daughter have the same objective of your continued good health and welfare, and therefore, are working together to achieve this objective.
  • Open Communication– Encourage the free flow of communication in both directions. Your adult daughter is your partner—embrace her as such. Be willing to share your feelings with her.  Encourage and support her in her role as your advocate in achieving the defined objectives agreed upon by both of you.
  • Strategies for Success-Let go of your current strategies—they will only lead to failure. Instead, identify strategies that will lead to specific actions that will address your issues. One such strategy is mutual respect.  Do things that show your daughter that she is respected and validated by you as an adult capable of making sound decisions, both with you and on your behalf.
  • Teamwork Approach-Implement these strategies as a unit. Come together as one voice, and commit to the strategy and actions as a team effort.

Please accept my condolences regarding the recent loss of your beloved spouse.  It is evident due to the manner in which you and your spouse partnered in raising your daughter, that the both of you must be congratulated for your hard work and success.

In honor of your spousal relationship, however, make the commitment to process your own unresolved feelings regarding your past history and begin living in this new era with your daughter.  Stop keeping secrets from her and begin to enjoy the trusting relationship that you have worked so hard to obtain.

It is time to stop surviving.  Allow your daughter to stand with you so you can thrive.

Concluding Words

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity was “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” This concept has value, but when it comes to the impact of complex psychological trauma, many individuals repeat fruitless behaviors not out of insanity, but out of the desire to maintain the comfort zones they have normalized in their lives. Essentially, individuals maintain the same behaviors and hope for a different outcome out of fear.

We fear the unknown, and we fear change.   In this case, people of older generations fear the new world that we feel may minimize our sacrifices and shouts for a new beginning.  It looks like the writer fears that his roles of provider and protector are going to disappear. Instead, his role is changing and in order for him and his daughter to thrive, he must stop living in fear and move towards living with fear.

“Trauma is a permanent fixture on the psychological self, so the objective is not rid yourself of the experience, but to learn how to heal, balance the injury, while carrying the wounding experience and continue the journey we know as LIFE.”

(Dr. Micheal Kane)

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues…

My N-Word In The White House

 

My Dear Readers,

At this year’s annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner, African-American comedian Larry Wilmore recently ignited a firestorm after referring to President Obama as “my nigga.”

Needless to say, the response was immediate:

“Never before has the n-word been used to address the president. At least, not in public and most definitely not in his face.  This is why Wilmore’s use of it was as shocking as it was disrespectful.”

-Jonathan Capehart, Washington Post

“A word that is one of the worst words, many people say, you could say to anyone.”

-April Ryan, American Urban Radio Networks

“Many African-Americans in the room, including civil rights leaders and other black comedians, were appalled …. Black Republicans were upset, black Democrats were upset. People felt that he not only threw the slur at the President, but at them as well, and in doing so, he diminished the office of the presidency and himself.  Did he cross the line?”

-April Ryan

Not so, according to White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest:

  • “What I would say is that it’s not the first time that people on the Monday after the White House correspondents’ dinner have observed that the comedian on Saturday night crossed the line.”
  • “I had the opportunity to speak to the president about this briefly this morning and he said that he appreciated the spirit of the sentiments that Mr. Wilmore expressed.”
  • “I take Mr. Wilmore at his word that he found that to be a powerful transformation just in his lifetime and something that he seemed to be pretty obviously proud of.”
  • “I’m confident that Mr. Wilmore used the word by design- he was seeking to be provocative- but I think any reading of his comments make clear that he was not using the president as the butt of a joke. “
  • “The White House did not see or vet Wilmore’s remarks before they were delivered but he (Earnest) felt they came from “a genuine place.”

My heart goes out to the press secretary.  After all, he is putting out a blazing firestorm with an empty bucket.

Josh Earnest, a middle class white male with little to no experience in dealing with African-American culture, is now in a position where he has to interpret and downplay the traumatic impact of one prominent black man publicly calling another prominent black man, in this case, the President of the United States of America, “my nigga.”  How can a white middle-class male explain away the event?

The answer depends on who is listening.  The press secretary, having never had any experience with the term, can only provide an intellectualized response. Other white people, just like him, simply nod their heads, silently watch the firestorm unfold, and wonder when it will go away.

The black middle class, however, knows differently. They will still listen politely to Earnest’s explanations, but they know firsthand the psychological impact of being called a “nigger,” and they too want this event to go quietly away.

“Why do we do we, as a community, continue to hold onto this horrible event?”  The middle-class black patient sitting on my couch asks me. With immense compassion, I reply, “Because we are a traumatized people and trauma is a permanent fixture that never, ever goes away.”

The patient looked at me as if I’d slapped his mother and burst into tears.  He got it.  He is now on a journey of self-discovery where he can now begin the healing of his own traumatic wounds associated with and triggered by, Wilmore’s use of that word.

A white colleague and Seattle trial attorney Mike Maxwell suggests the following:

“I think it was great for a black audience, but not for the general audience.  Wilmore forgot who he was speaking to.”

My colleague Mike Maxwell is an excellent trial attorney with the firm Maxwell & Graham, and very knowledgeable in race-based trauma and discrimination law.  However, he is wrong here.  Larry Wilmore knew exactly the audience he was speaking to.

In calling out to Obama as “my nigga”, I submit that Larry Wilmore purposefully did so specifically for the black community.   But, why:

  • Was it payback?
  • Was it an attempt to embarrass, humiliate or shame the community?
  • Was it an opportunity to educate?
  • Was it an attempt to create dialogue or bring into context the implications of using the N word?

As of this writing, Larry Wilmore has not yet commented on the reaction to his remarks.  As a comedian with the object to impact others, his work is done.  Now it is up to others, to either respond to this or allow this opportunity to drift into silence. Given this, what do we know?

  • What is the definition of the N word?
  • Why is this word so impactful?
  • Why is it acceptable for one group to use this tern and not acceptable for other groups to use this terms.
  • Under what guidelines should the N word be used?

The N word (two definitions):

  1. The word “nigger” has been used as a strongly negative term for contempt for a black person since at least the 18th Today, it remains one of the most racially offensive words in the English language. This word is so heavily laden that an edition of the Mark Twain classic “Huckleberry Finn” censored it, replacing it with slave.  For many people this is a horribly offensive, racist word that should never be said by anyone.
  1. For others, particularly younger African-Americans—this is a casual word that has been reinvented and means something akin to man, brother, or buddy. Because it is such a charged word, saying “the n-word” instead of the term itself is common. In this setting, the word is used by black Americans in reference to other black Americans in a neutral manner as a term of endearment, and self-reference, and is only to be used by Black Americans.

So now that the word has been reinvented, was Wilford in calling Obama, “my nigga,” was he actually saying to him “my slave,”  “my man,my buddy,” or “my brother”?   Does changing or reinventing the word remove, revise, reframe or reform the psychological traumatic experiences of shame, degradation and humiliation endured by African-Americans over the last 400 years?

There is a growing desire in the media and the black intelligentsia to scapegoat Larry Wilmore.  However, he is not responsible for a firestorm that has been burning underground for three centuries, a firestorm that touches down ever so now and then.  As individuals, we are responsible for healing the pain and suffering that prevents us from living our own emotionally healthy lives.

We can only do so by acknowledging that black Americans are a psychologically traumatized people. In essence, we are no different from others who simply seek to work hard, provide for our families and be law-abiding citizens.  However it is time that we begin the process of psychological healing from this complex generational trauma.

Concluding Words

Some individuals will utilize their reactions to this event as a wakeup call and begin to work healing their own psychological trauma. Trauma is a permanent fixture on the psychological self, so the objective is not to rid yourself of the experience, but to learn how to heal, balance the injury, and carry the experience and continue to walk the journey we know as LIFE.

Some will continue to reside in a closed and isolated system.  They will continue to enjoy the success and privileges of black middle class life, hidden away, suffering in silence until the next firestorm, which is no doubt waiting for its turn to create more psychological havoc and injury.

I am deeply ingratiated to Larry Wilmore for having the courage to ignite this particular firestorm at such a public event, but I strongly disagree with the use of the N word in any form.  Any word that is developed to stripped a person of his or her human dignity cannot be reinvented or redeem to form or define goodness.

As a child growing up in the segregated South, the very worst thing one black person could ever say to another is in the context of “you are acting like a nigger.”  Such a statement generated waves of shame, disgrace and humiliation.   If said within a group of people,  silence and condemnation permanently followed that individual.

Neither Black Americans using that word as a term of endearment nor replacing that word in classic literary works reduces the psychological injury I, as an individual, have endured.  I am neither a nigger nor a slave.  I am who and what I am.  I am a descendent of a chained people forced here to work the land for the benefit of others.

I will define myself.  I am the son of Federal Police Officer (ret) Theodore T. & Mary Kane.  My name is Dr. Micheal Kane.  I am a Clinical Traumatolgoist & Forensic Evaluator.

“You can only be destroyed by believing that you are what white world calls a nigger.”

-James Baldwin, Author

Until the next crossroads…the journey continues.

 

 

REPOST: 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….

——————————————————————————————-

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.

———————————————————

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