The Visible Man: They Will Figure It Out

“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” (1947)

“Invisibility is an inner struggle with the feelings that one’s talents, abilities, personality, and worth are not valued or recognized because of prejudice and racism.”

-Dr. A.J.  Franklin, Boston College

My Dear Readers,

The opposite of visibility is invisibility. Everyday, people live their lives openly and clearly in front of us, but we observe them without really seeing them.   We will discuss this phenomena in a series called “The Visible Man.”

The Visible Man

The objective of this series is to provide a voice for the individual who finds themselves to be invisible based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socioeconomic status, or religious affiliation. We aim to create a safe environment in which individuals can share their feelings when they encounter situations arising from their invisibility in society that makes them feel invalidated, under-valued, unwanted or underappreciated.

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Dear Visible Man:

I am a 27-year-old African American male.  Being an elder in the community, I wanted to get feedback from you regarding an incident that recently happened while I was riding the light rail system in Seattle.

While I was sitting there, I observed these five teenage boys acting up, talking loud, cursing, and repeatedly using the N word with each other.  As I sat there shaking my head in disgust, I took a moment to remember the times when I was a similar age, remembering that my friends and I did the same type of ridiculous and immature behavior.  I eventually figured it out, and I believe they will too.

Unlike me, however, these kids took it to a different level by talking loudly about “jacking and robbing” the passengers on the train, and now, these teenagers and myself are the only black males on a train filled with wide-eyed, tight lipped and frightened white people going home after a long day at work, being terrorized by a “wild bunch.”

I understood what the kids were doing.  They thought it was cool to get a rise out of the white folks.  It made me feel uncomfortable because at their age I had been there before.

I know that these kids saw themselves as being invisible to the white folks on the train, much like I did when I was their age. They were using their words, tones and nonverbal cues to be seen and to gain respect.  Like I said, I get it.  I have been there before.

However, now that I am older, I see a difference today that I didn’t truly understand when I was their age.  These transit riders actually had quite a bit of power in redirecting my life, and they would on these kids as well.  I saw fear in the eyes, and anger in the tightened jaws of these white people.  I saw women clutching their purses/hand bags more tightly.

What I didn’t see was movement. Just silence.  There were riders who stared at me with those fearful piercing eyes, pleading, as to say “You’re an adult, you should say something to them.”   The elderly woman sitting next to me said, “Those boys need a talking to.” I knew she was talking to me.

I just sat there.  The elderly woman shook her head in disgust.  I knew that the disgust wasn’t just for the young kids; it was also being directed at me for not taking action.

It was weird and disturbing sitting on the light rail that evening going home to my wife and two girls.  It was as if there were two worlds, the kids in one, and the white transit riders in the other, neither really being seen or understood by the other. Maybe I could have done something to resolve the situation, but I did nothing.

When we arrived at the station, the transit police appeared out of nowhere and removed the young males from the train.  The train continued on its journey and we were all more relaxed, but the silence remained.

I don’t know what happened to the kids who were removed by the transit police.  I was told by an officer that they could probably be charged with felonies for making threats, even though they did not take any action.

Should I have done something?  Could I have passed on some wisdom, knowledge, or experience? Or will they just have to grow older and figure it out, like I did?

My wife tells me by staying out of it I did the right thing.  I am walking around with a lot of guilt. I just don’t know.

Looking In The Mirror,  Seattle

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My Dear Young Man,

It appears that you are responding to the many external voices and non-verbal communication that was swirling around you not only during the incident but also now as you write your letter.  I am referring to the following:

  • The adolescents acting inappropriately
  • The words and disgusted look of the elderly woman
  • The piercing eyes of the transit riders
  • The police officer who spoke about the possible felony charges
  • Your spouse who feels you did the right by staying out of the fray.

However, I feel the real issue is the common experience you shared with the adolescents:

“I know that these kids saw themselves like myself as being invisible to the white folks on the train.”

This feeling of invisibility is a form of complex trauma that is called the Invisibility Syndrome.  This is the psychological and emotional distress that African-Americans, in this case, males, endure as they attempt to establish an identity within the context of a larger society that utilizes racism to either exclude them from or force them to conform to societal rules and structure.

Having had this experience before, you were aware that the teenagers were simply attempting to be seen and to gain respect, but you also had the experience of being an adult and noticing the fear emanating from the other riders, and understanding that that fear came from the things you had done yourself not long ago.  Now that they (you) are visible, it’s now your role to protect the adults from the ones you were once like.  But, you did nothing, and now you are questioning yourself, having doubts, and feeling the shame and guilt.

Before you drown yourself in your own psychological destruction, consider this:

  • You were the lone African-American male adult in the transit car.
  • The adolescents could have been armed.
  • There was no guarantee that the other transit riders would have assisted you if the teenagers had assaulted you.
  • How much would the riders have appreciated the stand you took? Would they have visited you in the hospital, paid your medical bills, or taken care of your family while you recovered?
  • If you died as a result of your intervention, would the transit riders console your wife, and raise your daughters?

Concluding Words

My Dear Young Man,

It may be your belief that “it takes a village to raise a child,” but in the light rail car that evening, the village did not exist.  It was just the group of teenagers, frightened transit riders, and you.

In your focus on the kids and the other transit riders, you have failed to focus on the responsibility you have to keep yourself safe and to return home to the loving arms of your family.  The police did not just happen to show up and remove the kids from the transit car.  Someone who felt threatened notified the police, who moved quickly to resolve the threat.

Your first responsibility is to yourself.  Keep in the mind the following:

  • Me-Although others may view you as invisible; you are made of flesh and bone. You are visible to you and to those who know, respect and care about you.
  • Myself- Remain vigilant; remember that as a African-American male in a society that chooses to view you as invisible, you must want to accept that there will be times when, despite being in the company of others, you will still be alone. You must want to maintain awareness of your surroundings and be alert to potential dangers.  You must want to accept the reality that others can abandon you during times of conflict or when you need their help the most. 
  • Mine– There are those who love you, depend upon and wait for your safe return every day. You can begin the process of caring for your loved ones by first taking care of yourself.

 

Kofi Annan, former Secretary General, United Nations (1997-2006) once said:

“Knowledge is power, information is liberating.  Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.”

You may wish to share your wisdom, knowledge or experience, but those you wish to share with must be open and willing to receive.  And perhaps, like you, they too will figure it out.

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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.

-Dr. Micheal Kane “Ten Flashes of Light

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For additional information regarding Dr. Kane, please visit http://www.lovingmemore.com

 

 

 

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Dear Absent Father: No Free Lunch For You

 

It has been said, “time heals all wounds.”  I do not agree.  The wounds remain.  In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens.  But it is never gone.

-Rose Kennedy

 

 Time is simply time. Time waits for no one.  It is the therapeutic work we do that assists in healing the traumatic wound.

-Dr. Micheal Kane 

 

My Dear Readers,

What goes through the minds and hearts of fathers who walk away and abandon their children?   How does one deny the anguish they put their children through, knowing the psychological devastation that is created by their actions?

Clinical traumatology is my passion.  It truly is a gift to sit with my patients and help them work to balance their suffering.  I take pride in being a guide and companion, assisting them to find the light and to hold to their paths even during the most painful of experiences.  The times that are the most difficult for me in this line of work is when I am working with children and adolescents who are struggling with the trauma of being abandoned by male parents.  Seven in 10 children living with a single mother are poor or low-income, compared with less than a third of children living in other types of families.

Today, nearly one-fourth (24%) of the 75 million children under 18 in the United States live in a single-parent family.  Of the 18.1 million children in single-parent families, 9.2 million are under 9 years of age. The likelihood of having a single parent varies widely across different racial/ethnic groups:

  • White children – one-sixth or 16%
  • Latino children-one-fourth or 27%
  • African-American children-one-half or 52%.

This is the story of one adolescent, Michelle (not her real name), who speaks from her heart about the lies, broken promises and dashed hopes of her broken family.

This is her story…..

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September 29, 2015

My name is Michelle.  I am 14 years old.   I attend a school in the Puget Sound region.  Today is the second time that my dad has canceled his visitation time with me and my sister.  Everyone tells me it’s going to be okay, but it’s really not.  I don’t have a dad, and my life sucks.  This is the worst time of my life.

Every time he texts me to say he can’t see me, he comes up with these corny worthless excuses.  I still remember the first time that he told me that he has four children.  I was shocked, mad and confused. Honestly, I’m still in shock about everything.

All day every day, I sit in my room and think about the damage he has done to my family.  I don’t like to talk about my dad or his second family.  The thing that pisses me off the most is how he can just walk out and leave us. I am so angry about the drama and crap he has brought to my family.  I hate him.  I am ashamed to call him my dad.  I wish he wasn’t my dad.  I wish I were never born.  I want to die.  Why can’t my life be normal?  I am angry, concerned, embarrassed, and confused.

I am thankful for what family I have right now because if they weren’t here, I don’t know what I would do or what I would be without them.  The thing that hurts me the most is how my dad and I were so close and how he was the funniest BEST DAD EVER. Now he is the worst dad ever. I can’t even call him my dad at this point.  I’m just disgusted with him and his decisions.   My dad is sick.  He has ruined my life and brought permanent darkness to my family.

He used to be a great dad.  He always supported me at my games and now, he won’t even hang out with me.  He has abandoned my sister and me.

He has put my mother in jail for domestic violence.  I will never forget the first time the police came at night and took my mom away from me for nearly two weeks due to a restraining order he requested.  I cried every night.

I am going to show him that I can be successful without him.  I am going to finish school and one day become a surgeon.  I will never trust him or another man ever again.

Michelle, age 14

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The therapeutic work of trauma 

The forced removal of her mother and abandonment by her father has created the unresolved fear of chronic impending devastation in Michelle.  Following intense anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks of her mother being taken and fearing powerless and lacking control, Michelle retreats into her private world, one in which she could control and block others out.

The focus of our trauma therapy sessions are to provide Michelle a safe and secure space to release her feelings.   Since she was unable to release her anger at her father, we had many intense sessions where I, as the therapist, became a safe target for her frustrations.

Michelle is responding to confusion and conflict.  She does not understand why her father would abandon her, whom he used to call his “copilot”.   She is conflicted; filled with both anger at his behavior, and the love for her memories of her good times with him. In our sessions, I focus on helping Michelle to process her feelings of denial and disbelief and assist her in moving towards accepting and healing from the abandonment of her father.  Her writing represents a willingness to let go of her anger towards her father as well as the trauma of her mother being taken away by the police.

However, Michelle’s remark about wishing that she’d never been born, alarming though it may be, is a response that is normal in therapy, and an appropriate response to her scattered feelings:

“Why can’t my life be normal?  I am angry, concerned, embarrassed, and confused.”

The statement of “I want to die” is as a serious response to the trauma and damage which has been done by feelings of betrayal and actions of abandonment.  The suicidal ideation is then balanced with Michelle’s futuristic insight i.e. the desire to finish school and become a surgeon.  Although suicidal wording was verbalized, there has never been a gesture or attempt by Michelle to end her life.  Currently, the focus is on her success as a way for her to respond to her father’s rejection.

In therapy, we focus on Michelle advocating for herself, and in doing so, attain inner balance and calmness in her external environment.   In directing her energies towards her future success, she will, in time, achieve that balance with her anger towards her father.

Concluding Words

“You can run, but you can’t hide from Self.”

There is no free lunch.  Others are paying for your meal.  In this case, many children and adolescents like Michelle are paying the cost for those fathers who simply walk away from their families.  Sadly, many of these children continue to suffer in silence, blaming themselves for their fathers’ actions.

Michelle, however, is doing well these days; working towards her goal of becoming a surgeon.  Will she fully recover from the trauma? No. Trauma is a permanent scar on the psychological self.  These feelings will never ever go away.  However, Michelle is learning to balance these feelings in her life.

How will she respond to the actions of betrayal and abandonment?   Sadly, but understandably, Michelle has a lingering distrust towards black men.  Other men in her life may have to pay for the actions of her father.   If she continues to focus on her therapeutic work, however, she may be able to develop healthy relationships with men.

To Michelle’s Daddy:

You have no one to hold accountable except yourself regarding your decision to abandon your children.  Your daughter, your former copilot, will succeed and fly on her own in spite of you.  Your daughter will achieve in spite of you.

She will fly high, far and long; free of the pain and suffering left in your wake. In spite of you.

Until the next crossroads….the journey continues.

Parental Protection: When Does The End Justify The Means?

 

Morally wrong actions are sometimes necessary to achieve morally right outcomes; actions can only be considered morally right or wrong by virtue of the morality of the outcome.

-Proverb

 

My Dear Readers,

One of the biggest challenges a parent can face is parenting during adolescence.  This is a time when young people are questioning their world, defining their identities separate from their families, and responding to peer influences. It is normal for parents to worry about the choices their children make, since many times, these decisions will impact their lives for many years to come.  However, by living in their own fear, parents risk not only separating themselves from their children, but inadvertently driving the adolescent towards the very behavior the parent is attempting to prevent.

Below is such a story…..

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Dear Dr. Kane:

I’m so upset with my daughter, I’m about to pull my hair out.  While reading my daughter’s journal, I recently found out that she was considering using birth control. She’s only 15 years old! I immediately demanded to know whether she was engaging in sexual intercourse.  She denied being sexually active, but she admitted wanting to have information so she could protect herself in the event she decides to do so.

We are an African-American family with strong Christian beliefs.  I am totally against my daughter having sexual contact at her age.  I have contacted her older brother who is in college in another state.  He spoke to her stating he was upset about her direction and is firmly against her seeking birth control.

I was so upset that I contacted my girlfriends on Facebook informing them of her decision.  They were also appalled and supported my position against it.  All my girlfriends have children, most of them around the same age as my daughter.  We have decided to stand firm against this and not allow our children to seek information nor obtain birth control measures.

I have strong hopes for my daughter.  She is among the top of class while attending an inner city high school, which at time can be quite chaotic.  My daughter has plans on attending college and attending medical school after that.  Her goal is to become a surgeon.

My daughter says that I’ve betrayed her and our relationship, but I disagree. I will not allow her immaturity and silliness regarding sex destroy her chance to become successful.  I told her that she could date when she turned 16 years old, which is very soon, but because of this, I feel that I have to increase the age she can date to 17.

When I was young, I watched girls her age end up pregnant, and as a result, they missed out on their career goals.  I will not allow her to ruin her chances at being successful.

You’re a man, so you may have a difference of opinion about sexual responsibility, but I know you have children, so I am curious as to how you would handle the situation.  My girlfriends are also curious and we are all hoping that you will respond.

Smoldering in Seattle

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My Dear Woman,

As a parent, I can understand the concern, frustration, and fear you’re experiencing now. It does, however, appear that you are “living in fear,” and your actions, although well intended, are nonetheless reactionary and may further damage the relationship between you and your daughter. When one lives in fear, it can be an emotional rollercoaster, and you may regret decisions that you make while you are in this unbalanced state.  You have already

  • Read your daughter’s journal without her consent,
  • Informed her older brother about what you found and,
  • Discussed her personal information regarding her questions about birth control with your friends on Facebook.

Without delving into your religious beliefs or debating the right of a parent to raise her adolescent, please consider the impact of what you’ve already done:

  • Have you created lasting trust issues between yourself and your daughter?
  • Would your daughter ever want you to share confidential or intimate information understanding you may tell your friends and/or place her business on social media?
  • Whether controlling your daughter’s behavior and activities may be a driving force towards the same behaviors and activities you are trying to discourage?

The Five Rs of RELIEF can help you through this.

  • Respite-step away from the turbulence,
  • Reaction-assume ownership of your feelings
  • Reflection-process the integration of your thoughts and emotions
  • Response-non-reactive expression which is shared with others, and
  • Reevaluation– review of what was learned/gained/ would handle differently when this situation or something worse presents itself again.

This model allows you to take the opportunity to focus on yourself and allow yourself to live with your fear instead of in your fear.  While reflecting, consider your options for communication with your daughter, rather than control your daughter’s actions and behaviors.  Share with your daughter the concerns you may have.

 

Concluding Words

As to your daughter’s statement of feeling betrayed by your actions, betrayal requires premeditation and intent.  Your behaviors in seeking support from her older sibling and your girlfriends are reactionary and ill conceived, but in the adult world your actions would not specifically constitute betrayal. However, please remember that in your relationship with your daughter, you are not in the adult world.   Your daughter is an adolescent whose personal information was publicly shared by her mother.  She is entitled to her feelings.

Having strong religious beliefs and living in fear as a result of your drive for your daughter’s success is, in and of itself, a suggestion that the “ends justify the means.”   It is clear that you have won this battle, but in doing so, you may have lost the war.

Consider the following: your daughter is in a phase of development where there is an emphasis on individualization and separation from parental influence.  Controlling her behavior and failure to maintain your word by increasing the dating age to 17 may have the result of driving her into the same actions and behaviors which you are attempting so desperately to prevent. Please remember that adolescents are very much influenced by their peer group.  Understanding this, it is essential that parents seek to maintain open communication with their children in order to provide a balanced response to questions that are based on experience and wisdom.

Instead of seeking to control her dating behavior by increasing the age in which you provide consent, consider the time and experience your daughter will lose in gaining awareness of appropriate interaction with the opposite sex.  If your daughter does not learn under your tutelage or observation, she will do so in the adult world, where she will be more vulnerable and exposed to those who would take advantage of her inexperience. Understanding your strong religious beliefs, you should be aware of her legal right and ability to seek information on birth control with or without your consent.  This could be the very opportunity for you to assist her in making appropriate decisions about her actions and behaviors.

If you truly believe that you have given your daughter the advantage of a strong moral foundation, then be willing to trust her decision-making skills and her willingness to seek your counsel.  To do so, you must be willing to let go of your own fears, which are deeply rooted in your own past.  Remember that your past is not your daughter’s present, and it doesn’t have to warrant her future.

Be willing to let go of the past and live with fear instead of living in fear.  Remember the advantages you have given to your daughter.

Every advantage in the past is judged in the light of the final issue.”

-Demosthenes

Dr. Kane ….The Visible Man

A Parent’s Discomfort: Sexual Curiosity & The Internet

My Dear Readers,

      Sometimes we as parents become overwhelmed and conflicted regarding the actions of our children.  Our children may engage in behaviors that seem obviously inappropriate to us as adults, but are clearly okay with members of their generation.

      What can be even more confusing is that the behavior in question may also be clinically appropriate, given the level of emotional development, and yet may seem inappropriate, illegal or distasteful when viewed through the eyes of the observing parent, who may be influenced by religious and cultural mores, or who is of a different generation.

Below is such a story…..

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Dear Visible Man,

I am an African-American woman with two children. My friends know that I am a strong believer in setting guidelines and boundaries for my children.  I am proud to say that my daughter has completed her high school education and she is now attending college on the east coast, and my son, who is 14 years old still lives with me and is also doing well.

Recently, I received a telephone call from a childhood friend who was delighted in telling me about her shock and dismay upon reviewing my son’s Facebook page.  I trust my son, so I do not review his page as I am confident that he will behave appropriately online.

My childhood friend then informed me of the videos my son had been sharing on his timeline with friends and peers.  I was shocked to see live video recordings of women and men performing and engaging in acts of masturbation, oral sex and sexual intercourse.

My son will soon will be returning from his summer vacation visiting with relatives.  To be honest, I’ve had visions of choking the daylights out of him.  I plan on punishing him by barring him from Facebook, and taking his cell phone away for the next six months. I am so embarrassed.

I have spoken to his father about this.  Although he was upset about the sharing of the videos with others, he was mild in his response to our son watching the videos.  I am upset with my husband because we are not on the same page.

What can I do to teach him the error in what he has done?  As a 14 year old, I do not believe that he is ready for such displays of sexual behaviors.

I am angry as hell.  It is one thing to be exposed to this filth when he is an adult; it is unacceptable for him to see this at the age of being a child.  What can I do?

Breathing Fire in Seattle, WA

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Dear Madam,

Before you talk to your son, let’s work on your own anger. Processing this within yourself will extinguish the fire, and allow you to have a more productive conversation with your son.  Ask yourself what do you want your son to listen to?

  • The fire-breathing parent who is shouting and screaming madness, threatening to choke the living daylights out of him? Or…
  • The parent who can be the advocate (A) in the parenting role, balanced (B) in mindfulness and show calmness (C) in her delivery?

With #1, your son may see an upset parent, but what he would be hearing is the volume and tonal quality of someone who has gone berserk.  With #2, there is an improved chance or likelihood that your son would be listening to what you are saying.  With #1 there is a higher chance of sound passing through one ear and going out the other, whereas with #2, there is a greater opportunity for him to actually receive the intended message.

The major question is this: do you want your son to hear and see your reactions or do you want to share with him your response?  As I begin to answer your questions this is your opportunity to take in the Five R’s of RELIEF and in by doing to take a breath (respite), own your feelings (reactions), process thoughts and feelings (reflective), share your words (response) and review the incident and actions taken (reevaluation).

It is possible that your friend may have meant well by alerting you to your son’s actions.  However, it is also possible that she may have a hidden agenda associated with a competitive relationship between the two of you, or her own issues with your successes as a parent. Either way, your son is the main focus here. Your friend has merely exposed herself as taking pleasure in your misfortune, and as not really being a friend to you.

Let’s look at your son’s actions.  Although you may view him as being  “your child,” it is now time for you to begin the process of accepting the fact that he is now 14 years old, and is moving into the stage of adolescence.

Ask yourself the following:

  • Is it natural that a person of his age would have sexual feelings and explore them?
  • As a parent, what should I expect from an adolescent moving through these developmental stages?
  • How do I talk to him about his sexual feelings? How do I talk with him about the explicit sexual acts in those videos?

As your son is moving through this developmental stage, the question becomes whether it is appropriate for him to explore his sexual feelings.   Regardless of the religious, family or cultural values that the parent may have, it is actually clinically appropriate that individuals of this age level, regardless of their gender, engage in the exploration of their sexual feelings.

As a result, you find yourself in the position of punishing your son for engaging in appropriate behavior (sexual exploration) in an inappropriate manner (sharing pornographic videos over the internet with friends.) But, before you do that, have the willingness to ask yourself the following:

  • Am I punishing him for doing the right thing in the wrong manner?
  • Was he really wrong? And if so, what exactly was the wrong that he did?
  • What if he wasn’t wrong? What if this is really just my own value judgment on what happened?

Rather than focus on “punishment,” I recommend that you focus on “consequences” Punishment for a behavior that is actually normal, particularly at this developmental stage, may send a confusing message to your child.    Focusing on communicating the consequences of sharing pornographic materials over the Internet, which is a violation of federal and state law, may be more effective in getting your point across to your child.

Regarding feeling embarrassed, being angry at your child and angry that your husband is not as angry as you are, have the willingness to ask yourself the following:

  • I did not commit the behavior, so why am I embarrassed? How do my feelings of embarrassment impact my ability to discuss this important issue with my son?
  • Am I allowing my anger to get in the way of sharing my concerns with my son?
  • What is the real reason that I am angry with my husband? Is it because he is not as angry as I am or that he doesn’t share my embarrassment?

While you are reflecting, remember your son’s actions are about him, and not about you. When speaking to your son, your focus must be clearly upon him.  Any attempt by you to address your feelings will only succeed in removing the focus from him and precluding him from understanding the dire consequences of his behavior.

Concluding Words

Madam,

I hope that this response is helping you to reevaluate how you want to handle this situation with your son.  As you move forward, it remains your responsibility to be actively involved in your son’s Internet viewing and usage of social media as much as you are with other aspects of his life.   Your son is 14 years old.  He is curious, becoming aware of his own sexual thoughts and development.  Even given your excellent parenting skills and safeguards, your son will be engaging in behavior that may feel socially inappropriate, but is absolutely appropriate for his level of emotional development.

As for consequences (not punishment), I recommend that you, your spouse and your son sit together and review the same video he was observing.   Following the review, have the willingness to engage in dialogue that is meaningful and constructive.

This may be difficult for you. In fact, it most likely will be.  However, it will be even more difficult for your son to sit with his parents and be questioned about his actions and behavior.  Still, make sure that you focus on the key concerns:

  • What are legal, professional, and other consequences that could occur from sharing pornographic information over the Internet?
  • Understanding that his peers gossip, how will this impact his relationships in school?
  • Affirm that his sexual feelings are appropriate and can be expressed privately with friends and not in public settings as the Internet.
  • Explore your cultural, religious or family’s values regarding sexuality and sexual feelings.

Finally, consider the following:

  • Maintain clear eye to eye contact
  • Express your feelings with concern and love
  • Listen to your tone and sound of your voice
  • And remember this is really about him and not about you.

Yes, the encounter may be difficult, but it can also be rewarding, as long as the three of you allow yourselves to be:

  • Vulnerable-the willingness to come and sit together during difficult times
  • Exposed– the willingness to let the others know what truly lies within
  • Trust-the willingness to walk together without judgment.

The Visible Man

In Our Children’s World: Monsters Do Feast At Night

My Dear Readers,

We live in an era where marriage and divorce often walk together hand in hand.  We accept the notion that adults have the right of self-determination.  If the marriage isn’t working and is irreconcilable, then move on.  Right?

But what about the children?

The denial, rejection, and abandonment of a child by a parent is already devastating. It’s even worse when that parent leaves without a word and later tells the child by text message, “My door is always open to you.”

When a parent denies, rejects and abandons a child, the remaining parent is left to answer the difficult question of “why”?  Whatever answer given is usually not enough and often leads the children to blame the one party that is the most vulnerable at this time: themselves.

In the midst of juggling the family’s financial responsibilities and struggling to protect the children from the growing self-doubt and self-hate, how does the remaining parent find the answer to these questions?  How do they continue to communicate truthfully without further hurting the children?

Below is such a story.

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Dear Visible Man,

I have no idea what to do about the trifling, no good, piece of crap of a man that is the father of my two children.

He has been court ordered to see his children, but he refuses to do so.  He refuses to pay child support.  He doesn’t acknowledge them on their birthdays.  He didn’t attend or even acknowledge our oldest son’ s graduation from middle school.

On this past Father’s Day, my oldest son texted him to wish him a good one, but his father waited two days to reply with a terse “thanks.” What kind of man does that to his children?

This is extremely difficult for my oldest son.  He was once very close to his father and now is dealing with the fact that his father has pushed him away with no explanation.

My son is very private about his pain, but I see the tears swelling in his eyes.  I know he is angry.  I was actually surprised that he reached out to him on Father’s Day.  I was surprised again when a little while later, he sent my son a text message stating, “Hope you are having a great summer. My door is always open to you.”  What the hell?

What does he mean by “My door is always open to you?”  Why would a father say something so meaningless to his son?  Why?  I just don’t understand why.

I cannot believe that I married this loser, this piece of crap.  Was he always this way?  Did I miss seeing this side of him when we were together?  Now, due to my error in judgment, my children are suffering.

He should contact the children and apologize for he has done.  I am done with this fool.  I will do what I can for the sake of my children.

Damn Tired, Lynnwood, WA

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Dear Damn Tired,

In all honesty, you seek to provide your children with something that you have no control over.

If the father does not respond to a judicial order, and lacks the internal willingness to provide emotional support to his children, then it is time to accept the reality that his actions are showing you.

I have strong reservations for your descriptions of the children’s father.  In your description there were terms such as “trifling, loser, piece of crap, and fool.”  Understanding that you are extremely angry with the children’s father regarding his actions (or lack thereof), I must remind you that the way you refer to the children’s father are just as as unfitting and unacceptable as his behavior.

My grandmother told me many years ago that just because a bee stings you doesn’t mean you have to sting back.  Rather, apply salve to the area and allow the wound to heal. I urge you to remember that the person you have described with such contempt is the father of your two sons, who are truly blessings. I want to caution you to be aware of what you say or how you express your feelings about their father around them.

Be aware that your sons are listening and internalizing your words every time you speak negatively of their father.  Children take what they hear to heart, especially when it comes from a trusted source like a parent.

How many times did you tell them that they were just like their father when times were good? Did they react positively or with pride?

In light of your current comments, consider the type of messages your sons may be receiving now, and the questions they may be asking their psychological selves.

  • “If my father is a piece of crap, trifling and a fool, what does that say about me?”
  • “Does my mother feel the same way about me?”

I want to understand your frustration at the obvious pain that your children are experiencing.  However, you must focus on what you can do to reduce their pain, and how to get their father more involved in their lives.

What can you do to stop their pain completely? Nothing. There is nothing you or anyone else can do to stop the emotional pain and suffering that has resulted from past and current experiences.  Focus instead on providing assistance.

Utilizing the following strategy of “openness” one can do this: provide availability, access, and acceptance.

  • Availability-be open and receptive to your children’s verbal and nonverbal expression of feelings
  • Access-encourage vulnerability and exposure of the emotional wound.
  • Acceptance-work towards acceptance of the pain that is associated with emotional wounding.

Remember, you are the “trusted source” for the children.  Rejection by a parent can be devastating.  The openness of the remaining parent is key in allowing the children a source or route to express the enduring pain and serves as a key way to heal the emotional pain.

How do you get their father to be involved in their lives? Stop and listen to what you are saying.  Your words reflect and reinforce the pain of your children.   Consider that you are attempting to force him to do something he must want to do, which is to be a responsible parent.  His current behavior clearly indicates that he has no intention of doing so. Your children don’t need you to point this out to them.

Again, utilizing the strategy of openness, consider the following:

  • Availability-remain open to communicating with the father as to the welfare and activities of his children
  • Access– always seek ways for the father to have access to his children
  • Acceptance-Be willing to “receive” the actions and behaviors of the father, whatever they may be. Remember, the willingness to receive is not an acknowledgment of “agreement.”

Remember not to place yourself in the position in which the children blame YOU for the inability to interact with their father.  Maintain a written journal detailing your actions in the event that your children question you as to what role you may have played in the absence of their father.

What do you tell your children? Simply tell your children the truth.  You can do this, and do it in a way that they can understand.

It’s going to be a bumpy road, no doubt.  Again, utilizing the strategy of openness, consider the following:

  • Availability-provide all the information that you know to your children. Maintain your composure, and provide clear and truthful answers to difficult questions
  • Access-provide an avenue in which the children can communicate directly to their father if they so choose.
  • Acceptance-utilizing the vulnerability, exposure and trust that “empowers” the relationship between you and your children, become their guide and companion as they walk this difficult portion of the journey.

Remember, allow your children to observe and witness the actions and behaviors of their father on their own.  It can be of greater harm to attempt to protect them from the truth.

Concluding Words

Damn Tired,

In closing, I want to respond to several comments that you raised.  You questioned whether he was  always this way and whether you had missed something.  The answer is yes, this is the man that you married.

As we experience the journey called life and we grow older, we change.  One thing that is beyond our control is the changes that occur within another.  What we can do is to work towards understanding and acceptance.

You would be fooling yourself and creating additional difficulties for your children if you attempted to distract them, kept them from the truth, and attempted to make everything “nice.” Because of the father’s inconsistencies, they are vulnerable and exposed to being traumatized.

In your children’s world, bad things happen and monsters do feast in the night.  As a parent, you cannot control their environment or protect them from their internalized feelings.  However you can do the following:

  • Assist them to navigate trouble and unsafe environments, particularly their internalized feelings.
  • Become a safe harbor for them to anchor for short respites during hard times.
  • Stick to the truth.
  • Frame the story in a language that they can understand.

I also disagree with your comment,

“He should contact the children and apologize for he has done.”

This insinuates that he has wronged his children.  That may be so, but that is still your opinion, not his, or more importantly, that of your children.  Let his actions speak for him.  Allow the children to see and listen to what he is saying as well as “not saying.”

Also, allow your children to receive his comments of “my door is always open to you” as a gift.  Let’s call it the “Gift of Exposure.”  In this gift, their father truly exposes his true self  to his children and shows them exactly what they can expect from him.

Misery is a walk which is best taken alone.  Let the father take this journey alone.  One day he may regret his actions.  His actions speak for themselves.

It is a false belief that “time heals emotional wounds.”   Time is merely what it is, time.  It is the work that one does, utilizing time that heals the wounds.

The Visible Man

Waiting And Watching: Carrying the Weight of Family Members

My Dear Readers,

     There are times when, in seeking to fulfill the wishes of our beloved parents, that we make the error of “sacrificing the self” and playing the role of savior in seeking to carry others. Instead of carrying the weight of others, however, we must seek to have balance and in doing so carry your own weight and advocate for the self.

Below is such a story…

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Dear Visible Man,

After 40 years of work, my mother is about to retire from her job. She covers it well, but I know that she is depressed, because the retirement is not really a voluntary one. She is being forced out, and I am concerned with how she is responding to it.

My father, her husband of 42 years, died five years ago. Following his death, it seemed that the job was all she had to hold on to. I know she has decided to not marry again, although I know that she does not like spending time alone.

When my father was alive, they were inseparable. It was normal to see them constantly together, laughing and being playful with each other.   Now that he is gone, she just sits at home watching television.

My older sister, who is 33, also resides with our mother, along with her 4 year old son. My sister is a carefree soul who often runs the streets and parties with her friends into the night, leaving our mother alone to babysit her son.

As a result of her upcoming retirement, I am concerned that my sister will now view our mother as a free childcare service. I have raised the issue to my sister and mother, but my concerns seem to fall on deaf ears.

My sister tells me to butt out and mind my own business, since I do not live in the house.   I think that my sister, who isn’t paying rent or otherwise financially contributing to the household, is taking advantage of my mother.  I can tell that my mother is resentful of the situation, but has chosen to remain silent.   I know that if my father was alive, he would not have tolerated this behavior.

Although my sister is the oldest, has a graduate degree and subs as a teacher, my father set it up for me to be the executors of their estates prior to his death.

I too am a college graduate, but I have chosen a different path. I work, live on my own, as well as paying my bills and debts that I have incurred. I feel weighted down with the responsibility of looking after my mother with little or no help from my sister.

Do you have any suggestions for what I should do? How do I step up to the challenges that lie before me? I do not want to see his legacy wasted. Thanks for listening.

Younger Sister, Stressing Out Seattle, WA

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Dear Younger Sister,

First, I will not tell you what to do. This is your journey in life and as you stand at the crossroads, you and only you can choose your direction. What I can and will do is to assist you by identifying concepts that you may be unaware of or have failed to consider.

Second, I will ask that you reframe your words as you seek to refocus your direction. It is my opinion that or terms such as “stepping up to the challenge” are just as reckless, meaningless and dangerous as “man up”. Such words tear at the fibers of one’s humanness, questioning your concept of yourself and only leaves the individual in doubt.

Instead of “stepping up”, I would encourage you to visualize yourself controlling the sails of a ship. Utilizing the sails, turn into the wind; allow your sails (which represents the self) to catch the power of the wind and empower yourself as you move forward along your Journey of Life.

So, in assessing these issues, let’s look at this in three distinct areas: Mother, Elder Sister (and child) and Younger Sister.

Mother (The one who waits…)

Parents can be excellent role models, but as much as they can be models of outstanding behaviors, they can also examples of who NOT to be.

It is good that your mother is perceptive and can see that it’s time for her to leave her job. Having been there for 40 years, she has spent a considerable part of her life there, including her young adulthood, midlife and now latent life, and given this, it is only natural she would grieve this impending loss.

Being a successful African-American woman in a corporate environment often dominated by conservative male mentality is no minor accomplishment. Your mother has more than “survived,” she has accomplished more than many others. As a result, she can choose “how” she walks out that door. She can walk out defeated, or she can take those last steps with style and confidence as she moves into the future. As she prepares to exit perhaps she may want to ask the following questions:

  • What are the skills and experiences I bring to the next stage of my i.e. retirement?
  • What are the activities I want to do?
  • What are the new challenges that lie before me on the next stage of the Journey of Self Discovery?

There are significant obstacles that lie before her as she begins this journey. One of the major ones, however, is a limit she has placed upon herself—her decision to not remarry.

In your writing you indicated that your mother and father were inseparable over a period of 42 years. In not leaving herself the option of remarrying, I believe she has locked herself into a covenant that may be one sided. Such a one sided covenant can be defined as the following:

“A binding and solemn agreement to do, maintain a doctrine, promise or faith to another person.”

If your mother made such a covenant, it is feasible that in choosing to remain at home alone, she has created a walled in existence for her life in order to follow this agreement. In her eyes, the covenant cannot and must not be broken because the meaning of her life is built upon that covenant.

However, it’s not quite so black and white. Instead of being broken, the covenant can be “renegotiated.” Ask your mother: if she had passed first, would she have wanted your father to remain isolated from the world, not seek companionship, or just wait until she died and joined him again?

Regardless of the answer, only she can change the direction of her life. If she chooses a life of isolation, then that is the limitation of life that she now seeks.   Embrace her and the choices she makes and accept her in her entirety.

Elder Sister (One who watches….)

When it comes to role modeling, elder siblings can be just as impactful as parents. In this situation, let’s use the example of the vulture and a parasite.

Despite its reputation, the vulture has an important role in the natural order of life, which is to feed off the carcasses of the dead and dying. The vulture brings meaning to the beginning and ending of life.

In scientific terms, a parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense.  In human terms, a parasite is a person who habitually relies on or exploits others and gives nothing in return.

From your writing, it appears that your elder sister is exploiting a situation where she can live freely without the responsibility of supporting herself or contributing to her mother’s household, and not considering how her behavior is impacting her mother

Your elder sister is selfish. She seeks to fulfill her needs and wants regardless of the psychological impact to her mother of losing a spouse and long-term employment. Your sister may have even convinced herself that she is giving your mother and her son the opportunity to bond while she is out partying in the streets.

Rather than leave questions for elder sister to consider, I would simply say….enjoy! One day the party will come to an end and REALITY will hit her like a lightning bolt. Until then, enjoy!!

Younger Sister (Carrying the Weight)

It is time for you to stand at your crossroads and decide which way to go. Before you, the current road leads to hopelessness. The other direction provides one of optimism, development and growth.

The current road is the simple one and thereby the easier of the two. The obstacles on this road are already known to you.

The other path is more of a challenge. The path is unknown and therefore you will create the road as you move forward. This new path will call upon you to do things that are foreign and uncomfortable. However should you stay the course, in time you will gain from the new path travelled. Specifically,

  • As much as you love your mother, your sister and your nephew, seek to love yourself more.
  • Cease being in the “savior role” for your mother.  This behavior serves only to reinforce what she chooses not to see and only adds to further frustration and resentment.
  • Cease sacrificing your inner self so that others can enjoy themselves.
  • Focus on your life, your joy and your happiness.

Concluding Remarks

Young Woman,

Honor your father. You can do this by simply being or becoming the best you can be. You can do this by “loving me first and in doing so, loving me more.”

You must want to let go and allow your mother to live the live she has chosen.   As she has chosen, so must you. Letting go does not translate to giving up. Should your mother one day seek change in her life, allow her to come to you and request your assistance.

As for your older sister, as my beloved grandmother would say, “muddy water rises to the top”. The murky things one does will have consequences in the future.

Your father was no fool. There was a reason why he appointed you and not your sister as executor of his and your mother’s affairs. You don’t want to see his legacy wasted, and neither did he. Continue to look after that legacy as he asked of you.

As for your sister, when you see her, just smile and say, enjoy!!

 As much as I love you,

I love myself more. 

Loving me more, does not mean

I love you less. 

It only means

I love me more.

More.

The Visible Man

The Gift of Exposure: The Lesson I Learned on Father’s Day

My Dear Readers,

Father’s Day 2014 has just passed, so I will bid it farewell with what I am about to share.  For many, this a day to celebrate the presence of our beloved paternal parents.  Yet for some, it brings forth the ongoing work of processing the grief and loss for those whose fathers who are no longer among us. 

No one has the right to dictate how one should feel on such an important day.  No one has the right to dictate how long one should grieve the loss of a beloved one. 

However, life is nothing more than a journey.  We can choose to be in the company of those who seek to share the road with us.  Below is such a story.

Dr. Kane

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Dear Visible Man,

My father died six years ago, several days after Father’s Day. As a result, this time of year remains difficult for me as I grieve the loss of my father.  And this year, I am angry with my so-called girlfriends who always invite me to a brunch where they can celebrate their relationships with their fathers.

They are all aware that my father has passed away.  I feel that it is insensitive for them to invite me to celebrate Father’s Day, drinking alcohol, acknowledging their dads and at the same time, ignoring my feelings regarding the death of mine.  When I attended last year, I attempted to speak about my dad and I started to cry.  I was met with silence.  Later on, I was told that I had ruined the celebratory occasion.

All I want is for them to understand my feelings.  Is that asking for too much?  I may cry again, so this year I have decided to not attend the celebration.

Everyone has heard that I’m not coming.  Some have remarked that I’m not being considerate of them.   One of them called me and suggested that for the good of the group, I should put my feelings aside and attend the brunch.

I’ve known them since high school, but it seems that as we have grown older, we have grown apart.  So now the pressure is on.  Do you feel I am being inconsiderate?  If it were you, what would you do?

In Tears, Spokane, WA

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Dear In Tears,

First, please accept my sincere condolences regarding the loss of your father.  Second, keep crying.  Never allow someone else to dictate to you the depth of your feelings.   It is clear that by your continual grieving that you were very close to your father.  It appears from your writing that your friends (and in this case, I use the term “friends” sparingly) appear to view the ongoing expression of grief as a negative impact on the group.

There are those who will view this and may want to suggest to you one of the following:

  • To hell with them!
  • Grow up, woman up and move on!
  • You are a fool.  Stop crying over your father and get on with life.
  • Grow a brain.  Look at what they are doing to you.

These suggestions are not only reactionary and emotional. They are self-serving and create more emotional damage and psychological wounding for you through victim blaming. Given this, how does one respond in a manner that is proactive and healing to the psychological self?

Visualize yourself standing at the “Crossroads.”  In doing so, it is up to you to make a decision in the choices as to which direction to proceed as you continue the Journey of Life.

The goal is to work towards empowerment by listening to the psychological self.  The following model, ABC, can help with this:

  • Advocacy-seek out what you want and what is in your best interest.
  • Balance– finding stability in your mind and feelings
  • Calmness-achievement of an absence of agitation in feelings and steadiness of mind when you are under stress

Relationships-The VETING Model

Relationships can be demanding and emotionally draining.  The more intimate the relationship, the more demanding or emotionally draining it can become.  The VETING model consists of the following components; vulnerability, exposure, trust and the constant state of doing, i.e. “ing”.  The model is as follows:

  • Vulnerability– the willingness to be open to censure or criticism
  • Exposure– the opening of the psychological self to being uncovered or unprotected to censure or criticism
  • Trust-the reliance on and confidence in the actions of another.
  • ING– the constant state or act of “doing”

Both models can assist in creating and defining boundaries that can assist in maintaining self-empowerment in daily relationships.

There are underlying questions by the group, not being asked, but being insinuated:

  • Are you being an emotional drain on the group?
  • Can you come and leave the waterworks and drama at home?
  • It has been six years.  When are you going to get over it?  Isn’t it time to move on?
  • Can’t we just get together and have some fun times?  Laugh and celebrate the past?
  • Can you come and attend, without being a “Debbie Downer”?

I would like to respond to these underlying, unasked and insinuated questions by suggesting the following: Make your responses:

  • About you and not about them.
  • About them and not about you.

ABOUT YOU:

As you indicated, these relationships were formed during high school.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  •  Why am I holding onto to relationships that appear to be insincere and non-supportive?
  • Why am I keeping to the past (relationships) and not allowing myself freedom to move forward to develop new and more meaningful relationships?
  • What am I getting out of sharing my intimate feelings with individuals who appear not to care about my feelings?

ABOUT THEM:

The name Debbie Downer is a slang phrase that refers to someone who frequently adds bad news and negative feelings to a gathering, thus bringing down the mood of everyone around them. That being the situation, consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why do they continue to invite me to these gatherings knowing the intensity of my emotions regarding the loss of my father?
  • Why are they unwilling, unable, or incapable of expressing empathy for me?  Especially given the nature of the long-term relationships that have been maintained?
  • What are they getting out of this?

Standing at the Crossroads: Possible Considerations

1)            Understanding (Empathy)– Although understanding of another person’s pain or emotional wounding may be a human goal, at times it may not be attainable.  Here, as indicated in the writing, NONE of the group members have endured the loss of their paternal parent.  Furthermore, the shallowness of their behavior indicates a clear inability to understand the closeness between you and your father or of the depth of your loss.

2)            Past vs. Present– It may be that your friends are holding on to the past as you seek to reside in the present.  It appears you are seeking the opportunity to “honor” the relationship as it stands today, where they are looking to simply recall the exploits of the past.

3)            The “secured self” vs. Debbie Downer labeling– the open expression of your pain and loss lies in direct opposition to the group’s desire to express compassion or work towards developing a comfort zone that would allow the group to better  comprehend what you are feeling.

Concluding Words

Young Woman,

Earlier I suggested that you “visualize yourself standing at the “Crossroads.”  It is for you and you alone to explore and come to terms with what you are seeking and what you are gaining from the friendships within this specific group.  Are these travelers fit to accompany you on your present and future journey?

Using advocacy, balance and calmness; empower yourself as you stand at the crossroads.  The members of this group have given you a very meaningful gift.  It is the gift of exposure.  In their actions, they have shown you the true fullness of themselves.

It is for you to see and accept what is real standing at the crossroads before you.  In doing one, acceptance, or the other, rejection, you will choose the direction of your journey and those who will share the road.

As for your tears, continue to grieve for your father.  Honor him in death as you have honored him in life.  Let no one decide for you how long or deep your grief should be or amount of time it should last.

Our tears reflect the deepness of our feelings for those who are although no longer physically present, yet will always remain within our hearts.

 

“When a person exposes the true self to you, embrace the action and treat it as a gift.”

-Ten Flashes of Light for the Journey of Life

 

The Visible Man

Coming of Age: A Wake Up Call for Parents and Young Adults

My Dear Readers,

     It is that time of year again: graduation time.  Time to move on from high school adolescence to the world of adult expectations.  There is joy in the air.  However, there is also anxiety and fear about what may lie ahead for our soon to become young adults.

     For many, regardless of economic class, entitlement has been the rule, and now, those days may soon be coming to an end.  How will the young adults deal with the change?  More importantly, how will their parents respond?  Will they live in fear, seeking to “save” their children, or reach out and live with fear, letting them go and by doing that, encourage empowerment of both their lives (parents and children?)

Below is such a story….

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Dear Visible Man,

My spouse and I are desperately seeking assistance for our son, who is about to enter the adult world.  Unlike other parents who are happy as their children graduate from high school and move out of the family nest, we fear for his safety.  We fear for what may happen to him as he enters a world that is either openly hostile towards or fearful of him.

We thought we were doing all the right things.  We have been actively involved with cultural activities, history, arts and community and social organizations.  Our son attends a racially and culturally diverse high school.   Being a two income family unit, we are financially comfortable and thus able to afford activities such as extensive travel outside the continental United States.

We are proud of our son’s achievements.  Academically, he has done well.  He is in the college prep section in his school. He plays in the school orchestra.  He has scored high on college entrance exams and he has received offers from prestigious schools.  He is an active member of our church’s youth group.  He has never been involved in drugs, gangs, or unsafe sexual practices.

Many of our friends complain that their children are “entitled.” Our son is no different—he  carries himself with an “air of privilege.”  He wants to argue and debate with those in authority. He has the perception that to do otherwise is to be submissive.

We have taught him to be an independent thinker and advocate for himself.  However, we fear that he does not know when to “shut up” or keep his mouth closed when responding to adult authority. We have been warned by a peer who is a police officer that unless Scotty learns to keep his mouth shut and his opinions to himself he will have problems interacting with the police. My wife and I have repeatedly talked to him and all he seems to do is want to debate the issue of free speech.

We knew this day would come.  During these many years we have repeatedly questioned whether we were doing the right thing. However, those times have passed.  We are frustrated about what lies ahead for him.  Help us save our son.

Frustrated & Frightened,  Seattle WA

Dear Double F:

I can feel your fear as I read your words.  It appears that you now stand at the crossroads of life as you watch your son choose his next direction in his own life. It also appears that you are, with great reluctance, about to join a larger group of parents who are responding to internalized stimuli & stress as their children move closer, step by step to joining the adult world, a world that lies beyond the eyes of parental control.

From your letter, three objectives come to the forefront:

  • Saving your son from an hostile world
  • Saving your son from the police
  • Saving your son from himself


Objective I: Can you save Scotty from a hostile world?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

Scotty has yet to respond to the issue that may be most damaging to his generation, that being the idea that they have a sense of “entitlement.”  This is generally defined as the idea that one has a right to be given something which others believe should be obtained through effort.

Yes, there may be a hostile world awaiting Scotty.  There may be others who believe that the world is “dog-eat-dog,” or that survival is only reserved for the fittest.  However, there is also humanity and compassion within the world.  It is up to Scotty to utilize his own skills in identifying the good, the bad and the ugly.

One model or tool that could be utilized is the I Factor.  This model consists of five components:  inform, involve, integrate, implement and impact.  For example, as Scotty is questioning a specific incident or experience he can use the model to reflect on the following:

  • What is it about the experience that informs (alerts, excite, touch) him?
  •  How can he involve (mix) what he is being informed of with what he has been taught in the past?
  • How does he go about integrating the experience within the psychological self?
  • What actions does he take to implement the experience into his worldview?
  • How does the experience impact his perception or worldview?

The objective is not for Scotty to avoid the hostile world or making mistakes.  The objective, rather, is to learn from the experience of the interaction, turning failures into success and lessons into achievements.

Objective II: Can you save Scotty from the police?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

It is clear that Scotty has benefited from the secure and protected lifestyle that you and your spouse have provided.  However, this too has also provided him with a false sense of security in that he lacks the “learned skills of vigilance” by not having any interaction with members of law enforcement.

Although police officers represent authority, power and control for the larger group (society), they are also individual members of society, and thus, are impacted by the same stereotypes and prejudices that impact others in the group—and that leads to fear.

Fear.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  However, it is simply an emotion.  To maintain “balance” and having the ability to “live with fear,” one can do so by utilizing the skill of “vigilance”.  If empowered, vigilance can become an individual’s best friend.  The skill of vigilance contains five triggers: alone, abandonment, alert, aware and alive.

Since it appears that Scotty lacks that intuitive sense of vigilance, he can be at risk if and when he comes in contact with law enforcement, and may not recognize the triggers when he is faced with them.  Here are some scenarios to be watchful for:

  •  He may not realize that he could be singled out as the instigator, leader or target.  Although in a group, he is alone.
  • He may not be able to depend on those within the group to advocate on his behalf. He may be at risk of being abandoned.
  • He may not have knowledge as to the purpose of the “police stop, frisk, and interrogation” or an understanding of the possible perceptions that the police officer may have of him.  He is not alert.
  • He may not be aware of the physical positioning of the police officers.  He may not recognize the placement of their hands (on weapons) or not be attentive to the tone, mannerism or the direction of the discussion being directed by the police officer.  He is not aware.
  • He may view himself as having the same privileges as his companions.  He may want to deny the authority of the police officers.  He may seek to question, to move or waive his arms/hands or to leave the scene without consent. He is now at risk of being handcuffed, injured and perhaps dying. He is at risk of having a life altering experience.

Scotty is at risk because he does not understand that the police officer has power, authority and control. Using the tools of vigilance, Scotty must want to learn to do the following:

  • Do comply with actions of the police officer.
  • Do follow the instructions of the police officer.
  • Do speak in a respectful tone.
  • Do utilize your skills of observation.
  • Do document the incident and your concerns regarding the behavior in question.
  • Do document the following information: date, time, and location, and license-plate / vehicle identification, number of badge of police officer involved.

The objective for Scotty is not to avoid interaction with the police; rather it is for him to understand how to “balance” his internal stress when he finds himself when interacting with law enforcement.   The intended outcome is to exit the encounter without a traumatic or long term wounding experience.

Objective III: Can we save Scotty from himself?

Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.

It is clear that with your assistance with involving Scotty in cultural activities, history and organizations that he has developed a healthy self and personal identity as an individual.  However, it is also clear that due to his “comfort zone” that Scotty is confused with conceptualizing himself as having being entitled to a specific way of living without having worked or earned the quality of life.

As Scotty continues to interact with the larger group, he will likely get a wakeup call when he  clearly observes a difference in how others may perceive him.  It is understandable that he may as a result become confused, conflicted as he attempts to respond to these perceptions.  How will Scotty handle the ongoing situations as these continue to impact his life?

  • Will he become angry, rejected and bitter?
  • Will he resort to using drugs or alcohol to salve the pain and discomfort?
  • Will he accept the role or place in life that the larger group has defined for him?

Concluding Comments

In all three objectives I have firmly stated the following:

“Sorry, no can do.  And even if you could, I would not advise you to interfere with this process.”

As a psychotherapist, I have made a commitment to focus on empowerment.   The best way to ensure Scotty’s failure and many of those like him is to focus on saving him and not providing opportunities for him (them) to empower himself (themselves).

This may be the biggest mistake that parents can make as they attempt to control the “Walk of Life” their adult children begin as they leave the family residence.  Should you focus on constantly saving him, who will be there to pick up the role of “savior” after you are gone?

The reality is that we cannot stop what may be harboring in someone’s heart and mind.  However, we can empower ourselves on how to respond to another’s irrational beliefs and how we choose to live our lives.  As parents, we can transform ourselves from the role of supervisors, directors and managers of our children’s lives to that of advocates for our adult sons and daughters, providing balance and consultation.

In doing so, we can assist our adult children to become their own best advocates, maintaining balance and calmness as they move forth creating their own individual paths on the walk we call Life.

To be successful, both parties must want to let go, be willing to live with fear (and not in fear) and move towards one‘s own Journey of Self Discovery. In time (and time waits for no one), we will all move on. While we have life, let us focus on the journey and not the destination.

The Visible Man

Sacrificing The Self: Well-Intentioned Parenting and the Wounding of Adult Children

My Dear Readers,

     Many of us are taught from birth that our parents have our best interests at heart.  However, there may be times when our parents voice comments, statements or opinions that, although well intended, are actually harmful and can result in psychological wounds.    

     When such acts occur, there is the tendency for the adult child to walk away scarred and withdrawn.  As much as we have mastered “honoring” our fathers and mothers, there is a heavy cost that both parents and adult children suffer when we focus on the well-meaning intent and ignore the emotional devastation that results as the outcome. 

     Below is such a story.

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Dear Visible Man,

I am a 35-year old African-American woman who is originally from Memphis, TN.  I have been in Seattle for about 9 years, and I’ve had a very successful career– I have my bachelor’s degree in computer science, and an MBA from a well-known school in the South. I’ve worked at multiple prestigious companies, I am a certified and known expert in my field, I’m now running my own business, and I’ve just moved into a lovely new home that really feels like my sanctuary.

The only thing that I do struggle with is my weight. My doctors say that I’m healthy, and I am athletic, playing many different sports. I will never be a slender girl– I’m just not built that way–but I would still like to slim down some.

Recently, I had a phone conversation with my mother, who I’m very close to.  I confided in her that I was having some trouble getting the motivation to work out as hard as I have in the past, and after playfully chiding me about getting back on my routine, she says:

“Yeah, if you don’t lose that weight, you’ll probably never get a man.”

I replied, not taking her seriously: “Bah, whatever, if he doesn’t like me because of my weight, then he wasn’t meant for me anyway. I’ll be okay.”

She then says, bringing up my past boyfriends from YEARS back:

 

“Well, that’s why Robbie and Kelly didn’t want you, and I’m sure you’re bigger now than you were back then.”

It felt like I’d been slapped in the face and punched in the gut at the same time.  I think I sputtered something about how I was big when I was in both of those relationships, and when she reiterated how I just HAD to be bigger now, I told her that I wanted to change the subject.  We did, and struggled through a separate conversation before I made some kind of excuse to get off the phone.

If this wasn’t my mother, I would have cursed her most disgracefully and cut her off completely, like I do with others who offend or otherwise injure me.  I have very advanced defense mechanisms, developed over years in the corporate world.  But, because she’s my mom, I can’t bring myself to be disrespectful to her or to tell her that she’s hurt me because she will think I’m too sensitive.

So, I’ve been avoiding her.  I called my sister and told her about it, and she said yeah, that she heard when my mom said it, and when she hung up the phone, my sister took her to task for it.  She then sent me a funny YouTube video that she knew would cheer me up.

I still don’t want to talk to my mom, because I still feel really vulnerable and I don’t want to get blasted again. I’m not even sure she notices that I’m avoiding her. I’ve meditated and prayed on this, hoping that I won’t still hurt about it, but she basically preyed on my two biggest insecurities at the same time– things she KNEW would hurt me— and I’m not able to “let it go,” as you say in so many of your writings.  I mean, does she really think that I have nothing else to offer besides a slim body? After everything I’ve accomplished?

I’m not sure what to do.  I miss our relationship, even though this only happened 2 weeks ago, and I don’t want this to become a bigger issue, but every time I talk to her now, I’m really stiff and stilted and I don’t want to share what’s really in my heart because I’m afraid of what she’ll say to me.

I’ve written a book here.  Any observations you have will be helpful… thanks. 🙂

Walking Wounded, Seattle, WA

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Dear Walking Wounded,

There is a lot of suffering to digest here.  In my younger days, I remember a television show called Kids Say The Darndest Things hosted by Bill Cosby (1998-2000).  In this show, kids would be showcased making comments that were either funny or at least to be taken lightly.  In essence, the kids, given their age and level of emotional immaturity, were given a “free pass.”

I can imagine those reading this posting may be saying one or more of the following:

  • For Pete’s sake, she’s your mother!
  • You‘re too sensitive, grow a thicker skin!
  • Lighten up!  She didn’t mean anything by it.
  • Come on now!  Really?!  Are you being for real?

All of that is “code” for what is being subconsciously and unconsciously taught by society these days: “Man (or woman) up.” You are being exhorted to be strong enough to take it.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT fall for the trap of once again allowing the psychological self to be sacrificed out of your concern regarding being viewed in a negative way by others or concerned about hurting your mother’s feelings.

Concern about another’s person’s feelings?  How about placing the needs or wants of another and prioritizing over those of yourself? Maintain a tough skin and keep going?  “Sticks and stones will hurt my bones but name calling will never harm me.”

  • Where do all these wonderful concepts come from?
  • And whom do they benefit?

The answer to both questions is simple: the larger group. To restate whom the larger group the “larger group” consists of :

  • The integration and dependency of three sub units working in collaboration.
  • These three sub units are society (at large), community (church, school, and other defined institutions) and family (loosely defined).

The most important piece, which impacts the sub units separately and as a whole, is YOU, the individual member, who in some way or function belongs to each one of the sub units as well as the larger group.  The bottom line is that YOU receive openly communicated messages that it is okay for people known as parents (family) to say negative, uncomfortable or downright nasty things to you under the guise of love, concern and caring feelings towards you. But is it really okay?

You stated:

“If this wasn’t my mother, I would have cursed her most disgracefully and cut her off completely, like I do with others who offend or otherwise injure me.”

 

So, it’s okay for your mother to make disparaging comments about your weight and yet you would not tolerate such behavior from another? Okay, case closed.  So let’s move on.

  1. It’s not working… You can’t move on.  Why? You’re devastated.  You’re emotionally blocked.  As you clearly stated, “I’m not able to let it go.”  So you want to let it go, but you simply can’t do it.  So now you are confused and you don’t know what to do.

The psychological self is talking to you.  Yes, intellectually, your training from the larger group is telling you to move on.  But, the psychological self is telling you…No!

The question is: ARE YOU LISTENING?  The psychological self may be telling you, “I am hurting. I am wounded by my mother’s words.”  Questions arising from within the psychological self may include the following:

  • Are you going to advocate for me?
  • Are you going to bring balance to me?
  • Are you going to transform my state of confusion to one of calmness?

From your writings, it is clear that your mother loves you.  Your mother, in her behavior, continues to combine the roles of mother and parent.  In doing so, there is a clear failure to acknowledge you as an adult member, separate from the family unit.  You are, for all intents and purposes in her eyes, a child– her child—and although her words and behaviors are not intended to harm you, they may come from her living in fear as a parent.   She fears that she will one day die and you still will not have found a loving man to take care of you.

This fear-based behavior is and has been repeated in countless families throughout the world.  It is the clearly the struggle of the parent to let go of the role of parent and transforming to the role of Mother, a support and confidant to the adult, no longer a parent.

The following model is designed to assist parents who are seeking to make the transformation from living IN fear to Living WITH Fear.  In order to do this, we must have the following:

  •  BELIEF– demonstration (through behavior, not words) of the acknowledgement that the individual, although still my child, is an “adult.”
  • FAITH– the desire to accept that despite any fears related to the current situation, that the mother and/or father is secure in knowing that the “adult” will be successful following their death(s)
  •  TRUST-the willingness to accept the decision(s) as to how the “adult” has chosen to live one’s life i.e. “walk one’s journey.”

BFT is a model to assist parents seeking to disengage from the role of parenting (supervising, managing, and directing) the lives of their children who are now adults.  However, let’s return to the REAL issue in this situation, the fact that your psychological self is currently in a state of confusion.

Begin the process of “letting go” of the teachings of the larger group as it relates to acceptance of actions and behaviors of family members simply because of role differences. As you are listening to the psychological self, begin the work of embracing the psychological self.  Assume responsibility for the following roles:

  •  ADVOCACY– Engage in a discussion with your mother.  Openly talk about the emotional wounding.  Create reasonable boundaries and expectations within the mother and adult daughter relationship.
  • BALANCE-Work to reinforce your self-concept and self-esteem.  Review and reframe the journey of your life.  Believe in the journey.  See the journey.  Walk the journey.  Stop seeking acceptance from others.  Look within and gain self-acceptance.
  • CALMNESS-Understand that the comfort zone, otherwise known as the “peace you are seeking” lies within you.  Stop looking to others to grant you empowerment.  Empowerment must come from within.

 

Concluding Words

Why do sheep stay in their groups and not walk alone? It is within the context of the larger group that they find safety, shelter and security.  At the same time, they submit to the will of the group. They do not move alone because they live in fear.  Such lives are set.  They have found their comfort zone.  This is what they know.

The eagle, on the other hand, may travel in pairs or alone.  She/he is an individualist, seeking to soar to greater heights, despite whatever barriers or obstacles lie before them.  They are majestic and unstoppable.  They live with fear.

Stop being concerned with how others may perceive you.  Continue to walk your journey.  Focus on crossing the finish line in whatever race you engage in.  It really does not matter when you cross or whether others believe (or not) in your ability.  What is essential is that you believe…in self.  Be an advocate for the self, find balance and achieve calmness.

Stay with the sheep or soar with the eagles.  In fear or with fear.  You choose……

 

The Visible Man

Letting Go of Family Secrets: Transitioning Into Tomorrow

Dear Visible Man,

An incident happened recently that’s turned my family upside down.   My father told me that my daughter (his granddaughter) stole money from his wallet during a recent visit, and after looking into it, it’s clear that she did indeed steal the money.

I am shocked.  I can’t understand why my 23 year old daughter would not only steal, but steal from her grandfather who worshiped and doted upon her. I am horrified. I can still hear the pain in his voice as informed me.  I have offered to replace the money that was stolen, but he doesn’t want it.

Instead, he’s asked that I don’t mention this to anyone else (especially her mother) or confront my daughter regarding her actions, but he has also decided to ban her from his residence.  I love my child, but I am disgusted, angry, and ashamed that she would steal from a family member.

I am having difficulty maintaining this family secret, because she acts as if she got away with what she did.   How do you suggest that I handle this?  Do I insist that she apologize to the family and specifically to her grandfather?  Or, do I treat this as a no harm, no foul and just let it go?

Bewildered Parent, Renton WA

Dear Bewildered Father,

I appreciate your willingness to write about what has to be a difficult issue for you and your family.  No doubt you feel caught in the middle– as much as you are protective and concerned about your aged parent, you feel the same way about your daughter.

First, a few questions:

  • Why are you and her grandfather engaging in a conspiracy of secrecy regarding your daughter’s inappropriate and criminal behavior?

 

  • Are there mixed messages in banning her from her grandfather’s residence but refusing to communicate why she is being banned? Is the goal for your daughter to figure it out on her own?
  • Why are you feeling shame for her actions and behavior? What role did you play in your daughter’s decision to steal from her grandfather?
  • Why would you expect your daughter to behave as an adult when you and her grandfather continue to parent her as a child or adolescent?

It’s clear that both you and her grandfather are emotionally wounded by her actions. As a result, this is the time to confront the behaviors and actions she has chosen.  Although you and her grandfather may be willing to forgive and move forward, it is important for her to understand that society at large is not as forgiving as family and will respond very differently.

When confronting the behaviors and actions she has taken, I would suggest a cognitive-behavioral approach that is based on “reality outcomes.” A model that focuses on this is “Four Stages of RACE in the Journey of Self Discovery.”  It is important her to understand that society will hold her to the following standards:

  • Responsibility-The individual must want to accept the burden of being responsible for his/her well-being.
  • Accountability-The individual and no one else is answerable for his/her actions.
  • Consequences-are reactions and responses (not punishment) for what the individual does or does not.
  • Empowerment-Comes from within; the individual must want to his/her direction in order to achieved the desired goals and objectives

You should seek to eliminate the secrecy as well as remove yourself (feelings of shame/disgust) from the equation.  Encourage open dialogue within the family regarding the incident.  Encourage her grandfather as well as yourself to share with your daughter the emotional impact of what she did on the family.

The Gift of an Apology

Should an individual be told, directed or forced to apologize for behaviors and actions that have wounded another?  I say no.  An apology can only be given as a “gift” of regret or remorse that is extended to another.

An apology serves as an acknowledgement of the impact of one’s actions, a desire to atone for that impact, and also the attainment of the “Four Stages of RACE in the Journey of Self Discovery.”  This acknowledgement, atonement, and attainment of the four stages must come from within the individual and not be derived or directed externally from a third party or individual not directly involved in the wounding behavior/action.

In closing, I would encourage you to see yourself as a “father”, instead of a “parent”.  As you seek to assist your daughter to transition from late adolescence to young adulthood, it is also time for you to empower your psychological self to transition from the role of “parent” to that of “father.”

Hold to your beliefs that you have provided your daughter with a solid foundation.  It is now up to her to move forward into a world and society that has larger demands, expectations and consequences for choices and decisions made.

You will always be daddy, but now, it is time for you to step aside into the role of advocate, bystander, and consultant.  You will always be concerned for her and fear for her safety and success. However, you must make the choice to live with that fear—that is, to proceed forward and prepare for what may come—instead of living in fear—that is, halting her progress and yours by being afraid of what may come. In the former, you embrace your fear; in the latter, you fight it. And, since fear is a part of you, you only succeed in fighting yourself when you fight fear.

It is in this transition that you must want to choose whether to continue to live in fear or seek to learn how to live with fear.  Fear is here. Forever.  Learn to embrace your fear.

The Visible Man