Dads . . .In a Word

Recently, a male friend of ours (trying to save his troubled marriage by attending counseling sessions) confided in my husband. During an emotional session, a provocative question was posed by the therapist. “How would you describe your father…if you could only choose three words?” Much to his surprise, he could only come up with one – selfish.  This realization led to his most insightful “break-through” session to date.

When my husband shared the story with me, it naturally made me pause and think about my own father. My last conversation with my dad was only a year ago – just a few hours later after we said our goodbyes, he passed away peacefully in the middle of the night.

In the midst of missing him and mourning my loss, I’ve visited many memories – some sweet, some bittersweet. Throughout the day, pictures of my dad’s life – a young handsome sailor to an 83 year old great grandfather – randomly pop up on my computer slideshow. With the visual backdrop, searching for the “one word” to describe my dad proved not to be so difficult, in fact, as I really observed each captured freeze frame, a common thread began to emerge. It was so obvious, at least from this baby daughter’s perspective, if confined to one word to describe my dad, for me it would have to be . . . “loving”.

Truly, I’m not blind to the fact my dad had flaws and may have been selfish in some ways – but in the area of affection he was more than generous. His arms (always available for hugs) and his kisses (sometimes rebuffed)  – sealed every hello and goodbye. Over the course of his life my father struggled with many personal demons. Which is why I am positive if you asked my three siblings the same question, they would all come up with a different one word descriptor for my dad. In many ways, he was his own worst enemy, perhaps a character flaw that the artist/lover personality types share. Interestingly, I have observed many of the same traits in my son.

Upon deeper reflection, it occurs to me that my perception of my father as “loving”, has been colored not only by my dad’s displays of affection, but also by my own personality, filters and role I played in his life. Since I was only five years old when my parents divorced, I have no scarring memories (at least consciously) of their often tumultuous interaction. I grew up oblivious to his personal approach toward parenting, discipline or perhaps lack thereof.  Time spent with my dad meant fun-filled activities, cool restaurants and shopping sprees. In a sense, from birth until the day he passed away, I was the baby daughter who climbed into his lap and flung my arms around his neck.

In the last few days, I have posed this same question to a few of my friends.  The answers have covered a broad spectrum, from “harsh” and “bully” to “aloof” and “pleasant”. If the first word that comes to mind is negative, perhaps it would be helpful to take the time to identify at least two positive attributes which could allow a different reality to take shape and emotional healing to begin. No matter what one word comes to light, I believe, at least for me. . .the life lesson is to not be held back by what my parents were or were not, but to constructively use the information to choose what kind of person, spouse or parent I want to be. Learn, change. . .grow.

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My Journey of Aloneness

Insomnia Induced Epiphany

From a very young age, I was extremely scared of the dark. . .even in the middle of the day. My dad left a vacant spot in my mom’s king size bed when I was only five years old. I quickly claimed dibs on sleeping in the big bed by my newly divorced mom’s side. No need to face the monsters under my bed or the boogeyman hiding in the closet, I got to sleep safe and sound, snuggled up close to my mother. Perhaps this is when my struggle with aloneness began.

In my teen years, my mom worked full-time not getting home until after 5:00.  My school was just a few blocks away from our little two bedroom house. I would take my time walking home because every step brought me closer to the empty house that I would have to enter. By the time my hand would reach the “never-locked” door knob, my heart would be pounding so hard I could barely breath. My rational mind would buckle under the weight of my deepest fears. Many times, I would just sit on the front porch and wait because I was too scared to go inside in the middle of the day by myself. Aloneness, for me,  was a lonely isolated island filled with scarey predators, darkness and extreme anxiety.

My senior year of high school, my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer. After surgery to remove her cancer-feeding ovaries, she required full-time care and went to live with my sister in a different city. Suddenly, I was all alone in our apartment, in a city where I had no family. I had no choice but to abruptly face my fears. It is this part of my journey that remains most prominent in my psyche. Many nights, I fell asleep with the T.V. turned on – Johnny Carson, Joan Rivers and guests, my late night companions. 3:00 a.m. I would wake up  to the frozen Indian face staring at me accompanied by an irritating noise piercing my dreams. All programming was over – no cable, no remote, only three main channels. “Aloneness” during this time of my life, resembled a deserted island…I felt abandoned with no rescue in sight. Staring out the window was my perch, my guitar was my solace and favorite distraction from the depths of my loneliness. It is then, I began an ongoing internal dialogue with God.

Soon after my mom passed away, I got married. My aloneness, quickly replaced with domestic activities, in-laws and very close neighbors who I could reach out and touch. Not long after that, I had my son to hold in the quiet moments. Aloneness became the blissful moments in the quiet of the night highlighted by my newborn son nursing with his tiny hand gripped tightly around my finger. Fears of being all alone, a distant memory from my past life. A few years later, another child, a new city and my husband traveling around the world led to yet another phase of my exploration of aloneness. Yes, I was alone in my bed for nights on end in those days. But my children were sleeping across the hall, so fear no longer colored my quiet moments, and complete mother-fatigue left little time for deep contemplation.

Now, here I am. My children’s bedrooms are lifeless shells which hold their favorite photos, yearbooks and accolades. Once again, on the occasion my husband has to travel (which is much less these days) I am left to discover where and who I am in my aloneness evolution. Maturity and life experience has squelched my fears (as well as a trusty alarm system), loneliness is no longer a pain in my soul – what remains is my ongoing inner dialogue with the creator, which of course are just my own musings taking place in my finite brain. I ask a lot of questions in the quiet moments. I retrace my spiritual journey in my mind seeking to understand the meaning of it all. Questions…not so many  answers.

This journey of aloneness has taken me from trying to escape it at all costs, to actually embracing the moments where I am left with my own thoughts to explore self, soul and spirit. Once a remote frightening island, “aloneness” is now my oasis of calm, where the skies get ever clearer and peace can find my soul.

My Mother My Best Friend – Part Two

Perspective on Parents As Best Friends – My Daughter’s Turn

Me:  “Sweetie, you often tell your dad and me how much you love being with us, and since you were just a little girl, you’ve always come to us first whenever you had inner turmoil or were having trouble making a difficult decision. Can you tell me why you think of both your dad and me as your “best friends?”

Daughter: “Well, mom, it’s actually very simple. You and dad established an open, honest dialogue with me from birth. You guys always took the time to sit down and listen to me without judgement or criticism. It was your openness about your own imperfections and personal struggles that helped me deal with my own crap, which made me respect you even more.”

Me: “Wow, so cool to hear you say that, especially since we both felt like we were literally throwing darts in the dark when it came to proper parenting. As we have always told you since you were old enough to understand, neither of our babies came out of the womb holding an Instruction Manual. And not only were you and your brother different because of your sex, you had completely opposite personality characteristics. Can you put into words why you never really went through that “I Hate My Parents” stage?

Daughter: “For me, I think it all comes down to connection. Not only did I love “hanging out” with you guys, because you always made it fun, but you also created an atmosphere of mutual respect. I seriously respected you both so much, I never wanted to hurt or disappoint you with my own actions. My own internal disappointment taught me the hard lessons about taking responsibility for my own actions. You gave me the space to learn that on my own. PLUS, some of my favorite memories when I was a teenager centers around Saturday afternoons – movie, bucket of popcorn, home, pizza delivery and laughter with dad as we rehashed the flick.”

Me: “We have always loved hanging out with our kids more than anything else, so that is so wonderful to hear you feel the same way! So, how about the taboo topics, like sex, drinking…etc., why do you think you have always been so open about those things with me as well as your dad?”

Daughter: “My answer to that is one word – education, and the fact that those topics were NEVER taboo! You educated both my brother and me about sex, not only from the biological aspects, but even more so the emotional aspects that go along with having sex before you are mature enough to handle it. It seems to me, you always explained things in steps that coincided with my own level of maturity. I remember one conversation in particular regarding hormones and about the difference of what boys think about vs. what girls think about when it comes to sex and romance. Drinking, drugs, and all the rest of the stuff were the same. You taught me to make good decisions and respect my own body, so none of that really interested me.” When I finally fell in love for the first time in College, whether or not to engage in sex or not, became a decision based on personal exploration and understanding of myself – not peer pressure or heat of the moment.”

Mom: “I’m so thankful for your views, those issues present some of the biggest challenges for parents. We always wanted you to learn how to trust your own instincts and give you the tools to make the wisest choices. Anything else you want to share?”

Daughter: “One of the craziest things is everything you and dad told me during middle school and high school..I mean absolutely everything…turned out to be true. The whole mean/jealous girls – boys liking the flirty, loose girls – typical teenage angst stuff completely dissolved when I went to college. High School, and the emotional roller coaster ride that goes along with it, is one big cloud of pretension that fades away soon after you get your diploma. I learned as soon as I got to college, that you could be smart, sweet and not dress provocatively, and there are a whole lot of “cool” guys out there who will like you just the way you are…..JUST like you and dad had predicted.”

Mom: “Well, that one was easy, no special genius parenting skills needed there. We were both just telling you what we had already been through. That part of adolescence never changes. Thank you for your honesty and for taking the time to share your thoughts with I’m hoping that somebody will read this and be inspired to start the dialogue with their children early, realizing how quickly those precious years will pass by. Thank you my beautiful daughter, I am thankful I get to be your MOM, and your Best Friend.”

Carpet Rendezvous For 2 ?

“Date Night” during the early child-rearing years, was one of our more lofty priorities. However, the execution of the great get-away, wasn’t always so easy to pull-off. Scrounging up enough “expendable” cash to spend on dinner, movie & a sitter – not to mention the sometimes arduous task of choosing a restaurant we both were in the mood for – often snuffed out the “romantic flame” before we even got out our front door.

During those financially challenging years ( when we actually kept a ledger of every expense down to a pack of trident) a night out on-the-town was considered a luxury.  I remember one night in particular when funds were too low to go out, we decided to get a little creative. After our kids were fast asleep, we spread out a soft comforter in the middle of the den and proceeded to have a romantic “carpet rendezvous.” I lit the candles, he poured us a glass of inexpensive wine. Fortunately for our sake, once our children were out for the night, not even a hurricane the size of Hugo could rouse them from their slumber. That night, though over 20 years ago, still remains fresh in my memory because it was just so simple, sweet and spontaneous…requiring no cash, sitter or reservations (in addition to the fact my husband stood up after the fireworks and said “Alrighty Then”…in his spot-on Ace Ventura aka Jim Carrey voice).

Today, the funny man and I have as much independence as we want. Our kids are adults and have their own lives. The one time “teenage hang-out” house feels like a quiet B & B complete with Vacancy sign in the window (which occasionally gets turned around when “said kids” choose to grace us with their presence). Offspring out of college making their own way equals extra fun money for parents to go out and enjoy whatever they want – whenever they want…right? Turns out, after years of saving, scheduling, planning and making sure all the conditions were perfect before we could relax and enjoy a night on the town. . .just when glorious “freedom” is ours. . .staying at home by the fire, cuddled up on a furry throw while watching an On Demand Movie on our own TV… sounds pretty awesome. After calling Chinese take-out I say, “hey light the candles and I’ll pour the Shiraz…,” he replies, “Alrighty Then…!”

Keys To Successful Relationships

What Is Your “Secret” to Keeping Love Alive?

It seems that self-help books such as “The Five Love Languages” and “Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships,” have increased in popularity over the last decade as the divorce rate continues to rise. Couples are finding it more and more difficult to find reasons to stay together as opposed to calling it quits and seeking greener pastures.

Since I have this new forum with, I thought it would be interesting to ask all my readers to share their own personal “tips” or intimacy secrets that have helped them obtain and sustain a thriving relationship. I’ve also been posing the question to girlfriends who are in successful relationships.

Tracy, who just celebrated 27 years of marriage, says one of the things that has helped the most – especially when her children were younger and her husband was traveling 3 to 4 days a week – was the establishment of date night. Date night provided a focused time for them to reconnect in a boy/girl way, as opposed to all of their conversations being about kids and practical family management issues. Even though her kids are older now, she still loves date night because she is able to share her feelings about interesting things she experiences during the day, as well as get-in-touch with what her hubby has on his mind, which just breeds healthy communication.

Rachel, mother of four and happily married for 21 years, says she tells all her friends that her favorite tip is “keep the fighting clean…and the sex dirty” . . .!

It’s Your Turn ! The Forum is Open. . .

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The “No-Frills” Gene

A Marriage Made In . . . DNA ?

In recent years, geneticists have discovered that some people are actually born happy. Fortuitously, they possess the “happy gene” which makes their frontal lobe a little more colorful than their melancholy counterpart. In May, our only daughter announced that she and her fiance had decided to get married…in May, as in the that very same month. In addition, neither one of them had any desire to have a formal wedding, but rather would like to celebrate their nuptials with an extensive honeymoon in Europe. What would be incredibly unthinkable to many (especially mother’s of an only daughter) was not only acceptable to us, but actually quite appealing. Which only makes sense because she was the offspring of parents who also chose to go the “no-frills-wedding” route. Her father and I got married two weeks after his “so…ya, wanna get in two weeks..” proposal. Our marriage license required the signature of both our fathers because we were only 20 years old!

Now, a funny thing (well, more accurately) a discovery happened on the way to toast the courthouse newlyweds. As my husband and I discussed our daughter’s choice to say “I do” in front of a Justice of the Peace, we reminisced about our own wedding day, which of course was the best day of both our lives. I said, “you know, my mom and dad got married at the courthouse.” He gasped. “NO friggin way, you never told me that before!” My mom and dad had divorced when I was young, so I guess I never really filled in that blank. “You realize how bizarre this is…remember, my mom and dad did not have a big wedding, and also got married at the courthouse” he said. “So weird, I agreed, must be something in our DNA!”

Seven months later after our daughter and son-in-law returned from their honeymoon, we were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with our  daughter’s new in-laws. After an amazing meal, topped off with a few glasses of wine, pumpkin pie and football…it happened. Our “must be a gene” theory, came full circle. Turns out, the parent’s of the groom also handed down the “no-frills” gene. Out of the blue, one afternoon in the midst of their short romance, he called her on the phone and asked her if she wanted to get married…today. She said yes, so they drove to the Justice of the Peace and sealed the deal. This year they will be celebrating their “25th” wedding anniversary in Vegas !

No wedding bells or bouquets, but at the end of the day . . . our beloved “always practical” daughter had found her “perfectly practical” prince, which was not only meant to be..but already mapped out in their “no frills” DNA. Now we can only hope they both have the everlasting love gene.

My Mother, My Best Friend

From An Adult Daughter’s Perspective . . . Part I

mom young

My mother, Helen

Whenever I hear so-called parenting “experts” parrot the opinion-du-jour regarding child rearing, my ears prick up -I have to stop and listen – to see if their profound advice matches my experience. I do this purely for entertainment purposes now that my two children are “off-the-teet and out the door” making their own way in this crazy world.

Dr. Phil often advises parents of troubled teens that they can not be their children’s best friends and their parents too. Obviously, this advice is situational and mainly targeted to those parents who lack basic parenting skills and have kids who are out of control. But way too often, that advice is taken out of context  by other child psychologists – relayed as a blanket statement – and the message people hear is black and white. “Parents, you should NEVER attempt to be your child’s best friend.”

Upon hearing this …my blood pressure goes up and the little hairs on the back of my neck rise up in protest! My visceral   reaction to this kind of one-size-fits-all psycho-speak is because – not only was my mother my parent and boundary setter, she was definitely my best friend. In fact, not only was she my best friend, but also the trusted confidant of many of my friends (unusual, I know). So, I surmise – perhaps, it is the child psychologist’s use and definition of the word “friend” that is lost in translation, when they actually mean buddy or pal. Truly, we all know  – as adults who have survived adolescence and beyond – a buddy is most definitely not always a friend.

mom and alison

One of our few pictures together, I was 9

Since I lost my mom to cancer when I was only 19 years old, I have to do a bit of exploring to understand how she was able to accomplish that delicate balance. What I discovered upon delving into my earliest memories, was it was “safe” to tell my mother anything without fear of retribution, judgement or even worse….the brush-off. When I was only eight years old, a 13-year-old big sister of my neighborhood pal decided it was her duty to tell me all about the birds and bees (childhood equivalent of an earthquake). In shock and horror I ran home, tears streaming down my face and questioned my mom…”mommy is it it that how babies are made?” She sat me down and calmly explained, that was indeed how I was created, but (as she always did) she retold the story with tender precision, educating me with the proper medical terminology and context for which sex would be appropriate. Her answer both comforted me and helped me store that bit of info away for another day – just like that I was back outside riding my bicycle without a care in the world (…well maybe a few “aftershocks” of …gross..really? come on).


Her last picture taken, just a few months before she passed away

The impromptu sex-ed talk would lead to many more provocative discussions between my mom and I over the next decade. Each confidential conversation sealed more deeply, my confidence in her wisdom as a parent and her “I’m here for you under any circumstances” attitude. She had been there..she had done that…she had inherent wisdom to share with me on the subject that my teenage girlfriends were clueless about. She listened without making me feel stupid for asking “silly” questions, she encouraged me to trust my own instincts and learn how to trust my gut in confusing situations, she loved me unconditionally.  Thank you Mom, for preparing me for the toughest job in life. I miss you today and every day.