Browsing the archives for the family category

Continuous Change

Change, family, Life as it is, Mistakes, Spiritual Journey

A very long time ago, I was introduced to the idea of continuous improvement – or to use the japanese term, kaizen. Nowadays it means a lot of formal processes and is an integral part in LEAN processes and Six Sigma and such, but when I first heard it 25 years ago, I only knew it was a powerful idea about continuous improvement – and that it had possibilities in work or in one’s life.

I’d love to tell you that I embraced it, and lived it fully, and give you a field report of what its like to have lived 25 years of continuous change. But I can’t.

Circles and Neon

My problem with continuous improvement – or even slight improvement – is that it involves change. And like Monk once said, “I don’t mind change, as long as I am not there when it happens.” And when I am busy trying to not make any mistakes, or do that perfectionism thing, I become rigid and inflexible – and so I resist change. And then that continuous improvement thing just can’t breathe and dies.

But this is on my mind at the moment for a few reasons. First, I am about to experience a significant amount of change in my life as my daughter will return home soon. And secondly, I have recently come to the realization that change is an intrinsic part of improvement.

My son and I have been living together alone for most of the past year, since my daughter was hospitalized. And while it hasn’t been perfect, it has – for the most part – worked. That is, it has worked in a way that is a change from the way things did not work when last my daughter lived here. So as much joy as I feel to have my wonderful daughter back in my daily life, I also feel some fear of the unknown.

They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.
–Confucius

Things were not working well before, and then things did work, and that move from not working to working is both a change and an improvement. This next change is coming – and it can be an improvement. (While all improvement must be a change, not all change is an improvement.)

So as I have considered this and looked at it, and given myself permission to feel the feelings as long as it doesn’t keep me from getting things done that need to happen for this to work, I thought I would share some of the ideas that I am having on the subject:

  • I am the author of my life and so I can write this next chapter – or at least outline and start it – the way I think it could go. This is a rejection to the passivity that I used to have to change, and means I have a chance to influence the change to be an improvement. Maybe even a big improvement.
  • The only place I can author this change is in my choices of what I do. I don’t get to choose for anyone else what they will do. Trust me, I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work. But my own choices, that is where the rubber meets the road.
  • Some of the changes coming may be changes I will really enjoy. Like going to the symphony with my daughter again and shooting with our cameras.
  • Some of the changes I may not enjoy. I don’t like the decions that others make sometimes. And where that conflicts with my boundaries and my responsibilities as a parent, I sometimes must choose to do things I would rather not do – or in a more basic form, I don’t want to live through some of the things I have had to live through in the past.
  • I have chosen to embrace change – to be open to its possibilities. It feels frightening – but only in that way that doing the right thing seems to stir fear up for me.

So that is where I am. I have finally come to the realization that I will never have the sort of life that gets better and better every day unless I have a life that keeps improving. And continuous improvement really just means continuous change (that we hope will be positive more times than not).

If today is going to be better than yesterday, then I need to let the day change to let that happen. (Otherwise it would be the same, you know?)

If nothing ever changed, there’d be no butterflies.
–Author Unknown

How about you and change? How do you handle it? Are you comfortable with it? What gets you through the times when lots of things all change at once?

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Being a Dad through Self-Injury

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey, Vulnerability

All I had to do was type that title, and I felt fear. So I will face those feelings and tell you that I am going to touch on my journey as a father of a child who self-injured herself repeatedly. Whether you call it cutting or self-mutilation or whatever, I am talking about when you find your child or teen is hurting themselves.

Play with Me

I was looking through some old notes and journals from years ago, and I found an entry from five years ago this month:

My daughter cut herself again Wednesday, getting suspended by her school for bringing the knife to school, and getting busted for the cutting. Lots of emotions around this including ones of guilt, or that it is my fault for being so fucked up emotionally.

But one impulse is the Warrior impulse. She is in danger, I must protect her. But there is no tangible entity for me to attack. The Warrior is frustrated. I want to turn it off, the emotions are painful. But this is a good impulse, it comes from the right part of me, and trying to deal with it without trying to crush it has been hard.

My punching bag got a big workout last night. A recent acquisition, done in part to give me a safe outlet for my emotions. And yet when I was done, I was just hanging onto the bag, praying, and I remember hugging the bag as if it was my higher power.

That was my world back then, and I have made many mistakes since then and I have learned many things, and so in hoping to help someone else going through this same situation, here are some of the things I have learned. I am unable to tell my daughter’s story, all I can do is tell my own as a parent.

It’s not a short story, so I will probably have to just list my mistakes and what I got right. We are talking about a story that started a half-dozen years ago at least and still continues today. It was a progressive problem moving from scratches to cuts to needing stitches to an incidents requiring a surgeon to put her back together.

Here’s a summary of some of my mistakes:

  • Treated it like it was all her problem instead of working on family system and my part in it
  • Thinking I caused it, that I could control it, or at least cure it
  • Let “her not cutting” become one of the biggest goals for myself
  • Accepted unacceptable and abusive behavior towards me under the foolish notion that I could endure it and at least she wasn’t cutting herself

Here’s some of what I did correctly:

  • Set consequences requiring medical attention each time as it allowed natural consequences to take place
  • Refused to be ashamed or treat any of this as a secret – keeping communication open
  • Attended parenting support classes for troubled teams
  • Created a “care team” of her doctor, school nurse, and psychologist – getting them talking to each other
  • Learned the three C’s – I didn’t cause it, I can’t control it, and i can’t cure it
  • Got my daughter into local “Alternate Peer Groups”
  • Let her suffer consequences; while loving her and holding her hand as much as possible

There’s a song that was a big part of this journey for both my daughter and myself and we would often listen to it together. In her longer runs of trying to turn away from this behavior, she would often walk around singing it to give herself courage. Here are some of the words (and here is a blip.fm playlist with it).

Hero (Red Pill Remix)
Superchick

No one talks to her, she feels so alone
Shes in too much pain to survive on her own
The hurt she can’t handle overflows to a knife
She writes on her arm, wants to give up her life
Each day she goes on is a day that she is brave,
Fighting the lie that giving up is the way,
Each moment of courage her own life she saves
When she throws the pills out a hero is made

This is one of those blog entries that was hard to write, but I kept thinking about where I was years ago and how alone and cut off I felt. I mean I had to be a failure as a dad to not protect my daughter, right? And now years later I can turn to the frightened father I was and say,

“You are not a failure for having a daughter go through this, and as long as you can keep loving her (no matter how much you hate what she does to herself), you are doing well. The only way you can fail is to stop caring.

But you do have to get some distance from it, you have to demonstrate self-care in the face of self-destruction. You have to enforce rules and let consequences be what they are – even if it hurts. If she chooses the consequences, you must respect her decision. But as long as you keep loving her, she will see you over there and it will help her.”

Yeah, that’s what I need to tell any dad going through this. I shared that image above of me holding onto my punching bag, like my higher power. Ultimately I had to let him take care of my daughter and trust in that care. Its something I am still working on every day.

My daughter called while I was writing this, and she encouraged me – even reminded me that I mentioned writing something for other parents long ago. She also told me that she has not self-injured for over six months now – one of the longest stretches of time she has ever put together day by day. I say that in part so you can help celebrate, and also in part because it’s a daily victory.

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Testing the Teacher

family, Life as it is

At some point, we have probably all wondered it.  How much is the teacher really reading of each essay that every student turns in? Does the teacher really read every word, or does the teacher just focus on a few sections of the essay?

Apparently my son tried to find an answer to this mystery. This is his one-page essay I found:

Romeo and Juliet

Juliet probably felt angry at her parents since she still loves and respects them, but she’s trying to be with Romeo, not Paris. Blah. Other things, various words. Capulets and the Montegues, drinks potion, marry Paris.

She also probably resents the Nurse for thinking she should marry Paris. On another note, vrei sa pleci dar nu ma, nu ma iei, nu ma, nu ma iei, nu ma, nu ma, nu ma iei. That has no relevance, and the nurse thinks the plan will fail.

Paris is in an awkward position, since Juliet is already married. On a complete random streak – I see a little silhouetto of a man, Scaramouche, scaramouche will you do the fandango. Juliet doesn’t want to mary Paris. (Shakespeare 404)

Juliet trusts Friar Lawrence enough to take his potion, and when you’re down and looking for some cheering up, then just head right on up to the candy mountain cave. Charlie was robbed of his kidneys and Juliet drank the potion.

His score on this essay? 100

What, exactly is a parent to do here? Hacking the teacher probably isn’t the right thing to do, but then again, he did get an A. What would you do?

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Tonight, My Dad Flew Away

family, Life as it is, Love, Spiritual Journey

The phone rang just a little over an hour ago. It was my step-mom calling to tell me that my father had passed away and was now in a better place.

My Dad
A photo from Dad’s 80th birthday party earlier this year

I had visited earlier in the evening, and the visit began with security stopping me from rounding to corner to my dad’s room as they were moving one of the residents out of the hospice after they had died. The guard commented that it was four of them that day, but wouldn’t tell me who it was or what room number they were from. I was scared it was my dad – he had already stayed with us much longer than the doctors suggested a couple of weeks ago when this journey began.

When I could finally move on, I found my dad asleep in his room. I felt relief to see him still there. Unbidden, I remembered Dylan Thomas’s poem, Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I had the strongest desire to both cheer for him and to weep. I felt the impact of the thought behind the line of “Curse, Bless me now…” as I didn’t want him to stay and suffer but I was still blessed by his continued fight. Right or wrong, I needed to see him wanting to stay here a bit longer, no matter how prepared I knew him to be to go through that door. There should be some sort of barrier there, some sort of guardrail – or at least speedbump – between life and death. I know we all will cross that line, but I needed to see the resistance there.

He couldn’t speak tonight, and I realized on my drive home, I had already heard him say my name for the last time yesterday. While there, I visited with my step-mom and got her something to eat. I held my dad’s hand and left a long and lingering kiss on his warm forehead before leaving – promising to be back again at the same time tomorrow as I had been doing. I told him I loved him.

Last week he had all of his children by his bedside at the hospice, and we all discussed his plans for his funeral. He requested his friends’ bluegrass band to play, and said he wanted them to play, I’ll Fly away. My dad turned 80 years old earlier this year and the band played for that occasion as well. When they were finished, my dad raised his hand and asked them to sing that song then as well. I think we all felt some foreshadowing at the time, but he was having fun and the party was a joy, and really, it’s a very happy song.

I’ll Fly Away

Some bright morning when this life is over
I’ll fly away
To that home on God’s celestial shore
I’ll fly away

I’ll fly away oh glory
I’ll fly away (in the morning)
When I die hallelujah by and by
I’ll fly away

When the shadows of this life have gone
I’ll fly away
Like a bird from these prison walls I’ll fly
I’ll fly away

Oh how glad and happy when we meet
I’ll fly away
No more cold iron shackles on my feet
I’ll fly away

Just a few more weary days and then
I’ll fly away
To a land where joys will never end
I’ll fly away

My dad has now flown away. I am grateful for all that he taught me. Even tonight, no longer able to speak, he was teaching me about how precious life is. And he teaches me still as I listen to the song now on my MP3 player. I feel sorrow and loss, but I also feel gratitude and joy as well. It’s a strange mix, and I m grateful to have the chance to share this with y’all.

I love you, dad. Fly high and free to that land where joys will never end.

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Rigid and Inflexible – Like Iron Man?

family, Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Quite a few weekends ago, I assembled what I thought were all of the right elements to get some work done and to have some fun with friends in the process. The fun didn’t really happen like I thought it would, so I reviewed the day with another friend. She listened and then saw immediately the problem.

“You were being rigid and inflexible.”



I didn’t like how that line of observations was going, so I changed subjects and discussed an issue about my daughter, and what might have caused things to blow up like they did. Again she saw an answer.

“You were being Rigid and Inflexible.”

Damn it, I think she might be right. And that isn’t a good thing. It used to be how I lived – this rigid inflexibility about what I planned, what I expected or what I wanted. But I also know of times where instead of being so rigid, I was flexible and able to adapt to circumstances. So what was putting me back into a rigid shell?

As I wondered, I looked on the ‘Net and found this quote in an essay by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame):

We all operate in two contrasting modes, which we call open and closed. The open mode is more relaxed, more receptive, more exploratory, more democratic, more playful and more humorous. The closed mode is the tighter, more rigid, more hierarchical, more tunnel-visioned mode that we find ourselves in so much of the time. When is this closed, tight, solemn mode helpful?

Only when action is urgently required, it seems. If you want a decision in two minutes, don’t open up the discussion. If you’re leaping a ravine, the moment of takeoff is a bad time for considering alternative strategies. When you charge the enemy machine-gun post, don’t waste energy trying to see the funny side of it. Act, narrow-mindedly.

But the moment the action is over, we need to return to the open mode; to open our minds again to all the feedback from our action that enables us to tell whether the action has been successful, or whether further action is needed to improve on what we’ve done. In other words, we must return to the open mode, because in that mode we are most aware, most receptive, most creative, and therefore at our most intelligent.

And this fit my situation well. I was, metaphorically speaking, charging multiple machine gun posts in the internal urgency and importance of the work to be done. “It had to be done,” I remembered saying again and again when people wanted to quit.

I was armored in a rigid suit like Iron Man and doing battle.

Sometimes I really like the suit, and I like the narrow-minded approach of, “there is only the next mission, and the mission after that.” But the suit also isolates me from others I care about.

So how then to live outside the armor? I started doing two things. I started just taking the time to meditate and be still and remind myself there is no battle needing to be fought at that moment. I also sought laughter – to see the humor in my own actions, and also to rent some comedies to watch with my son.

How did I take off the armor?

I started playing again.

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