My Mother Passed Away The Day Before Yesterday

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. I knew I would eventually experience this day, and well, as I think about it, I am glad I have. If I had not, her son would have went before her and that is a pain no parent should ever have to bear. My surviving dad, in whose living room I now sit and write these words, is repeating the mantra through anguish and tears, “I always wanted to go first, dammit.” He now has to bear the pain of losing a spouse of nearly 60 years. I don’t think he means those words as then it would have been his spouse, lover and life partner now bearing this unparalleled pain. Yet guttural pain is not known for its reasoning skills, nor should it.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. My dad does not want to be left alone -for even one second- therefore I am now performing my role in the rotating schedule of figure person of strength, courage, support and above all, love. He wants to simultaneously cry, reflect, cry, take care of business, cry, sleep, cry and cry some more. The thought has crossed his children’s minds that he may now want to take his own life to go be with her. He will not be left alone at this time –for even one second.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. How am I you ask? I was already fearful of my mental and emotional health when one, or both, of my parents passed. Just a few years ago when my mother had a terrible health scare I was paralyzed with anxiety for days. However, I feel very little anxiety at this time. Death is such a powerful force–there is no arguing with it, compromising with it, negotiating with it…death wins. I believe the peace I am currently feeling is due to the absolute fact that death is the ultimate, there-is-nothing-you-can-do-about-so-what’s-the-point? feeling. The strongest emotion is “missing”….meaning dealing with the reality that I now will always miss her.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday. The most beautiful, and quite unexpected, reality of this situation is the powerful presence of love: The love that is holding us all together at this time. The intense love of my life partner, whose inner beauty is only matched by one other person, and she passed away the day before yesterday. The love I see in my children’s eyes for their grandparents, parents, cousins and family members. The love that has been hibernating now for decades has now awoken…the love I have for my siblings. And the love for the man who, along with the woman who passed away the day before yesterday, brought me into this world.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, so what is next? In many ways, I have no idea. No clue. No hint. And don’t care. Yet I do know I am going to love on my father in a way I have never loved before. I do know love is going to get us through. I do know this rogue, independent man of reason, is not so rogue, independent, or even reasonable. I need the love of family. I need to emotionally vent. I need my children as much as they currently need their father.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday, and I am seeing the love, support and encouragement of both close friends and acquaintances, colleagues and gym buddies and my beloved and precious students both past and present. All of these groups, in particular my students, have no idea of the depth and extreme importance of what their support, love and encouragement means to me. Thank you. Really. Thank you.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday and I now sit on her couch, in her room, in her house. I look at her things, embrace her unique touch and style and steep in the thankfulness of the many precious treasures that woman has brought into my life. One of my fondest memories is a letter she wrote me when I was 14 years-old, at the height of my teen “shit show” powers. The woman who passed away the day before yesterday was not a terribly expressive or tactile person when I was growing up. This letter was I all I needed and went it something like this:

“Dear Jim, I know I do not tell you I love you a lot or give you a lot of hugs, but you must know that every day that I make your breakfast, lunch and dinner; do your laundry or drive you to practice; clean your room or make your bed, is me telling you how much I love you. Please never forget that. I love you.”

 That is all this 14 year-old needed to hear.

My mother passed away the day before yesterday.

Damn.

Creepy Guy Part II: A Progressive Female Feminist Perspective

I would like to depart from the normal expression of my thoughts and hand the blog over to my oldest daughter, Rosie, a resident of London and passionate civil rights advocate. Rosie kindly gave me permission to post her impassioned private response to my latest blog entry concerning creepy guys. I received A LOT of feedback from this blog in many forms –conversations, emails, formal written responses, yet, in all, I believe her response strikes to the core of the issue that must be shared.

First, a few things to give some context:

  • In spite of the fact the primary intent of the blog was either poorly communicated or misunderstood, with said intent being the use of all generalized terms that tend to classify large groups of people in general, unproductive and stereotypical fashion, she does strike at the more troubling deeper societal concern: Patriarchal power and practice that many believe necessitates the need to identify the “creepy guy;” which, upon reflection, is a gravely more important issue than the stance one takes on the use of the word creep.
  • Secondly, it is important to note the “conversation” she refers to me having -it never happened -it was a facebook post, stating the creepiness of all older men, which was mistaken for a conversation. In reality, I never responded to the “facebooker” at all; yet Rosie’s points are still very well taken and appreciated.
  • Lastly, if you want to hear an EXCELLENT podcast from an expert on fear, Gavin de Becker, and in particular the fear women experience on a daily basis, this is a must listen. Quite frankly, as I come to a better understanding of this fear and educate myself, it simultaneously makes me both very sad and very angry. I so appreciate those like Rosie who can assertively state their point of view and better inform the rest of us all the while not taking shit from anyone. I wish we had more like her.

So sit back and allow my girl to unpack on her pops…

I just want to unpack my thoughts after I read your blog, so I’m not directly attacking your post or you as a writer at all, but it was a trigger for me, and these are the thoughts that I want to express after reading it. 

A woman told you about her experiences of unwanted sexual attention from men and you centered it on you. With privilege, sometimes what we need to do is listen.

As women, from the time we are sexualized in the eyes of society we experience ‘creepy’ men daily in the form of microaggressions. We are primed from our early teens to behave in ways that make us innately respond with non-aggression (out of fear) and de-escalate. This is basically instinct for most women.

This is from a well written piece on de-escalation, and how men can struggle to understand it: “Maybe they don’t know that at the tender age of 13 we had to brush off adult men staring at our breasts. Maybe they don’t know that men our dad’s age actually came on to us while we were working the cash register. They probably don’t know that the guy in English class who asked us out sent angry messages just because we turned him down. They may not be aware that our supervisor regularly pats us on the ass. They likely have no idea how often these things happen. That these things have become routine. So expected that we hardly notice it anymore. We learn at a young age how to do this. We didn’t put a name or label to it. We didn’t even consider that other girls were doing the same thing. But we were teaching ourselves, mastering the art of de-escalation.”

But it doesn’t have to be as explicit as a threat. It can be a look, a comment, a smirk. The microaggressions women experience on a daily basis contribute to the institutionalised construct of patriarchy. Without the sexualization of women on the very micro of levels, the patriarchy wouldn’t exist. Think of sexism like building blocks, the first block is the ‘creepy’ look a man gives you that makes you feel unsafe, the next block is the slap on the ass, the next the threat when you rejected his date invitation, the next is the missed promotion and wage gap, so on and so forth until you have every element that contributes to the marginalization of women. When we are addressing institutions like sexism, every block must crumble, including the smallest of microaggressions, and women need to platform their voice and not de-escalate. We must feel safe to voice when we are receiving unwanted sexual attention from men, because this is beneficial for the macro. However, the trigger for most men is Not me! I’m not creepy! I’m not the problem!

Women do not owe you anything. Women are entitled to think someone is creepy. I know you would have not viewed this conversation as a big deal, but when a woman is telling you of her experiences of unwanted sexual attention, instead of victimizing yourself and tone-policing her (or language-policing in this instance), listen. It’s not about you – and the usage of the word creepy is not on our radar. We have other things to worry about (like smashing the patriarchy!)

Being ‘politically correct’ (or the preferred word, intersectional) is hard, and it’s not easy. The past year especially I’ve spent unpacking my privilege, my whiteness, and how that has affected my perceptions and experiences in every single aspect of my life. When a person of color says something that I view as attacking, and my first instinct is to defend myself (I’m not racist! I’m not the problem here! Not all white people! White people have struggles too you know!) and center it on myself because as white people that is what is taught and what is accepted our entire lives – that our experiences are more important and worthy of a voice (thus it’s an easy mode to default back on – and because you know how stubborn I am anyway). When in fact, the most valuable thing we can learn is “I hear you.” We need to start breaking those building blocks and learn to be an ally with even the most mundane of conversations. But it’s not easy because it’s so damn uncomfortable and tempting to go back to our default response – especially as we get older and think our worldviews are correct and solidified and that we have the right to shout the loudest. 

Sexism and racism are societal constructs. None of us want to consider that we might be sexist or racists on an individual level, but we must accept we have been brought up in a white supremacist patriarchy and we have innate privilege (white women do not hold male privilege as we don’t stand to benefit from the institution of patriarchy, but we hold white privilege, and this dynamic of power is strong). White people have always had a platform for their voices to be heard, white males particularly. I really love your writing, but I think it can be a little toxic when you are using your platform in a way that’s projecting males as ‘victims.’ There are other posts (on police and people of color) that were also difficult for me to read. We must always be unpacking our worldviews and how they are evolving and changing within the scope of intersectionality and feminism, in a personal and a communications context. I learned about privilege and intersectionality in my Intercultural Coms class – I’m really grateful my professor introduced that curriculum as it started to emerge academically, but I have so much more learning to do. We are all learning and we are all trying to do better; we all CAN do better and it starts with listening and with conversations and blog posts and so on.  

Here’s a really great article on being a ‘responsible’ devil’s advocate, I really recommend it: https://the-orbit.net/brutereason/2013/08/10/how-to-be-a-responsible-devils-advocate/

And here’s the de-escalation article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html

Anyway, that has OBVIOUSLY digressed away from your blog post, which I am not attacking, but stuff I have wanted to share for a while, that you don’t have to take on board (and it’s fine if you don’t want to) but I wanted to unpack with you. 

I’m honored. Thank you.

Protests, Oral Sex, Coming Out, Being “Kinda” Gay and Compassion. Wow. What Just Happened?

Wow. Never before and perhaps never again.

Let me explain.

I really like to keep all my classes organic -with a point. I want the point to be made- yet keep open all the infinite ways the means by which it may be made. Typically the weirder the better, as I find students remember concepts much more vividly.

Be careful when you get what you want.

The class began rather normally and I did not see what was coming. Not a clue. In my traditional courses -as opposed to my hybrid/online course where there is very limited room for flexibility- we have opportunity to meander and “Golden Snake” quite a bit, particularly on days like this one when we are in between delivering speeches.

In general, the climate of this class is normally subdued and mellow. Not a quiet class, yet not a loud class either. Some students in the 18 member group have never talked at all…with these students I am the speech dentist, attempting to extract thoughts from their brains as painlessly as possible.

Not today. No need.

I began the 3 hour course with a lecture/discussion on the positives and negatives of the use of public protest as a means of political action. Such a lecture is quite relevant for a public speaking course as said protests carry a form of public speaking, not to mention the political process is on the forefront of nearly everyone’s mind at the moment.

I suppose it was not surprising that the discussion began to get heated. Going against my natural wiring, I did not assert my thoughts and opinions very much…there was no need as the class was providing the required fodder for spirited debate and discussion. I had the pleasure of acting as more moderator than instigator, clarifier over invigorator, and referee not player.

As the class purged their opinions on the current political climate and protests specifically, the discussion took a turn in the direction of LGBTQ when a normally quiet student, a 19 year-old lesbian (we had no idea until that moment) declared she was recently kicked out of her house by her conservative father upon revealing she was homosexual.

We discussed. We opined. We pondered. We empathized. We cared.

Then the strangest thing happened. An older and much more vocal student, who dropped hints during the semester of his religious affiliations and somewhat eccentric nature, informed the class he was a homosexual for a few years and really enjoyed oral sex with men during that period…yet he is straight and married now.

What. The. Fuck.

Did Captain Inappropriate just strike or what?

Aside from the obvious general bewilderment as to why one would even offer up that information to an entire class…how does a person turn gay and then straight again? Did he just really say that? Why?

This then sparked a conversation about being “kinda gay” and the spectrum of sexuality.

Perhaps it was just me that was bewildered concerning this seemingly out-of-place and strange comment- but then the floodgates opened. Another rather quiet student in the back of the class opened up about how she was sexually assaulted within the past year and her parents instructed her to not talk about it or tell anyone. She began crying…and crying…and crying.

This student was not a drama queen. Conversely, she is a stoic, tough, and strong young lady.  As she broke down, she confessed that this behavior was all an act as she DOES care what people think, she IS hurt and that her strained relationship with her mother is killing her inside. She recently signed up for the military -to escape- and is not telling her mother until the day she leaves.

We listened. And as the class gently responded to her, the tones of their voices drenched with empathy and love, I realized one can be untruthful with words, yet tones do not lie. This was real.

Then an older student, the class matriarch if you will, who came over from the Sudan 14 years ago, got up out of her seat and walked over to her just to hold her in her arms, as if perfectly scripted and brilliantly blocked out. And yes, the poetry of a woman from a “banned” country being the source of unity and love did not escape me.

The class was silent. Yet even the most silent of students would gingerly chime in a comment…comments that were poignant, soothing, and well, brilliant, as if something beyond the totality of the present individuals were guiding their tongues and caressing their minds.

The open confessions kept coming. A man opened up concerning his 16 year-old daughter who was recently stalked by an older man and was attempting to arrange an illicit affair with her; a young man, who just moments earlier was defending the recent Berkeley protestors and was visibly distraught, confessed he was bisexual while suffering from anxiety and depression on a daily basis…and could NEVER tell his parents for fear they would disown him.

It seemed everyone’s personality changed to accommodate this powerful dynamic that was taking place: The loud were quiet, the quiet just loud enough, and the apathetic empathetic.

I manufactured nothing. It was as if I jumped on this train and went along for the ride.

It was the most powerful 3 hours in my nearly 30 years of teaching.

We all were looking at each other with the facial expression suggesting, “What is happening right now?”

This was so much more than a “hippie dippie” Kumbaya moment. It was the kind of moment people pay hundreds of dollars per hour to a therapist to achieve.

Then the father of the 16 year-old suggested that perhaps this 3 hour lecture went full circle. As we began the day discussing the MACRO benefits and costs of a protest, we now realize the point of any protest must eventually benefit the MICRO of each of our lives.

If a macro protest is not undertaken with the ultimate objective to enrich what really matters in all our lives, for all people, for all countries -family, friends, love, trust, support, ie, the micro, it might just be a misguided protest.

A class that was divided minutes earlier came together and unified as our attention focused on what really matters, no matter our political associations or beliefs.

The class ended and the students slowly began filing out the door, changed to be sure, realizing something very special had just taken place.

I like to keep my lectures organic -with a point. And, on some days, the point is even made for me.

Why I Love My Partner Rene’

I am not big on the idea of public displays of affection (known in the biz as PDAs). Nor am I too hot on the idea of telling loved ones just how much I love them via social media–when I can just walk in the next room and tell them myself. In fact, my philosophy has long been that those couples who continually post love notes and “lovey dovey” pictures of their significant other on social media are likely the ones struggling the most in their PLLs (personal love lives).

It is as if the posting and public displays will somehow compensate for a struggling connection and perhaps may set the course straight. Or, maybe, we would just like to provide the world with an impression of our relationship that it is ideal when, in reality, it is far from it.  I have known far too many men and women on a personal relational level who I know are struggling greatly in their PLLs…yet one would NEVER know it via their social media. The deeper the struggle comes a commensurate rise in the “lovey dovey,” carefully crafted, impression given in their social media lives.

Ahhh, social media. The king of impression management.

Regardless of the motivation, this is my evolving and working theory in regards to interpersonal communication and technology. Therefore what I am about to write does not fall into this category. Or I do not think it does…at least on a conscious level. What I am about to write is not a description of my loving relationship; rather it is a tribute to the person, my partner, whom I deeply love. It is about her…not me…not us…her and only her.

So why this and why now? Two reasons:

One, I am currently reflective as this month marks the 31st year we have been officially together, 35 years unofficially, and we typically like to honor the other with our thoughts and feelings. Secondly, I would like to go public with my sentiments because we live in a world of divorce, strife and relational hardships…our relationship is a sign that, with creative and outside-the-box problem solving and thinking, long-term love and devotion can indeed exist.

To begin, when I tell people I have a partner named Rene’ they immediately think he is a gay Spanish dude. Far from it, Rene’ is very much a female who is my partner. Why partner? You can read about that here.

Rene’ is a partner in nearly every sense of the word. We partner in parenting, we partner in finance, we partner in domestic duties, we partner in nearly all aspects of our lives. Through mutual support, we even partner in our freedoms.

I have told Rene’ on a number of occasions that her funeral eulogy will be so unfortunate. In a time in which we whitewash and sing the praises of even the most miserly souls when they depart, people will be singing the saintly praises of Rene’ and only I will know that, not only are all the praises going to be true, they will also not go far enough in their exaltation.

She is selfless, deeply caring, deeply passionate, and without question the most loving person I have ever met.  Her life is a devotion to everyone else. When you ask her a “favor” she does not view it as a burden, rather an opportunity to practice who and what she really is…a continual and full-time giver.

Stories? I have far too many accounts that demonstrate the lengths she will go to serve others. If you are reading this and you know her, I am quite certain you do as well. 3am and you need a friend? Rene’s goodness knows no time and place. I guarantee it.

Yet, her hyper-kindness only scratches the surface of her greatness.

She is an impressive professional who owns and operates her own vocal coaching business. Her students will testify to her amazing ability as a professional and vocal coach. Even though her goal is for every student to nurture their inner voice and use it to serve humanity as a whole, this does not mean that many of her students do not go on to professional fame on broadway or television…they do.

She can vocally coach you to be the best singer and performer you can possibly be…you might say she is the self-actualization coach of the vocal world.

In her 40’s she went back to college and earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees, not to mention her certificate to teach college reading. I have NEVER met another person with her work ethic…ever…and I know some pretty hard working people.

Personally, she strives to be the best Rene’ she can be. At the age of 50, she took up pole dancing and prances about on the pole like a child on the monkey bars during morning recess. She sings, she dances, and extracts all the youthful exuberance possible out of life. It is of little surprise that many of her closest friends are half her age as her physical years and spirit years are not at all aligned -with the latter being decades younger.

I said this was not about us…and it is not. Certainly I love her with all my heart…though who would not? Loving her is like loving breathing…what is there not to love? It is I who is blessed and showered with her goodness everyday, all day.

Damn did I get lucky. Rene’s is probably the only person on the planet who lets me be completely me…who wants me to be completely me, and if you know me, well, I’m just sayin….

There you have it. Probably my one and only shot at “tributing” the love of my life on social media.

And, hey, if I can find it, I know there is hope for all of us.

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Rebroadcast: Watch A (Once) Live Podcast With Jimmy, Tessa, and Jordan From New Orleans

Last May 27 we did a podcast form New Orleans and had the go-pro rolling. If you want to see a podcast…check it out. Like typical Urb conversation, we talk a lot of weird stuff…and it is usually centered around saving the planet in some way, shape, or form. You can even find out what kids are on Team Dad and who is on Team Mom -and why. Enjoy!

 

Family Values

Individuality. Responsibility. Tolerance. Sense of humor. Creativity. And what do each of these wonderful virtues have in common?

All are the central values that we desired to impart to our children as they were growing up.

Values are strange things in that everyone, yes, everyone, has them yet most have not stopped to identify and critically evaluate them.Family_ValuesF

When our eldest children were still very small, Rene’ and I adopted the idea of imparting “family values” to our children.  Perhaps some are unaware that the term “family values” was a conservative, right-leaning buzzphrase about 25 years ago (perhaps still is?? Not sure) that translated into adopting a rather conservative spin on one’s politics. I felt this to be unfortunate as, politically, I am fairly middle-of-the-road and really did not want to identify with any political branding. Yet I am a strong believer in both family and values while believing it is very important to impart discretion and wisdom to our young (or at least attempt to…I still surprise myself that at my age I am quite capable of lacking both…but I digress).

The political right used the idea of family values to provide the primary pathos of their party…as if they have corner on family values that the left sorely lacks. I would argue both parties have values -just fundamentally different ones to be sure. There is a lot of, “if your values are not my values they are not values” thinking going on. Perhaps the most striking example of this is the issue of gay rights -as both sides accuse the other of lacking values. I believe both sides have values…just radically different ones, generated from different places with different moral mindsets. Kim Davis, the Kentucky country clerk who went to jail for refusing to issue gay marriage licenses, is, in my opinion, a 4 time married, law breaking, hypocrite who should quit her position or go to prison. That said, I do believe she has values…just radically different ones from my own.

We adopted the term “family values” NOT in the sense of imparting conservative, right wing SHtuff to our children, rather the adopting values we felt to be important. Have our values changed in the past 25 years? In a word, yes. For example, personally, I would not have selected the value of tolerance -as it suggests to “put up with” something/someone. I would replace tolerance with a phrase that goes much further… love, for example. I am still very cool with responsibility, sense of humor and creativity….perhaps even moreso today than 25 years ago.

Taking responsibility for your own actions -not blaming others when things do not go your way, owning up to mistakes, etc… is a central tenet of the Urb clan. Rene’ has grown to believe creativity is the root of all humanity and I tend to agree. And a sense of humor? Life would not be worth living without it…to take ANYTHING, yourself included, too seriously is a serious Urb offense. Even at our most serious, we have learned to seriously laugh at ourselves and each other. I seriously love that.

I am very pleased to report that I believe we have accomplished imparting these values to our now adult children. Each child embodies these 5 values, with each child seeming to strongly emphasize one value in particular. For those of you know my family, I believe you can guess which one matches which value.

HOWEVER, if we were to change one of our original values, perhaps a value we wish we could take back, it most certainly would be that of individuality.  I do believe a healthy dose of being a very strong individual is a good thing, yet, like any good thing in abundance, it can go south….quickly.

To be a strong individual has a tremendous upside, particularly as you are growing up. To be strong in the face of peer pressure, to not allow others to determine your happiness, to stand up to wrongs and indifference, to fully develop your own unique voice and use it without apology, to question authority and, well, question everything, are all wonderful attributes -so what’s the problem?

As I think about it, strong individuality is a lot like drinking- the best part is concurrently the worst part. The worst part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions -the best part of drinking is that you do not care and make reckless decisions.

As I age, I realize the immense value and importance of community. Terrifically strong individuals typically make for poor members of a community. There is a time to give and a time to take; a time to sacrifice and a time to be a bit selfish; there is a place for “me” time yet I now realize there is a much more prominent place for “we” time.

Rene’ is much more collectivist in her thinking than I am. While I tend to be “looking out for number one,” Rene’ is too busy helping numbers two and three to be concerned with her number one status -and that is a beautiful thing. If I could go back and alter the Urb family values, I would try to find a value that balances the concern for self with the concern for others. That, or just eliminate it altogether. As I think about it, if one is tolerant, responsible, creative, and has a sense of humor, the idea of individuality is somewhat redundant at that point.

So what do we got? We have a family, even counting Rene’ in a strange sort of way, of fierce individuals. They are who they are with no apologies. Whatever they want in life they attack it…with a vengeance.

This December, when my daughter Rose and her man, Nathan, come for their long awaited visit for a few weeks, the house will once again be stuffed full of strong creative and individualistic energy. Oh sure we will fight over where to eat, what time to go to a certain place, what meal to cook, what temperature to set the thermostat, the volume and movie choice on Netflix, to put the accordion and trumpet away, and even who gets the front seat.

I suppose that is the price to pay for four children who could all potentially change over the world.

So, like them or not, for better or for worse, we have identified our values and have attempted to consistently enforce them for about 25 years now.

And remember, there is no “i” in values. It only took a mere quarter century to figure that one out.

Marriage

If you had an opportunity to start a business yet you knew going into it that you had a 90% chance of failure, would you start it?

Unless you are either overly optimistic or just plain dishonest, the answer would be a resounding no. Sure you might be the lucky 10%…yet not likely.

Yet, for those who are looking to get into this business of marriage, this is the approximate chance your marriage will be successful.

Allow me to explain.

While doing some research on marriage and divorce, I noticed some very interesting facts (a midst some very complicated and difficult-to-decipher statistics). For example:

  • Indeed it may seem at first glance somewhat counter intuitive, the states with the highest divorce rates, as of 2012, are the conservative, “bible belt” states.  For example, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Kentucky and Mississippi have the highest divorce rates of all states in the US, hovering around 4.8 divorces, per year, per 1000 people –translating to over around a 50% divorce rate over the life of the marriage (I did not count Nevada with a whopping divorce rate of 5.5 divorces for every 1000 people because, well, it’s Nevada and people get drunk, marry, divorce on any given weekend).
  • The lowest divorce rates in the US are by far the more liberal, educated states. For example, the lowest divorce rates in the country are New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Illinois -which has only 2.4 divorces, per year, per 1000 people.
  • The lone curve ball concerning the above data is that the lowest divorce state in the US is Iowa with only 2.2 divorces, per year, per 1000 residents. Go figure.

Now, trust me on this one, there exists mountains of information concerning marriage and divorce statistics, odds, etc… So please allow me to summarize as simply as possible the greatest influence in whether or not a couple will divorce:

By FAR, first and foremost: Education. Sociologist Steve Martin calls this the great divorce divide. Couples with a Bachelors Degree or higher are 30% more like to stay together since 1970. On the other hand, couples with little to no higher education are 6% more likely to divorce since 1970.  Education matters and we could theorize for days as to why…including the fact that those that can stick out an education through thick and thin are far more likely to stick out a relationship when times get tough. In addition, those with an education typically get married at an older age and, statistically, make more money –all things that help a marriage survive. According to National Affairs:

This growing divorce divide means that college-educated married couples are now about half as likely to divorce as their less-educated peers. Well-educated spouses who come from intact families, who enjoy annual incomes over $60,000, and who conceive their first child in ­wedlock — as many college-educated couples do — have exceedingly low rates of divorce.

Other very important factors concern where you live, age when married, income bracket and whether or not your parents are divorced.

So here is my mathematical marriage disaster equation: Odds of getting divorced: 40-50%. Odds of remaining 50-60% remaining true to their marriage vows (read: cheating): Half? 30%? Odds of remaining 30% being truly happy and content in their marriage? 10%? 15%?

This leaves, pending on how nitpicky you would like to get with these numbers, approximately a 10-15% chance of having a fruitful, happy relationship till death do you part.

I believe, by virtue of anyone’s fuzzy divorce math, marriage in 2015 is a total failing institution.  Of course the US is not as bad off as some other countries, Belgium, for example, has a 71% divorce rate –compared to anywhere from 40% to 55% chance of divorce, over one’s life, in the United States.

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And here is what I am not saying:

I am not saying we should do away with marriage, no need to throw the bridal baby out with the nuptial bathwater –I am saying we have a very large social problem and we need to somehow fix it. I do abide by the notion that divorce is a terrible thing for families and society at large. It is a major problem. Thus, when society has a major problem it is in all our best interests to try and solve it.

Yet, I ask, is divorce just an inevitable path for most? Is there anything we can do about it? Not surprisingly, as one who has been pondering this social plague for many years, we do have some possible solutions.

1. Make divorce very difficult to obtain. It used to be very difficult to divorce in the United States –until September 4, 1969 when California Governor Ronald Reagan, who divorced his first wife, Jane Wyman in 1948 when she accused him of mental cruelty and, essentially, wanted to clear his name, signed the first no-fault divorce legislation in the US (a decision he reportedly later regretted). Prior to no-fault divorce, spouses seeking divorce had to prove that their partner was at fault for the marriage breakdown -essentially stripping the couple of power and giving it to the individual. Accepted legal grounds for divorce included (but were not limited to) physical or mental abuse, abandonment, insanity, or lack of sexual intimacy.  There are strong arguments for and against n0-fault divorce –though one thing is for damn certain: Divorce rates skyrocketed after this legislation was enacted –doubled, in fact. The biggest jump in divorce rates has nothing to do with a lack of morality or religious affiliation, for example, it all has to do with how difficult or easy the process is to get a divorce. I say that society is far better off making it very difficult, though not impossible, to break a lifelong vow.

2. Make marriage very difficult to obtain. Let’s think about this for a moment. If you want to put a pool in your backyard, you must pull permits, adhere to strict codes, pay thousands of dollars, all the while being continually inspected by city officials. Want to get married? Walk down to the courtroom, fill out a piece of paper, fork over a few bucks and DONE. Or, better yet, just drive to Vegas. What does it say about our society that it is easier to commit to one person for the rest of your life in an ironclad contract then it is to put a pool in your backyard? If we make divorce difficult to obtain, we should also make marriage equally as difficult.  There are two things our society has completely ass-backwards that we treat with high esteem –two things that any two dumbasses can do: Get married and have children. Why do we celebrate an act that, eventually, makes society a far worse place with its terrible ending? I say we treat those wanting to get married with suspicion and doubt. If you want to really achieve something in this life, get a college degree or start a successful business…making ill-advised commitments and spitting out kids is easy –discipline and self-motivation is not.

3. Marriage contracts. The thing I love most about the idea of marriage contracts is that it forces two people to sit down, negotiate issues and make a plan: The things every couple should do, though, typically, do not. Marriage contracts can come in a variety of forms, including options, buyouts, consequences, finances, time limits, you name it. A customary contract would be a 10 year-deal –at which time two people can sit down and discuss renewing, or not. Do I think marriage contracts are ideal? Hell no. I do believe contracts may dull the sting of two people separating because is there no expectation of “till death do you part.” At the very least marriage contracts do not place unreasonable expectations on a couple…though choosing to not extend a contract may be emotionally difficult for some, at least all things were discussed and laid out prior so there are no surprises. It is not coincidence that professional athletes in their final year of their contract have, by far, their greatest and most successful years? Why would it be any different for relationships that are about to expire? If my contract is about to expire and I want I want to renew? You better believe it is extra time at the gym and a myriad of wonderful floral arrangements on the daily.

4. Do not marry. There is a part of me that wants to make the claim this is the easiest and best route because, as they say, the number one cause of divorce is marriage–so let’s just stop doing it. However, I do believe there is hard wiring in the majority of human nature that drives each of us to pair up with someone and do life together. Therefore we can stop calling it marriage though I believe the partnering phenomena will continue regardless. With the advent of common-law marriage, also known as sui juris marriage, informal marriage, or marriage by habit and repute, where a couple is legally considered married without ever officially getting married, doing away with marriage would have little benefit. Thus, we can stop getting married yet good old Uncle Sam will just automatically do it for us. I, for one, believe the government should have nothing to do with the act of marriage. Of course part of the overall declining divorce rate is due to the fact fewer people are marrying and, if children are not involved, perhaps this is a better route for many to take, common-law marriage be damned.

5. Consider different types of marriage options. Why do you think the more conservative, Christian states have the highest divorce rates? Because, for them, there is only one type of marriage and, for them, divorce is a superior option than thinking outside the marriage box. I could not disagree more. Divorce sucks. There exists plenty of different marriage options outside of traditional ones; so many, in fact, any couple can modify and customize their marriage to make it work best for them. I have met people in freedom-based, polyamorous, child-centric, convenience, open, practical, etc…arrangements that work best for their particular situation. Of course I completely disagree with having only one traditional marriage option….but perhaps that is another blog for a different day.

As a society we can rule with reason or we can rule with emotion. Emotionally, to reconsider the fundamental, traditional act of one of culture’s cornerstone events, marriage, is unthinkable and unbearable, despite what our reason might suggest to the contrary. Of course most of us would rather keep doing what is familiar.

Thoughts? Please discuss.

Things That Go Bump In The Night. Oh. That Was My Head.

Life. FCBEdamned life. Perhaps Forrest Gump’s mom was right, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

I was scheduled to leave Europe on Monday and head back to Los Angeles after several months abroad. Bittersweet? For sure. As much as I love the conveniences of home and the safety of routine, traveling is a drug and I am an addict (please read my next still unpublished blog…written but not yet posted, coming soon).  Alas, it is a Tuesday evening and I am still here in London.

Missed my flight and all.

On Sunday evening, the evening before my flight home, I went to bed and woke up in a UK Hospital Emergency Room.  I do not remember most of it. The story goes that I woke in the middle of the night, fell right over a coffee table and face planted right eye first into the corner of either the coffee table or radiator (blood spatters are currently being investigated by Dexter). I was staying with my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan when they heard a thud. Thinking I was just getting ready for my early morning flight in a loud (and rude) manner, they thought nothing of it until they looked at the clock and saw it was 2am…4 hours before I was to get up.

They jumped out of bed and saw me leaning against the radiator with blood everywhere, while kneeling in a pool of it. I was out of it…as if I was the recipient of a circa 1995 Mike Tyson blow to the face. I do not remember the paramedics arriving, nor the ambulance ride, nor the emergency doctors examining me. My first recollection was when I felt a needle go through my skin over my right eye, 17 or so stitches to close up a bleeding and gaping wound.

I lay in a hospital room as I begin to come to consciousness.  I recollect the man across from me was screaming in pain. Dejected, sick and hurting people were all around me.  As the morning progressed, I began to make sense of things. As my eyes first opened I saw my daughter Rosie and her man Nathan, gently touching me and loving me, the look of concern on their faces. I looked them squarely in the eye and told them both how much I love them

What you must know is it is not necessary for Rosie and Nathan to see Rosie’s dad in a puddle of blood to come to life and nurture and assist. Since my September 5 arrival in London, they both have been here to serve, assist, love on and just hang out with me. The fact that they were both there for me in my hour (minute?) of need is only symbolic of who they are as people.

Do things happen for a reason? NO ONE can know the answer to that question though I tend to be on the “no” side of that equation.  However, if events do have purpose (after all I have been known to be wrong from time to time) I have a pretty good idea of why this happened -please indulge me on this one.  The last few months are a time in my life when I have come to the stark realization that I am in a major life transition.

I blogged about these things before, yet this week’s events confirm all I have said.

Life is coming full circle. It seems the first third of our lives -or so- we are dependent on others for nearly everything. Of course that changes greatly from the first part of our first third to the last part of our first third….but I think you get the point.  Our second life third is the time when everyone is dependent upon us: Partners, children, aging parents, etc…yet the final third of our life we begin the reverse process: We begin to become reliant on others once again. Like returning from whence we came.

Now, to be fair, I am not quite in the process of my final third -at least I hope not- and many still do depend on me, yet that corner is turning and I see it as clear as day.  On the final night of my 3 month journey of discovery and change while teaching and traveling throughout Europe, I made myself completely vulnerable…literally bleeding out to death…with the only hope of salvation becoming completely dependent on the actions of others.  My blood representing spilled life -my life energy gushing from body- with only the hope of others. When the others are your offspring and her partner, you realize the wagons have turned and here you are.

I hear the inner voice, “Get used to it buddy. And thank FCBE you have the good fortune to have the others in your life.

I now look in the mirror and see a broken -literally- man with a black and red eye, a swollen forehead and a look of defeat -at least physically. Yet if you look deeper you see a man who is changing, knows the change, feels the change, and, yes, even welcomes the change.  I welcome the beauty of a new season and the challenges it shall bring.

Oh, and did I mention I am deeply in love with my daughter and her man? Deeply, and man I mean freaking deeply.

I read a meme on Facebook today that said, “Crying is not a sign of weakness, it is sign that you have been strong far too long.

The last 24 hours I have lived that meme. I have cried. Not due to any physical pain but due to the realization that my love for some people in my life runs deeper than I could ever have known.  Or imagined. Or realized. Wow do I love Rosie and Nathan. Wow do I love my family. Wow do I love my life partner. Perhaps crying is perceived strength leaving the body while the tears make room for the real strength of love and humility.

Sure in life we never know what we’re gonna get, yet I know what I got in my family. And, at this vulnerable moment in my life, nothing else really matters.

I am still in the UK attempting to get clearance from the medical authorities stating it is ok for me to fly.

So I wait…at Rosie and Nathan’s London flat of course. Feeling overwhelmed, in some physical pain, but full of love and gratitude.

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(Afterward: I am now back at home in Santa Clarita both waiting to have my stitches removed and for Rene’ to get back from the UK as she came out to check on me. I look forward to her return on Tuesday. Damn life. You just never know what you’re gonna get. And maybe that is why I love it so much.)

The Lovely Trickles Of Life

There are some major challenges many of us take on in life.  In my experience none has been so daunting as taking on the challenge of parenthood some 26 year ago.  I suppose it would not be quite as daunting for those who care little for wanting to be a present parent who strives for excellence, yet this is not the case for neither Rene’ nor I: We wanted to be as good as we could be…still do.  This is not to say we were excellent parents, it is only to say we tried to be excellent parents, it was important to us –and I suppose our children’s therapists will have the final say about that.

Now, 4 adult children later, we are starting to see trickle in, ever so slowly, the fruits of our labor, the product of our efforts. These trickles generate from a circular and flowing life spring, identified by many a philosophy or religion as karma, cosmic justice, or simply reaping what you sow.

I have heard it said that you can determine  -in the majority of cases- whether a parent was good or bad parent based on whether their adult children like them or not (key word being ADULT as every 13 year old girl on the planet is obliged to hate their parents for a sizable amount of time).  Chances are if your adult children want to either avoid or even do physical damage to you, well, probably not such a good job in the nurturing department. If, on the other hand, your adult children still want to hang with you and even serve you, job well done. And, of course, there are plenty of exceptions to this.

That being said, as I share the following it is in no way presented as a self-aggrandizing means of arrogance or boasting in the parental department -quite the opposite. It is shared with my readers from a man who is not getting any younger, not getting any stronger (though, dammit, I am still gonna try!) and finds himself more dependent on life’s little crutches, be it reading glasses or hand rails, while starkly realizing his dependence upon the assistance of others is only going to increase in the upcoming years.

It comes from a humble and thankful place. It comes from a needy place. It comes from a place where trickles of love, kindness and assurance are not wanted, they are truly needed.

So last night when my daughter Rose, who is “babysitting” me during my nearly 3 month stay in London, observed that it was a ridiculous £4 to do a load of laundry at the local launderette, continued to promptly fling a 10 lb. sack of my sweaty socks and underwear on her back to take on her 30 minute bus ride home, where she could more inexpensively do my laundry herself, well, I felt a trickle of family love and kindness.

When I received the following short and sweet Viber message yesterday from my daughter Tess who is currently studying in New Zealand: Dad, thanks for quizzing me on every book I finished reading when I was little. Short, sweet, and touching -and I felt an oh-so-slight, yet ironically strong, trickle of love and appreciation.

When my son Jordan recently recognized me in a social media update another trickle of assurance was felt: Jimmy is on his way to live abroad in London for a few months and to potentially follow in his sons footsteps by doing some continental hitchhiking afterwards. He gets to step out of his comfort zone and meet a new part of himself, maybe even get to a Rainbow Gathering. At the same time he’s got a cool blog and podcast he has been consistent with updating for well over a year now, something I have been trying to do since the seventh grade.

Of course, I must mention, that the cool blog and podcasts would have never have been possible without his brilliant technological trickles of assistance.

And, of course, when my youngest Stevie says he want to be rich by age 30 and he  will be able to take care of his mom and dad with no worries, even though I will not hold my breath -I still feel the trickle of happiness and love.

These observations are written by a man who is watching his 81 year-old father, hardly able to get out of bed anymore, negotiate his final time on this earth. Observing his growing frailty acts as a mirror for my own life as this may be my fate and destiny as well – should I have the good fortune of many years on this earth.  I consider that perhaps enduring the suffering of growing old is an equitable trade off for a mere few more breaths.

Why? The trickles make it worth it.

My observations are written by a humbled man who is still desperately searching for his own identity in his post parenting days. It is written by a man whose affinity for the good things in life –travel, dance, good food and good wine- does not mask the realities of what awaits each of us in the long haul.

And, in the end, it is the family and friends we all love that hold it all together for us and with us. May I be so fortunate as to feel the trickles for many years to come.

The trickles are far worth the daunting challenge of parenthood.

photoJordan, Rene’, Stevie, my 83 year old Uncle Les, Rosie, her man Nathan, Tessa, and me.