divorce, Ex, lessons learned, mental health, psychology, YouTube

“Kicking the cat…” What happens when anger is displaced…

Many years ago, when I was a college student at what is now Longwood University, I took a course called Interpersonal Communication. I took it because I was pursuing minors in both speech and communications, and the course counted for both minors. I don’t remember being particularly excited about the class when I signed up for it, but it turned out to be an interesting field of study. I remember it to be an examination of how people communicate in different settings, and while it was not a psychology class, certain psychological terms and concepts were covered. In fact, even though I took Psychology 101 during my freshman year, I distinctly remember learning about the concept of psychological projection for the first time in my Interpersonal Communication course. It was also in that class that I first learned about “displaced anger”.

Although Dr. Nancy Anderson Haga, the professor who taught that class, has long since retired, I remember that she was among the very first professors I met at Longwood when I was a fresh high school graduate attending orientation. I was struck by how energetic, caring, and positive she was. Then a couple of years later, when I was about 20 years old, I was in her class, and she was teaching us about how we communicate with each other. I didn’t know then that one of her lessons would come back to me in bold relief, two weeks before my 50th birthday.

Last night, Bill watched a video his younger daughter sent to him. She was thanking him for a box of goodies he sent to her, with stuff we picked up on recent trips to France and Italy, as well as some very superior German chocolate. In the course of the video, younger daughter talked about how much she loves to cook. Bill also loves to cook. So do I… or, at least I did before Bill took over the job. I used to be a great cook, and always enjoyed it because it was a creative activity. There’s an art to making something taste good, look appetizing, and be nurturing. Actually, I’m not that good at making “pretty food”, but I am pretty good at making food that is comforting. Bill is also good at that, and he’s also a fan of good presentation. He’s been known to plate our dinners with flair.

Younger daughter talked about how one of her in-laws really loves fresh bread, and he likes to have it at every meal. She likes to bake, so she was thinking she might like to make some bread to take over to her husband’s family’s house. I like to bake bread too, especially when I’m in a bad mood and need to pound the shit out of something. Bread baking is great for that.

As she was talking about baking rolls from scratch, younger daughter stated that she wasn’t always sure if people appreciated her efforts. Then her face got very serious and pained, and she said, “The only person who has ever complained about my cooking is my mother.”

One time, she asked Bill if her mother (Ex) had ever complained about his cooking. Bill had replied, “Of course. All the time!” As he was telling me about talking to his daughter about this, he laughed. But I can imagine that when Ex criticized his cooking, it probably really hurt his feelings. Here he had taken the time and expended the effort to make something nourishing for his ex wife, and her only thought was to disdain it in a mean way. Younger daughter then related a story that, frankly, I found heartbreaking. I could also see that telling us the story was making her feel bad anew, even though the incident had happened years ago.

Younger daughter and her older sister were tasked to cook for the whole family. If they didn’t cook, food wouldn’t be made, and someone would probably get into trouble. She explained that Ex and #3 were going through a particularly lean financial period. Consequently, there was very little food in the house. And yet, it was younger daughter’s implied duty to make dinner every night. There she was, faced with the task of making dinner for seven people, but there simply wasn’t much food in the house to accomplish that goal.

Younger daughter looked around to see what there was on hand to make dinner. She found frozen pie crust, instant mashed potatoes, some frozen vegetables, and a single chicken breast. Perfect! She could make a shepherd’s pie, of sorts. That would have been what both Bill and I would have done in that situation. It was quite genius, and she was able to make something edible and probably even tasty.

Younger daughter put together the pie, and was feeling pretty good and accomplished. Then Ex came home from wherever she’d been during the day. Younger daughter proudly presented the pie she had created out of the few ingredients in the house. Ex’s response was to declare it disgusting, refuse to eat, and lock herself in her bedroom for the rest of the evening.

I could tell that relating that story was very painful for younger daughter. But then she brightened and said she was grateful for where she is now. Ex no longer has the power over her that she once had. Like Bill, younger daughter was able to escape the FOG (fear, obligation, guilt). But the scars remain, and I know how that feels. Sometimes, old memories still come up that bring on the pain from the past.

Of course, Bill was pretty angry when he heard that story. I don’t know exactly when the incident happened, but it sounds like it might have occurred when Ex was still being paid child support. I believe younger daughter got the hell out of her mother’s house as soon as she could after turning 18. Either way, it was Ex’s responsibility to see that there was food in the house, and to make sure her children had enough to eat. Complicating matters was the fact that she wouldn’t allow Bill to help his daughters. She was too angry with him for that. We didn’t know this was going on, because they couldn’t and wouldn’t talk to Bill during that time. If Bill had known about this, he would have taken action. In retrospect, we should have taken action when she refused to let him communicate with his kids, but it seemed like it would have been a waste of time, since they were teenagers.

And that’s where the lesson about “displaced anger” comes into play. I remember learning about the concept in that college class at Longwood, and that’s why I titled this post “kicking the cat”. Displaced anger– otherwise known as “misplaced anger”– is when a person deals with their anger by directing it at a less threatening cause. It can take different forms. For instance, a person who was raised in an abusive home, with a parent who beat them, might try to soothe themselves by saying that it was okay that their parent hit them, since “that was how things were back in the day”. Or they might say, “he or she was just trying to make me tougher.” Meanwhile, the righteous anger is boiling under the surface, and it comes out against someone or something that is less able to fight back.

I remember in my Interpersonal Communication class, as she was explaining “displaced anger”, Dr. Haga talked about a man who comes home from work, angry with his boss for acting like a jerk. Instead of addressing the jerk boss, since that doesn’t feel like a safe thing to do, the man kicks his cat. Or he gets drunk and verbally abusive, and beats on his wife. Or he snaps at his daughter that the dinner she made looks and tastes like shit. Or maybe, if he’s a really sick and violent person, he takes the family dog out to the desert and shoots it (sadly, I do remember hearing and writing about a man who did this when he was angry with his wife).

It doesn’t matter that expressing anger in this way is harmful to innocent people or animals. The anger feels like it has to come out, and it doesn’t feel possible for the man to direct it toward the appropriate person, so the man directs it at individuals who seem weaker and less threatening. I grew up in a home where I often got abused by angry people– especially my dad and one of my sisters. They would often take their anger out on me, because I was the youngest and, at least for a long time, the weakest. Usually, the anger doesn’t really dissipate, though, especially when there are consequences for expressing anger in such a way. I will also admit that I have expressed anger inappropriately by directing it toward the wrong source. I now try to do better, as much as I’m able. Therapy is a good thing.

Last week, I wrote a post about how I’ve gotten hooked on Code Blue Cam, a YouTube channel devoted to police work. In a lot of the videos, the perpetrators who get busted are clearly mentally ill or under the influence of something. A lot of times, they are also very angry and agitated. I watched a video this morning that featured a man who was extremely belligerent and defiant. The police were trying to be kind and helpful, but this man was consumed with rage. He was extremely abusive toward the police, as well as the civilians who were involved in the altercation which caused the police to be summoned in the first place.

This video begins with a drunk woman who gets hauled off to jail, but it ends with the belligerent man, whose tone goes from extremely rude and defiant, to desperate and pleading.

I found the above video kind of hard to watch… but it was also kind of fascinating, because before the guy was put in handcuffs, he was a complete asshole. I sat there wondering what in the world had happened to him that had caused him to seethe with so much rage. But then, when he was finally arrested and placed in handcuffs, his tone became pathetic. He openly said on more than one occasion that he hoped the police would just shoot him. This is a miserable person with deep problems and a lot of unprocessed anger, which was coming out inappropriately. It wasn’t that different than Ex being nasty to younger daughter for making something she didn’t want to eat for dinner.

Another video, this time involving young men who were in deep trouble and expressing negativity in a destructive way. One of the young men openly expresses disappointment in himself and how his life has turned out… and says he wishes the cops would kill him. He obviously needs help.

Maybe the teens in the above video were trying to be manipulative. I think the guy in the first video was very manipulative, and if these two young guys in the above video don’t get some real help, they will wind up like him and either spend a lot of time in prison or get themselves killed. But I could hear real anguish in their voices. Bad things happened to them that led them to where they are now, and unfortunately, they weren’t able to find the kind of help they needed to avoid ending up on the wrong side of the law.

I have no doubt in my mind that Ex has experienced some really terrible things in her life. I know that she suffered horrific abuse when she was growing up. I’m pretty certain that she’s an extremely angry person, and that anger stems from the people in her life who failed her when she was a child. I think she’s also angry with Bill. He probably had her thinking he could heal her and solve her problems. Bill is a very kind, nurturing, loving and gentle person. I know this for a fact, because I’m his second wife. He doesn’t have a mean or violent bone in his body. However, like most people, he does have a red line, and if you cross it, he’ll be done with you. I think Ex thought she would never reach that red line, because he is such a kind and patient man. But she did reach it, and he decided he was done. So, when she presented divorce papers to him in a very dramatic and manipulative drama held over Easter at Bill’s dad’s house, she never expected that he would agree that their marriage was over and offer to sign the papers. He went off script.

Ex was expecting Bill to say, “No, we won’t have any of that…” and try even harder to please her. That was what he’d done in the past. But, after almost ten years, he was just done. He had gotten away from her toxic influence while they were separated, and realized that there’s life beyond divorce. He found out that he didn’t have to live the way he’d been living. He knew he wouldn’t be alone, and that being broke was temporary. So he called her bluff, and fucked up her vision of what was supposed to happen. She had to adjust, and I think wound up with someone who was even less suitable for her. But she’s smart enough not to threaten divorce with #3, because it’s doubtful she’d find a #4. Or, at least she won’t be able to hook someone by having kids with them.

But she was still left with two tangible remnants from their marriage– their two daughters. So she decided to keep the girls away from Bill, as a means of punishing him for “abandoning” her. At the same time, she treated them particularly badly, because they probably remind her of Bill. As younger daughter got older, she started to develop the same kind of self-preservation skills that Bill has. She started to go off script, and she rebelled. Ex responded by being inappropriately angry. She “kicked the cat”– in this case, younger daughter– instead of finding a healthier and more appropriate outlet for her rage. Instead of being grateful that younger daughter had managed to cobble together dinner with very few ingredients, which were ultimately Ex’s responsibility to provide, Ex was angry and mean. And now, I think she’s paying a price, since it’s obvious that younger daughter is now alienated from her mom.

Younger daughter ended her video call on a happy note. She said she was so grateful to the other people in her life who are kind and considerate. She even said she was grateful to me, of all people. That made me feel really good. For years, I was angry with her and her sister, because I know their dad, and I know he was “kicked” by Ex for years. Now I have empathy for them, because I know they’ve felt the pain from Ex’s proverbial shoe, too. They have been on the receiving end of her misplaced anger. Thankfully for younger daughter, she’s managed to develop the skills to get out of the strike zone. Unfortunately, I’m afraid the people who have chosen to stay around Ex are paying for the independence of those who have left. I can only hope that someday, older daughter will get out of the strike zone, too.

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Bill, divorce, Ex, LDS

Lessons never taught– or, how to camp like a champ.

Morning, y’all. I hope all of you had a nice weekend. I know not everyone celebrates Easter, but if you did celebrate “resurrection day”, I hope it was a pleasant experience. Bill and I had a nice quiet day at home. I did some writing, of course, and afterwards, picked up my guitar and played “The Old Rugged Cross” with surprising ease. I was inspired by Rhonda Vincent’s beautiful live version, which is easily found on YouTube at this writing. Although I don’t play the song perfectly, I do play it reasonably well, especially for someone who has learned everything from Fender Play at this point. I might be a fairly decent player by now if I had an in-person guitar teacher. Maybe someday, I’ll get around to investing in one. For now, though, I am really glad I used the pandemic as an excuse to expand my musician skills/cred. I hope to eventually get good enough that someone besides Bill will want to hear me play.

After I played my guitar, I tried and failed to finish my custom made puzzle by Collage.com. My mother-in-law gave me a puzzle by them for Christmas. She found a photo I took in Slovenia and had it made into a one-of-a-kind jigsaw puzzle. I was so impressed by it that I ordered another one of a photo I took in Croatia. Unfortunately, I was not finished with the Slovenia puzzle when I made that decision, and didn’t realize that the quality of the puzzle wasn’t quite 100 percent. So, the Slovenia puzzle had five pieces that didn’t fit properly. I must have made a mistake, but obviously, there were pieces in the puzzle that were very close and fit convincingly. I had an even worse problem with the Croatia puzzle. Now, it could turn out that I put the puzzle together again someday, and somehow get the puzzle right. But I won’t possibly be doing that for some time, since I have several to do that I haven’t done yet.

Bill cooked baby back pork ribs on the grill that were delicious. We enjoyed some adult beverages and listened to music. We did some talking about current events, some of which have been pretty sad and dramatic, if you read yesterday’s post. Bill and I both feel kind of cut off from our families, and yet we do talk a lot about how completely dysfunctional some of our experiences have been. In fact, last night, we were talking about a post the actor Wil Wheaton shared by a Facebook page called The Holistic Psychologist, that we both could relate to with ease. Bill probably related more than I did.

Wil Wheaton, as many people know, has said that his parents were abusive to him. He describes them as “emotionally immature”. I’m sure Wil Wheaton’s observations are perfectly accurate from his perspective. I liked the link he shared, and commented that maybe it would be even more useful for younger daughter. There were many examples of “emotionally immature” parents included, and descriptions of how a child who was raised by such a parent might respond by their behaviors as an adult. Wheaton also shared another link by The Holistic Psychologist that might also be useful to anyone who has grown up with parents who never quite matured properly– at least in the emotional sense.

This morning, Bill got a video message from his daughter. She looked pretty, wearing pearls… like maybe she had come from church. She was talking about things she did on Easter and for her kids on Easter. Younger daughter is about seven months pregnant right now, so she’s pretty tired. She yawned a lot as she talked about her celebration, which somehow segued into talking about her experiences as an older teen.

Younger daughter says she doesn’t like to camp. She doesn’t find it appealing to pack up stuff, go out to the country, unpack, and sleep in a tent. As someone who worked for two summers at a Presbyterian church camp, I can understand why camping might not be so appealing. I lived in a platform tent for both summers, as I was the cook, and didn’t have camp programs to lead. It was rustic living for sure, although there were aspects of that experience that I really loved. For one thing, the camp where I worked was in an absolutely stunning area of Virginia. I would love to own property in that place– it was so tiny, unspoiled, and just pristine… We had so much fun there! Some of the fun included staff training, which included a short campout/canoeing experience– one or two nights in a tent, if I recall correctly. The first summer, we canoed on the Shenandoah River. The second summer, we canoed on the Potomac. I remember at another time, outside of our camp sessions, some of us got together and canoed down the Rappahannock River, but that was just a day trip.

I do remember learning how to pitch tents, cook food over a fire, and enjoy nature. But, to be honest, as fun as those experiences were– and as amazing as it was to be PAID to do that– I can admit that camping isn’t for everyone. It’s not always comfortable to sleep under the stars, even though it’s something that people ought to try. Yesterday, I even read about 8th grade kids in Alaska who camp out as part of their science class. It’s a learning project, yes, but it’s also taught because Alaskan kids, more than other American kids, may really have an actual need to use survival skills. But even though I think youngsters should learn outdoor skills, I know that not everyone wants to camp.

Younger daughter says that she went camping as part of her LDS church indoctrination. I wasn’t surprised to hear that. I know, for instance, that part of the LDS church experience for young people includes going to camp. From what I’ve read, those experiences are very “churchy” and religious, and they include a lot of emotional bonding around a campfire, testimony bearing, singing church songs, and discussing passages from the Book of Mormon. I don’t know how skilled the people leading younger daughter’s camping experiences were, but from what I’ve read on RfM, the people who lead the camp experiences in the LDS church aren’t necessarily super well-schooled on camping outdoors. In fact, from what some ex members have said, the camp experience is more about creating meaningful church experiences, in remote places where outside influences are few, than teaching youngsters the joys of camping.

Likewise, I’ve heard and read that a lot of the Boy Scout troops affiliated with the LDS church are not led by people who are very skilled outdoors. I know that wouldn’t apply to every church affiliated Scout troop, but apparently, it did apply to more than a couple. A lot of former members have shared horror stories about their times camping with the LDS church. Of course, since the Scouts are now letting girls in, I think the church is less invested in encouraging boys to be Boy Scouts.

Anyway, younger daughter says that her experiences at LDS Girls Camp led her to realize that she doesn’t enjoy camping. If her experiences were like what I’ve read on RfM, I can understand why camping doesn’t appeal. But what’s really sad is that her perfectly good father, who was not allowed any access to his daughters when they were growing up, knows a whole lot about camping and how to make it enjoyable. Bill is a retired Soldier, and he’s spent a lot of time in the field. He could have taught his daughters how to camp effectively. Maybe, if they had been allowed to go camping with Bill, those girls would have ended up loving camping. Or maybe younger daughter might not have liked camping, even if Bill had taught her how to do it properly and used good equipment. One of younger daughter’s complaints, for instance, was that she had to sleep in a leaky tent and didn’t get any rest. I’m not surprised, as people on RfM have written that the tents used at the camps were basically Army surplus variety– circa the Vietnam era. But she would have had a bonding experience that she might not have forgotten. I had a couple of camping experiences with my dad (in a pop top VW van, rather than a tent)… but then, my dad wasn’t as good of a father as Bill is.

I don’t know if Bill would have taken his girls camping if he’d been allowed to raise them. But there would have been the opportunity to camp. Maybe, if they came back after girls’ camp complaining about being outdoors, Bill could have showed them a better way. He was denied that opportunity, though, because his ex wife is a selfish person who is more interested in punishing people than doing the right thing by her children. And so, Bill and younger daughter have a lot of years to make up for. I’m glad they are, at least, getting that time now. As we’ve learned recently, tomorrow is never guaranteed for anyone. Ex meant for Bill to NEVER see or speak to his children again, all because– over Easter in 2000– Bill didn’t grovel enough. Bill didn’t succumb to her demands that he humiliate himself to an LDS bishop and confess to hating women… which he certainly doesn’t, and never did. Worst of all, in her mind, was that instead of refusing to divorce his abusive ex wife, who used his parents’ home to, once again, emotionally abuse and humiliate Bill, Bill decided to accept Ex’s proposal to split up. She very clearly did not expect Bill to say “yes” when she proposed a divorce; it injured her deeply that he agreed. She had expected him to fight for her, and the fact that he didn’t want to fight anymore deeply disappointed her. She was so aggrieved that she decided to try to destroy Bill’s relationship with his own children.

Now, we’re seeing the result of that decision, and Bill’s choice not to insist on having contact with his kids. In retrospect, he probably should have involved the court system and law enforcement. Or, better yet, he never should have gotten involved with her in the first place. Hindsight is 20/20, I know.

It’s hard for me to understand how a parent can be so hateful, selfish, and misguided that they would deny their children’s access to another loving parent. I mean, yes, if a parent is severely abusive and harmful, it makes sense to limit contact. Bill is not an abusive person. He’s a very kind and loving person, who simply couldn’t tolerate his ex wife’s abuse anymore. Now that younger daughter is an adult, we’re finding out that he was not the only one who could no longer take her shit. It sounds like she simply reached saturation. I relate to that. I am pretty saturated by abusive people, too. I can’t tolerate them like I used to.

As I was listening to younger daughter, living in Utah, and not long from adding her third child to her family, I felt sad that after her parents’ divorce, she never had a chance to go camping with Bill… or eat at a fancy restaurant… or visit a museum. And now, thanks to the way our lives have gone, she may never have that chance. On the other hand, at least they can exchange videos and talk on Skype. And now that the world has reopened, maybe Bill will go back to Las Vegas for TDY and take another side trip to Utah, to see his daughter and her family. Ex had wanted to deny Bill that. Thank God they’re no longer giving her that power to divide and drive wedges.

Every time I think I’ve evolved beyond the mess that is Ex, and the massive damage she’s wrought, I see evidence of more damage that was done. But again, I am grateful that she wasn’t able to permanently destroy Bill’s relationship with his younger child. There remains hope that maybe someday, the older one will wise up and reach out. Even if she doesn’t, though, Bill never thought he’d have what he has with younger daughter. So we can be grateful for that… and the fact that thanks to what happened on Easter 2000, Bill can still enjoy life.

However, I doubt he’ll convince me to go camping. 😉

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memories, mental health, narcissists, nostalgia

A shaken can of soda…

I often think of my husband’s dealings with his abusive ex wife as being akin to being trapped in a can of soda that is being shaken. You know what happens when you shake a can of soda. The bubbles get agitated and pressure builds. If someone happens to open the can while it’s agitated, the liquid spews out all over the place, making a huge mess. As we were talking about the most recent situation last night, I was reminded once again. It’s like dealing with a can of soda that has been shaken. Once you’ve been exposed to such a situation, it can replicate in similar situations. You learn habits that might not be the best for dealing with problems. Instead of taking a deep, cleansing breath and being mindful, maybe you’ll explode, like a can of Coke that was just used as a maraca.

This morning, I read about Will Smith’s decision to resign from the Academy in the wake of his decision to hit Chris Rock during his performance last week. I’m sure that this decision wasn’t an easy one for Smith to make. In fact, I’ll bet he’s had a difficult week. I don’t necessarily think he’s wrong to step down, in spite of his Oscar win. What he did was very seriously fucked up, although many people are still saying that Smith was only standing up for his wife. But, as I read about the decision Will made, and remembered what happened at the Oscar Awards ceremony last week, I was suddenly a little bit “triggered” by an old memory. Seeing Chris Rock being hit on live television reminded me of something that happened to me in 1993.

It was June, and my family decided, for some strange reason, to rent a beach house in Corolla, North Carolina. My parents, my three sisters, my brother in law, my baby niece, my brother in law’s brother, Mike, and my ex friend and my sister’s ex friend, Peggy, were all there. The house was very full, with many different personalities in attendance and a lot of alcohol flowing. I was twenty years old, and would be turning twenty-one in a matter of a couple of weeks.

I remember that at that time in my life, I wasn’t getting along with my dad. Actually, for most of the time he was alive when I was an adult, I didn’t get along with my dad. He was often abusive to me, although I’m not sure I recognized it at the time. Add in my sisters and their strong personalities, my brother-in-law, who loves watching us fight, my former friend and Peggy, as well as a baby, and you have a potential recipe for disaster. To make matters worse, I had PMS and was about to start my period.

One night several days into the “vacation”, we all went out to dinner, and my dad was really getting on my nerves.  I made some snarky comment that was directed at my dad.  I don’t remember what I said, but my sister’s friend, Peggy, heard it and apparently thought I was talking to her.  Suddenly, all hell broke loose.  The next day, my sister’s friend suddenly decided to leave.  I remember she had given me $10 because I had planned to make dinner the next night and she asked for the money back.  At the time, I didn’t understand why she was leaving.  I had no beef with her.

All that day, my sister was being shitty to me.  She wouldn’t tell me what her problem was.  I finally lost my temper and confronted her.  She said she was mad at me.  My dad, who had been drinking, decided to break us up.  He stormed over to us and took me into a room, where he proceeded to berate me for two or three hours.  At one point, he hit me in the face, HARD.  I was shocked and told him that if he had been someone on the street, I could have him arrested for assault and battery.  And then I told him that if he ever raised a hand to me again, I would have him arrested.

He exploded.  His face turned beet red and he said, “You go right ahead!  Call the police!”  Then he made some comment about how I lived in his house and I could just pack up and leave.  At some point, I hit my arm on something and developed a really nasty bruise.

I remember that no one helped me during that confrontation, which left me really upset and feeling completely worthless and stepped on.  And then, by that point, I’d started my period, which is probably why I was so irritable and made that rude comment in the first place.

My sisters later came in to talk to me.  The one who had been mad at me explained what had upset her so much that this huge blowup happened.  I told her that I hadn’t been talking to or about her friend, and if she had just asked me, we could have avoided this whole thing.  The scene was embarrassing and traumatic, especially since there were a couple of people there who weren’t family members and had witnessed this Mommie Dearest moment between my dad and me.  The worst part of it, though, was that the next day, my dad acted as if nothing had ever happened.  My sister ended up losing contact with her “friend”, who turned out to be not such a good friend after all.

Five years later, my dad lost his temper again and threatened to hit me. I reminded him of the last time he hit me and what I said to him. He backed off and then started screaming at me. I ended up leaving. Unfortunately, at that time, I was kind of paralyzed. Though I was 26 years old at the time, I was living with my parents and had nowhere to go for more than a night or two. Not long after that, I got on the right depression meds and finally managed to start making plans to get out of my parents’ home. I needed to for their sake, but especially for mine.

Every once in awhile, those old memories resurface. I get “triggered” by certain things. I think watching Chris Rock being slapped by Will Smith was very triggering for me. And the more I think about what happened, the more I realize how wrong Will Smith’s actions were. I think it’s right for him to resign from the Academy. I hope he gets some help for his issues.

Then I started thinking about Chris Rock’s actual joke. Yes, it was tasteless. I don’t really find jokes about other people’s looks funny, as a general rule. But then I think of all of the jokes my favorite comedian, George Carlin, told over the years. I remember when he described former second lady Marilyn Quayle as looking like Prince Charles. I remember jokes Joan Rivers used to make about celebrities and their looks. Don’t even get me started on Eddie Murphy, Jim Carrey, and Don Rickles! I’m not saying it’s “PC” to make fun of how people look, but comedians have always done it. Kids do it on playgrounds. It’s almost like it’s instinct.

And while I think it would be good if Chris Rock and his fellow humorists came up with other jokes, I also realize that when it comes down to it, Rock was comparing Jada Pinkett Smith to a beautiful woman. Demi Moore, who was the lead in G.I. Jane, was in her prime at the time. She was strong, badass, and gorgeous. Yes, she shaved her head for the role, but she was still amazing looking, even if the film itself was kind of stupid.

Jada, herself, even said that she didn’t give “two craps” about what people thought of her bald head. So why was Will Smith so enraged? His profane tirade after slapping Rock also brought back terrible memories. I wouldn’t want to see that again. I think if there’s any chance that Will Smith would ever feel so entitled to walk up on a stage and hit someone like that, he should not be part of the show. This isn’t to mean I think he should be canceled, per se… If he gets some help and learns to control himself, okay. But that was traumatizing for me to watch on video. I actually chose to watch it, knowing what happened beforehand. I’m glad it didn’t take me by surprise.

In any case, watching that event unfold– a triangle involving Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Chris Rock– reminded me of that “shaken can of soda” sense I get sometimes when we talk about Ex… or I’m reminded of that time in my past, when I was regularly having to deal with my dad and his tendency to be violent when the mood struck. Maybe it’s a mild form of PTSD I have, because I realize now that I am no longer able to tolerate abuse. I react badly, as if I’m “saturated”, when there’s abuse afoot. What Will Smith did was definitely abusive and traumatic, not just for Chris Rock, but for everyone who watched it unfold. He reminded me of my dad… and that is not a good thing.

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family, lessons learned, love, modern problems, sex, slut shamers, social media

Kids don’t owe their parents anything… do they?

This morning’s post comes courtesy of a recycled article on The Atlantic’s Web site. Therapist Lori Gottlieb, who once wrote a very entertaining book about her experiences with anorexia nervosa, has an advice column. Because I read her book about anorexia, and because I’m a sucker for advice columns, I read Lori Gottlieb’s advice somewhat often. The article I’m writing about today has appeared several times on Facebook, as The Atlantic has an annoying habit of recycling its content, even when it’s woefully outdated, as it often is during the COVID era.

The Atlantic also attracts a lot of obnoxious commenters, one of whom is prompting me to write today. I ran into one of them after reading the 2019 era letter Gottlieb responded to in June of that year. Have a look at this letter from Lynne, of Oakland, California.

Dear Therapist,

My daughter gave a child up for adoption about 25 years ago. She already had one child, and although I offered to help her raise both children, she felt it wouldn’t be fair to us or to the baby, so she gave her up to a very nice couple, whom we both interviewed and liked. The couple has kept in touch with us both over the years, sending pictures and updates on their daughter.

My daughter always felt that in time the child would want to get in touch with her, and in fact, her adoptive parents have encouraged this, but the girl has always said she didn’t want to. This is very painful for my daughter. Can you give us an idea as to why the young woman might not want to meet her birth mother, or offer any explanation that would make my daughter feel less rejected? She has even tried contacting her on Facebook, and the response was that Facebook was not an appropriate place to discuss this relationship. But no reciprocal contact has ever been made.

Lori Gottlieb points out that perhaps Lynne’s daughter hasn’t thought long enough about why the baby girl she gave up in 1994 might not want to meet her birth mother. Gottlieb reminds her that children who are given up for adoption don’t have a choice in the matter; those life altering decisions are made for them by adults. They also don’t have any say in who gets to adopt them. Sometimes the adoptive families turn out to be wonderful people. And sadly, sometimes adoptive families are abusive or worse.

When those adopted children become adults themselves, they must have the right to make decisions for themselves. Self-determination is something that all kids should grow up to expect for themselves. It’s probably even more important for adopted children, who often have to listen to other people opine about how they should handle their experiences with being adopted. Sometimes, people tell them they should find their birth families. Other times, they are told they shouldn’t look for their birth families, since that will presumably be “hurtful” to the adoptive parents. I wasn’t adopted myself, but I do know several adoptees. I’ve learned that every story is unique. Most of the adopted people I know have found their birth families and satisfied their curiosity about what led to their being given up for another family to raise. But I know there are some adoptees who would rather not know any family other than the one that raised them. That should be okay. They don’t owe their birth families anything.

But really, if you think about it, that should be true for all children. Kids don’t owe their parents anything. They had no choice about being born. While it may be very hurtful for parents to understand this, not everyone is happy to be alive. I know there have been a lot of times in my life that I’ve wished my mom hadn’t had me. It’s not so much because I’ve had a terrible life. In my case, it’s because depression is a constant companion that has left me feeling worthless, no matter what I do. When I was a child, I was told that I was neither wanted nor expected. I was frequently told I was an inconvenience, as if it was my fault my parents made me. I know that my parents came to appreciate me, but I was told enough times that I was a pain in their asses that it made me feel very rejected. And that has made me wish abortion had been an option for my mother and she would have considered it, even though I know some people are glad I’m around. Of course, I doubt my mom would have had an abortion, even though I “crashed her party” and made her life more complicated. Many people don’t realize it, but treating kids like they aren’t loved or wanted is often how personality disorders and neuroses are born.

Adopted children probably have a different kind of trauma inflicted on them. I think of the super toxic line in the campy 1981 film, Mommie Dearest, in which Faye Dunaway, playing Joan Crawford, reminds her daughter, Christina, that adopted children are the “luckiest”, because they were “chosen”. Then, Joan makes Christina give up her birthday gifts to all of the “poor orphans” who don’t have parents. Meanwhile, a lot of them wonder why they were given up. What were the circumstances? Was it a case of a teenaged mom who couldn’t afford a child to raise? A sad situation involving parents who were killed in a freak accident? Or was it a more sinister situation involving extramarital affairs, rape, or incest? I can understand why some adopted children might not want to know. Or maybe some of them are simply not looking for the baggage that can come with discovering one’s origins.

How lucky was Christina Crawford?
Narcissism is not a family value.

So… while I can understand why Lynne is distressed that her daughter’s biological daughter doesn’t want to meet with her bio mother, I can also see why the now adult child isn’t interested. I agree that Lynne and her daughter should respect the young woman’s wishes. There may come a day when she changes her mind, but Lynne and her daughter should probably resign themselves to the idea that she might not come around. Sometimes this also happens to bio parents who didn’t give their children up for adoption. My husband’s older daughter hasn’t spoken to him since 2004. It’s been the source of tremendous pain for him. Frankly, I think older daughter is very stupid for throwing away her father, who is a kind and decent man. But it’s her life, and when it comes down to it, she doesn’t owe him anything. And since she’s a grown woman now, he doesn’t owe her anything, either.

As is my habit, I looked at the comments left on the Facebook post for this article. Naturally, some of them were terrible. Reading one of them made me realize that people who give up babies for adoption are kind of damned if they do, damned if they don’t. A number of people felt that the bio grandmother and mother had a lot of “nerve”, expecting to meet the now grown bio daughter. It seems that many people lose sight of what a tremendously painful decision giving a baby up for adoption is for many birth mothers. Does it not occur to them that the birth mom might wonder about her long, lost offspring? Do they forget that a lot of women would prefer to have an abortion rather than give up their baby? As awful as abortion may seem to the pro-life crowd, a lot of people who unintentionally get pregnant would rather not have to wonder about where the baby is and how the baby is doing. Being pregnant is a burden that has the potential to be dangerous or even deadly for some people.

But there was one commenter who was especially horrible. In case anyone is wondering, no, I’m not the original poster. I just noticed how “Richard”, who really should go by the name, “Dick”, was taking her on in an abusive way.

Why does “Richard”, who claims to have voted for Jill Stein, have this idea that “women can’t control themselves”? While it’s definitely possible for women to be sex offenders, it’s mostly men in that contemptible role of not being in control. It’s a fact that sometimes women do get pregnant as a result of rape or incest. Generally speaking, it’s not the women who are out of control. When a woman does get pregnant and keeps the pregnancy, she’s not going to get pregnant again until those nine months are up. But the men who are out there fertilizing those fertile wombs can theoretically get hundreds of women pregnant every year. So I really think Richard should STFU… but I also wonder where he got such a hateful attitude. It sounds to me like he had an unhappy childhood or something. Or maybe he has an unhappy adulthood. I wonder how much fucking he’s doing. However much it is, he’s probably doing it alone. That would account for his mean spirited comments.

One other thing I notice from the above exchange is that both people seem to be hurting. Why else would their responses be so vitriolic? And why do people feel the need to get into fights with strangers in comment sections? Is Richard really as big of a dick as he seems to be? Why is he “slut shaming”? Makes me think that there’s a woman in his life who made him pay for something he doesn’t think he should have to pay for.

I think Lynne’s daughter can take some solace in knowing that she made a couple happy when she gave up her daughter for them to raise. That was ultimately a selfless decision, in spite of the many comments people are leaving that indicate that she was “selfish” for not raising the girl herself. The alternative could have been for her to have an abortion. Of course, personally, I happen to agree with “Richard” that people shouldn’t have casual sex if they aren’t prepared to be parents, even if I think his actual comments are extremely rude and insulting. But that’s just me, and that’s what worked for me.

Sometimes I do regret that I never had children, but then I realize that I would have wanted Bill to be the father of my children. I didn’t meet him until after he’d had a vasectomy at his ex wife’s behest, so pregnancy wasn’t destined to happen without significant medical intervention and expense. When the timing was optimal for an intervention, life got in the way. Bill went to Iraq, and we had significant debt. I have never wanted to adopt a child, and one of the reasons I haven’t wanted to adopt is because of the very special problems and issues that often come up due to adoption. But again, that’s just me. I understand why some people think adoption is wonderful. I don’t think they’re wrong; it just wasn’t for me. Neither was medical intervention to get pregnant. Maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me that motherhood isn’t for me.

My heart goes out to Lynne’s daughter. Not just because she wants to meet her now grown bio daughter, but because so many people apparently think she was terrible to give the baby up for adoption in the first place. It’s the same kind of disdainful attitude people have toward sperm donors– guys who give up their sperm so that people can have birth families. I have often pointed out that I don’t agree with labeling irresponsible fathers as “sperm donors”. Actual sperm donors provide a valuable service for which they are paid. Guys who knock up women and leave them high and dry are not in the same category. And women who decide to give up their babies instead of aborting them presumably offer something of value to other people. They should be treated with compassion, instead of contempt. Giving up a baby is not an easy or painless decision for most people. At the same time, I agree that the birth daughter doesn’t owe her bio mom anything. But then, that’s really true for every child, when it comes down to it. That feeling of obligation toward one’s parent is a construct of civilization, not a biological one.

I hope Lynne and her daughter find peace and comfort.

Here’s a link to Stick Figure, the book by Lori Gottlieb I mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you make a purchase through this link, I get a small commission from Amazon.

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book reviews, divorce, domestic violence, family, marriage, mental health, psychology

Repost: A review of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce…

This is an as/is repost of a book I reviewed on September 26, 2015.

In April 2014, I blogged about a man who apparently committed suicide after being “broken down” by the family court system.  Chris Mackney was married to northern Virginia jewelry designer Dina Mackney.  He had two kids with her, a boy and a girl.  They split up and Mackney was both separated from his children and obligated to pay an oppressive amount of child support.  He spent time in jail when he couldn’t come up with the money.  He was repeatedly hauled into court and harassed by child support enforcement officials trying to get “blood from a stone”.  He lost job after job and finally sank into an abyss of pennilessness and despair.

Like me, Mackney was a blogger.  On his now defunct blog, Good Men Did Nothing, he posted about his situation as it became more and more dire.  Finally, on December 29, 2013, Chris Mackney had reached the end of his proverbial rope.  He sat in his car and placed a rifle under his chin, and pulled the trigger.  In the wake of his suicide, his ex wife became executor of his estate, which basically consisted of his car and his computer.  He had lost everything in his divorce, including his grip on his sanity.  Mackney’s ex wife then sicced lawyers on everyone who posted about Mackney’s suicide and managed to get his blog taken down.  Dina Mackney’s lawyers also supposedly had every comment Chris Mackney ever posted on the Internet wiped out.  It was as if his presence on the Internet was being systematically erased.

Not long ago, Michael Volpe, author of Bullied to Death: Chris Mackney’s Kafkaesque Divorce, left me a comment on my blog post about this case.  I usually erase comments that consist of sales pitches, but I was interested in Mackney’s case.  So I went ahead and downloaded Volpe’s book and just finished it last night.  I mostly thought Volpe’s book was a very interesting read.

Volpe explains that decades ago in Texas, Dina Mackney’s father, Pete Scamardo, hired a hitman to kill a former business partner and friend named Sam Degelia, Jr.  The hitman, who was paid $2000, was none other than Charles Harrelson, actor Woody Harrelson’s father.  Once Degelia was successfully offed, Scamardo moved to Virginia where he proceeded to make a fortune in building.  Apparently, Dina Scamardo grew up privileged in northern Virginia.  She married Chris Macknij and then got him to legally change his name to Mackney, because it was a better name for her jewelry design business.

Volpe writes that Dina Mackney came from a family with ruthless and criminal tendencies, which may have made her especially likely to go after her ex husband with zeal.  According to Volpe’s book, there was little left of Chris Mackney when she and the Fairfax County family court were finished with him.  He saw no way to salvage his life or climb out of the bottomless financial hellhole he was in.  So he decided to kill himself.

Volpe’s book is perhaps misnamed.  I purchased it thinking it would be only about Chris and Dina Mackney and their relationship.  That was probably a naive assumption on my part, since Dina Mackney seems clearly against getting her late ex husband’s story out to the masses.  In fact, I think Volpe may be pretty brave to have written this book, since Dina Mackney has established herself as willing to litigate.  Bullied to Death doesn’t include a lot about Chris and Dina Mackney’s marriage; it’s more about what happened after the marriage and what led up to Chris Mackney’s decision to kill himself.  I’d say that makes up a good third of the book.

Another third of the book consists of Volpe’s thoughts on the family court system and how it’s unfair to non-custodial parents, usually fathers.  Volpe has some rather radical ideas about how post divorce parenting and child support should be handled.  At times, the writing is a bit emotional and disjointed and I spotted more than a couple of places where some editing would have been beneficial.  On the other hand, I appreciated that Volpe was gutsy enough to write Mackney’s story to the best of his ability.

While I didn’t always agree with some of Volpe’s ideas, as someone who watched her husband get screwed over by an ex wife and saw him lose contact with his kids, I had some empathy for Volpe’s viewpoint.  While Bill was not hounded by child support enforcement or lawyers, he did pay out the nose in child support for kids who eventually dumped him.  Attentive fathers should not be treated like sperm donors with open wallets.      

Something does need to be done about how divorcing couples with children are handled in the United States.  While I am not at the point at which I’d say child support needs to be abolished, I do think that the system should be more equitable and flexible.  Chris Mackney’s child support was established when he was employed in real estate and had made a lot of money.  Not long after his divorce, Mackney’s business took a downturn and he could not pay the child support ordered by the court.  He quickly went into arrears and was soon completely buried in debt he’d never be able to repay.  He had no contact with his children, whom he dearly loved.  It’s no wonder he became so desperate.

The last third of the book consists of notes, appendices, and citations.  They are useful for those who want to do some follow up research on this sad case and others involving men’s rights in divorce situations.

Volpe’s book was apparently self-published, so it lacks the polish one might expect in something published by a big name outfit.  Moreover, I think it would have been a stronger book had it included more information about Chris and Dina Mackney’s relationship and why their divorce was so acrimonious.  Volpe seems to infer that Dina Mackney came from a family accustomed to resorting to criminal behavior, but everyone knows there are always at least three sides to every breakup story: his, hers, and the truth.

I’m not sure we quite get the whole truth about the Mackneys in Bullied to Death.  However, I do think Volpe basically did a good job writing about this case as much as he was able to.  I doubt he got much cooperation from the other interested parties, so naturally that affected how much of the story he was able to share.  I also think this is a case that needs to be publicized.  While I’m not sure what happened to Chris Mackney or even my own husband is the norm, there are men going through divorce becoming so hopeless that they turn to suicide or other drastic measures.  Their lives matter, too.  

For those who are interested, here is a video of Victor Zen reading Chris Mackney’s suicide note.

This note was originally posted on Chris Mackney’s blog, but his former wife had the blog taken down.

Mike Volpe later left me this comment on my original review:

mike volpe September 27, 2015 at 2:16 PM

This is a fair review of my book. I’m glad you liked and I wish you loved it. I only have two small points to make 1) I never suggested mostly men get screwed and in fact, I was careful in the book to show stories from all angles and 2) while Chris’s ex-wife wanted to remove even all his comments from the internet that failed miserably and most of what Chris has written has remained intact. You are correct that the marriage was not described in too much detail and that’s because one person was dead and the other one didn’t share any of their details. While divorce is he said/she said by nature, I feel comfortable that I presented an accurate description of what happened and not simply choosing Chris’s side. I presented his flaws, including his adultery, but committing adultery compared to covering up a murder are not, in my opinion, in the same league.

A few other people also left useful comments.

See Lo December 10, 2016 at 1:57 AM

I will soon be reading this book. The corruption and child support extortion needs to stop. #ChrisMackney will live on and his story is only the beginning.

Walter Singleton January 3, 2017 at 8:28 PM

Chris Mackney’s story is an extreme example of what happens to fathers (and sometimes mothers) in family courts EVERY SINGLE DAY. Family Court is a place where corruption reigns supreme – malicious spouses, dirty lawyers, and apathetic judges often join forces to destroy one of the parties. Once they decide which parent is on the losing side, there is often no recovery. This is a system that NEEDS to be fixed.

Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog may know why this subject interests me, although I don’t have the same level of interest in it as I once had. I do think domestic violence against men is an often overlooked and ignored problem. I applaud any author who is brave enough to take it on, even if they self-publish their work.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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