mental health, narcissists, nostalgia, psychology, TV

“Be your own hero…” Life lessons from 80s era TV.

Throughout the 1980s, I was a big fan of the cheesy TV show, Fame. I’m not sure why I liked it so much. Even in the 80s, I knew it was a really cheesy show. I wasn’t involved in the performing arts at that time in my life, although my parents were. I just liked watching the reruns every night, which came on an independent, local television station in my area, WTVZ, channel 33. The independent version of WTVZ that I knew during my childhood went defunct years ago. It was bought out by a much bigger, national network. But, back in the day, I used to love watching prime time hits in syndication or reruns on channel 33. Now, I can do that on YouTube.

Yes, this is a cheesy and silly number, but there is wisdom in this song.

When I was in 7th or 8th grade, WTVZ ran episodes of Fame every evening at 7:00pm. I used to watch that show religiously. I still remember a lot of the musical numbers from the show. One such song was sung by the character, Coco (Erica Gimpel). It was called “Be Your Own Hero.” Actually, the song’s lyrics, themselves, aren’t that wise. They’re kind of corny and trite. But, the title is catchy, and the melody is upbeat and positive. And even if all you do is just look at the song’s title, you can take something away from it.

Fame was about talented kids in high school who hoped to make it big in show business someday. They knew they faced long odds of finding success, even though they were obviously gifted people. Being talented isn’t always enough, though. Luck plays a part, as does working hard, and believing in yourself. A big part of success, in any aspect of life, is not letting “the bastards” get you down. Because, as unfortunate as it is, there are always people out there who just like to watch the world burn. They like to see people fail. And some of these folks don’t even have the courtesy to be “real” about who they are. They put on a convincing act, and don’t reveal their true colors until after some time has passed. So, as the song goes, you gotta “be your own hero”, if you want to make it. You have to advocate for yourself and take opportunities as they arise, as you avoid falling into traps and pitfalls. Only you know what your reality is. No one else knows you, like you know yourself.

I am thinking about this song today, having had a discussion with Bill this morning about three situations in which we’ve managed not to be suckers. I’ve talked and written about these situations a lot over the years, but today was the first time I saw a pattern. It was a pattern of success– of us “being our own heroes” by knowing the differences between legitimate opportunities, and traps. This morning, we talked about three different scenarios that came up over the past twenty years, or so. These were circumstances in which other people were trying to take advantage of us. They were using the classic manipulative tactics to get what they wanted, when they weren’t entitled.

I’ll start with an old chestnut that I’ve trotted out umpteen times over the years– Christmas 2004. Detailed versions of the story of that holiday season are easily found in this blog, so I won’t rehash the tale. Basically, Ex was holding Bill’s daughters hostage– or bait, if you will. They were like carrots on the proverbial stick, as she used the prospect of Bill being allowed to see his own kids as reward for letting Ex come in to Bill’s father’s home and control everyone for the holidays. I was supposed to go to that gathering, but I saw it for the trap it was, and wisely stayed out of it. Yes, there was backlash, and plenty of people think I was wrong not to cooperate with Ex. However, I could plainly see what she was doing. I knew that no one– not even Ex– would benefit if I did what she wanted me to do. So I disobeyed her command to spend Christmas with her, and stayed home.

Now, Ex did retaliate, by stepping up her parental alienation campaign and being more toxic. In the years following that incident, there was a price to be paid for not acquiescing to her demands. However, if I had obeyed her, the price would have been much higher. In the long run, her actions have made her look like an asshole, and at least one (and probably more) of her kids know she’s an asshole. And I don’t have the memories of having to spend time in her presence. I was my own hero in that instance, because I realized that my own mental health matters. I don’t have to give in to emotional blackmail. If I had gone along with her plan, there was no guarantee that there would have been a reward of any kind. In fact, if I had given her the chance to know me in person, it might have made things a lot worse. The end result is that I haven’t had to deal with 20 years of her interfering with my marriage or trying to manipulate my husband, or me. Yes, she still manipulates other people, but we can’t control that. They have to be their own heroes and realize what she is, and what she does. Younger daughter has managed to do just that. I have high hopes that she will break the cycle of narcissistic abuse, at least in her own family.

The second scenario happened in 2009, when we busted then 21 year old former stepson secretly changing his last name as he continued to take child support from Bill (who isn’t his legal father). Ex had gotten the lad’s name changed to Bill’s when he was a toddler. When he was 21, he decided to change it back to his original surname (probably at Ex’s behest). But he still wanted Bill’s financial support, so he took these steps in secret. I later found out about it, quite by accident. I told Bill, and he decided to see if he could prompt the young man into coming clean. He never did.

For some reason, Ex had not filed for child support arranged by the state. My guess is that she knew that if she had the state handling child support, she wouldn’t get as much money. Bill was giving her $850 per child, which was a lot of money. When former stepson turned 18, Bill started paying him directly, which was what was required by their divorce agreement. Ex had a change of heart about that. She tried to get Bill to stop giving former stepson money directly. I guess she realized that the money gave her son power, and the ability to get away from her influence. But she did manage to get him to change his name, which was fine. He just should have had the common courtesy and respect to tell Bill what he was doing. Former stepson had neglected to do that, so it was left to Bill to practice some tough love.

As we realized what former stepson was up to, Bill came up with an idea. He’d given former stepson a chance to tell Bill about the name change, but former stepson had kept mum. So Bill, who was handling the “child support” payments directly, abruptly cut off the boy’s money. After a couple of days passed, and the child support money didn’t land in his bank account, as expected, the lad surfaced, asking what was going on. That was when Bill confronted him, and told him he had just declared himself no longer in need of getting “child support”. Changing one’s surname is, after all, the action of an adult.

Naturally, former stepson was angry that the man he had disingenuously been calling “Dad” had found out that he was changing his last name. His initial response wasn’t shame, embarrassment, or contrition. It was outrage. But there was Bill, now in charge. He had “been his own hero”, and not let this kid use his generosity to control and manipulate him. Bill had realized that letting his former stepson get away with this deceptive and shady behavior wasn’t good in the long run. It would make their relationship transactional, encourage more shady behavior in the future, and frankly, make Bill his former stepson’s lackey. That would have done some serious damage to Bill’s self-respect, while it gave former stepson a victory that he shouldn’t have. It would have been bad parenting for Bill to let his former stepson get away with what he was doing.

Yes, there were repercussions. Former stepson was furious, and now he doesn’t talk to Bill anymore. But we’ve heard he also doesn’t talk much to Ex, either. He’s paying his own way now, and has a family of his own. Bill is sorry they don’t talk anymore, but he also knows he’s not in a relationship with someone who only values him for money. Maybe someday they can heal the rift; but if they don’t, it’s okay. Bill will survive. So will former stepson. Hopefully, neither of his children will ever pull the same shameful bullshit with him when they get older.

And finally, we were our own heroes a couple of years ago, when our former landlady tried to steal our security deposit after we left her hovel. In retrospect, we should not have stayed in that house for four years. We should not have allowed her to treat us the way she did. Being nice and acquiescing to her demands only emboldened her, and apparently made her think that she could egregiously break German law and ignore our rights. At the end of our time in her house, we were left having, once again, to be tough and confrontational.

I had determined the year before we moved that ex landlady was going to be a major pain in the ass about our deposit when we moved. Actually, my concern was that she might try to sue us, because the 17 year old awning on her house had collapsed on my watch (due to high winds, NOT my negligence– in fact, she was negligent in not having it repaired by an actual technician, instead of her husband). I talked Bill into getting legal insurance, thinking we might need it if she tried to take action against us, even though it would have been ludicrous and probably doomed to failure.

What ended up happening, though, is that she simply refused to give us our money, and became very rude and insulting. She said we were the “worst” tenants she’d ever had, not realizing that she was the least professional landlady/landlord we’ve ever had. She did a lot of things wrong. She hadn’t done a proper protocol when we moved in, and she never did a former reconciliation of our “other costs”, which is required by German law. She also made false accusations against us that we could prove were false, and there was strong evidence that she had broken and entered the house when we weren’t home. That’s a huge “no no” in Germany.

When Bill received a very insulting, berating, and downright mean shaming email from the former landlady, he resolved not to respond to her. Instead, he closed his computer and went to sleep. He knew exactly what he was going to do next, and it was going to come as a very unpleasant surprise to the old bitch. She was expecting him to roll over for him, as he had done when we still lived in her house. Instead, he called a lawyer and had her write a letter demanding over 9000 euros, to include our stolen deposit, and the “other costs” she had received from us, but never reconciled. Naturally, ex landlady went berserk, and threatened to countersue. However, she had zero case against us because she couldn’t prove her claims. What’s more, we had a whole stack of rude, unhinged, hostile emails she had sent to Bill, at the end of our tenancy. Bill, on the other hand, had stayed professional and polite.

Ex landlady hadn’t had any respect for me, or what I do– writing blogs, taking photos, and the like. But the fact that I do these things– keep records, that is– was her downfall. And because I am a writer and researcher, we had that evidence to submit in our support of a lawsuit against her. If she had gone to court, it would have likely been a fucking massacre– especially since she falsely accused us of theft, and we could easily prove that her accusation was patently false. It was obvious that she wanted us to buy her a new, fancy awning. But she’s damned lucky that we let her file an insurance claim, under the circumstances. The awning wasn’t repaired properly. If it had fallen on me and caused injury, she would have been liable.

In the end, she settled with us, and was forced to not only give back most of the money she had illegally withheld, but she also had to pay for our lawyer, her lawyer, and court costs. And she’s now blacklisted from renting to anyone in the U.S. military community. I mean, I suppose she could rent to another contractor, like Bill. But most military contractors know that they can access the list of unapproved landlords. If they’re smart, they avoid renting from those folks. And government workers and military servicemembers won’t get government support/housing allowance if they rent from her. Her house is definitely nothing special, so I can’t see anyone paying out of pocket to live there.

That situation was very stressful for us. It gave us no joy or pleasure to sue our ex landlady. But as awful as that situation was, it was also exhilarating not to be someone’s chump. Bill actually described it that way to me. People underestimate him all the time. They take his kind, gentle nature as weakness. They are usually very surprised when he reminds them that he’s spent his whole adult life as a Soldier. Soldiers engage in war for a living. Soldiers are often career heroes. So she should not have been surprised. Bill was just doing what the Army trained him to do. Bill was “being his own hero.”

There have been other incidences of us “being our own heroes”, but this post is long enough already. I write these stories for those who find themselves in similar tough spots. I think our culture teaches us to “go along to get along”, or take the path of least resistance. That’s not always a bad thing to do. Sometimes, cooperating really is the best course of action. But, when you’re dealing with a bully who has no respect for you, it’s usually best not to negotiate. They will always try to make it so that you’re their chump. You can’t expect a fair shake from these people, and if you give them what they want, you will only embolden them to do worse things to you, or other innocent people. So be your own hero.

When you are confronted by high conflict bully types, try not to react emotionally. Stop for a moment. Don’t dash off a response, especially in writing. In fact, you might want to go radio silent and privately hatch some plans. As you can see from our stories, the element of surprise can be very effective in getting these people to fuck off. Above all, realize that you matter, and your mental health matters. Always advocate for yourself, and in a situation in which there isn’t a “win-win” option, do what suits you best. Most of the time, that will be the healthiest choice for everybody. Especially if you’re dealing with a high conflict person.

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Ex, mental health, narcissists, psychology, scams

“Um… excuse me for noticing, but your slip is showing…”

Happy Friday, y’all. Tomorrow is the big day… we’re gonna load up the Volvo and drive south for a vacation in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein. I’m looking forward to going, although I always worry a bit when we leave home. I especially worry about Arran, who is getting pretty old, and doesn’t enjoy being boarded as much as he used to when he was younger. But one of the reasons we chose to live in Europe is so we could do some exploring of the continent. Because of the pandemic, we’ve been doing less of that in recent years. It’s time we got back to it, if only so I can justify keeping my travel blog going. I do still have a handful of readers there who don’t follow this blog at all, so I like to offer fresh and interesting content to them whenever possible.

I have some stuff to take care of in preparation for the trip. I still need to pack, and there are a couple of routine household chores I’d like to get done before we head off in the morning. But being busy hasn’t stopped me from checking in on Ex. I know a lot of people think I’m “obsessed” with her, and my preoccupation might even be “unhealthy”. I might agree with them; although at this point, I mostly find her intriguing, rather than personally threatening. As an occasional student of psychology, some of the things she does, and gets away with, are fascinating. I think I would find her interesting even if she hadn’t been married to Bill, and I didn’t know her backstory. As a somewhat “relatively normal” person, I am continually shocked by her gall and complete lack of authenticity.

Years ago, I used to love watching cartoons. When I think of Ex, I often think in terms of cartoons. On my original blog, I once famously compared Ex to Wile E. Coyote, because she often has “big” ideas that turn out to be harebrained schemes that eventually blow up in her face. When I wrote that post in the fall of 2018, I got a comment from a reader who felt my posts about Ex were/are completely inappropriate and in “poor taste”. This person, obviously not someone who knows me or the situation, probably assumed that Ex is a “normal” person and I’m just a mean, bitter, second wife. But she’s not a normal person, and if you know anything about her, that reality becomes very clear in a hurry. And I may be mean and bitter sometimes, but I have never once come close to doing some of the things Ex does on a regular basis to people she supposedly loves.

On the surface, she seems like a lovely, thoughtful, “normal” woman. But look closer, and you see who she really is. I often find myself comparing her to cartoon characters, maybe because some of her behavior is very cartoonish. In 2018, Ex’s antics reminded me of Wile E. Coyote… but in 2022, she reminds me more of Yosemite Sam.

“Your slip is showing.”

In 1955, Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam starred in a cartoon called “Sahara Hare”. Yosemite Sam comes riding in on a camel, yelling and carrying on. When the camel doesn’t “whoa” when Sam says “whoa”, he knocks the poor animal on the head with his rifle. Just your typical, garden variety bully, posturing for all the world to see, right?

Meanwhile, Bugs Bunny is bathing in an oasis, good naturedly singing as he steps out, in search of a towel. His eyes are shut when he encounters Yosemite Sam, who wears desert garb that covers his head. Bugs mistakes Sam’s head covering as a towel. Sam whirls around to confront the rascally rabbit, who is busily drying off with Sam’s garb. Bugs asks him what’s up, and wonders if he’s with the side show. Yosemite Sam responds by introducing himself in threatening terms… to which Bugs says, “Your slip is showing.” This makes Sam cower in shame as he tries to cover up something that embarrasses him.

Of course, Bugs was conning him…

Realizing that he’s been duped into shame and humiliation, and feeling determined to gain Bugs Bunny’s respect, Sam gets angry and starts firing his weapon at Bugs, who is calmly departing the scene and easily missing Sam’s bullets. But then Sam nearly misses Bugs, who takes off running. Sam gets back on the camel and screams at him to follow Bugs. The camel doesn’t move, until Sam hits him again… then he won’t stop running, again causing Sam to hit him over the head with his gun.

Yep… Sam is really nothing but a bully, putting on a facade that is meant to intimidate other people. But really, he’s just an abusive, foolish, buffoon, who doesn’t manage to sway the astute. Only the naive or unaware are impressed or intimidated by Sam– a cartoon character who cowers in shame when a rabbit tells him that his “slip is showing”, even after he’s postured this loud, obnoxious, ridiculous spectacle that is supposed to be scary.

Young people among us might not know that a slip is an undergarment, typically worn by women, underneath dresses or skirts made of sheer or otherwise revealing material. It’s intended to preserve modesty, and cover up panty lines and the “naughty bits”… or private parts, if you prefer. That a tough talking little turd like Sam is wearing women’s undergarments is also a statement about his status as a “beta”, trying to act like an “alpha”.

In these more “enlightened” times, this cartoon might seem hopelessly sexist and un-PC, but the point is, Sam is trying to be something he’s really not. He’s a coward and a bully, who preys on the weak, foolish, and gullible. In that way, he’s kind of like Donald Trump. I don’t know how many of us ladies are still wearing slips these days, but when they were commonly worn, just like underwear, slips weren’t supposed to be shown to others. And men, at least in 1955, weren’t supposed to wear slips at all. So, the fact that Sam rushed to hide his “slip” from the trickster bunny is especially embarrassing and shameful.

Now Ex does have her moments of acting like the fiery version of Yosemite Sam. When she gets angry, she’s reportedly kind of “scary”… not that I’ve experienced it directly. I have just been here in the aftermath of other people’s dealings with her. I believe them when they say that she has her “Yosemite Sam” moments, and is full of bluster that can be frightening to experience. Ex also doesn’t really bluff much. Call her on her bullshit, she will happily cut off her nose to spite her own face– or more often, other people’s faces– just to try to “prove you wrong”. While a lot of her antics are, at best, truly ridiculous, sometimes she does do damaging, and even dangerous, things in her efforts to command “respect”.

Like, for instance, she gave up Bill’s generous financial support of his adult daughters, which I know she could and would have used, even though, technically, it wasn’t her money. She realized that maintaining control of offspring, and the official narrative of what really happened, was more important to her than access to Bill’s money was. It also didn’t seem to matter to her that Bill’s daughters might have appreciated having that support, or even access to Bill’s 911 GI Bill for college expenses. She was much more focused on her own agenda and what suited her, not what was actually best for Bill’s daughters. I specify Bill’s daughters, because Ex’s other kids aren’t his responsibility, even if he did raise and pay support for Ex’s son with #1. She probably treats her kids with #3 somewhat similarly, although sometimes it seems like Bill’s daughters got the worst treatment– as if they needed to be punished for having his DNA. From what we’ve heard, #3’s daughter seems to be the current golden child.

But, even though Ex was proud to stop taking child support from Bill, and was all too ready to stop her daughters from getting the support directly, she still needs money. She also needs a lot of attention and narcissistic supply. So, she will do things like force her children to take out loans that she can skim from. And, for some reason, she feels compelled to present a completely false version of herself to the world. The opinions of strangers seem to be much more important to her than the opinions of family members. I find that very interesting, which is why I continue to watch her. Of course, I also watch her because she’s repeatedly proven that she’s very underhanded and not above trying to take advantage of people in Bill’s family.

So anyway, this week, after a period of relative calm and quiet, Ex resurfaced with more of her outrageous bullshit. On one social media platform, she shared several memes, accompanied by nonsensical blather that sounded good, but weren’t actually in harmony with specific actions that she’s taken. Click on the images to see what I mean.

Um… this was NEVER an issue with Ex. In fact, in over 20 years of observing her, I have seen that she’s not one to consider other people’s feelings or needs, at least not unless there is something in it for her. Other people are usually catering to her whims.

I really have no idea if she actually believes the crap she routinely spews to the masses. I know she hopes that other people will believe it, and she must get some kind of payback from affirmative comments, positive reactions, and validation she gets from total strangers. But people who really know her, or have even just been exposed to people who know her, realize that this is all a bunch of smoke and mirrors she puts out to the world for some reason. She is a very manipulative person, and it’s not wise to take anything she says or writes at face value.

Making things stranger is the fact that Ex puts out details that have an element of truth within them. Ex did, for instance, work as a university administrator for some years. But we know that Ex dropped out of high school and got a GED, just as her oldest kids did (not sure about her youngest daughter). Ex talks about her alleged goals that were thwarted by other people– her adoptive mom, her adoptive and step dads, her ex husbands, her children (especially her “severely autistic and non-verbal” son), or other entities that supposedly took advantage of her or ripped her off– ie. Mary Kay Cosmetics, Nutrisystem, the LDS church, etc. The list goes on and on. She never seems to be satisfied; she never takes personal responsibility; and her plans are always seemingly overtaken by events or the “bad actions” of other people.

Younger daughter told us that she was forced to leave public school when she was a teenager. Ex made her get a GED, then enroll in college classes, so she could get student loans, something Ex learned about in her role as an administrator, and possibly from her multiple attempts to get her own bachelor’s degree. Ex took the money that wasn’t used by tuition and spent it, leaving younger daughter to pay off the debt. Sadly, younger daughter didn’t even manage to finish the degree. Older daughter supposedly did get a degree, but still lives with her mother and has lots of debt. Ex has had multiple bankruptcies, but here she is dispensing advice as if she’s an expert on education. She did, supposedly get a master’s degree in education, but she’s never really used it professionally. In fact, she left her “university job” because she got fired… something about “mishandling funds”, which prompted her to move across country to a new place, where she hasn’t repeatedly shit in the local well of human forbearance and understanding.

One would think, looking at Ex’s public persona, that she’s a very loving, caring, and devoted mom and wife. But yet, instead of taking care of her family, as she claims she does, she’s posting crap for the masses… especially for celebrities. And there always seems to be a hook for money, narcissistic supply, and some kind of prestige or recognition by people who don’t even know her, and will never even meet her.

As I mentioned up post, I find Ex to be a fascinating character. If I were a practicing mental health professional, I would probably alternately be amazed and frustrated by her. A psychiatrist or psychologist (or both) could write quite an interesting book about her. But I think the personal price they would have to pay to create such a book would be much too high to justify the effort. Still, she really is something… and I must admit, I’m probably too wedded to watching her in action. Maybe our trip will help refocus my attention to things other than Ex’s slip… and the facade she constantly puts up that is always slipping to show the ugliness underneath.

It must be exhausting to have to constantly create this fantasy world she lives in, along with the constant framing of the narrative so that people will believe that she’s really who she claims to be. There’s a very human part of me that feels empathy for Ex, and a smaller part that is kind of amused by her. But then I remember what she did to Bill, who is the best person I know, and I get angry again. So here I am, processing this shit on my blog for anyone to read. Maybe I’m no better than she is, but at least I am not passing this crap on to my children… because in part, thanks to her, I don’t have any. Well, I’ll at least try to keep things real. You may not like what you see in me, but at least what you see is what you get. I try to be honest and authentic, even if the real me isn’t always a pretty sight. I find that being that way keeps most of the malicious fuckers away from me.

Anyway, I don’t mind if my slip is showing. Remember, I like to go to nude German spas. Speaking of which, it’s time I closed this post and got on with my chores, so we can get on the road tomorrow. Have a great Friday, y’all.

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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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lessons learned, memories

Partial repost: My own experience with a “Cootie Kid”…

One last partial repost– partial, because I left off the last part, which is time sensitive and no longer relevant. I wrote this February 24, 2015. I also changed the title of the post, because the original title is no longer relevant.

Last night, I looked up a woman I haven’t seen or heard of since fifth grade.  I was surprised by how easy it was to find her.  I just typed her maiden name and the name of the town where we grew up.  I was surprised to find her living in a town not far from our old hometown.  I also found out that she attended the same high school my former boyfriend did.  He may even know her because they probably graduated in the same class.

This woman’s name was very common in the year of our birth.  Indeed, I share her first name, but here I’ll just call her “Joni”.  Like me, Joni was socially awkward and considered weird.  Actually, she made me look like a social genius because she was even louder and odder than I ever was.  Joni was outgoing and smart enough, but she was strangely dressed and kind of homely.  She had very crooked teeth that didn’t appear to be very well cared for and an unfortunate habit of picking her nose in class and eating her boogers in front of everyone.  When we were kids, she was very skinny, had stringy blonde hair, and a face that could be best described as interesting.   

When we were in the fourth grade, I remember playing kickball with Joni.  Our teacher at the time, Mr. A , was big on taking us out for recess if time allowed.  These were the glorious days before the No Child Left Behind Act.  One day, we were playing kickball and Joni, being kind of gangly and uncoordinated, stepped up to the plate.  The ball rolled toward her.  She kicked at it, missed entirely, and fell to the ground with a solid thud.  On impact with the dirt, Joni’s leg made a sickening cracking sound, and she started howling in agony.  At the time back in 1981, there was a McDonald’s commercial that used the voice talents of Frank Nelson, a guy who would say “Yeeeeeees….” all the time.  That’s what Joni sounded like when she hit the ground and started screaming.

You can hear Frank Nelson say “Yeeees” in this commercial. Joni sounded a little like him when she screamed.

Poor thing.  I actually remember people laughing and saying that Joni sounded like the McDonald’s guy at the scene of her injury.  She was not well-regarded by our classmates.  I don’t remember being especially unkind to her, though I also don’t remember being her buddy.  People were mean to me too, though, and I think I might have had a smidge of empathy… though I probably also felt relief that someone other than me was being picked on. 

Anyway, Mr. A got help for her and, after about a week, she came back to school with a canvas cast that covered her whole leg.  She used crutches for months and I remember her wearing what she called a “rocking shoe”.  I even remember her spiritedly telling someone about the rocking shoe when he was teasing her about it.  She was a girl with a surprising amount of pluck and resilience, especially for her age.

I might have felt snarky toward Joni the way our classmates did, but I too suffered an accident while in Mr. A’s class.  In my case, it just involved being knocked unconscious by a soccer ball kicked by Mr. A.  That was a very embarrassing incident, but at least I recovered from it quickly. 

The following year, Joni was in my fifth grade class.  That year, I witnessed another classmate getting hurt, though this time, it wasn’t Joni.  It was another person who, at the time, was a friend of mine.  We were in PE class and she was climbing the bleachers when her leg slipped between the seat and the foot board.  She tore a huge gash in her leg, right by her knee.  I remember all the blood and our gym teacher (not Mr. A, though he did become a gym teacher at that school that year) picking her up in his arms and rushing her to the office where someone called an ambulance.  This girl’s bleacher accident also happened right in front of me and it reminded of me of when Joni broke her leg.  My other injured classmate screamed, but she didn’t sound like Frank Nelson.  She, too, used crutches for weeks afterwards.

One of my last clear memories of Joni was at Christmas time.  We had a gift exchange and Joni drew my name.  On the day of the gift exchange, the teacher asked me to come speak with her out in the hall.  While we were out there, she handed me a present, which turned out to be a little Smurf pin.  I think it depicted Papa Smurf grinning and holding a flower.  She said she had bought it for me because Joni had drawn my name and she knew the present Joni was going to give me would suck.  She didn’t phrase it that way, of course, but that was the basic gist of what she was saying.  I think I remember her telling me that Joni’s family didn’t have any money or something to that effect.  I believed it, having been in school with Joni for a couple of years.

Sure enough, when it came time for gift exchanges, I got Joni’s gift wrapped in rumpled notebook paper.  It was a Christmas ornament that we’d all made in class and hers was painted several different non-complementary colors.  Since the teacher had prepared me, I managed to accept the gift gracefully.  And though I was never a fan of the Smurfs, it took many years before I could bring myself to get rid of that little Smurf pin that my teacher had bought for me.  To this day, I still have the same luck when it comes to secret gift exchanges.  I always get the person who buys me booze and then drinks it all before they present it to me (yes, this did actually happen to me once when I worked at a country club).

After fifth grade, Joni moved away.  I didn’t know where she went and, in time, even forgot all about her.  But then someone on Facebook posted one of those class pictures and I saw her in it, again reminding me that she was part of my childhood.  I looked up Joni because I was curious about where she is and how she’s doing.  It looks like she’s doing fine.  I was a little dismayed to find out that she’s already a grandmother.  Since we are the same age, I hate the idea that I’m old enough to have grandchildren… but hell, I guess I am.  I see that she’s still awkward looking, but apparently has a lot of friends, a loving family, and a good sense of humor. 

I even saw that she was brave enough to post photos from her early childhood.  I actually remembered some of the photos because they were of a scholastic nature and I was around for them.  She even had one that had the full on face shot with the heavenly profile side shot above it, ever popular in the early 80s.  She had on a very frumpy looking dress that looked like it might have belonged to her mother.  One friend asked if she was Amish and her reply was a light-hearted, matter-of-fact response that that was how her parents dressed her.  I was glad to see that she looks happy enough as an adult despite our miserable elementary school days. 

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memories, musings, psychology, true crime

Repost: “Cootie Kids”

And here’s another repost from January 26, 2018, shared today because I just wrote fresh content about the Turpin case.

Every once in awhile, I read something that really makes me stop and think.  Jennifer Turpin is one of the thirteen “kids” who were discovered living in a “house of horrors” in Perris, California a couple of weeks ago.  Authorities found her and her siblings living in filth.  Some of them were shackled to their beds, completely removed from the outside world.  I have been following the horrifying story of the Turpin family.  The more that comes out about them, the more bizarre and insane their story is.

This morning, I ran across a very poignant Facebook post written by Taha Muntajibuddin, a man who knew Jennifer Turpin when they were both kids. At one time, Jennifer Turpin had been allowed to attend school, and she and Muntajibuddin were third grade classmates at Meadowcreek Elementary School. Evidently, in those days, Jennifer Turpin was thought of as one of the “cootie kids”. No one wanted to be friends with her because she was dirty and smelled bad.

Muntajibuddin remembers that after that year, Jennifer moved away and he lost track of her.  There had been times when he’d tried to track her down through Facebook.  He wondered how she’d turned out and hoped she’d turned into someone totally different than who she was when they were eight years old.  But he never was able to find her and imagined that maybe she was one of the few people in the world who hadn’t succumbed to the lure of social media.  Naturally, like so many people who recently discovered the Turpin family, he was horrified when her real story came to light.     

In his very reflective Facebook post, Muntajibuddin reminds people how important it is to be kind.  Better yet, they should teach their children to be kind.  Every elementary school has a “cootie kid” who gets picked on.  Sometimes those kids are able to rise above that moniker.  Sometimes being harassed and bullied leads them down a dark road in which they turn to violence or substance abuse.  Sometimes, it turns out the “cootie kid” is a survivor of a hell that no one else knows about or understands.

My own class had a “cootie kid”.  I have written about her on this blog (ETA: Maybe I’ll repost about her, too).  Like Muntajibuddin, I went Googling to see how she turned out.  Unlike Muntajibuddin, I actually found our old “cootie kid”.  I was gratified to see that it looks like she turned out alright.  She’s one of the ostracized kids who had enough resilience to rise above being picked on and bullied in school.  Just as Muntajibuddin describes Jennifer Turpin as “pleasant” and having a “whimsical optimism”, the “cootie kid” girl I knew was very plucky and friendly, despite her challenges.  She had some really good qualities, in spite of being made the odd girl out.  She was worth the effort of kindness and consideration, as most people ultimately are.

I don’t have kids of my own, of course, so I have never had the responsibility of trying to teach anyone right from wrong.  I’d like to think that if I’d had children, I’d try to teach them to be nice to others.  I’d like to hope I’d encourage them to befriend kids who need friends.  On the other hand, I’m also a realist and a human.  The reality is, as lofty as those goals are, they often fall flat.  Humans are horribly flawed and fallible.  You can have the best of intentions and still be a total failure in some areas.  You can try to be an excellent example and still not manage to sway anyone to follow your lead.

If there’s anything to be learned from kids like Jennifer Turpin, it’s that everyone is fighting battles that aren’t readily apparent to the naked eye.  Kids make fun of other kids when they are different somehow.  I was made fun of when I was in school.  So were a lot of my friends.  We didn’t have the misfortune of being total outcasts, but we took our share of licks.  I remember how that felt and how it still feels today.  Life is hard for most people, but it costs nothing to be kind.

And yet, as I write that, I know there are times that I’ll fail to be kind because I’m human and fallible.  Perhaps if I can take anything from Muntajibuddin’s Facebook post, it’s the reminder that sometimes the reality of another person’s situation is much more horrible than you can ever know.  If it weren’t for Jennifer Turpin’s sister’s bravery, there’s no telling how much longer she and her siblings would be living the miserable life they were living. 

You never know how you will affect other people.  Jennifer Turpin surely doesn’t know how she affected her classmate and how her classmate is, in turn, affecting everyone who reads his poignant thoughts about her.  Just by existing, she’s already changed the world.

Hindsight is 20/20 and I’m sure those who had contact with the Turpin kids now regret not speaking up and calling the authorities.  There’s a fine line in knowing when it’s right to call for help for someone else’s kids.  Some people do it at the drop of a hat.  I think most people would rather not get involved when they see someone like Jennifer Turpin.  I can admit to feeling that way myself, even though I have a degree in social work and would likely have been one of the people who got called when a situation like this is discovered.  It’s hard to stand up for other people.  It’s even harder to know when a situation warrants making a call to the authorities.

The Turpin kids needed a lot more than friends.  In fact, it sounds to me like they weren’t really allowed to have any friends.  But the ones who went to school no doubt interacted with others.  We should teach kids– really each other– to simply be kind… and Muntajibuddin’s post is an excellent reminder to do so.

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