The Hidden Causes of the Paris Killings And What We Can Do to Prevent Future Violence

Paris killingsOnce again we are shocked, sickened, and frightened as we come to grips with another mass killing. We want to do something to feel safe again and often we are told we must “fight fire with fire.”  One headline read: France vows to punish ISIS for fatal Paris attacks. We can all empathize with those who were killed and feel supportive of the citizens of Paris. We can also recognize the rage we feel towards those who are responsible for the killings.

But in order to prevent future acts of mass violence, we have to better understand who did the killing and why. There are no simple answers and, as always, it will take time to get all the facts about what went on. But here are some things we do know:

  1. Those who did the killing were young men.
  2. Each of the men had lost the will to live.

According to a November 16, 2015 article in NY Magazine, “What We Know About the Paris Attackers,” “Authorities believe that ISIS-linked extremists were behind the brutal attacks that killed 129 people and injured another 352 on Friday night in Paris, and details about the attackers and their possible accomplices are continuing to emerge.”

It may be simpler to just lump all the attackers together and call them “terrorists,” but if we want to understand them and prevent future violence it’s important to see them as real human beings. As I look at their names and ages, I wonder what their lives were like. How did they reach a point where they gave up the will to live and decided to kill others and die themselves?

Here’s what the NY Magazine writers Chas Danner and Margaret Hartmann say about the men: [Read more…]

My Father’s Stay at God’s Hotel: A Slow-Medicine Approach to Healing Mental Illness

Gods HotelIt’s been a long journey to come to peace with my father’s life and how it has impacted my own.  I was born on December 21, 1943 in New York City.  My parents had tried to conceive for many years, but had been unsuccessful.  They finally were successful when my father was 37 and my mother was 35 following a procedure where my father’s sperm was injected mother, a radical approach back then.

The vague memories I have of my early life were positive.  One that sticks in my mind is a memory of being 3 or 4 sitting on my father’s shoulders, laughing wildly as he rode me around the small park in Encino, California, not far from our house in Sherman Oaks.  The San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles was beautiful in those early years of my memory with citrus groves as far as the eye could see.

But other memories were not so positive.  I have flashes of my father’s anger, times when he was irritable, angry, and withdrawn, and periods when he would disappear for days at a time.  I learned later than he had become increasingly depressed and would have been diagnosed as bipolar, if that diagnosis had existed at the time. He couldn’t find work in his chosen field as an actor, author, and playwright.

When I was five years old, my father tried to take his own life.  Although he survived physically our lives were never the same.  I grew up wondering what happened to my father and whether it would happen to me.  When I became a father I made a vow to my son, Jemal, when I held him moments after his birth.  I told him that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and I would do everything to create a different kind of world where the wounds of our fathers were healed and children could grow up free of the pain suffered by their parents. [Read more…]

Women Seek Help, Men Die: New Findings on Male Depression and Suicide Will Save Millions of Lives

“Women seek help—men die.”  This conclusion was drawn from a study of suicide prevention by Jules Angst & Celile Ernst.  They found that 75% of those who sought professional help in an institution for suicide prevention were female.  Conversely 75% of those who committed suicide in the same year were male.  Why do so many men die from suicide?

Douglas Bremner, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology and Director Emory Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit (ECNRU) conducted an experiment that offers real insights into the different ways men and women experience depression and what they do when they become depressed.  In a very interesting experiment he gathered a group of former depression patients.  With their permission, he gave them a beverage that was spiked with an amino acid that blocks the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin.

What I found fascinating were the gender specific differences in the way men and women reacted to the potion that blocked the effects of the serotonin.  Typical of the males was John, a middle-aged businessman who had fully recovered from a bout of depression, thanks to a combination of psychotherapy and Prozac. Within minutes of drinking the brew, however, “He wanted to escape to a bar across the street,” recalls Bremner. “He didn’t express sadness … he didn’t really express anything. He just wanted to go to Larry’s Lounge.”   

Contrast John’s response with that of female subjects like Sue, a mother of two in her mid-thirties. After taking the cocktail, “She began to cry and express her sadness over the loss of her father two years ago,” recalls Bremner. “She was overwhelmed by her emotions.”

It’s not difficult to guess which person is most likely to get help and which person is most likely to continue having problems.   [Read more…]

From Here to Eternity: Stopping Male Stress and the Epidemic of Suicides

I have a personal, as well as professional, interest in male depression and suicide.  It began with my father who was born in Jacksonville, Florida December 17, 1906.  He was one of eight children whose parents had been born in Eastern Europe and had come to the United States in the late 1800s.  From what I heard growing up, he was emotionally sensitive, artistic and talented.  He wrote stories, poetry, and put on little plays for the family.

Unlike most of his brothers and sisters who either went into business or married business men, when he was 18 my father went to New York to become an actor.  At first things looked bright.  New York in the 1920s was full of glitter and glitz, a great place to be for a young man seeking fame and fortune.  But that ended in 1929 with the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

It was in New York that he met my mother and they married on her birthday, October 5, 1934 after a somewhat stormy courtship.  Economically things were difficult, but they were together and ready to weather the storm.  When all money ran out they would invite friends and acquaintances to their small apartment and my father would put on a show—readings from Shakespeare, his own poetry, or short stories.  The price of admission was a can of food.

But as the economic situation worsened so did his mood.  He would snap at my mother.  Small things irritated him.  How she cooked, cleaned their apartment, or made the bed became points of discord.  Recalling the times, my mother told me, “He was always on edge.  I couldn’t seem to do anything right.  No matter how much I tried to support him and let him know I cared, he still got mad at me.”

There were increasingly heated arguments and fights.  He would accuse her of being interested in other men and “sleeping around.”  She would proclaim her innocence and feel hurt.  They would make up, make love, and everything would seem all right.  And they would be all right, until the next time.  There was always a next time. 

My mother was always able to find work as a secretary.  She had excellent skills and even in bad times people needed her talents and experience.  However, there weren’t a lot of people looking for my father’s skills and talents.  Not feeling comfortable at home, my father spent more and more time away.  “He’s here, then he’s gone,” my mother would say.  “Sometimes he wouldn’t come home until early the next morning.”

His brothers tried to convince them to come home to Florida and sell insurance like they were doing.  My father laughed.  “I’d rather die first.”   It was a prophetic outburst.  He nearly did die.  Most of what I know about his life I learned from my mother and the journals that he kept in the last three years before he tried to kill himself.

Kay Redfield Jamison, an expert on mood disorders, uses an analogy from the animal kingdom to describe the difference ways men and women react to the stresses of life that can lead to depression and suicide.  “Young male elephants go out and they are quite solitary,” she observed. “The only times males get together is during the breeding period in an adversarial role. They’re not talking about anything, they’re competing.

“Conversely, the female elephants are drawn together and are constantly communicating with each other.  Female elephants have a system set up if one is in distress,” she continues, “and they are more likely to be there to serve and help one another.  Like male elephants in an adversarial role, human men have an ‘irritability’ that is ‘part and parcel’ of depression,” she says.  “It’s one of the diagnostic criteria for depression and mania, more common than not,” she explained. “Emotions get so ratcheted up, it’s often we see men with short-tempered fuses. It makes depression difficult for others to be around.”

This was certainly true of my father.  He had a long history of irritability, anger, and depression, and male stress but it was the crashing economy that sent him over the edge.  Here were the last journal entries before he tried to kill himself:

“June 4th: 

               Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work,  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.

 “August 15th:

              Faster, faster, faster, I walk.  I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family.  I try, try, try, try, try.  I always try and never stop.

“November 8th:

              A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out.  Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried.  All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. 

             I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying.  Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

Six days after his November 8th entry, my father tried to kill himself.  Though he survived physically, emotionally he was never again the same.  For nearly 40 years I’ve treated more and more men who are facing similar stresses to those my father experienced.  The economic conditions and social dislocations that contributed to his feelings of shame and hopelessness continue to weigh heavily on men today.

Suicide is Predominantly a Male Response to Stress

Although suicide impacts women as well as men, it is predominantly a male response to overwhelming stress.  In my book, Male vs. Female Depression: Why Men Act Out and Women Act In I reported on a major research study that concluded “Women seek help—men die.” The study found that 75% of those who sought professional help at a suicide prevention program were female. Conversely 75% of those who committed suicide in the same year were male.

These findings are corroborated by men’s health expert, Will Courtenay, Ph.D. in his book, Dying to be Men: Psychosocial, Environmental, and Biobehavioral Directions in Promoting the Health of Men and Boys (April, 2011, Routledge). Courtenay reports the following suicide and death rates (per 100,000 U.S. population) from the National Center for Disease Control, for males and females in various age groups:

We see that the suicide rate for young men is more than 4 times the rate for young women and the suicide rate for after retirement is 6 to 17 times the rate for women of the same age. Clearly men are at great risk and as populations age throughout the world, more men are likely to give up hope and kill themselves.

Age Group

Male Rate

Female Rate

Male/Female Ratio

15-19

10.9

2.7

4.0

20-24

21.4

4.0

5.4

25-29

19.5

4.7

4.2

30-34

18.3

5.2

3.5

35-44

23.9

6.8

3.5

45-54

25.8

8.8

2.9

55-64

21.4

7.0

3.8

65-74

21.5

3.4

6.3

75-84

27.3

3.9

7.0

85+

38.6

2.2

17.5

 

The Mancession

But many men are now losing their jobs before retirement.  A recent editorial in the British Journal of Psychiatry indicates that depression rates in men are likely to increase due to the socioeconomic changes going on in the world. The study’s principle author Boadie Dunlop, M.D., from Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta writes, “Compared to women, many men attach a great importance to their roles as providers and protectors of their families. Failure to fulfill the role of breadwinner is associated with greater depression and marital conflict.”

Research shows that since the beginning of the recession in 2007, roughly 75 percent of the jobs lost in the United States were held by men. On the other hand, women are increasingly becoming the primary household earners with 22 percent of wives earning more than their husbands in 2007, versus only 4 percent in 1970. Unfortunately, there is little reason for anyone to believe that traditional male jobs will return in significant numbers even if the economy fully recovers.  As depression increases, so too will suicide.

Getting Help and Support

The International Association of Suicide Prevention (IASP) has designated September 10, 2012, World Suicide Prevention Day.  On their site you can get good information on what people are doing all over the world to prevent suicide and you can learn what you can do to support their activities.  In support of these activities I’m offering  my new book, MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, which details my own experiences helping people deal with depression in their lives.  For everyone who orders a book by September 10, 2012, I will donate 50% of the profits to IASP.  For everyone who orders anytime during the month of September, I’ll donate 30% of the profits to IASP.

Working together we can make a difference.  If you’d like to be part of our campaign to save the lives of a million men, and to learn how to stop male stress you can learn more HERE.

What has been your experience with male suicide?  What resources do you have to share?  Together we heal.

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/helzerman/1234587061/sizes/z/in/photostream/

Men and Stress – Is Your Job Driving You Over the Edge?

We know that depression is on the rise all over the world and men are 4 to 18 times (depending on age) more likely to commit suicide than are women.  People report that job stresses are a major factor that can lead to depression and increased suicide risk.  We know that men and stress can be a lethal mix.  What are the professions that put you at highest risk?  According to a recent report from Business Insider, based on statistics from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health the top ten jobs where you’re most likely to kill yourself are:

#10  Real Estate Sales

Real estate agents are 1.38 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#9  Potters and “hand-molders”

Hand molders are 1.39 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#8  Urban planners

Urban planners are 1.43 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#7  Supervisors of heavy construction equipment

Supervisors of heavy construction equipment are 1.46 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#6  Chiropractors

Chiropractors are 1.5 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#5  Finance workers

Finance workers are 1.51 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#4  Veterinarians

Veterinarians are 1.54 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#3  Dentists

Dentists are 1.67 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

#2  Physicians

Physicians are 1.87 times more likely to commit suicide average.

#1 Marine Engineers

Marine engineers are 1.89 times more likely to commit suicide than average.

Other high risk professions include:  Pharmacists, Farm Managers, and Lawyers.  What do all these “high suicide” professions have in common?  I’d suggest that most of them involve people who must deal with other people’s problems in situations where they don’t get a lot of positive feedback and appreciation.  When’s the last time you thanked your dentist or gave him a hug after he finished drilling and filling?

Of course, being employed can be stressful, but being unemployed can be even more stressful.  According to an article in The Washington Independent, “The unemployed commit suicide at a rate two or three times the national average, researchers estimate. And in many cases, the longer the spell of unemployment, the higher the likelihood of suicide.”

So, if you’re employed, what are the things that are the most stressful and make you feel depressed?  If you’re unemployed, what makes you feel the worst about yourself?

Maybe by sharing our experiences, we can help each other get through these difficult times.

For more information suicide prevention and men’s health, look for my new book MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools.

Another post that you may find value in is 3 Little Known Stressors that are Killing Men and the Women Who Love Them.

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/badjonni/403366211/lightbox/

Boomer Men, Stress, Depression, Anger and Suicide

In a recent interview with Brent Green, author of Generation Reinvention: How Boomers Today Are Changing Business, Marketing, Aging and the Future, he and I provide an in-depth, up-to-date look at the work I’ve been doing to help men, and the women to love them, to live well throughout our lives.  Specifically we get into detail about baby boomer men and stress, male depression, male anger, and suicide.

You’ll learn about what motivated me to write my recent book, MenAlive: Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, and why I’ve committed myself to helping save the lives of a million males over the next three years. This is a unique opportunity to join me in exploring some of the most important issues we face in our lives today.

Click here to listen:  Boomer Men and Stress

Enjoy the interview and thanks to WeEarth Global Radio Network.

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulcross/5819125499/sizes/z/in/photostream/

 

 

MenAlive Partner / Affiliate Program

My goal over the last 40 years has been to help men, and the women who love them, to live well throughout their lives.  Most of us know that men die sooner and live sicker than women, but I was surprised by the research from the University of Michigan showing that “if we could reduce men’s death rate to the same level as women’s we would do more good than curing cancer.”  Specifically it showed that we could save the lives of 330,000 men a year.  That seemed to me a worthy goal, so I made a commitment to do everything I could to Keep a Million Men Alive (KAMMA) over the next three years.

If you resonate with this goal, I’d like you to join me in the MenAlive Partnership Program.

If life were like a baseball game, we’re losing men at three places along the base paths.  Many of our young men don’t even make it to  first base.  Too many mid-life men fail to make the turn at second and end up alone in left field.  Many older men don’t make it around third and end up dead in the dugout.   Like a successful baseball game, my goal is to help men get around all three bases, make it home, and then help coach others.

My latest book, MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools, has recently been published and brings together the work I have been doing for more than four decades.  I strongly believe that the information it contains can help keep men alive and well and I want to get the book to a million men and their families.  I also have put together my best e-books, white papers, and audio programs into a Diamond package to supplement the material in the book.

I can’t reach a million men by myself.  Here’s where you come in.  We all have our own social networks of friends, colleagues, and followers. If you would like to join me and become a KAMMA partner, I believe we can make a real difference in the world.  I’m not doing this to get rich.  I just want to help men and their families and make a living to keep my own family alive and well.  I assume you would like that as well.

Read my post about Why I’d Rather Partner with You on my Book than with a Big Publisher.

You may know about “affiliate” programs, like Amazon where you encourage people in your network to buy a product and you receive a subsidiary payment.  I’d rather have partners than affiliates, so my plan is to share revenues with you in a more equal way.  I’ll keep 1/3 for me.  1/3 will go to my marketing partner Ian Fitzpatrick to organize and run the program.  And 1/3 will go to you for all sales related to the project.  Sign up and you’ll receive resources and tools to assist you in your effort.

For now we’re selling the book for $19.95  (the cost to print it and have it shipped to me is $6), so the net profit on the book is basically $14.  Split three ways, we’d each get $4.67.  So for every 100 we get in the hands of a family who needs it, we would earn $467.  My complete set of support materials to supplement the book is $159, so we’d each get $53 per sale or $5300 for each 100 we sold.

I feel confident that the materials I’ve developed can help save lives.  But I know that other people have life-saving resources as well.  We’ll also be reaching out and finding other books and support materials that can make a significant contribution to keeping a million men alive.

If you know of ones that you feel are valuable, please tell us.  I believe this project is a win/win/win.  The biggest win is helping to save the lives of a million men and enhance the lives of their families.  I win by getting the satisfaction of helping others and bringing in a  steady income stream to support me and my family and you win in the same way.

So, if that makes sense to you, here’s how to sign up.  Ian can answer questions.  You can email him at Ian@MenAlive.com.  He will send you information to make it easy to let others know about what we’re doing.

Thanks for joining me in the KAMMA partnership.

Best wishes,

Jed

Why I’d Rather Partner with You on My Book Than With a Big Publisher

I’m pleased to announce that my 10th book, MenAlive:  Stop Killer Stress with Simple Energy Healing Tools will be available on Sunday July 1st!  My previous books have been done with major publishers.  The advantage of publishing with a big company is that they offer an “advance” on royalties to help cover the costs of cutting back on my counseling practice for the two years it takes to write a book and get it out in the world.  They also pay all the costs to create the book, i.e. editing, formatting, cover design, and printing.  Plus, they promote the book and get it in the book stores.  They also take the risk of putting out a book that only a few people will want, thus losing the money they invest.

For doing all of that, they take most of the money on the sales generated.  On a $20 book, I may get $1.50 to $2.00 for each book sold if I publish with a big publisher.

But times are changing.  Publishers are doing less and less for writers and we are doing more and more for ourselves, but the publishers still take a lot of the profits.

So, I decided to reach out to you and ask my tribe to help support my book.  Many of you gave me some of the initial money I needed to do a good edit and I put up the rest of the money to have a nice cover designed, have the book formatted, printed, and shipped.

With your help, we did it!  Starting Sunday, people can get the book and you have some options of where to order.  Each option means a different amount that comes to me, hopefully to help pay back some of what it cost to create the book.  I don’t write in order to get rich or even make much money.  I write because I have a passion to help people.

MenAlive is the culmination of my work up to now and I’m convinced it can help save millions of lives. In fact, I’ve made a commitment to do what I can to get the book into the hands of a million men.  I know if they use the tools in the book they will reduce stress and ultimately live longer and more healthy lives.  And I’m hoping you’ll want to help me do it.

So, I’m more concerned about getting the book in your hands than how much money I make on it.  But I wanted to let you know the financial aspects of publishing.

If you buy the book in your local bookstore (and I support our independent local bookstores), I’ll make $4.00 on each book you buy.

If you buy the book on Amazon, I’ll make $6.00.

If you buy the book directly from me, I’ll make $12.00.  Plus, I’ll send you a personally autographed copy.  With the money I make I’ll be able to stay afloat and reach out to more people.

As a special treat if you are on my email list, I will send out a special link on Sunday where I’m giving out 250 free copies of the book. All I ask in return is that you help share the word of the launch via your social media.

So make a choice that works for you, but help me get this book out to the people who need it.  Once you’ve read it, please give me a “star” rating on Amazon.  I hope to get 100 “5 star” ratings.  Also if you choose, leave a comment about the value MenAlive has made in your life.  That allows people who don’t know my work to feel more inclined to take the risk to read the book.

A big publisher might publish 300 or 400 books a year.  They are not as committed as we are to getting MenAlive in the hands of a million men.  Thank you for helping me to help men and the women who love them.  Together we can save lives and bring about a better world.

It’s Never Too Late to Heal the Father Wound: A 40 Year Journey

 

Many of us have been wounded by our fathers.  For some we experienced abuse growing up.  For others we dealt with neglect.  For most of us, our fathers were absent physically or emotionally more than we would have liked.  Many of our fathers died too soon.

The first wound occurred for me when I was five years old.  My father, a writer like me, was having great difficulty making a living during tough economic times.  He wrote in his journal:

Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work.  Yes, it’s enough to make anyone blanch, turn pale and sicken.

Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain was about to descend.

Four days after that journal entry, he tried to commit suicide.  The first wound occurred when I learned he’d wanted to die.  “Why doesn’t he love me?” I thought. “Why does he want to get away from me?”  I didn’t understand.  He was 42 years old and I was 5.  The wounds didn’t end there.

Camarillo State Hospital

My uncle Harry visited my father every Sunday and it was my job to accompany him.  It was a two hour drive from our house in Los Angeles to the hospital outside of Oxnard.  I knew we were getting close when we drove between a huge stand of eucalyptus trees that lined the road.  The closer we got the more terrified I became.  I wanted to see my father, but the other “inmates” were strange, sitting alone rocking or talking to themselves.  Remember this was 1948 and a mental hospital wasn’t a great place to be.

I did my best to cheer my father up, but he was usually quiet, and interacted very little with me.  Driving back my Uncle would tell me how glad my father was to see me and how much I helped him by being there.  I hated going, but even then I was a “good little boy” and thought it was duty to be strong and do what I was told.

I went to Camarillo every weekend for a year until it became evident that my father didn’t know who I was.  He’d look right through me and my Uncle would have to remind him that I was his son.  I finally was allowed to stop going and I felt I was given a reprieve from the weekly wounding.

He’ll Never Leave.  He’ll Die Here 

The doctors told my mother that he’d never leave the hospital.  His mental illness hadn’t improved and she could accept the fact that he needed to be taken care of the rest of his life.  I started having nightmares about going crazy and being locked up for the rest of my life with my father.  I didn’t tell anyone about the horrible dreams.

In school, particularly around holidays, like Father’s day, other kids would ask about my father.  At first I would tell them he was in the hospital.  But I was stymied when they wanted to know when he was getting out.  I finally told them he was in a mental hospital and I didn’t know when he was getting out.  I felt very ashamed to have a “crazy” father and the kids taunted me endlessly.  When I changed schools in the third grade, I told anyone who asked that “my father is dead.”

But he wasn’t dead and we got a call from my Uncle one night telling us that my father had escaped from the hospital and police were out looking for him.  My mother was terrified that he was coming to get me and so she sent me to live with neighbors.  I lived there for a couple of weeks.  And one day there was a knock on the door.  It was my father.  I hid under the bed and he finally went away.  I knew he was out there somewhere and my mother continued to tell me to be careful.  “There’s no telling what your father might do.”  But he didn’t do anything.  He disappeared.  We never heard from him and gradually I concluded that he probably was dead.

A Ghost Attends My College Graduation

I graduated from U.C. Santa Barbara and had been accepted to U.C. San Francisco Medical School in the fall.  I felt on top of the world.  As I walked across the stage to shake hands and get my diploma, my hand turned to ice.  I saw someone in the audience that reminded me of my father.  It was a momentary glance and then he turned away.  I was shaken to my core, but I didn’t tell anyone.  A day later I got a letter in the mail from my uncle.  He said he had run into my father by accident in Los Angeles and had given him the information about my college graduation.  “He seemed OK,” my uncle wrote, “and he said he wanted to see you.”  He also left his contact information in Los Angeles.  “He goes under the name of Tom Roberts gave me a number where you can reach him.”

After I returned home for the summer, I called him at the number I had been given and we set up a meeting.  I had a jumbled mixture of feelings.  I longed for the father I had never known.  I was afraid of his “craziness.”  I felt I should help him.  The first meeting went pretty well.  He told me that he was a street puppeteer and I saw how much joy he brought putting his shows on around his neighborhood in Ocean Beach.  But he still had an edge of anger, weirdness, and unpredictability.

I visited a number of times, but by the end of the summer he seemed to be becoming more and more agitated.  I didn’t know what to make of him and I’m sure, unconsciously, I was going to medical school to find out what was wrong with him and how he could be fixed.  I had planned a trip to Mexico before I began Medical School in the fall and my father suggested we spend a few days in San Diego before I took the bus on to Mexico City.  Our time started off OK.  He showed me parts of San Diego he liked, bought me a book of letters from Theo Van Gogh to his brother Vincent, and we went out for our last dinner before my planned departure in the morning.  But when I got ready to go the next day, he became extremely agitated and angry and forbade me to leave.  “You’re my son and you have to stay and take care of your father.”  I was dumb struck.  I couldn’t believe what he was telling me.  As I boarded the bus he screamed after me, “You’ll never be a good doctor, if you can’t even take care of your own father.”

Brief Encounters of the Wounding Kind 

I headed for Mexico, badly shaken, but glad to get away from this “crazy man.”  I wondered where the gentle, supportive father I was dreaming of having had gone.  I had a great summer and started Medical School in the fall at U.C. San Francisco.  I lasted less than a semester.  I dropped out and enrolled at U.C. Berkeley in the school of Social Welfare.  I took many years to deal with the curse hurled at me by my father.  It took even longer to realize that he was probably right.  Medicine wasn’t for me, but not because I wouldn’t take care of my father, but because I had to learn about taking care of myself.

He and I ran into each other unexpectedly four more times over the next fifteen years.  Each time we’d spend a few days together and I thought maybe we would be able to have a real adult-to-adult, father-and-son, relationship.  But each time it would end the same way.  He would make some demand that I wouldn’t meet and he would scream at me, “You’re no son of mine.  I disown you.  Get out of my sight.”  I had armored myself to the blows and they didn’t hurt as much, but they still struck home.

The Last Wound and the Courage to Heal 

I hadn’t seen nor heard from him in over five years.  When my first book, Inside Out:  Becoming My Own Man, came out, it developed a wide-spread readership.  I wrote about my father, his inner demons, and our wounding relationship.  I got an email out of the blue:  “I read your book and was very touched by what you said about your father and your relationship with him.  I work at Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco and I’m a nurse on the ward where your father lives.  I think he’d like to make contact with you.”

I wrote back and said, I wasn’t so sure, given our history.  But I wrote a letter to my father.  For the first time I told him the truth and didn’t hold back my feelings:

Dear Dad,

    I just learned that you are in the hospital and I’d like to come visit you.  But things have to change.  I’m tired of being blamed for your pain and I’m through with your angry outbursts when I don’t do what you want me to do.  It was you who left me, remember?  I was five yours old.  All I’ve ever done was to try to love you and all you’ve ever done is reject me over and over.  You are my father, but this is the last time I’m reaching out to you.  I’m the only one in the family who makes any attempt to get through to you.  If you keep acting like this, you’re going to end up a lonely old man.  I’m through.  It’s up to you.

I figured that would be the end of things for us.  At least I could say I had done my best to connect with my father.  But I’d done what I could do.  I was totally surprised when I got a letter back and even more surprised with what it said.

Dear Jed,

     No one has ever talked to me like that in my life.   And you’re right.  I have blamed you, the family, everyone for my own unhappiness. And I don’t want to do that anymore.  I do want to see you and I promise to you that I will treat you well.  Please give me another chance.

The End and the Beginning 

I did go and see him and he did treat me well.  The only exceptions were letters I would get which were written at 4 AM (he’d always but on the date and the time).  He was depressed and would chastise me for having plenty of time to travel all over the world, but didn’t seem to have much time for your Dad.  I didn’t get many of those.  And they’d usually be followed by a much more positive letter written in the light of day.  As a mid-life man I now understood something about the weariness, depression, and sadness that can hit us when we’re awake into the wee hours of the morning.

We spent 10 years together until he died at 89.  He met my wife and children and put on puppet shows for them.  He even came to a family reunion was able to heal a lot of wounds with his brothers and sisters.  I would visit him at his little apartment in the Tenderloin District.   I still remember our last walk together.  The new San Francisco library had just opened and he wanted to leave a flower on the steps to thank all those who had helped bring the library into being.

It was a long walk and we took it one slow step at a time.  He laid his flower on the steps and we sat on a bench to rest.  Finally, he looked me in the eye, gave me a slow smile, and told me “It’s time to go home.”  A week later he died.

At a gathering of friends and family I told the assembled group:  “By the standards of society, my father was not a success.  He didn’t make a lot of money.  He was labeled as mentally ill.  He liked to live among people that society pretends do not exist.”  Someone read one of his last poems, “Because of you,” said one, old madness has become new meaning.  Because of you, my tongue is no longer lead.”

Happy Father’s Day.  May all our souls heal from our father wounds.  It’s never too late.

Photo Credit:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/cpstorm/1516351219/lightbox/