Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for November, 2010

Take It Like A Man

“Be strong.” “Bear up to pain.” “Be sexually potent.” “Provide for others.” “Endure.” “Don’t give in.” “Compete and win at all costs.” “Be in control.” “Remain rational, unemotional and logical.” “Accomplish, achieve, perform.” “Be assertive, in control and one step ahead of the next guy.”

These are some of the messages given to young boys and men for thousands of years. We’ve heard it from lovers, parents, families, friends, religions, governments, the media and other men since birth. Some of the messages of expected behavior are blatant and others more subtle. Some are proclaimed orally or in print and others are non-verbal and observed by actions and deeds. “Don’t cry.” “Never, ever, express or convey fear, dependence, loneliness, emotion, weakness, passivity or insecurity.”

It’s only been in the last forty years, since the modern women’s movement (in some areas of the world), that these cultural, familial and religious norms and expectations have been questioned, debated, challenged and/or changed. Within this short span of freedom from such rigid conditioning, some men have chosen (consciously or unconsciously) to embrace these norms and continue the cycle. Others have revolted against them altogether and thrown out the positive attributes of such expectations, along with the negative. And others swagger back and forth between the past and the present, in a state of confusion, bewilderment and loss.

Regardless of how one lives, when a man loses a loved one, by death or separation, they can be thrown into an unknown world of pain that casts their beliefs, personal expectations and accepted ways of being into an ocean of doubt, turmoil and isolation. Loss causes an eruption of feelings, fears and thoughts that fly in the face of what it has meant to “be a man”. Feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, emptiness, doubt, confusion, helplessness and indescribable pain can assail our very concept and perception of who we are.

Efforts at avoiding, “toughing it out”, controlling or “getting rid” of the pain of loss, only result in temporary relief, often at the expense of long-term health and rarely change the reality of our condition. The pain of grief is one of the few kinds of pain in life that are best dealt with head on, by doing something men are often taught to avoid. The pain of grief and mourning tend to change and heal with time and attention, when we can honestly acknowledge what we are feeling, thinking and believing and externalize such reactions in a positive, healthy environment and/or manner.

Men and women all experience the pain of grief and loss and both genders feel its impact, in many of the same ways. What tends to be different about the sexes is the way in which we talk about and verbalize such feelings and experiences. We filter them differently. Men often talk about the things we did for our loved one, how we took care of them, what we’re “doing” now and what we “plan” to do in the future. We blame others or ourselves for something that did or didn’t happen or something that could have been different; something that would have spared us the pain we are now experiencing. Our anger, guilt and reasoning; are ways we try to control and make sense out of our grief and the situation it has put us in.

Though it is a generality and never true at all times, with all men or all women, men tend to speak “about”, instead of “of” or “with”. If I asked a gentleman how he’s been “feeling” or what had been the “most difficult” about the loss of his wife, partner or parent, he might look at me as if I was speaking Russian. If, on the other hand, I questioned his “reactions” or asked him to tell me a story “about” the deceased, he would begin to take the road to the same valley of pain that a woman experiences, but get there from a different route.

Ironically, men often seem to be more emotionally dependent on women for their sense of self, than the other way around. (Again, please remember that I am speaking in generalities and there are thousands of exceptions.) The women in a man’s life are who he tends to share his most intimate needs, desires and fears with, as it is seldom safe or accepted to talk about such things with other men. Thus, when a woman mate, friend or mother dies or leaves, men have nobody to whom they feel they can acceptably turn to and their need for intimate human contact and emotional well being is left in a desert of thirst for companionship, friendship, validation and/or physical contact.

Many men, though not all, also connect physical touch with sex, because it is one of the few occasions in their lives when they are permitted or expected to touch or be touched. To hug, kiss or embrace another man or woman, aside from the sexual act, is frowned upon and charged with a variety of expectations, judgments and fears. Thus, after the death of a loved one, men often do not know how, where or when it is acceptable or possible to have any human contact that is not sexual.

Luckily, there are people, men and women, who are willing and able to listen to men’s lives and experiences surrounding grief and loss. There are places where a man can be held, without any sexual involvement or expectation of such. There are people within families, churches and communities that honor and respect our gender’s differences without putting limits or expectations on what those differences can or should be.

If you or a man you care about, has experienced the loss of a loved one, give yourself or him, the comfort, permission and love that all humans need, regardless of gender and provide the personal or community resources that can help the hurt change to healing and positive action.

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Health Care’s Invisible Glue

I once had the opportunity of developing intimate relationships with people of all ages and from all walks of life. They and their loved ones often shared deep secrets and lifetime memories. Challenges arose daily, imploring me to make an individual more comfortable or free of pain or to help someone deal with an emotional crisis. As the years progressed, I found that a simple touch, deed or word could profoundly affect the people I cared for.

You may be thinking, “You must be a nurse, right?” No. “Oh, then you’re obviously a doctor or an intern?” No, but close.

I’m talking about life as a nursing assistant, better known by the pseudonym “aide,” “orderly” or “attendant.” Their work with elders in convalescent homes is legendary. Legendary because they continue to work in such facilities with little pay, dangerous under staffing and terrible supply shortages. Conditions are frequently better in acute-care hospitals, but even there they are often seen as appendages to doctors and nurses. Rare is the individual or organization that grasps the importance and necessity of their involvement in the health care system. They are the “meat and potatoes” of hands-on medical care in this country, the glue that holds it together.

Nursing assistants make a crucial difference in peoples’ lives. Frequently, they spend more time with patients than nurses and doctors combined. For some, their presence means the difference between fear and loneliness and even life and death. They are there when we hurt, sweat, laugh and cry.

Some individuals (health care professionals and the public) act superior or snobbish to aides, treating them as if they are lacking in brains or have no motivation to “move up” the social ladder of medicine. It’s not overt or cruel prejudice, it is a basic disregard for the job, the training required and the workers involved.

Let me take you inside the world of a nursing assistant for just one 8 ½ hour shift, when I used to work the swing shift on the cancer unit of a local hospital. This is the real stuff, the nuts and bolts of health care and healing. It’s what nurses used to do before they become inundated with paper work, passing medications and running madly to finish all necessary procedures and treatments and to fulfill all the other responsibilities demanded of them.

After receiving my list of assigned patients and finding out which nurse I’m working with, I begin obtaining patients’ vital signs and get an overall picture of how they’re doing.

The gentleman I encounter in the first room needs his oxygen adjusted and some fresh water and towels.

The next patient, Alice, needs an entire bed change. A 73-year old woman with breast cancer, she has become incontinent and soiled her gown and linens. She is embarrassed and painfully apologetic. As I cleaned her up she spoke of her fear that she was beginning to lose control of her life. When I left, Alice said she felt “clean, fresh and renewed.”

The third person I contacted that evening was Charles, a 60-year old man with leukemia. As we conversed, he asked if I was in training to be a nurse. When he found out I wasn’t, he said, “Oh well, this is a good job for you to start out with for your future.” Just then the charge nurse came in with a frantic look on her face and asked if I could get another patient on a gurney to go downstairs for x-rays.

After I located a gurney on another unit and got the patient ready, another nurse requested that I make a trip to the blood bank to pick up some packed cells (blood). When I returned from the lab, I found my team leader (nurse) at the medicine cart.

We sat down and looked over the “care” charts to decipher what protocol was desired for each patient. Some vital signs needed to be taken and some patients needed to walk, be turned, bathed or catheterized (a tube put in the urethra to empty the bladder). Others had doctors’ “orders” that entailed checking blood sugar levels or collecting sputum, urine or stool samples for lab tests. During report, the nurse suddenly stopped, turned excitedly toward me and said, “When are you going to nursing school? You would make a great nurse.” She looked downhearted when I explained that I had no desire to be a registered nurse or to go back to school. She said, “But you’re so intelligent!” I grimaced and said, “Thanks”. Was she implying that that nursing assistant’s are stupid?

When report was over, I finished the remaining vital signs, lifted one patient up in bed, helped another to use the bedpan and took Alice for a walk down the hall. While shuffling along we pretended we were dancing to, “Tea For Two.” Her eyes sparkled when she told me that she and her deceased husband had been prize-winning dancers in the 1940s.

I informed the nurse that a patient’s IV (intravenous bag) was almost dry and that a number of people had requested pain relief and various other medications. The dinner trays arrived and after checking to make sure they all matched each patient’s diet, we passed them out. One of my folks needed help eating (as a result of an old stroke), so I sat by her bed and slowly gave her a few mushy bits of her soft diet, so she wouldn’t choke. Meanwhile, a patient undergoing chemotherapy was throwing up just two doors down the hall. After emptying his emesis basin (vomit container), I went to supper. Believe it or not, I was famished. It had been only two and a half-hours since my shift had started, but it felt like two and a half days!

On the way to dinner, I picked up a magazine which had a feature story entitled, “What Do Nurses Want?” I got my hot, soggy food, set my tray on the table and turned on the television. The channel I selected dramatized the story of a big-city hospital. As usual, the only characters given any airtime were, you guessed it, doctors and an occasional nurse. Everyone else in the show (housekeepers, technicians, secretaries and nurses aides) were shown as auxiliary personnel who did nothing but get in the way of the featured players.

After devouring my food in the allotted half-hour supper break, I returned to the unit and picked up the patients’ dinner trays. As I walked by Room 264, I saw Sam (a patient with advanced renal failure) falling headlong towards the floor. I leaped through the door and grabbed him just in the nick of time. Sometimes I felt like I was in one of those old commercials were people dove to catch a spill before it hit the carpet. Sam was getting more confused and said he had to go get things ready for the rabbit cage. I maneuvered him back to bed and eventually convinced him to stay in his room for the rest of the night. It took another hour before he realized he was in the hospital, after frequent reminders of who, what and where we were.

Then Michael put on his call light and literally screamed for help! Michael was a young man with AIDS who was in the hospital for treatment of a lung infection. Upon entering his room I found him tense, angry and perspiring profusely. He asked various questions about medications, IVs and food. Everything was worrying him. Was this working right? Was that being done on time? Was he getting the proper nourishment? After sitting and listening a few minutes, it was apparent that he was concerned about something other than mere food. At first, I answered his questions, then I asked him if he could tell me what he was really afraid of? He began to cry. He said he was overcome with feelings of abandonment from a dear friend and the emotional loss of some of his family members as a result of his illness. Fifteen minutes later Michael and I were laughing about the absurdity of life and the beauty of loving and sincere friendships. He only rang for assistance one other time that evening, to have someone turn out his light and say goodnight.

I left Michael’s room, made a fresh pot of coffee for family members and staff, fixed someone’s bed and TV and then took Jackie her evening snack of fruit and juice. Jackie and I had known each other for a few years, as she’d had frequent admissions for chemotherapy, such as her present three-day stretch. She always called it her “dose of poison” for the month and described her hospital visits as, “A working, masochistic vacation!” We spoke of her family, hopes for a cure and her latest garden project. Then she asked about my children and work. After a pause, the familiar questions began. “When are you going to go study medicine?” “Isn’t this just a job you’re doing to get through medical school?” Patiently, I said, “No, I’m not going to school right now.” It seemed futile to explain once again that this was my profession.

The remainder of the evening involved collecting and measuring fluid totals from each patient and spending time with the family members of a man who died at 9:00 p.m. His death was not unexpected, but the grief his family experienced was far greater than they had anticipated (as is often the case). We called the doctor, minister and mortuary. I got his body ready by taking out the IVs, putting in his teeth and folding his hands on his chest with as much dignity as possible. I finished charting on all the patients around 11:30 p.m., said goodnight to my co-workers and friends and called it a night.

Another “routine” shift had passed. As I drove home in the darkness, I thought about the perceptions people have of nursing assistants. Our society says it cares about the young and old, yet it places little value on those who care for the sick and aged or teach our children. Such failure to match words with deeds is, at the least, hypocritical. Why don’t people respect and reward those providing the hands-on care of their father or mother as much as they value the doctor who diagnosis the illness or the nurse that starts the IV or hands out the pills? If appreciation for the work nursing assistants’ do is ever acknowledged by good pay, healthy and safe staff to patient ratios and mutual respect, I think I’ll pass out from the shock.

Doctors and nurses are prime assets in delivering good quality health care. Without them, many would flounder and perish. I’ve seen them work long hours with great heart and dedication. But they are not the sole providers of care, nor do they have an exclusive patent on providing expert and passionate service. They do not work in a vacuum devoid of others’ energy and skills. Without secretaries, housekeepers, laundry workers, department managers, volunteers and countless other technicians, assistants and personnel, the health care system would find it impossible to function, let alone provide adequate or quality care.

Life tends to go in circles. Who will be there when you are feeling sick and miserable or someone in your family is? A nurse, maybe. A doctor, perhaps. Most likely, it will be one of my colleagues, a nursing assistant.

Touching My Toes

“Come on,” my limber wife said, as she left for her Tri-yoga class. “You’ll like it.”

“No,” I replied, every time she asked.”You go ahead. I’ll do my own exercise at home.” And I did do my own, which was a combination of yoga stretches, push-ups and sit-ups. But something about my daily routine felt choppy, put strain on my back and didn’t seem very rounded or complete. I’d done yoga when I was younger, but now I was over 50 and if the truth be told, I was afraid I couldn’t do it well enough in a class and would embarrass myself in front of others. I’ve never been able to stretch very far forward, with my legs straight and always found it frustrating that stretching towards my toes usually got my hands about as far as my knees!

Finally, as a birthday present for my wife, I purchased passes for two sessions of partner yoga and presented them to her on the appointed day. She was thrilled and I was nervous. For the first class I put on whatever loose, yoga-like clothes I could find and set out to not make to much of a fool of myself.

The two men who led the class were very friendly, understanding and relaxed. The first thing they said was, “Make this easy on yourself. Don’t go farther than is comfortable. This is about relaxation, alignment and getting what you need, not how far others think you should or shouldn’t go.”

Their words were like magic. I enjoyed both that class and the next and now do a half-hour of yoga every morning. Oh yes, my fingertips are now almost down to my ankles in the earth-touch pose and I have no doubt that some day soon I’ll even touch my toes!

Do I Have The Guts?

I know it works. Millions of people around the world have risked life and limb to make it happen. But I don’t know, when it comes down to it, if I have the courage or moral strength to do it myself. In country after country, against the world’s worst governments, tyrants, military invaders and dictators, people have put their lives on the line by confronting the violent use of repression, intimidation, torture and imprisonment with nonviolent weapons of non-cooperation, civil-disobedience, strikes, sit-ins, rallies, vigils, politics and boycotts.

The question is not whether nonviolence works, but why it hasn’t been acknowledged, advocated, taught and put into practice more often? No other form of conflict has created such long-lasting and peaceful results as that of nonviolence.

Nonviolence is far from a passive activity. It requires deep introspection, continual self-awareness, strategizing, commitment, patience and direct and in-direct action. People actually have less chance of getting killed by using nonviolent tactics than they do by using violence.

As seen throughout history, it is imperative that the means match the ends. If you want a peaceful society you can’t use violence to create it. If you desire less hatred, bigotry and vengeance in the world, you have to see it in yourself and practice removing it from your own life.

A Jewish man, known as Jesus of Nazareth, repeatedly and adamantly advocated love and nonviolence and was willing to suffer torture and death by the Romans for his beliefs. His actions and words have since influenced the lives of millions.

About five hundred years before Jesus, the Buddha of Gotama preached an end to the caste system in India and contrary to all rules, laws and expectations of his time, accepted students from all castes.

In 1905, an Eastern Orthodox priest led over 150,000 Russians to the capital to protest the government. That march led to the first popularly elected parliament in that nation’s history.

In the early 1930’s, Mahatmas Gandhi first called for mass civil disobedience against the British. His call for active Satyagraha (truth force) resulted in India’s democratic independence in 1947.

Danish citizens refused to aid the Nazi war effort and forced the Germans to end blockades and curfews during their occupation of Denmark.

Without picking up a single gun Salvadoran’s forced their longtime military dictator into exile in 1944.

Martin Luther King, Jr., using many of the non-violent tactics of Gandhi, helped mobilize Americans to end racial segregation in the South and fight for civil rights nation wide.

Cesar Chavez peacefully rallied farm-workers to demand better working conditions for the men and women that harvest our countries food.

Laborers went on strike, won the right to organize and with the help of the Catholic Church and Solidarity, nonviolently brought down a totalitarian form of communism in Poland.

A group of mothers marched in the capitol of Argentina demanding to know the whereabouts of their abducted sons and grandsons. After years of being intimidated, tortured and imprisoned themselves, their persistence helped oust the countries military junta.

In the Philippines, in 1986, a coalition of citizens outraged with the government supported assassination of a returning exiled politician, massed to support his widow Corazin Aquino. After defying continued brutality, censorship and threats by the Armed Forces under Ferdinand Marcos, the people, with the help of The Church, struck at the conscience of military officers who eventually refused to follow Marcos’s orders.

South Africans waged a decades long nonviolent campaign to end Apartheid. Their actions eventually led to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and a democratically elected government in which every person’s vote had equal value.

Over 100,000 students in the Czech republic sat down in the streets demanding freedom. Their example set off a wave of protest that washed away totalitarian regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Mongolia and East Germany.

At the turn of the century the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic was defeated and his security forces neutralized by a general strike and nonviolent uprising.

These examples are but a few of the many inspiring practical applications of nonviolence, but how does somebody become brave enough to do it? How does one get to the point where they are willing to risk losing their job, go to prison, be assaulted or killed? How do we stand up to evil without becoming like those we confront? How do we separate evil acts from the people perpetrating them and still stop their actions without demonizing them in the process?

I like to think that my life and what I am doing with it make a difference. I tell myself that working as a counselor, a writer and volunteering in prisons and overseas helps others. I believe raising healthy children, working with human rights organizations and using non-polluting energy for my car and home, all have an impact. Then again, they are all safe and convenient.

Sure, I’ve marched in protest rallies against different wars and been arrested for blocking nuclear weapons facilities, but I knew the worst thing that would happen would be a couple of hours in detention or an overnight stay in the slammer. If I faced the prospect of years in prison, large fines, torture, a criminal record or being exiled from my country and family would I have done the same thing? I doubt it. Am I willing to stop paying taxes, get fined and go to jail? No. Am I spending time organizing other citizens to insist on less military spending and greater humanitarian interventions around the world? Perhaps, a little. Am I fully putting my body and deeds where my heart and beliefs lead me? No.

The reality is that I pay others to protect me with violent means. By paying my taxes I pay for law enforcement and military personal to carry and use weapons to theoretically keep my family, community and nation out of harms way. The money I pay to our government helps research, design, produce and use weapons of mass destruction and military intimidation and violence.

If someone threatened my son, daughter or mate, I believe I have the guts to stand my ground and resolve the conflict nonviolently without striking back, but I’m not sure. And if someone threatened my neighbor or community, I doubt I would have the same brave resolve to “fight back”, as I would with my immediate family.

I like to see myself as an advocate for justice, peace and freedom, now I’m not so sure. The justice, peace and freedom I seek are made in the context of a comfortable way of life and don’t require me to go out of my way to achieve them or make any great sacrifices; yet, all of those who have preceded me have been willing to do just that. They all took a leap of faith. They saw that they were not separate from anyone else on this planet and what they and others do or don’t do, affects us all.

When it comes down to the nitty gritty and I have to practice what I preach, I hope I can make that leap. I hope my faith in non-violence and love carries me through any and all circumstances and situations. In reality, I won’t know until or if, it happens. It could be that everyone is scared, even petrified, when faced with harm, but they act anyway. Perhaps that is what courage is all
about.

My Sister’s Keeper

It felt like I had been hit by lightening.

“Gabriel,” my sister Candace said, with a voice that was close to breaking. “I have breast cancer.

After a moment of stunned silence, not sure I had heard her right, I said something stupid like, “Are you sure?”

“They’re doing a lumpectomy and then they’re talking about radiation, chemotherapy and hormone treatments,” she continued, while I sat numb, listening on the phone to the litany of assaults upon her body that she was about to endure.

“Do you have to have all the other stuff after surgery?” I wondered out loud. “If it’s all in one area and they remove it, why do you have to still do everything else?”

“Just to make sure,” she replied. “The other therapies make it less likely that it will ever reappear and since I’m so young, with children, they don’t want to take any chances.” She paused and swallowed. “And neither do I.”

I still couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My little sister, the only biologically related sister I have (the other eight being foster sisters) and the one I’ve known since her birth, two years after mine, just told me she had a disease that she could die from. And, because I had worked at a hospice for many years, with people living the last months and days of their lives due to cancer and other diseases, my first reaction was that she was going to soon join the dead.

As if she was reading my mind she said, “The odds are really good that it will all work out fine, but I wanted to let you know.”

She was right, the odds for full recovery from early-detected breast cancer are very good and have continually improved over the last number of years, but knowing that didn’t help much at the time.

“Have they told you about all the side effects?” I asked, aware that, at least in the past, physicians and nurses sometimes minimized the amount of discomfort and reactions that can occur from chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal therapies.

“Yeah,” she said. “They told me about all the worse things that could happen. They said they had to tell me, even though none of them would probably occur.”

“Sure,” I thought to myself. “I’ve heard that before, then seen people get as sick and tired as an old dog and feel like the treatment was killing them worse than the cancer.” But, I couldn’t tell my sister that. At least I didn’t think I could at the time. I wanted to be hopeful and supportive so I said, “Good. I’m sure you’ll do great.”

She went on to describe when, how and what would happen and how she had discovered the lump. She said that in some ways it was a relief to at least know what it was and why she had been feeling so uncomfortable in that area.

I asked the usual questions. “Do you want me to come up and help with the kids? Is there anything I can DO?”

“No,” she said. “Mark (my brother-in-law) will watch the kids and work told me to take as much time off as I need. I’m a big girl now, remember.”

“I love you,” I said.

“I know, big bro,” she replied. “I love you too.”

I wish there were a switch we could turn on when we hear bad news, a switch that takes us immediately to hope meaning and compassion. But, more often than not, anxiety and apprehension are the first visitors that take me on a roller-coaster ride of grief. My first reaction to Candace’s news had been fear, but after her surgery was over and the treatments started, I began looking at our relationship in a different way and discovered how much I appreciate how close we’ve become as we’ve gotten older and had children of our own.

If there is any blessing or “hidden golden lining” in confronting and living through or dying with a life threatening illness, it must be the sense of presence and appreciation it can give us for the short lives we are living. It makes our mortality real and thus provides a container for the preciousness and value of every life.

Before Candace was diagnosed with cancer, she would have been the last person in the world to ever seek counseling or attend a support group. But, after her surgery she started seeing a private therapist and then attended a cancer support group. I was really taken aback when she first told me she was utilizing such support. As the months went along, she told me of the insights and changes that counseling and the group were creating within her and how she was realizing that she has far more choice in how she chooses to live her life than she had previously envisioned. I guess that’s what people mean when they say that having cancer was or is a blessing, because it helped them to “wake up” and live life instead of being a victim of life.

Luckily, after about two years of treatments, Candace was free and clear of any signs of disease and remains so to this day. I think she sees life differently now and has a deeper awareness, understanding and compassion for others. I have never taken her for granted, but ever since receiving that first phone call, when she told me she had cancer, I’ve appreciated and loved her more than ever and not only contacted her more frequently, but don’t hesitate in letting her now how deeply I care.

I’m Supposed To Die First

“Stop the train! I want to get off!” Jean shouted.

Jean’s son of forty-three years had died in a restaurant. He choked to death. He had survived a life of infinite struggle as he lived with Down’s Syndrome and the isolation, stigma and cultural alienation he and his family had experienced daily.

“He was such a good soul,” Jean continued, as tears streamed down her cheeks. “Of all the things to happen, why did it have to happen to him?”

Her son Daniel had become increasingly independent as he aged and was living in a group home in the Bay Area. He was working as a street cleaner during the day and enjoying a variety of social events with his living companions on his off-hours. Jean had visited him two days prior to his death, as she has done twice a week for the last fifteen years. She said she felt blessed, burdened and bonded with Daniel in a way only mothers of developmentally delayed children can know.

“Daniel was so in the moment,” she said. “His smile was infectious.” She looked down at her hands. “I know this may sound crazy, because people think folks like him aren’t as aware of others, as they are of themselves, but Daniel,” she grinned, “was always thinking about others. He could tell when someone was down. He’d give them a big bear hug and say, ‘There, there.’”

She cried bittersweet tears. “He always said, ‘I love love.’ and would wait for you to say it. He wouldn’t do anything else until you would say, ‘I love love too.’ back to him. He would just stand there waiting, no matter how long it took.”

Jean had taken care of Daniel single handedly for most of his life. Not long after Daniel was born, his father moved away saying he couldn’t live with an “abnormal” kid. In his home country, people made fun of kids like Daniel and would say they were cursed and had the evil eye. He blamed Jean and her background for the child’s difference, telling her that her family must have done something very bad in the past.

So Jean, at age twenty-four, took on the already difficult and exhausting life of single-parenthood, combined with the complication of a child that would stay a child for much of his life.

No matter how much she loved him, the reality was that caring for Daniel was overwhelming and all-consuming. She seldom had any time to herself and finding support and child-care as he aged became increasingly difficult. Yet, she loved him like a mother loves an only child. Her identity, reason for living and self-image of who she was became increasingly ingrained with her son’s life.

When she realized that his independence and happiness would be greatly enhanced if he learned to live on his own and separate from her, she was heartbroken.

Having him move to a group home for independent living, which was a forty-five minute drive away, felt like having your ten-year-old go away for a weekend sleep-over and never coming home. She was petrified, anxious and relieved when he actually moved. She said she grieved a thousand deaths day after day and rarely allowed herself to enjoy the “freedom” of her drastically changed less-encumbered life.

“It took me years to grieve the loss of him as a boy, acknowledge him as a man, and let go of my primary identify in the world as ‘Daniel’s Mom,’” Jean said, shifting her legs in the chair. “The last four years were wonderful. I had let go of so much, was doing things I’d always wanted to try and trusting that he was safe and happy. Then,” she closed her eyes, as her held fell back, “then I get this call and he’s gone. Just like that . . . no warning . . . no good-byes . . . no more ‘I love love.’” She put her head in her hands and sobbed.

Later, after blowing her nose and wiping her eyes, she said, “Now I have to start all over again and I don’t want to. It isn’t supposed to be like this. I’m supposed to die first, not him.” Her eyes met mine. “I want to get off. I want to just disappear.”

She took a few moments of silence, then started telling me about her and Daniel — about all the funny, crazy, confusing, exciting, scary and unbelievable things he and they had done together. She told me about his temper, his sweetness and his frustrations with the world. She brought him to life again and again with her stories.

After another half-hour of hearing about Daniel, Jean placed her hand over her heart, closed her eyes and said, “He’s not gone. I can feel him right here. I can hear him telling me to ‘love love’.”

In Bed With Feminists

Until I read Bell Hooks books on feminism and love – Communion: The female search for love and All About Love – I would have sworn that I supported women (and men’s) liberation in every aspect of my life. But after the first few chapters I became painfully aware of the fact that I haven’t applied the same understanding and equality I try to faithfully practice at work, with friends, raising children and doing household chores to my intimate romantic life.

In Communion, Ms. Hooks says, “Some men cared enough to consent to feminist thinking and to change, but only a very, very few loved us – loved us all the way. And that meant respecting our sexual rights.”

I always think of my partners pleasure and satisfaction during sex and am turned on by her joy as much or more than my own sensations, but I also see how I have used coercion, control, emotional distancing and blame in the past to get what I wanted. I continually gave her the message (unconsciously and nonverbal) that she was never “good enough”. I always wanted her to be more sexual more often with greater variety and be different than she was or is, in order to fulfill my desires, perceived needs and fantasies. The underlying implications were “if you don’t change or be more like I want you to be, I’ll have to leave and find someone else.” It created a sense of fear and rejection.

Seeing this reality shattered my self-image of always being a loving, caring man and helped me acknowledge how often I and the continually reinforced messages from society, have caused such intense and long lasting loneliness for those women seeking loving, shared partnerships with men. Hooks states, “Feminist silence about love reflects a collective sorrow about our powerlessness to free all men from the hold patriarchy has on their minds and hearts. Our heartache came from facing the reality that if men were not willing to holistically embrace feminist revolution, then they would not be in an emotional place where they could offer us love.”

I began to realize that it is love and connection that I desire most, not sex. I no longer need sex to reassure me that I am loved or wanted. In the past, having someone desire and want me sexually meant that they loved me. If they didn’t have sex as often as I wanted I reacted out of fear and sadness believing it meant they didn’t love me completely. Out of this sadness I would react with frustration and anger by trying to get them to “prove” their love for me with sex or by emotionally distancing myself and not talking in order to “protect” myself from having expectations or “being hurt”.

These reactions and I believe that of most men, are not realities I have totally ignored, but until reading hooks words I hadn’t really taken them to heart and honestly confronted my own patriarchal fears and thinking in the matter of love and relationships. It felt like Bell had me in her sights when she said, “Feminist women stopped talking about love because we found that love was harder to get than power. Men, and patriarchal females, were more willing to give us jobs, power, or money than they were to give us love. Women who learn to love represent the greatest threat to the patriarchal status quo.”

While reading Communion some kind of switch went on in my head. At first it opened the floodgates of grief over my part in perpetuating such alienation and pain. Then a kind of peace engulfed me – a new found love and acceptance of myself and my partner. I am less stressed and anxious about the future and don’t try to make people be different than who they are. Is it any surprise that my partner has also experienced more peace with herself and in bed? She no longer has to worry or wonder if she will ever “be enough” or meet my suffocating patriarchal images of how she “should” be.

As I learn to love, without depending on her to fulfill or “make” that love, she to is finding that our mutual appreciation and respect for what is present, rather than what is absent, has deepened every aspect of our lives. Neither of us need the other person’s “approval” to love or be loved.

Ms. Hooks insightfully reminds her readers that, “Knowing that both women and men are socialized to accept patriarchal thinking should make it clear to everyone that men are not the problem. The problem is patriarchy.” The problem is our refusal to acknowledge our own behavior in the most intimate moments of our lives and the fear of real connection and closeness that keeps us perpetuating the myths and lies about the minor differences of genes, gender and genetics.

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