Sunday, August 27, 2006

I Want

Homework last week was to create 10 index cards a day, each of which documents something "I want."
The first 10 were easy, but by the time day 7 came along, thinking of 10 things I wanted was a daunting task.
What I noticed about my "want" list was that most of it had to do with personal achievement and recognition. Even "social" items, liking wanting my home to be a destination for friends, had a lot to do with how I am perceived. Guess self-image is an important aspect of my psyche, huh?
No wonder then, that my daughter has problems with her self-image. She got her concerns from Dad.
When I got to the end, the last card I wrote said, "I want achievement to be easy." Don't want to work hard, just want the results. I always have said that I'm not afraid of hard work. I guess what I have seen is that hard work doesn't always pay off.
Yes, I've achieved some things in my life, but it often seems to me that most recognition comes as a result of self-promotion, not hard work. The work is necessary, but without the self-promotion comes that danger that your (my) hard work will be co-opted, that credit will be taken by a manager. I've had that happen way too many times, particularly since I entered private business. Fortunately, there are always other roads.
Tomorrow, for example. I fly to San Francisco in the morning to start a new job. One that I got through recognition from a man who didn't know my previous company or my previous boss.
Something to think about as I enter this new corporate setting. I think I will have easy and constant access to the CEO at this company. Let's see how I handle it.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sixteen Candles

Sixteen years ago tonight, I first learned of my daughter's existence. Yesterday (about 10:30 pm EDT) was her birthday, but it was today (about 7 pm EDT) when I got a call from our adoption lawyer telling me that a beautiful bi-racial child had been born at the local university hospital. The birth mother had made no pre-natal plans for adoption, but had called our attorney that morning.
Were we interested?
The question came at a busy and difficult time in our lives. We were both in school -- I was working on my master's degree and teaching undergraduates, my wife was working on her bachelor's degree. That evening, my wife had left for a weekend visit to her mother, about 100 miles south of where we were living and going to school.
Although we had signed up with an adoption attorney, six weeks earlier, our expectation was that it would be a year or two before we got the chance to adopt -- we'd be finished school and ready to embark on our next adventure.
We didn't have a name, a bottle, a diaper, or a crib. But here was our opportunity to become parents. I called my mother-in-law, and asked her to have my wife call me as soon as she arrived at the parental homestead. She did, and turned right around and came home, so that we could see if this would work out.
We didn't see our daughter that night, of course. The next day was an insanely busy one. Friends of ours came up to help us shop. The birth mother asked to meet us, so we went to the hospital, where she had our baby in the room with her. We were supposed to be escorted by a hospital social worker, but shortly before we arrived, a young boy drowned and the social worker was with the family, offering consolation. Could we go up to the room ourselves and make our own introduction?
We did, and spent a couple of hours talking with the young mother, and holding, feeding and changing the baby that we knew immediately was ours.
The mother was 19, unmarried, and the mother of a 3-year-old. Her fiance was in jail, and was not the father of our child. The father was a corrections officer at the jail, with whom our child's birth mother had had a brief affair. The birth mother had successfully hidden her pregnancy from her fiance, and needed to move on with her life.
It's hard to describe the bond that began forming as soon as I laid eyes on my daughter, but I know that I fell quickly and completely in love with that child that afternoon. We spent the evening shopping for baby necessities with our friends, setting up the nursery, and phoning family members with our news.
There was some skepticism in the family. A bi-racial child? We were lily-white on both sides of the family, although my wife's family included some mixed marriages and bi-racial children.
But we had no doubts -- at least I didn't. I know my wife was somewhat frightened by the entire prospect of parenthood, but knew how important it was to me. She knew she could handle the obvious responsibilities, but I know she felt unsure about the challenge. Still, she was ready to dive in and take it on.
How did that difference in enthusiasm affect our marriage? I know that I took on primary responsibilities for many aspects of parenthood -- making bottles, getting up at night for feedings, etc. We shared many others. But I remember a comment my wife made -- her fear that I didn't need her anymore now that I had the baby I wanted.
I told her I never signed up for single parenthood, and that we needed to be in this together.
But I know something did begin to change when our daughter entered our lives.

Friday, August 18, 2006

He Who Smelled It, Dealt It

A funny saying, but I am coming to see the truth in it.
I have always considered myself a strongly analytical person, able to spot bullshit and point it out.
What I am coming to realize through a great deal of soul-searching, is how I have missed spotting the bullshit in myself. I smelled it, but didn't realize how much I have dealt it.
In recent months I have characterized a new executive at my former company as "the ultimate handjob" -- someone who spent all day jacking off and, when he came all over his hand, thought he was discovering something profound.
Man, is that a description of the person I have been.
In the past few days, as I struggled with resigning my position and accepting a new challenge, I have come to realize how much of my job I have done "in my sleep" for the past couple of years, and how little I have challenged myself. If that's not a handjob, I don't know what is.
So many of us go on autopilot in our lives. I have done that in my marriage, in my parenting, in my friendships as well as in my career.
Could I have reached this realization and made a go of it in my previous job?
Probably. And I would have had to deal with an enormous amount of baggage that I carried with me every day.
Taking on a new challenge forces me to confront several major fears -- of change, of risk, of not being good enough. By changing jobs, I have no choice but to confront all of this in myself and to work my ass off at accepting change, confronting risk, rising to the occasion.
We all make choices in our lives. What I am seeing today is that whatever choices we make -- and whether others see them as good or bad, wise or foolish -- we can make them work for us if we are willing to confront fears and face up to the challenges.
That's what I start doing right now.
Here's to the future.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

No, No Pig. That's Not Fear. That's Excitement.

Today, I resigned from the job I have held for the past four years to accept a position at a rival company. For obvious reasons, this decision has been an emotional roller-coaster for me. But in making the decision, I have been able to rely on several tools I have picked up through the seminars I have attended as a program parent.
I have had a tendency throughout my life to deal with situations I don't like in the following way:
  • Keep quiet
  • Become resentful and frustrated
  • Ultimately explode in anger

Recognizing this in myself, I chose to handle my current situation in a very different way. While I was quite frustrated by some things happening in my organization, I dealt with them by first establishing a basis of strength -- a job offer which I did not pursue, but to which I opened my ears and mind. Change like this is difficult for me. I have been a fearful person in many aspects of my life, but I have learned that without facing fears you cannot grow.

The statement that heads this post is a mantra from the parent seminars my wife and I attend, and silly as it sounds, it has been a useful guide to me as I struggled with my decision.

Next, I took the time to write out a long and detailed plan for what needed to happen in my current (now previous) company to convince me to remain on board. I faced the source of my frustrations -- the CEO -- and insisted on a meeting to discuss these. Based on his feedback, I was able to make a clear and comfortable decision to change.

There are of course, many people I will miss from the job I have left. That has made today a somewhat wistful one. But that wistfulness is mixed with excitement over new prospects.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A New Start

I'm making a new start with this blog, after an absence of several months. The reasons for my absence have been many, but my return today has a purpose: To use this forum as a journal of my experiences as the parent of a child in a residential rehabilitation facility.
My wife and I made the very difficult decision in March to enroll our 15-year-old daughter in a rehab facility for teens who have succumbed to the temptations of drugs, alcohol, sex and other dangerous substances and activities.
The decision was made after attempts to address these issues through counseling, outpatient rehab, stricter parenting, and all the other usual suspects. Nothing had worked, and our child had gotten to the point where we could no longer provide the safety and control she needed.
A rehab counselor told us that if we did not get our child into a facility, she would likely not live to see her 18th birthday. Within five days, our daughter was at her new home and we were addressing our guilt and anger.
In one way, we lucked out. Our daughter went willingly to the facility -- even filled out her own paperwork --and so we were spared the horrendouse experience many families undergo of having her "transported" by a team of strongmen.
In fact, our trip from our home in Southern California to Southern Utah was filled with pleasurable reminiscences despite our trepidation about dropping her off and leaving her in the hands of total strangers.
It has now been more than five months since we have seen our child. We have had four one-hour phone calls with her, most recently this morning. We exchange letters on roughly a weekly basis, and we talk on alternate weeks to her therapist and to a "family rep" who keeps us up-to-date on our daughter's activities and progress.
My wife and I are participating in a series of family seminars, in which we focus not on our daughter but on ourselves. We all carry around enormous baggage -- our attitudes, assumptions and beliefs -- that needs to be examined and challenged. The concept of our program is not that our daughter's difficulties are the fault of the parents, but that something important has broken in the family and the whole family needs to work together to fix it.
I believe this much more strongly today than I did five months ago, when we sent our daughter away. I have spent a lot of time reflecting on the mixed messages I received in my own upbringing, and the coping mechanisms I developed during those years and have used over the rest of my life --withdrawal, frustration, resentment, blame, anger.
I want to use this blog as a vehicle for reflection and I welcome feedback from anyone who stops by. More later.