Happy Birthday to Me—Am I Getting a Present? Am I Getting a Present? Am I…

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

In the few weeks leading up to my eighth or ninth birthday, I remember driving my mom crazy asking her if I was getting a present.

She returned the crazy-driving favor throughout most of that time with vague, non-committal answers. On some level, I’m guessing she thought if she answered my question affirmatively, I would sneak into her room in search of the gift. (I went through a few periods of extreme snoopiness as a child—or perhaps spikes in an overall pattern of snooping). On another level, I think my mom just enjoyed goofing on me—especially when I was being extremely annoying (again, a constant throughout my childhood with plenty of spikes).

I have one photograph of each birthday throughout my childhood. In each picture, I am posing with the cake my mom made (including a number of cool cakes in the shape of animals, people, etc.). In some of the photos, my siblings stand behind me and to my sides, the birthday boy clearly the center of attention. And in some—only some—the gift I received that year is situated next to the cake.

I don’t specifically remember why I became obsessed with the idea of getting a birthday gift, or rather, the idea that I might not get a birthday gift that year. I suspect my big sister had something to do with it—either floating the idea that I was not getting a birthday gift because of what a little turd I was, or letting me know that she knew what I was getting for my birthday—with the certainty that it would drive me mad to think she knew something that I didn’t, and was not about to let me in on the secret—no matter what. Either way, the more I obsessed about whatever gift I may or may not have been getting, the more turdly I became, probably leading my mom to consider the idea of not celebrating my birthday that year or any other for the rest of time.

What is oddest in my memories from that period, though, was my sense of the novelty of getting a birthday gift. That is, what had sparked my obsession with getting a gift of any kind was a feeling that I had never gotten a birthday gift from my mom before. The idea that I might be getting one now was so exciting that I couldn’t deal with the thought that it might not be true. I needed to know if a gift was coming or not, so I could adjust my expectations. What a fantastic thing it would be if I just knew that I was getting a gift! What a crushing blow it would be to expect a gift and get none!

Of course I had gotten gifts from my mom before. There was plenty of photographic evidence of me with a birthday cake and a toy—and the physical evidence of those toys still residing on the shelves of my bedroom. Then again, I don’t recall spending a lot of time looking through family photos. In the years since then, the narrative that my sister was somehow involved in provoking the situation caused me to wonder if she had been so insidiously clever as to show me one of the photos of me with just my birthday cake as proof that I did not get birthday gifts. ‘See—there it is! Pictures don’t lie! No gifts for Jonny!’

I need to be clear that I don’t actually recall my sister doing any of the things I suggested. It’s just a bit more comforting to think she was messing with me than that I completely lost my mind speculating about whether or not I was getting a gift—not what the gift may or may not be—just the idea that I may or may not get any gift.

In the weeks leading up to that birthday, I seriously could not recall having ever gotten a birthday gift before. I could’ve gone up to my room, and looked at the toys, and puzzled out their origins. But logic and rationality were not in order. I needed someone in authority to tell me—definitively and right now—was I getting a birthday gift?!?

And after all that torturing of myself and my mother, the sad conclusion to this tale is that my mom wasn’t able to get me a gift that year, or even a cake.

Just kidding.

I got an awesome gift. The Adventure People Sea Explorer set.

doug and mary

Not my photo–and all these years I thought that dude’s name was Doug, not Dave.  Memory is a fickle thing, I guess.

I couldn’t find a commercial specifically featuring that set, but for a strangely simple earworm that haunts me to this day, watch this commercial and try not belting out that one line, “The Adventure People!”, for the rest of the day, or maybe the rest of your life.

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Thanksgiving Greetings from an Ingrate, 2016: Where’s the Mashed Potatoes?

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

Okay…this post has nothing to do with a lack of mashed potatoes.  I just love that line.  It’s become a staple of M and my faux-complaining about, well, really any meal–not just Thanksgiving.  Not that we want mashed potatoes at every meal, but anyway…

A friend recently called me out for not being an ingrate. This via a Facebook post, wherein I was responding to her efforts at working through the 24-days-of-gratitude challenge, or whatever it’s called when you note something you’re thankful for every day throughout November until Thanksgiving. I commented that I had been planning to do the same, although “planning” is perhaps too strong a word…it had occurred to me that I could engage in that challenge, and that I had done it in the past…although, maybe not in November. I might have just chosen 24 or 25 random days, having missed the point entirely…or maybe having expanded the point out in the most glorious of ways by refusing to confine my thankfulness to some specific stretch on a calendar. At any rate, not being an ingrate perhaps takes away from these annual posts, but at least somebody gets the point…that I’m not really an ingrate.

To those who don’t know me, it might be easy to imagine I am such. I enjoy complaining–embrace complaining–as an art form. It’s performance. It’s fun. It’s pure joy, garnering accolades and laughs when in the right company—and disturbed, ‘are-you-okay?’-furrowed-brow looks when in the ‘wrong’ company.

You see, when a big portion of your work is devoted to listening, absorbing, and redirecting the misery of the world, complaining is life-saving, life-affirming, the stuff of thanks.

Or not.

It’s all a matter of perspective. Much of the ‘wrong’ company involves people in my same field, but with a vastly different view of how we need to approach life in order to receive the blessings of thanks, or the thanks of blessings, or whatever life-denying positivity they think will cancel out the darkness of the season…that same darkness our ancestors feared was the impending end of time.

ingrate-thanksgiving

Blurry and off-color…just like misplaced anger!

When I set out to write this annual exercise in ingratitude/gratitude, I tried to think of a good Thanksgiving story from my past.

As I’ve noted in previous ‘ingrate’ posts, I have very few specific childhood memories of Thanksgiving. It was just some day off from school—two days actually–where things were, perhaps, much worse than school…having to put on church clothes only to have a meal that wasn’t particularly interesting.

Perhaps my emotional deficit around Thanksgiving is that it comes between my own balls-out/dress-up/mess-up-the-house-with-monster-decorations/get-candy enthusiasm of Halloween, and the hyper-sentimentality/religious significance/songs/smells/twinkling-lights/PRESENTS!! of Christmas.

How can Thanksgiving compete with that? New Year’s doesn’t fare all that well in comparison, either. Perhaps as a child, I was too close to family, too frequently in contact with them, to realize the value in being able to meet up yet again.  Getting together with family is something that’s become far too infrequent, with siblings spread out across six states, and cousins across at least four more that I know of.

In the absence of the frequent family gathering, I have grown to love, if not the sham history of the holiday, then what the idea of the holiday represents…coming together, helping each other out, recognizing what we have, and why all those elements are potentially so great.

Again this year, my immediate family and I are going out to eat for Thanksgiving–at a favorite restaurant where we’ve enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner before. Again this year, it is a function of our work schedules. That is to say, we could request time off, but, as with every year of the last decade, I work in a 24/7 operation, and M works at a school that caters to doctors (who work in a 24/7 operation). So, we pick and choose which holidays to celebrate more or less enthusiastically.

M was insisting she wanted to make a Thanksgiving meal this year. When the idea was first proposed, I went along with it. Then, at some later time, the kid and I ganged up on her, and pointed out that she had to work the day before, and the day after, Thanksgiving, as do I.  Well, actually, I’m working the day before, the day of, and the day after Thanksgiving, which means a portion of the argument rested on what a pain it would be for me to help do the shopping and cooking and all that, while still attempting to get any sleep–have I mentioned that I work nights?  Coordinating the menu, the purchase of the food, and the preparation of the food, was far more work than we were all ultimately prepared to do, all for just the three of us.

We managed to nail down Christmas plans that would allow more time before and after that holiday to indulge in such excessive amounts of preparation and work, and still get in a fair amount of relaxation, all in the company of family. I’ll hold to my feeling that thanks shouldn’t be a chore, and that holidays should be centered around a desire to celebrate, rather than an obligation to go through the motions of celebration.

I am incredibly thankful, once again, that I have the great fortune to pay to indulge in the hospitality provided by others. And once again, I intend to tip with guilt-laden generosity.

Wherever you are today, I hope you have reason to recognize your situation as one of great fortune as well.

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Happy Birthday to Me: Camp Pooparazzi

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Mos Eisley Spaceport: You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy…or a more kickass birthday present for an 11-year-old!

After a week at camp...Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina, where the droids wait outside.

After a week at camp…Mos Eisley Spaceport Cantina, where the droids wait outside.

There’s probably a photo somewhere of this Mos Eisley Cantina playset (and, yes, nerds, that is a blue Snaggletooth figure in there) with me posed proudly behind it. I was going to joke that my mom took the picture of the playset without me because she got tired of waiting for me to get out of the bathroom. You see, I had been at Outdoor School for the previous week and was emptying my bowels of a week’s worth—well, five-ish days worth—of camp food, over the course of several emergency trips to the bathroom.

TMI? Well wait, there’s more.

Anyway, I was going to joke about my absence from the picture, but the truth is, my mom was really cool about letting me stage a scene with my new toy and take a picture of it. Keep in mind that this was back in the days of film rolls, which were a bit spendy to buy and to print, and with no guarantee that the pictures were going to turn out. You couldn’t just delete the file and take another. No, you snapped those precious pictures carefully, over the space of however long it took to complete a roll of 20 or so pictures, then popped the roll out of the camera, took it to the store and waited days for the lab to process them. The stamp on the back of the photo shows that it didn’t get developed until April of the following year.  And, as you can see, I didn’t quite get the focus right.

Don’t get me wrong. The story of the excessive time in the bathroom is true. As I said, it was the week of Outdoor School at Camp Yamhill—meaning I had been away from home on my actual birthday, which fell on a Thursday that year. They brought us home on Friday.

Outdoor School was ostensibly to get 6th graders out into the wild to learn about the miracles of nature all around us—although I can’t remember a single part of the curriculum, aside from a lesson on erosion.  The lesson was memorable to me for what we didn’t learn, or, perhaps for how we didn’t learn it.  the camp counselor took us out on a hike, stopped along the trail by a fairly steep embankment that rose up and away from us, and then emptied some water out of a cup onto the embankment. The small group I was with had no idea what the counselor was getting at by showing us this.  And he got really annoyed when one of our group asked if he could show us again—because the counselor had already emptied all the water out of the smallish drinking cup he’d carried all the way out to this point on the trail.

Being something of a teacher’s-pet-type, I really wanted to be able to answer the counselor’s questions. But also being of a perfectionistic bent, I didn’t want to offer up mere guesses that may have been wrong. I finally said something, in response to him asking me a direct question. That led to him asking me follow-up questions. But I just didn’t know the answers. I hadn’t read up on erosion prior to the hike, and wasn’t particularly familiar with the concerns involved. Ultimately, exasperated at our lack of inquisitiveness and inability to follow the lesson as he presented it, the counselor just told us the answers we would need to fill out the worksheet on erosion that we had brought along in our camp folders.

To be sure, I have scads of memories of the week—just not about the stuff we were sent out there to learn.

For instance, there was the terrifying moment when, during dinner one night, they announced the birthday girls and boys for the week. Those few of us were supposed to go up to the front of the dining hall and stand there while the rest of the campers sang “Happy Birthday.”

I froze, despite the heat of a deep blush rising in my face.

Painfully shy, even around most of my own classmates, we were at camp with sixth graders from multiple schools—people I had never met before, and would experience only for a few short days, and in a largely cursory manner. My tablemates urged me to go bask in the attention. One of the female counselors came around in an effort to weed out the birthday campers. But the counselor from my own cabin, who went by the name “Lightning”—a name I had previously associated with a horse from Nebraska—quietly waved her away and shot a look at my tablemates, with the message to leave me be. I was immensely grateful in that moment—until a sense of regret crept in at my deliberate avoidance of what was supposed to be a fun and kind gesture by the camp organizers.

But there were plenty of things I dove right into.  We made “hobo stoves”—unthinkably unsafe tin-snipped coffee cans, with cardboard tightly rolled into tuna cans and set ablaze—to cook hamburger patties.

There were the camp crafts, and camp games—and, hey trendsetters with more energy than me, if there aren’t already adult Capture the Flag leagues, somebody needs to get on that.

And then there was Alan—a camper from another school who landed in the same cabin I was assigned—the mighty brown pelicans (all the cabins were named after endangered species)—and who almost immediately got into an argument with one of my classmates. That escalated into a physical fight by Tuesday, which resulted in a cabin-transfer for Alan. The loyalty of sixth-grade boys being what it is, I, of course, painted Alan as the villain in the situation. But regardless of my perceived need to choose sides, it was alarming and confusing for me to see two complete strangers develop such an immediate and intense animosity for one another, over essentially nothing, and hang onto it with such energy.

There were the camp sing-alongs including the camp theme song, which, as far as I remember, consisted solely of repeating “Camp Yamhill” over and over again at varied rhythms and pitches.

In perhaps the ultimate shot at provoking horrible embarrassment in the campers, each cabin group had to take turns performing skits on different days. We, the brown pelicans, did a skit so profound and accomplished that I can’t remember a single thing about it—aside from various cabin members arguing about the details of the skit until the absolute last minute—details still undecided as we took the stage in a swirl of hushed, urgent, and contradictory orders given by multiple self-appointed artistic directors. ‘Thank God,’ I thought, ‘we are not being graded on this.’

And there were the campfires each night—where I frequently caught myself staring through the darkness at one or the other of two crushes, there faces illuminated by the yellow-orange light of the fire, as acoustic-guitar-toting counselors led us in songs. I’m guessing we sang classic rowboat songs, like “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” and rounds of “Row Row Row Your Boat.” But the song we sang at camp that stuck with me most as I reached the landmark of wisdom that is age 11, was Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game.” A counselor or two would sing the various verses, campers joining in on the chorus:

“And the seasons they go round and round

And the painted ponies go up and down

We’re captive on the carousel of time

We can’t return we can only look

Behind from where we came

And go round and round and round

In the circle game”

…which would be a lovely and poignant place to end this post if I didn’t feel obligated to point out that, not actually knowing the title of the song, or the correct words, for years I sang that last line as “The circle again” as well as substituting “captured” for “captive.”

Also, I still haven’t explained that bathroom situation.

So, on the first day of camp, shortly after arriving and heading up the hill to get settled in our assigned cabins, I walked across the open space to the communal bathroom. Multiple other boys were cycling in and out. I procured a stall and began to relieve myself. A sudden commotion interrupted the peace of my flow, as an eruption of shouting, laughing, and the banging and slamming of the (lockless) door rocked the stall adjacent to mine.

From the various yells, I quickly discerned that a classmate—the occupant of the next stall over—was now the subject of a sneak-attack photo.  The horror!  Captured on film in the act of pooping!

At that very moment, already wary of having to use public restrooms as a general rule, and arguably allergic to the very thought of actually sitting on a public toilet, my sphincter closed itself off to business for the remainder of the week, lest any other bathroom paparazzi (pooparazzi?) turn up.

Now, the human body can do some amazing things, especially when prompted by fear. I have no recollection of feeling any ill effects over my defecation-avoidance scheme. It’s possible I may have made my way to the toilets once or twice during low-traffic times. Being a teacher’s-pet-type generally meant an absence of suspicion when requesting to use the bathroom.

Still, I was way off of any regular routine I may have had, so much so that by the time I made it back home, despite my tremendous joy and excitement at receiving the Mos Eisley Cantina playset, what may have been the best gift that year–well, for at least a few hours–was immediate access to a full bathroom, complete with a locked door, as my sphincter re-opened for business with an hours-long, albeit sporadic, inventory liquidation.

Ahh…memories.

The Horror of the Straws –or– Reduce, Chew, Reuse, Recycle

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

It was a hot day in late spring when Tim (probably not his real name) came jogging up behind me, slowed his pace to match my walk, and invited himself over to my house.

Tim’s request was unusual for plenty of reasons. For one thing, I didn’t really know him at all. He was in a different fifth-grade class than me and we’d barely spoken to each other outside of, maybe, a game or two of four-square or wall-ball at recess.

His family had arrived in town sometime after the start of the school year, and would be gone before the next school year was out.

He offered no explanation for his sudden interest in my companionship. I had no particular plans, nothing I had to do until dinnertime, or after, depending on which job was mine that night—setting or clearing the table, or washing the dishes. Still, I didn’t know how my mom would react to me brining home a classmate I had never spoken of, without having gone through the usual dance of informal invitations and phone calls between parents—the kind of parental back and forth that would eventually drop off either by dint of establishing an ongoing familiarity with the friend, or by the friendship falling away completely.

So, by way of trying to avoid any awkwardness at home, I asked Tim if maybe he should go home first and ask his mom. He answered only that it was fine with his mom, implying that it should be just fine with my mom, as well. He provided no tangible clues as to his home life. Had he already asked his mother before he left home in the morning? Was his mother out working? Did she just let him roam free? Was he avoiding someone or some situation at home—or wherever it was that he was actually supposed to be?

Tim’s self-invitation felt like an imposition. And yet, I didn’t want to be rude or leave a classmate hanging if he really was in need.

But I was in uncharted waters. I had never just brought someone home before, unannounced, without asking permission.

My mom’s reaction was one of curiosity more than anything. ‘Why are you bringing home some kid I’ve never heard of?’ may have been the direct question she wanted to put to me. But after the introductions, she took a similar approach to mine: “Does your mother know you’re here?” and “Do you need to call your parents and let them know where you are?”

Tim denied any such need, and the notion that his mother might be at all concerned.

There may have been further pressing, or boundaries set, like my mom asking for Tim’s home phone number so she could make a call, or insisting that he call home, or maybe saying we had an hour to play before x, y, and/or z needed to happen, necessitating Tim’s exit.

Whatever the case, and whether or not there was ever any go-ahead from Tim’s parents, he was sticking around for at least a little while.

I went forward with my just-home-from-school routine—turning on the TV for some cartoons, and heading to the kitchen for a snack. The default snack for years was two Graham crackers and a Daffy Duck glass full of chocolate milk—made with Hershey’s Instant chocolate powder. Sometimes, I’d really mix things up and add peanut butter to the crackers, but usually I would just dunk the bare Graham crackers in the chocolate milk.

After school snack, or frightening faux pas?

After school snack, or frightening faux pas?

Tim accepted when I offered him the same.

But then, with crackers and glasses in hand, we crossed the kitchen to the silverware drawer. I set my glass down, slid open the drawer, and…

There they were…to the side of the silverware tray…the straws.

Something's definitely not right here.

Something’s definitely not right here.

Now, the entire time I was growing up, I don’t think my mother ever paid for a package of drinking straws. It was just a wasteful expense as far as she was concerned. After all, straws are basically unnecessary for drinking, except in some very limited circumstances—like being ill and having difficulty sitting up to take a drink. Besides, restaurants give them away for free.

These were not ideas I ever remember my mother speaking. I have a vague sense that she told us if we really wanted drinking straws, we could keep the straws we got from restaurants, and wash and reuse them. That’s what we did, afterall. It seemed reasonable enough to me. After all, this was the era of the original Krazy Straw—people washed and re-used those all the time.

Saving and re-using straws was a more daunting task than one might think, though. We very rarely went out to restaurants—only for some birthdays and other special occasions, or when Grandpa decided to treat us all to Friday Night Fish at the Chuckwagon buffet. And aside from a cross-country car trip in the summer of 1977, fast food was mostly kept out of our diet. So, no steady supply of straws was to be had.

On the day that Tim invited himself over, the supply of straws had become quite decrepit. And, well, a big part of that is because I tended to chew on them as I drank my chocolate milk and watched my cartoons. Still, until they were cracked and unusable, we would wash them and send them back to the drawer.

Covering up my crimes of mastication would take some quick thinking. So I did what anybody would do in that situation—I blamed my little brother for the chewed straws–‘Some of the straws are messed up.  My little brother chews on them sometimes.’

Crisis averted. Or so I thought.

But as I sought out two reasonably functional straws, Tim shrieked, “You share straws?!?”

I can still clearly picture the look of terror and disgust on Tim’s face. If you can imagine what Leave-it-to-Beaver-era Jerry Mathers would look like if I’d just handed him a straw and a live guinea pig, picked up my own straw and guinea pig and said, “Here, this is really good—just go like this” and then jammed the straw through the guinea pig’s eye socket and started sucking out the contents of its skull as it squealed, writhed, and died—that’s roughly what Tim looked like in that moment—eyes bulging in fright, ample, freckled cheeks twitching around a scowling mouth.

Well, you're getting there, Jerry. But we need more terror, more disgust!

Well, you’re getting there, Jerry. But we need more terror, more disgust!

I can’t remember anything that took place beyond that. I’m sure there was a moment or two of profound awkwardness.  And then I’m guessing we went to the living room where Tim drank his chocolate milk without a straw. I probably passed on the straw, too, since I’d just learned it how monstrously disturbing it was to drink through a previously-used straw.

Tim and I probably eventually went up to the room I shared with two brothers, and picked over the toys. We may have gone out to shoot baskets in the driveway, or sat at the game table in the living room drawing pictures. Whatever the case, Tim’s sharp reaction to the straws numbed me to any other occurrences for the rest of his time there.

My mom’s only comment on Tim’s shock at the used straws was a deadpan, “They’ve been washed.” But, again, I don’t remember if this happened in the moment of Tim’s freak-out, or if it happened later, as I was describing his reaction to her (and undoubtedly questioning if there was something terribly wrong with us).

At school the next day, Tim tried to call me out for reusing straws, as I passed him and a few of his friends on recess. Tim’s attempted insult—roughly, ‘Hey, I went to his house, and you know what? He shares straws with his brothers’–failed to land. The other kids did not react. Perhaps Tim just didn’t paint a particularly effective picture of the insanity involved. Or perhaps they were all so dumbfounded, they couldn’t think of a proper response to demonstrate their disgust. I walked on.

I suppose I should have held on to the non-reaction of the other kids as the takeaway in all this. But memories have a way of forming around the moment of impact and maximum anxiety, not the moment when that anxiety should have evaporated. Although, at the time, given the extreme nature of Tim’s reaction, I was convinced that the lack of reaction from the others was a silent acknowledgment that, yes, I was a damnable freak.

And perhaps I am a damnable freak—but certainly not because of anything I’ve ever done with a straw…or at least not for anything I ever did with a straw while I was in elementary school.

D.A.D.D. is S.T.U.P.I.D.D. (Stereotypical Thinking Underscoring a Patriarchal Ideology of Domination & Desperation)

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Once again, with all apologies for the overly hetero-normative tone of the piece).

Shopping for Father’s Day gifts can be hard.

A lot of dads will say they don’t want or need anything. Or if they do want something, it’s probably very specific to their particular tastes.

That’s at least in part why the buy-dad-an-unwanted-tie jokes have gone on year after year.

And speaking of jokes, one of the most enduring Father’s Day gifts is the joke T-shirt—or, rather, the T-shirt with the dad-related joke on it. You know the ones—touting dad’s love for beer, or naps, or fishing, or farting.

And those are all perfectly fine, I suppose.

But one gift you don’t want to get your father this year, or any time, is the “D.A.D.D.: Dads Against Daughter’s Dating” T-shirt. The T-shirt exists in many forms, and is available from Internet T-shirt sites and Etsy shops, all the way to the Father’s Day gift displays of department stores.

Many of said T-shirts simply have the main phrase, like this one:

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

For bland dads who want to make a sexist statement.

But the full joke involves a follow up line of “Shoot the first one and the word will spread” or a similarly-worded joke about shooting any boy who asks a girl out, like this shirt, here:

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

For dads who feel the need to aggressively advertise their insecurities.

I’ve written before about the whole cultural insistence on threatening boys with violence because of their interest in girls, even when that interest is totally age-appropriate. I don’t understand what such threats are supposed to accomplish, or why such jokes are supposed to be funny.

Most of the responses to questions about the alleged humor of such jokes involve adult men saying that they know what they were like themselves when they were teenagers, and so they know they need to set young men straight/keep them in line.

But I’m not sure if they are thinking clearly about what they are saying.

Are they saying that they needed an adult male to threaten violence against them (or their teenage selves) in order to keep them from raping a girl who agreed to go out on a date with them?

Or perhaps it’s that, as teenagers, they went on dates that ultimately led to kissing, or groping, or any of a number of acts all the way up to and including full-blown intercourse, because their dates were agreeable to engaging in such acts with them—and somehow they think that the best way to prevent their own daughters from being like the girls that they dated is to threaten any teenager who dates their daughters.

But that explanation spawns a whole host of other questions. Did those men, as teenagers and into adult life, really hate the girls they dated in high school so much that they live in fear of their own daughters behaving like those girls? And, if those men did, as teenagers, go out with any of ‘those girls’ (the kind who would engage in at least some form of sexual activity), did threats of violence really shut the men (then boys) down or get them to abstain from sex when it was being offered consensually?

Of course, there is the rather unpleasant possibility that those men are announcing that, as teenagers, they really did engage in sexual assault, and they believe that it was the responsibility of adult males—or more specifically, the fathers of their dates—to stop them from such behavior.

I’m guessing that if someone needs to be a tough-guy dad, threatening one’s daughter’s dates (who happen to be someone else’s children) with physical violence, all because of how one remembers one’s own teenage years, there are a lot of unresolved issues there. And perhaps those issues are manifesting themselves in a need to try and control one’s own daughters—and more specifically one’s own daughters’ sexual behavior, or their potential for sexual behavior. It’s essentially staking a claim to, and asserting a property right over, a teenage girl’s body.

At base, it is an assertion that girls and women are the property of men—first their fathers, and then their husbands. One implication of the anti-dating sentiment is that girls and women should skip dating altogether, and swear off interactions with boys and men, especially sex, until they are married. Essentially, it’s suggesting that there should be a title transfer of the female body/person from dad to husband.

In addition, it is an assertion that all teenage boys are in the throes of raging hormones to the point where they cannot control themselves—or at least not without the threat of violence and death to keep them in check. This, of course, is the kind of “boys will be boys” garbage that both encourages and excuses insufferably sexist behavior, up to and including sexual assault.  It is the idea that the behavior of boys and men necessarily involves violence of all sorts.

It is also a kind of challenge to teenage boys—prove you’re a man by persuading a girl to go to bed with you, while dodging the violent father who wants to put a stop to it. In other words, it’s macho crap that perpetuates notions of who is responsible for their behavior, who is not, and how people need to be controlled. It posits the idea that boys are supposed to want sex, and take it when they can, but that girls are not, and are supposed to resist it until it is forced upon them. It promotes the idea of relationships as conquest—at least for males.

If you deny the inherent sexism, stupidity, and outright creepiness of the joke, then why aren’t there T-shirts promoting the idea that boys shouldn’t be allowed to date?

Where are the D.A.S.D. (Dad’s Against Son’s Dating) shirts? Or perhaps the M.A.S.D. (Mother’s Against Sons Dating) shirts? Or even the M.A.D.D. (Mother’s Against Daughters Dating) shirts? Although that last acronym is taken (which could spawn a whole other piece of commentary about why anybody is deliberately “spoofing” Mother’s Against Drunk Driving).

Why not shirts with “M.A.  I.S.  G.O.D.: Mother’s Against Innocent Sons Going Out on Dates”?

Maybe it’s just that the M.A.S.D. and D.A.S.D. shirts don’t have a very catchy acronym—although I suppose you could make them into D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S shirts—except that the phrasing gets problematic. I mean, we don’t really want Dads or Moms to be “for” dating sons—especially if the implication of the D.A.D.S. and M.A.D.S. shirts would be that parents are standing up against dating their own daughters and sons. Oh–but wait—there is that whole creepy Daddy-Daughter Date Night thing out there, isn’t there?

I guess when parents get overly obsessed with controlling the sexual behavior of their teenage offspring, things just automatically get creepy.

Overall, rather than getting into these stupid threats of violence, and assertions of rights over the bodies of others, why not, instead, teach all of our kids how to be empathetic, and respectful to themselves and others, when it comes to matters of physicality and sexuality? Why not teach them, both boys and girls, how to avoid succumbing to feelings of peer pressure, or partner pressure, to engage in sex when they are not ready? Why not teach them basic, factual sex education, starting from an early age, so that they will not view sex as some weird mystery, some taboo subject, something that cannot be approached because of the threat of violence, or of damnation, for such approach?

You can teach children and teens the real risks of sexual activity—whether those risks are physical or emotional–without making the main threat one of pointless aggression. And you can teach them how to reduce (not completely eliminate) the potential for unwanted physical or emotional consequences, without having to promote the idea that those people dating daughters should live under threat of violence for wanting to date, or even for having sexual feelings.

Or, perhaps we can keep making obnoxious jokes and T-shirts promoting the idea that daughters’ “purity” needs to be owned and protected by fathers, to the point where threats of violence and murder against other people’s children seem totally appropriate.

In line with those stereotypes and attitudes, how about some of the following, somewhat tortured, acronyms as T-shirts:

D.I.P.C.H.I.T.  Dad’s Instigating Pissing Contests w/ Horny Impulsive Teenagers

W.T.F.  D.A.D.? Why The Fascination w/ Denying Autonomy for Daughters?

D.O.D.G.E. Dad’s Obsessed w/ Daughter’s Genitals—Eww!

I.  A.M.  O.C.T.O.P.U.S. Insecure Adult Males Obsessed w/ Controlling Their Offspring’s Puberty Und Sexuality

I’m sure you all can come up with some acronyms that might work with the idea above.

Or maybe we can just shorten that original acronym to what it really means, and think about better ways to deal with it:

D.A.D.  Dad’s Afraid of Daughters

Happy Father’s Day!

A Duggar Finally Admits Josh Broke the Law

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

On June 3rd, Megyn Kelly dedicated an entire episode of her Fox News show, “The Kelly File,” to an interview with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar.

There weren’t any particular surprises that turned up, except maybe that Jessa and Jill Duggar, two of the daughters who now apparently admit to having been victimized by Josh, were also interviewed by Kelly. But that interview is being aired later.

Aside from that, Jim Bob and Michelle did little more than reiterate that “as parents” (a phrase that was uttered constantly throughout the show by both interviewer and interviewees—part of the battle cry of Duggar supporters who feel the state should stay out of family business) Jim Bob and Michelle did the best they knew how. They also insisted that they were the real victims in all this, because some people with “an agenda”—a “dog-whistle” phrase for Fox News viewers that indicates the LGBTQ community—are trying to tear the Duggar family down.

Oh yeah, and, in reference to Josh Duggar, Jim Bob actually uttered the phrase, “he’d broken the law.”

"I didn't just say my son broke the law, did I?"

“I didn’t just say my son broke the law, did I?”

I’m guessing Jim Bob didn’t really mean to say that. After all, the interview was clearly coached, if not at least roughly scripted, and none of the participants referred to any of Josh’s actions as crimes or sexual assaults.

Jim Bob, instead, called Josh’s crimes “choices,” “unwise choices,” “decisions,” “very bad things,” “a bad thing,” “improper touching,” “what he did,” “the act,” and “stuff that happened 12 years ago.” When asked about the particulars of the crimes, Jim Bob could not help but minimize Josh’s actions, saying that Josh was “curious about girls,” that he “touched them over their clothes,” that there were “a couple of incidents where he touched them under their clothes—but it was like a few seconds,” that the crimes involved only “a real quick touch while they were asleep for most of them; and there were two other incidents that were when they were awake,” and best of all, that it “was not rape or anything like that.” (I don’t know, Jim Bob, some of those actions are about as “like rape” as you can get without actually meeting the legal definition of rape). Getting religious, Jim Bob said his “son’s heart had gone astray” and that Josh had “violated God’s principles.”

Doing her part, Michelle called Josh’s actions, “mistakes,” “wrongdoing,” “wrongdoings,” “really bad choices,” “improperly touching a young one,” and “some very bad things.”

At the outset, it seemed like Megyn Kelly might actually attempt to provide some clarity about the crimes, stating in the opening to the show that Josh had “forcibly touched at least five girls.” But, while she was talking with the Duggars, Kelly helped them along in their minimization, referring to Josh’s crimes as “this problem,” “testing,” and “a fondling.”

Perhaps even more disgusting than minimizing the sexual assaults Josh committed by using rather soft language to describe the crimes, was Jim Bob and Michelle’s repeated insistence that the assaults were of little concern to the victims, because in most of the incidents, the girls were asleep and “didn’t even know he’d done it,” or “weren’t even aware.” And, in those cases where the girls were aware of what had happened, the Duggars suggested that the girls “were confused” by the actions or “didn’t understand” what happened anyway.

So, y’know. No big deal for the girls–and, yes, I’m guessing that being sexually assaulted by your big brother is probably confusing and hard to understand.

Strangely enough, though, the Duggars said multiple times that they had talked to their girls about improper touch, so that the girls would understand what it was, and so that the girls would let their parents know if it happened.

Even when Kelly directly asked Jim Bob what it was like to have to worry about the sexual abuse “as a father of daughters,” Jim Bob was able to make only the most cursory of remarks about his daughters before fixing his attention elsewhere. His exact response was, in what may have been an unintentionally revealing look into the community to which the Duggars belong, “I was so thankful, though, that Josh came and told us. And our girls, even though this was a very bad situation, as we talked to other families who’ve had other things happen, a lot of their stories were even worse.”

So, again, no big deal. I mean, everybody’s doing it. Right? And a lot of them are doing worse stuff.

Beyond that, the Duggars provided many other tortured and defensive responses to the most common criticisms that have been leveled against them. For instance, they admitted that the man in Little Rock Arkansas, who Josh went to for ‘counseling’ really wasn’t a counselor, but “was running a little training center” (Jim Bob’s words).

Still, Michelle insisted that, “all of our children received professional counseling,” with Jim Bob adding, “from an accredited, professional counselor.” Now, there are scenarios where this could have happened. For instance, if the parents put the children into counseling sometime after the report that triggered the investigation had already been made, then any further reporting by actual counselors would have been redundant and made little difference in the progression of events. Getting the kids into counseling at that time would also make it appear as if the parents were trying to do the right thing by taking appropriate steps to address the situation.

Aside from that, though, any counselor who had any information about Josh’s crimes, and knowledge that Josh was still in the home with numerous other children, would have had to make a report to Child Protective Services. And unless CPS completely dropped the ball, Josh would not have been able to make it out beyond the statute of limitations that kept him from being prosecuted. But Kelly did not ask them to clarify anything about the “professional counseling” at all.

Kelly also let Jim Bob go unchallenged, as he spun his version of events regarding the “report” made to an Arkansas State Trooper, Jim Hutchens, who later ended up going to prison for possession of child pornography. (It was during this portion of the interview that Jim Bob actually admitted that Josh had “broken the law”). Still, the main point of Jim Bob’s story was that they told the police about Josh’s ‘mistakes’ and the police didn’t file a report with CPS, so that’s on the police. Or, as Jim Bob said, Hutchens “violated the law himself by not reporting this incident.”

In addition, Jim Bob asserted that, “The last jurisdiction of who he (Josh) needed to make things right with was the law.” It all sounds something like the Duggar version of ‘f*ck the police.’

Jim Bob’s explanation of events also suggested it was only by chance that the report was made to a trooper that Jim Bob knew personally (although Jim Bob implied he only know Hutchens incidentally because of a towing business Jim Bob had in the past), and that a “witness” went along to make sure it would be clear what Josh said to Trooper Hutchens. Jim Bob neglected to mention that the “witness” was actually multiple church elders.

It was, one can safely assume, by design that Jim Bob never said “church elders,” even though they had been brought up several times in earlier Duggar family accounts of events—including when Jim Bob Duggar met with the church elders to discuss Josh’s ‘choices’ before he was sent off to that “little training center”—all because one of the church elders allegedly advised Jim Bob not to send Josh to “one of those juvenile youth sex offender facilities” because “the success rate is not very good.”

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Megyn Kelly actually provides some information, urging viewers to call for help if their brother, or anyone else, is sexually abusing them.

Kelly let the “success rate” statement slide even though at the conclusion of her show, she explained that, according to Department of Justice Statistics, “85 to 90 percent” of juvenile sex offenders “never are arrested for sex crimes again.” Kelly did not point out that those juveniles who receive treatment specifically for sex offense behaviors have lower rates of re-offense than those who do not.

At any rate, in the version of events doctored for the Kelly Interview, the elders have now been transformed into Jim Bob’s “good friends.” The reason for the elders now simply being good friends is probably because, in the state of Arkansas, clergy members are considered mandated reporters. There’s a little bit of fuzziness to the law’s language about what constitutes a “clergy member”—but not so much that the church elders want to go on being identified as people who were aware of Josh’s crimes, yet didn’t bother to make a report. That fear of attention would be of particular concern for any pastor who was aware of Josh’s actions. There’s no fuzziness about the legal language regarding the obligations of pastors to report incidents of child abuse.

Rest assured, though, Jim Bob is most certainly not a mandated reporter. He boldly declared that, “As parents you’re not mandatory reporters. The law allows for parents to do what they think is best for their child.”

That is, to be sure, a rather broad reading of the law. Parents are not mandated reporters in Arkansas (but they are in several other states). However, the law isn’t exactly set up so that parents can “do what they think is best” without any consequences. There are, for instance, laws against child endangerment—endangerment like keeping your sexually abusive son in the home with the victims of his sexual abuse, as well as numerous other potential victims (which is, if I remember correctly, a big part of the reason TLC claimed they cancelled ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.’)

But the Duggars really only want us to know that they did everything as best they knew how, and tried to do right, and that they are now being victimized.

They are being victimized by the Children’s Safety Center and the police, even though the Duggar children “shared everything” with investigators—or maybe not, and even though Jim Bob tried to keep Josh away from those investigators.

They are being “victimized by people with an agenda” (wink, wink, dog whistle, dog whistle). Kelly had to repeatedly ask a question about the appearance of hypocrisy—feeding Michelle Duggar a line about Michelle’s robocall that said transgender people are “child molesters” before Michelle finally remembered to start down the right road that would allow (or rather require) Jim Bob to point out that Michelle had really called them pedophiles—and Josh is not a pedophile (although he is certainly someone who engaged in sexual assault as a minor, including incestuous sexual assault).

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

Michelle Duggar struggles to remember just which offensive thing it was that she was supposed to say about transgender people.

And Kelly further helped with the appearance of victimization by asking if the Duggars are being “slandered” because of their Christian beliefs. One would think that Kelly, as an attorney, and working for a news organization, would be able to apply the term “slander” correctly—but I guess not. And then there’s the matter of what “Christian” actually means.

To the Duggars, Christianity means something far different than what most Christians believe, and is extremely distant from what most other Christians practice. In addition to their bizarre emphasis on sexual purity, the Duggars also apparently view humility, contrition, and truth-telling as optional elements of their beliefs. And, where that doesn’t violate the law, that’s their right as citizens of these United States.

But the Duggars want to have it both ways, proclaiming the greatness of God while indulging in the rites of Mammon. They want to have a hand in crafting the laws of this country, and in having laws enforced against others—but they don’t want the laws of the country being enforced against their family. And contrary to what the Duggars said about doing their part to deal correctly with the sexual abuse that Josh committed, they did not engage in any kind of legitimately legal process for addressing it—which is a stereotypical thing for politicians to do when their children get in trouble—pull a few strings, ask a few favors, keep it all hush hush, and lawyer up when necessary.

And if the interview with Megyn Kelly demonstrated anything, it’s that Jim Bob Duggar is, first and foremost, a politician—intent on crafting a message and maintaining an image. For her part, Kelly is complicit in that image-making, including the part where sexual abuse is minimized—and all for the same reasons as Jim Bob—ratings, money, and influence.

Serving Mammon, The Duggar Way

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Last week, it came out that Josh Duggar, of the “19 Kids and Counting” Duggars, sexually assaulted four of his younger sisters as well as a young girl from another family. From what we know, this all happened back around 2003, when Josh was 14 or 15 years old.

Josh Duggar does not deny that he committed these crimes, although he refers to them as “sins” and “terrible things” and “mistakes” rather than crimes.

Josh Duggar never faced any legal consequences for his crimes.

The Duggar family claims that they addressed the sexual assaults by getting “closer to God,” by pursuing counseling for both Josh and the victims, and by going to the police.

But let’s be clear about this–the Duggar family NEVER GOT COUNSELING FOR JOSH OR THE VICTIMS OF HIS CRIMES, and THE FAMILY NEVER WENT TO THE POLICE.

How can I possibly know this? Well…

Let me first address the police situation, even if that is a bit backwards. Jim Bob Duggar (father to all of the Duggars—victims and victimizer), following Josh’s “counseling” took him to a law enforcement officer who was a family friend, for a “confession” that resulted in a “stern talk.” According to Josh’s parents, the law enforcement officer told them that since Josh had already gone through counseling, there was nothing more that could be done. So either 1) Josh’s parents are completely lying about what the police officer advised, or 2) The police officer was completely derelict in his duty, as far as what he was supposed to do when given information about sexual abuse involving children.

Also, the cop (again, a family friend) that the Duggars took Josh to meet with is currently SERVING MORE THAN 50 YEARS IN PRISON FOR POSSESSION OF CHILD PORNOGRAPHY. I’m sure he quite enjoyed his meeting with the young Josh Duggar.

Now, as to the counseling…

If any of the victims, or the perpetrator, had gone to any kind of legitimate counselor who deals with sexual offense behaviors, or with sexual victimization, or with any form of recognized counseling that requires a person to be credentialed at all, a report would have been made to Child Protective Services, and an investigation would have occurred much earlier than it did—early enough that Josh would likely have faced some legitimate legal consequences before the three-year statute of limitations on his crimes ran out, and early enough that his family would not have been able to completely manipulate the situation, and keep it out of the legal system, and out of the public eye—well, out of the public eye until now.

Simply put, counselors are mandated reporters. They cannot keep things like this on the down-low—not without losing their licenses.

Such a lovely wedding.  You'd never guess...

Such a lovely wedding. You’d never guess…

As it is, if it weren’t for an anonymous “tipster” contacting the authorities in Arkansas and the production staff of the Oprah Winfrey Show (who also contacted the Arkansas authorities) back in 2006, there never would have been an investigation at all. Josh would have victimized four of his sisters, and another young girl, and had to face the “punishment” and “counseling” he got by spending four months away from home, reading the Bible and helping a family friend do some remodeling work—not exactly an evidence-based means of addressing sexually predatory behaviors.

And, again, that’s exactly what happened: No punishment. No real counseling.

The victimized girls also did not receive anything that might be considered an evidence-based form of counseling for addressing sexual trauma and sexual victimization. We have a key to what kind of treatment the girls might have received, in Samantha Field’s blog post, where Duggar-family Guru Bob Gothard’s insanely creepy “Counseling Sexual Abuse” graphic is posted—a chart that, among other things, suggests that being sexually assaulted brings one favor with God, and special spiritual strengths.

In other words, the Duggar girls were almost certainly told that being sexually victimized was a good thing in the eyes of Jesus—in no small part because it helps them recognize how terrible they were as prepubescent temptresses, and because it makes them super-spiritual. In case there is any need for clarification, such “reframing” is not considered “best practices” for addressing sexual victimization.

In fact, if any of the children had gone to any legitimate form of counseling, the girls would have had control over whether they even had to listen to an apology from Josh, much less having him allowed back in the home after a few short months away.  And there would have been a much more involved discussion of how/whether to integrate Josh back into the home.

And just so you know where I’m coming from, I spent over two years working full-time with juvenile sex offenders, and then spent over six years working part-time with adult sex offenders.

I also read the entire (redacted) police report —something I have had to do in many other cases.

The story of Josh Duggar is not unique—in the sense that families are generally unsure of what course to take when such situations arise. Families do not want to invite shame on their children–victims or victimizers–or the family as a whole, and often delay any meaningful action or professional intervention until the problem has progressed to a state where it can no longer be viewed as a “phase” or as “innocent exploration”—or until one of the victims reports the abuse to a therapist, or a school counselor, or a camp counselor, or a teacher, or a friend who tells a parent, or a pastor, or anybody else who chooses to act in a responsible fashion.

I have had contact with families who earnestly sought help and support, and tried to do right by both their daughters and their sons—and any other victims. I have had contact with families where the abusers were clearly given the benefit of the doubt, and the victims shamed as if they had deliberately ruined the family–even to the point of sending the victims away so the abusers could come back to the home. And I have been in contact with families who tried to beat the bad behavior out of the victimizers, and who go on pretending they are being persecuted over some dumb crap that they are perfectly capable of handling.

Clearly, the situation with Josh Duggar progressed to a dangerous state. His was not a case of budding sexual curiosity leading to “playing doctor.” His was a case of repeatedly exerting sexual “authority” over girls who were smaller, weaker, and devalued in his family’s “culture.”

From a fan blog--a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

From a fan blog–a charming sign in the Duggar family home.

In fact, what many have viewed as the Duggar family’s “wholesomeness”—their constant harping on values of purity and modesty—could not be further from a healthy attitude toward relationships and sex.  It places girls and women on a “pedestal” that values their virginity first, their breeding abilities second, and their whole selves not at all.  It is a “culture” that infantilizes women, treating them as too stupid to be trusted with control of their own bodies. It is a “culture” that preaches submission of wives to their husbands to an extreme degree. Women are told to recognize their inferiority, and to be celebrate it, because that’s what God wants.

Consider what message is being sent to one’s daughters—and one’s sons—when the matriarch of a family asserts publicly that it is her job to submit sexually to her husband, even when she does not want to.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when parents say they should keep having children, no matter what, simply because it is biologically possible.

Consider the message being sent to one’s children when it is deemed acceptable for a pre-teen male to “chaperone” his nearly-adult sister on a date, to make sure she and her boyfriend do nothing inappropriate.

Many conservative/Republican figureheads have come out in support of the Duggars, and in condemnation of people who are now criticizing the Duggar family for their handling of the sexual abuse situation—mostly in the vein of “quit picking on Christians” and “Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven.” With few exceptions, those defenses involve labeling Josh’s actions as teenage frivolity, rather than what they are—deliberate, sexually predatory behavior that was covered up by his family.

Family friend, and Duggar-political-endorsement-recipient Mike Huckabee used the argument that a victim, or multiple victims, of Josh’s behavior, wanted privacy–both in defending the family and when he had a judge he appointed destroy the un-redacted police report about Josh’s offenses. He claims the Duggars sought out help, and went to the authorities. But, yet again, they didn’t—not in any real way.

Likewise, Matt Walsh, used the childish “Oh yeah?!? Well—liberals!!” argument (along with the ‘persecuted Christians’ argument) in a post where he also made the poignant observation that, “As a parent, you have to think whether your 14 year old son deserves to have his life ruined over his mistakes.”

Really, Matt? What about your 12-, or 10-, or 8-, or 6-year-old daughter, or the 5-year-old neighbor girl? (No, I don’t have actual information on the specific ages of the victims). They’ve already had their “lives ruined” by the “mistakes” of your son. So, devalue the daughters? They’ll get over it? What’s important is that you protect your sexually-predatory teenage son?

But it’s not just a “mistake” when a 15-year-old male repeatedly gropes the genitals and chests of multiple younger girls. It is sexual assault.

I will note that the recidivism rate for juvenile sex offenders (and for adult sex offenders) who are caught and go through some sort of legal proceeding is much lower than the public perceives it to be, and that said rate goes down even more with appropriate treatment. So, given that Josh was caught, but not actually subject to legal punishment or real treatment, I guess I can believe that he’s steered clear of further offenses—as Josh and the family assert–although there’s not a lot of data on people who got caught but essentially are allowed to skate.

But I do not believe Josh has really changed his attitude toward his behaviors—especially when he calls them “mistakes” for which he feels he has already paid a big enough price.

Also, for those who are claiming to support the Duggars, let’s be clear about what is being supported. In pursuit of both political power, and celebrity, (the truest of Christian values) the Duggar family decided to bury sexual offenses committed by their son, against their daughters and another girl. Their attempts to prevent Josh from getting in trouble were successful, inasmuch as the offenses did not come to light until after the law no longer allowed any punishment for son Josh.

So, if you’re supporting the Duggars, you’re arguing that families should dodge the law, allow their daughters to be sexually assaulted by their brothers or by family friends, and do what they can to keep their sons from getting in legal trouble, all while counseling the children that sex is bad, but that it’s okay that the sexual assault took place because boys and men can’t help themselves and girls and women are really only important as breeding stock–and provoke sexual assault in the first place.

Furthermore, you’re advocating that it’s acceptable for the son who committed the offenses to take a prominent job with a well-known organization that utilizes bogus research in an attempt to control women, and demonize the LGBTQ community in order to deny them the basic rights that heterosexual adults have—all while accusing the LGBTQ community of habitually engaging in the behaviors that Josh engaged in, and that his parents covered up.

That’s not wholesomeness or purity.

Those aren’t “mistakes.”

Those aren’t the kind of beliefs, or actions, anyone should be lauding.

A Reframe for Dick Whitman OR Don Draper Gets Just Enough ‘Therapy’ to Go On Being Don Draper

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

(Spoiler Alert!)

Let’s imagine that Don Draper’s momentary breakdown—a realization of abandonment, followed by a phone call wherein he recounts his sins to Peggy, leading to an anxiety attack or some other form of emotional paralysis, which is essentially broken by a cathartic, sobbing hug with a stranger in a group “seminar”—is an honest therapeutic breakthrough.

don's anxiety

While many people have interpreted the final moments of the series as cynical—the smirk that rises on Don’s face as he sits in a meditation group, followed by the ring of a meditation bell fading into the opening of the Coke “Hilltop” commercial jingle—a better “reframe” for what happens with Don is that he recognizes how his own behavior has been impacting others, that he is able to identify his own feelings of emotional disconnection, and that he is able to gain some real acceptance of his situation and how to thrive in it.

Don's idea

In the terms of a therapeutic cliché, Don realized that when one cannot change one’s circumstances, one can change one’s response/attitude toward those circumstances.

Essentially, such a “reframe” relies on the acceptance of the idea that the “Hilltop” Coke commercial is Don’s concept (all apologies to Bill Backer)—an idea that hardly seems up for debate. Among other elements, in the final scenes of the final episode, Peggy’s plea to Don to “come home” involves the pointed appeal, “Don’t you want to work on Coke?” And the final words spoken, by one of the retreat leaders, before the Coke commercial closes out the series, are an invitation to greet the morning sunshine and bask in the possibilities of a “new day, new ideas, a new you.”

Don’s answer to Peggy’s question about working on the Coke account is, “I can’t. I can’t get out of here.” At that particular moment, it’s a statement of desperation. Don is panicked. He is stuck at a coastal retreat “somewhere in California” with no transportation.

But Don’s sense that he needs to be able to control where he is, and when he can leave, is about to melt away. After his moment of connection with fellow seminar-attendee, Leonard, Don realizes he can “work on Coke,” or any other account, so long as he abandons his need for control of the situation where he is working.

Don’s initial flight from McCann-Erickson is brought on by feeling he has lost control. He is called to a meeting for Miller Lite, only to realize he is one of many creative directors there—and not the creative director there. He quickly decides this is not for him, grabs up his catered box lunch, and hits the road.

Don’s need for control plays into his sobbing hug with Leonard—who details how he feels that his family doesn’t even look at him; that he doesn’t know how to give, receive, or even recognize love; and that “nobody cares I’m gone.”

don's hugg

In a moment of recognition and connection, Don realizes his family does not “care” that he’s gone, and that his idea of love is ill-defined at best. Of those family members he has tried to reach, daughter Sally and ex-wife Betty have told him to stay away, and that the lives of his sons are more stable in his absence. Stephanie, the niece of the (real deceased) Don Draper, both invites (the imposter) Don to the coastal retreat, and then leaves him stranded there, after telling him he is not part of her family (and after having her own desire for a therapeutic experience thwarted by what she feels are the judgmental and stereotypical attitudes about what she should value in life).

In the lead-up to Don’s hug with Leonard, it is only Peggy who urges Don to come home. And by “home” Peggy means back to work at McCann. It is Peggy alone who knows how to reach Don, and does so, rather than just accepting that Don does what Don does and leaving him to it. She appeals to the only thing that Don clearly loves—the pure joy of coming up with a winning ad campaign.

It’s possible to interpret Don’s brief breakdown as entirely self-serving—that he is distraught only because he has been abandoned instead of being the one to abandon, and because he lost the ability to just pick up and leave. He was even left without his usual means of numbing himself with alcohol and casual sex.

So when Leonard revealed his dream of being left alone in the dark on the refrigerator shelf, of course it struck a chord with Don. After all, Don’s whole career has been spent trying to get people to pick that particular item out of the refrigerator—the one that would make them whole. To do that, he needs to know how to connect with people like Leonard—people who have a sense of emptiness and who don’t know how to correct their emotional deficits. And now Don is trapped here with Leonard, in the dark and cold of that nightmare refrigerator where others are in charge of who gets in and out. That bit of recognition allows Don to plunge into his own feelings of sadness, if only for a moment, before he recognizes the value in what Peggy has told him, and the value of tuning into people like Leonard, at least until the end of the week.

It’s a fairly common misconception about therapy that such moments of insight and catharsis will lead to meaningful change, or that a therapist’s job is to provide a client with just the right piece of advice or insight to “fix” that client, and put the client on the right course for life. Part of that misconception can be attributed to “retreats” like the one where Don is stranded—certainly sold to the participants as a week of healing and life-affirming change. And, certainly, recognizing something lacking in yourself, and having a good cry can be helpful at times, but it doesn’t make you a different person. Real change takes will and work.

But if therapy is about meeting a person where s/he is, and helping that person to be the best version of who s/he can be at that time, and of using a ‘strengths-based’ approach that helps the person tune into their own abilities to address problems, then Don’s time away at the retreat is successful. Don not only has a moment of clarity and honest emotion; he gains acceptance about his own circumstances and how to change his response to them.

It is telling that in the final shot of Don’s family, we see them in a dimly-lit kitchen, Betty resignedly drawing on a cigarette, Sally, having assumed parental duties, washing dishes with her back turned to her mother and the camera. All this just before we see Don on a sunny cliff-top overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hear the opening words of the Coca-Cola jingle: “I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love.”

sally dishes, betty smokes

Don has spent a good portion of his adult life trying to fix problems with money and buying things, and exists in an industry where money and buying things is put forth as the answer to everything—even a broken home and the absence of love.

And Don has a significant history of childhood trauma and abandonment, and poor modeling from the adults in his life. A week of group seminars and meditation isn’t going to fix that.

But that week on the coast did give Don enough of a reframe to get him back to the work he loves, and to do that work successfully.

coke real thing

And that’s the real thing…or the realest thing we can expect from Don.

We Who Buy Bags of Dirt

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

I spent an inordinate amount of time this morning attempting to purchase what I hope is the final bag of potting soil I need for this year’s “garden.” What I thought would be a quick and convenient stop in the midst of other chores, became, instead, a series of interactions with numerous store employees apparently necessary to the process of transporting a two-cubic-foot bag of ‘Black Gold’ from the no-public-access, chain-link parking lot pen where it is kept, to the actual checkout counter where I could pay for it. In past, would merely wheel a shopping cart to the garden center of the store, throw the dirt-bag in, and be on my way–well, after paying for it, of course.

Such has become the plight of the urban gardener. Okay, not really. That was the only time this year I’d experienced such an involved dirt-buying process, since that was the first time I’d stopped by that particular store for soil this year. And, I don’t know if I can really call myself an urban gardener. While I did buy that particular bag of soil in Seattle proper, I live in a rurally suburban (suburbanly rural?) area a few minutes north of the city.

Just to give you a sense of the rural flavor of the decades-old ‘development’ we moved into, the neighbor who owns rather large swaths of used-to-be-farmland to the south and west of our house still keeps ‘free range’ chickens—so free range that when we moved in, the chickens were very much in the habit of hopping the fence and making a mess of our yard. Our rather excitable part-Blue-Heeler mutt cured the chickens of that habit in short order.  In the meantime, we’ve grown accustomed to the ever-present sounds of clucking, which guests to our home often find rather amusing and hard to ignore.

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

Joy: Chicken chaser extraordinaire

That same chicken-owning neighbor also has a rather picturesque (read: abandoned and decaying) “canning shed” on the lot to our west, complete with rusted-out, ancient farm equipment, providing a lovely home to numerous small animals, of those varieties which are attracted to collapsing wooden structures.

The canning shed next door

The canning shed next door–do you see it?

We live within walking distance of many other neighbors who keep chickens, goats, horses, and cows, mostly in small numbers.

Still, I started my more-arguably-urban gardening adventures, of the vegetable-growing variety, back when we lived in the north end of Seattle. At the time, said ventures were mostly confined to attempts to grow pumpkins to be used for jack-o-lanterns, a fun project for myself and the then-elementary-school-aged kid.

But, each year, some new plight would befall the pumpkins…neighborhood cats thinking the cleared patch of dirt was an amazingly generous bathroom I had installed expressly for them…squirrels enjoying just enough of a taste of the young pumpkins to cause them to bleed out and die (the pumpkins, not the squirrels)…various forms of plant blight. We were lucky if, by the end of the growing season, we had a pumpkin or two large enough to accommodate the knife and a candle.

The first growing season we spent in our current digs, I had what I thought was a good thing going in terms of pumpkin patches. To the east of our house, I had cleared a patch. Several plants were going. Birds were kept away by rubber snakes (and the removal of the garish birdhouses the previous neighbor hung in the carport—birdhouses for which she left express care instructions–sorry, Vera, not your house anymore, not your birdhouses anymore, and not my intention to regularly clean a bunch of bird crap out of a carport and off of my car–and, yes, I just accused somebody of garrishness after stating that I deliberately place rubber snakes in my yard). Squirrels generally steered clear of the property because of the dogs. Few-to-no neighborhood cats were prowling about. No serious plant diseases.

And then…the sun shifted.   Well, actually, the earth tilted just a bit too far (although still within normal parameters) leading to that same chicken-raising, canning-shed-neglecting neighbor’s large stand of pine trees denying my pumpkins access to direct, glorious sunlight. The pumpkins didn’t die. They just had their growth viciously stunted.   I ended up with a small crop of apple-to-grapefruit-sized pumpkins. I drew jack-o-lantern style faces on them with a sharpie, and went off to the supermarket to buy carving pumpkins.

The following year, I attempted to address the problems of shifting light by doing some container planting, up on the back deck. Plant blight took the small number of pumpkin plants that year.

But something slightly revelatory (well, to me anyway) took place that year. On a whim, while shopping for pumpkin seeds and containers to grow them in, I picked up a few extra pots, and some tomato starts. Despite knowing nothing of how to grow tomatoes (I’m still not particularly knowledgeable—I just read and try different things) we got quite a few ‘Lemon Boys’ and ‘Early Girls’ that year. And, as those who grow their own tomatoes know, the difference in taste and texture between homegrown tomatoes, and store-bought, mass produced tomatoes is as vast as the gulf between the concept of trickle-down economics and reality.

The next year I added more varieties of tomatoes, learning an important lesson about “days to harvest.”

The year after that, I added more varieties of tomatoes, and a few varieties of peppers, and abandoned the idea of pumpkins altogether. Each year, I’ve expanded the container-garden to where we can count on a good crop of multiple varieties of tomatoes and peppers, a decent batch of cucumbers, some snow peas and green beans, and some hit-and-miss with different types of squash.

Each year, as spring arrives, I get into gardening mode, buying seeds and starts, adding new pots and new varieties of plants. M enjoys the results, so she endures the mess and my enthusiastically-delivered, but surely-boring explanations of various things going on with the plans.

A few years back, we added a greenhouse to the effort—one of those walk-in, metal-frame with netted-plastic, collapsible/moveable kind. I’m still trying to decide if that made a great deal of sense in terms of the actual amount of time it adds to the growing season (basically just a few weeks at the beginning and the end, when we could realistically just move the still-producing plants inside the house, although the light situation would be tricky).

This year, we purchased a rain barrel—which I am still waiting to install, as we also, in a case of bad timing, treated the roof for moss at about the same time. A recycled olive barrel full of diluted herbicides is not, I assume, a particularly good water source for growing vegetables and fruits.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm up on the deck

I’ve also gone back to attempting to grow pumpkins again this year. I mentioned this to the (now-adult, and learning wood-working) kid one night, explaining to her that I was contemplating building a simple, 8’ x 4’ frame for the front yard (hopefully out of reach of the neighbor’s pine shade). At the time, I had already gotten multiple varieties of pumpkin seeds into a seeding tray, and was trying to decide on a good strategy for where and how to transplant them.

The kid asked me to sketch out my idea for the frame, and asked me several questions about my insistence on certain aspects of the frame. A few days later, while I was at work, I got a series of text messages from her about varieties of wood and my willingness to front her a bit of cash. I arrived home to a completed, 8’ x 4’ cedar frame, complete with stakes, parked on the floor near the back sliding-glass door—something that would surely just be in the bought-some-wood-didn’t-get-around-to-the-actual-building phase if left up to me.

So, last weekend, I finally cleared the ground, set in the frame and soil, and got my pumpkin and squash starts in. I also have multiple kinds of squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, and snow peas in movable containers, all started from seeds. Once again, I waited too late to grow my tomatoes and peppers from seeds, so bought starts, some of which are still waiting to get into their more permanent pots–hence, the dirt-buying trip this morning).

I suppose I could wax philosophic about the zen of gardening, or the joy of producing one’s own food, or maybe the health and mental health benefits of making space for a little bit of nature in one’s immediate surroundings…or maybe about how my and M’s grandfathers (well, actually M’s step-grandfather) were both committed to pretty significant gardening operations (not container-based). But, really, I engage in all the work of raising these plants because it leads to some very tasty food…well, maybe not the pumpkin patch…that’s just tied to my lifelong obsession with Halloween.

At any rate, it will be interesting (well, to me, at least) to see whether the pumpkin plants survive the shade, the rabbits, moles, squirrels, and birds, and produce anything that can be turned into a jack-o’-lantern.

But, whether we’ll be working on pumpkins grown in my front yard or purchased from Safeway, the carving party is already set for October 25.

Happy Halloween…I mean, happy gardening!

Self-Infantilization or Supportive Compromise? On the Controversy over Safe Spaces

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

In her March 21 piece for the New York Times, “In College and Hiding From Scary Ideas” Judith Shulevitz mocks, among other people and things, Brown University student Katherine Byron for setting up a “safe space” for students who might be “triggered” during a debate between Jessica Valenti and Wendy McElroy that was likely to include a discussion of rape culture.

Shulevitz reported that the safe space “room was equipped with cookies, coloring books, bubbles, Play-Doh, calming music, pillows, blankets and a video of frolicking puppies, as well as students and staff members trained to deal with trauma.” Nothing is said about why such items and personnel might have been present, or what the theory behind such a ‘safe room’ might be, other than Shulevitz’s own assumptions about how college students of today are over-parented and overly-sensitive.

Shulevitz goes on to say that, “Safe spaces are an expression of the conviction, increasingly prevalent among college students, that their schools should keep them from being ‘bombarded’ by discomfiting or distressing viewpoints.” Shulevitz does not provide anything other than anecdotal evidence about the alleged increasing prevalence of such a conviction.

On top of that, one major thing that gets lost in Shulevitz’s piece is that the debate between Valenti and McElroy went on. The ideas were not silenced. No speaker was banned.

Instead, Byron, and those who assisted her, offered a place where audience members could go if they became uncomfortable, not necessarily with the ideas being expressed, but with the content of the discussion, which presumably included descriptions of how rape is depicted in popular culture, as well as how rape and rape victims are treated in the news media, by law enforcement, and in other areas of their lives.  The safe room was established by the Sexual Assault Task Force, first and foremost, to afford a safe space for trauma victims–not a refuge from ideas.

All the comfort of the joys of childhood...

All the comfort of the joys of childhood…

Perhaps Shulevitz’ mocking of the “safe spaces” is particularly disappointing because she has written other pieces on trauma and its impacts, most notably, a November piece in The New Republic, called “The Science of Suffering” which explored research into how PTSD can potentially be transmitted from generation to generation.  In it, Shulevitz includes this succinct and powerful description of PTSD:

Provoke a person with PTSD, and her heart pounds faster, her startle reflex is exaggerated, she sweats, her mind races. The amygdala, which detects threats and releases the emotions associated with memories, whirs in overdrive. Meanwhile, hormones and neurotransmitters don’t always flow as they should, leaving the immune system underregulated. The result can be the kind of over-inflammation associated with chronic disease, including arthritis, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Moreover, agitated nervous systems release adrenaline and catecholamines, both involved in the fight or flight response, unleashing a cascade of events that reinforces the effects of traumatic memories on the brain.

Shulevitz’s New Republic article describes research into, among others, Cambodian refugees who suffered through brutal conditions of war. And maybe this is where Shulevitz’ disconnect arises: her inability to see how a sexual assault in the modern-day USA could lead to similar forms of psychological and physical response as living through a years-long period of war somewhere else in the world.

But PTSD just as powerful as that experienced by those who have been through war can arise out of a sexual assault or rape. PTSD is not measured and assigned on some scale where those who experienced the longest, and arguably worst, trauma have the ‘most’ or most severe PTSD.

Complaining of the “self-infantilization” (a term Shulevitz credits to Judith Shapiro) demonstrated by things like the Brown University safe room, Shulevitz also neglects to explore other potential psychological issues stemming from sexual assault, particularly for those who were assaulted repeatedly at a young age. To be clear, I am not assigning a specific causal relationship here (i.e., if this happens, then that is the result, and/or, because a person exhibits this behavior, this particular thing has happened to them) but issues such as Borderline Personality Disorder are often tied to a history of having been sexually traumatized.

Strangely enough, complications associated with Borderline Personality Disorder can include shortcomings in one’s ability to develop into an emotionally mature adult.  Along with the repeated hospitalizations, there are frequently tendencies toward anxiety and overreaction to stimuli, impulsivity, fear of abandonment, hostility and perceptions that one is being personally attacked, and difficulties in forming long-term, stable relationships—issues which might, along with PTSD symptoms, be addressed (at least in the immediate sense of a perceived threat) by the “safe room” tactics that Byron deployed.

Rather than exploring the potentially positive effects of the safe room, though, Shulevitz instead uses it, and other alleged examples of “hypersensitivity” at universities, as evidence that today’s college students aren’t tough enough to handle the real world, and that today’s parents are coddling their children too much. But ongoing PTSD, personality disorders, and other psychological manifestations of trauma are not the result of overly-attentive parenting—and are more likely to be exacerbated by the opposite—a lack of attentiveness and support by those who should be providing it.

Still, Shulevitz pats herself and her peer group on the back for being much “hardier souls” than today’s college students–which includes an explanation that, in her day, college students only censored speakers for the right reasons. She writes, “I’m old enough to remember a time when college students objected to providing a platform to certain speakers because they were deemed politically unacceptable.” Shulevitz isn’t particularly clear on how “politically unacceptable” is markedly different from ‘ideas that make some people uncomfortable.’

Perhaps this is a good time to reiterate that Byron and her Sexual Assault Task Force didn’t actually stop anybody from speaking at Brown, but set up a space, off to the side, out of concern for those who might be interested in hearing the debate, but weren’t too confident that they would respond well to it. If anything, it represents a form of compromise much more than a form of censorship.

So maybe the safe room isn’t the perfect answer. Maybe it seems funny and easy to mock as a form of “self-infantilization,” particularly to those who aren’t all that interested in finding out what it’s supposed to mean or accomplish—those people who, as Shulevitz puts it, haven’t learned “the discipline of seeing the world as other people see it.”

Then again, maybe today’s college students aren’t really that different from past generations of college students—and are just exploring different ways of addressing concerns that didn’t exist in the past—or, rather, were ignored in the past.

Because heaven knows, none of us from older generations ever did anything questionable while we were in college, or came up with ideas that older generations might mock, as we tried, in an atmosphere of rapidly evolving technology, culture, and scientific understanding, to navigate a complicated passage into adulthood.