Nebraska Never Lets You Come Back Home

by
JC Schildbach, LMHC

September 13th marks the anniversary of the death of my father. September 13th, 2017 marks the 46th anniversary of his death.

A rural Nebraska town. A young man running a stop sign. A wife and six kids left without a husband/dad. A small congregation left without a Pastor.

The subtitle of this blog used to be “Missives from an Insecurely Attached Therapist”. But I changed that when I moved away from doing therapy proper, and moved away from trying to focus all of these posts on mental health issues (as much as anything can ever be divorced from mental health issues).

Still, my attachment issues have remained, although awareness of those issues has helped me manage them.

It’s odd to have almost no conscious sense of loss when a subconscious sense of loss pervades your entire existence and informs far too much of your behavior…forcing you to rein in your immediate reactions in favor of more rational approaches to, well, most silly little situations that are often no more than the day-in-day-out ins and outs of life.

It’s like having to constantly remind yourself that bumper cars are fun, and not an affront to your personhood.

It’s like forever being on alert that your friends might not really be your friends, that everyone is potentially just messing with you…that any positive is about to be clobbered by a ‘however’.

Or, to be even less mature, it’s feeling that any time you’re feeling a bit of joy, a big ‘but’ is gonna get shoved in your face.

It’s wishing you had lashed out and punched a LOT of people in the face when that was an option, and realizing you didn’t, because living with confusion rather than violence was more your style…and maybe something that Jesus demanded of you.

Or did He?

Did I mention I stabbed a classmate in the back with a pencil once?

couch

Circa 1970, when I was still the big-headed baby of the family.

It’s being angry with Jesus for not equipping you with the appropriate skills and permission to beat the piss out of your enemies, because that was what was ultimately right and good…right?

It’s recognizing that everyone is always looking out for everyoneself.

It’s measuring whether or not any of those everyones are capable of/interested in looking out for anyone else, and knowing that’s always a risky calculation.

It’s knowing that figuring intent and motive is forever a frightening measure…one that assumes a skewed calculator…and a bullshit answer, regardless of what you punch in.

So you move on in your own tightly-wound world, having faith where you see fit, often recognizing that faith falls where you wouldn’t expect.

It’s knowing that faith is stupid.

It’s knowing that faith isn’t making the appropriate calculations to provide you a safe path.

It’s knowing that a safe path isn’t really that interesting.

It’s knowing that “faith” is a loaded word, a word in which you lack faith.

Sorry if I’m not on your same page, faith-wise, dad.

Now to get back to my Bowlby reading.

Happy death day, Pops.

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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 Halloween! The New Decorations: 2016

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

We’re breaking records for October rain here in this part of the world–as well as having just generally rotten weather–so much so that I kept blowing off putting up the decorations.  I still haven’t gotten the lights set out–the big LED lamps that illuminate the whole Halloween display.  I’ll get to that as soon as I’m done posting this…and well before I dry out from having just gone out to hang the new decorations.  (Yep, taking it down to the wire, despite Halloween and tricks and treats falling on a school night plagued by terrible weather).

Both of the new pieces are based on drawings the kid did many years ago, when she was about five.  Of course, there are modifications.  I’d post images of the source material, but I didn’t ask her permission for that.  Maybe later.

deca-hand

What is it?!?  Isn’t it obvious?

So, the ten-armed creature here (which was a twelve-armed creature in its original form) is a random monster from the days when the kid would sit around drawing picture after picture, or very involved pictures with numerous characters.  So far as I know, it has no name, and isn’t any particular kind of beast.  I always envisioned it as floating about, or perhaps ‘swimming’ through the air.  At any rate, it was made to hang from our plum tree.  It’s about six-and-a-half feet tall.  And, in case you’re wondering, yes, cutting something like that out of a single piece of 4′ x 8′ plywood is rather time-consuming.

new-witch

With an actual, aged broom…y’know, for realism!

The witch here was taken from my favorite material object in the entire world…a construction paper haunted house that the kid made all those years ago, with numerous drawings of monsters glued to the outside.  Her witch was standing, not flying on a broom.  And I added the gym socks.  But I think I retained the spirit of the original pretty well.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Shooting Our Daughters’ Boyfriends: Toyota Camry Edition

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

In the race to sell cars by appealing to (the stereotype of) overprotective fathers (aka fathers who are obsessed their daughters’ sexual behavior/fathers who threaten other peoples’ sons) Toyota manages to get in maximum gross-out in minimal time with a disturbing 15-second ad for the Toyota Camry.

Dad enters the Toyota dealership, phone-gazing tween daughter in tow. He approaches Toyota spokeswoman/pretend car salesperson “Jan,” telling her “I need a safe car.” Apparently dad just up-and-decided to head out and buy a car without doing any research beforehand, and thought it was a good idea to start off his negotiation for a new car by immediately notifying the sales staff of just how ill-informed he is.

Jan’s response, “The Camry’s really safe. It has ten airbags. It even has a backup camera,” is almost as bizarre as dad’s clueless request. Is Jan implying that other cars in the Toyota line are not safe? Have fewer airbags? Don’t come with a back-up camera? Is there some reason Jan didn’t ask normal salesperson-type questions, like, “How big is your family?” Or, “What do you need the car for?”

But the strangeness of the initial exchange pales in comparison to what happens next.

Dad says, “That could come in handy.” The commercial then cuts to a scene in dad’s imagination. Dad is sitting in the Camry in a driveway, watching the image from his backup camera. It’s his daughter and a boy, standing awkwardly, leaning in to kiss each other. Dad gives two quick blasts of the horn, breaking up the kiss. Tween daughter emotes, “Da-ad!” Tween boy freezes for a second, then bolts.

Toyota what dad saw

What dad saw.

Toyota’s ad agency apparently expects everybody to take this in without question, to chuckle at dad’s stealthy intervention, and to come away with the impression that the Camry has a lot of great safety features.

The ad begs so many questions, though, not the least of which is, doesn’t dad know how to work a rearview mirror? If dad had pulled the car in facing forward, instead of backing in, wouldn’t he have been able to completely avoid this situation altogether? After all, he would have been facing the kids as they said goodnight.

But the really big question is just what the hell is going on in dad’s mind that when somebody mentions a backup camera, his first thought is that he can use it to watch his daughter as she and her date try to have a goodnight kiss? Does dad imagine a number of other situations where he can use that backup camera to watch his daughter engage in physical contact with boys?

Probably shouldn’t answer that.

Toyota dad hands

Where are your hands, dad?  Show us your hands!

We cut back to the showroom, where dad throws his arm around his daughter, and says, “Gotta keep my little girl safe.” I’m not sure what form of virulent sexually transmitted disease dad thinks is lurking on the lip of his daughter’s 12-year-old date that he concludes he is keeping his daughter safe by using his car’s backup camera and horn to break up a quick peck.  If anything, dad’s actions just convinced those two kids to be much more careful about where they engage in any physical contact in the future—and to do all they can to hide it from dad.

Still, maybe that’s all dad wants—to make a little show of what he’s done to keep his daughter safe, so that he can feel better about himself for having such disturbing fantasies. Unfortunately, dad, your daughter doesn’t need you intervening in such a way—forever causing her to associate your leering…er…watchful eye with any romantic thoughts she might have toward another person. She might benefit from you being able to speak openly with her, and to move beyond your own shame about basic biological functions, so that she knows you are a safe person to turn to, rather than a controlling jerk who is likely to blow up at her if she admits to—I don’t know—let’s just call it ‘making a mistake’—of whatever kind—in her relationships.

You can just hear dad storming around the kitchen as his daughter sobs at the results of a pregnancy test. “How did this happen?!! I bought a car for Christ’s sake! It had a backup camera and everything!!” I’ll spare you whatever other thoughts dad might be having about backup cameras and his daughter getting pregnant.

But the commercial closes out instead with Jan ‘sympathizing’ with the tween daughter, saying, “He’ll only be like this for another 10 or 15 years.”

Pervy toyota dad

I’m so sorry, dear. I had no idea your dad would go there at the mention of a backup camera.

Wait. Does Jan have any idea what dad was just thinking about?   She has to, right? Otherwise, why would she specify 10 or 15 years? She is suggesting that in 10 or 15 years, the daughter might have gotten married, or moved away from dad, or whatever it is that supposedly is going to get dad to quit pointing backup cameras at her and her boyfriends, right?

Oh, Jan. You could’ve done so much better by this girl—by all girls. Don’t just encourage her to suck it up and put up with dad’s troubling attitudes and insecurities. Don’t just let dad get away with his pervy thoughts and car-based voyeurism.

Who am I kidding, though? Jan’s just trying to sell cars, not change the world. She’s just reading the words other people scripted for her—the stupid, stupid words, in a tired, awful, and nonsensical scenario.

You can see the whole commerical here (it has a “private” setting on Toyota’s own Youtube site for whatever reason).

Toyota. Let’s go places. Like the hell away from your dad. I think he’s trying to check us out on his backup camera.

 

 

Passing on Tradition: Easter Edition

by

JC Schildbach, LMHC

Being the son of a pastor, and having been raised religiously, you might think Easter would have a pronounced level of importance in my consciousness. But it doesn’t really register with me. Growing up, I was fascinated by the Good Friday church service—the overall tone of fear and denial, lapses of faith, betrayal, brutality, and sacrifice. Exiting the church in silence into a darkened spring night.

Easter service, in contrast, felt more like an obligation and an aggravation. Crowded with people who didn’t regularly attend church, those who showed up only to get ‘the good stuff’—just like at Christmas—it felt something like the story of the ‘Little Red Hen’ minus the justice of it all—which I suppose is the point of all that ‘grace’ business.

The idea of a resurrection was appealing to me, I suppose. But I like my resurrection stories with a bigger helping of horror and revenge.  (There’s that grace getting in the way again). And maybe the idea of an empty tomb as the big symbol of hope was just a little unnerving to me.

In my adult life, I don’t think I’ve been to a single Easter church service. I’ve occasionally made it to Christmas Eve (nighttime) services. Maybe if I thought ahead about Easter at all, I would take in a Good Friday service.

I do remember the fun of Easter weekends as a child—a quick (indoor) Easter egg hunt, getting a basket of candy. We, of course, dyed the eggs on Saturday, which I enjoyed. But perhaps being unable to eat eggs, the art project angle, followed by the hiding-and-seeking, was all I was ever going to get out of that. The church service was a sort of drawn-out block of time before a gathering of extended family members—with ham (or pink pig meat, as it came to be known in a family joke based on my younger brother’s objection to ham’s color reminding him of the actual animal we were eating).  And in another aside, my mother apparently makes amazing deviled eggs–something I’ll never experience unless allergy-defeating technology makes a huge leap forward.

All of this background is by way of observing my current lack of (meaningful) observation of the Easter holiday.

This morning, I treated my wife, M, to an indoor Easter egg hunt—a few plastic eggs stuffed with gifts. But that had more to do with a particular 7/$27 clearance sale that coincided with the holiday, than with anything else.

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The aftermath of a half-assed Easter observation

The kid is off with her boyfriend, not observing the holiday in their own way.

And despite efforts—mostly aimed at all that business about creating fun memories for one’s children—to engage with the Easter holiday, we (M, the kid, and I) never really got any solid tradition going.

There were years when we colored eggs, sometimes with other family friends and their children—which inevitably involved me running out to a store on Saturday afternoon to get eggs, vinegar, and dye, as I hadn’t given it any thought beforehand.

There was a stretch of years where Easter involved me hiding plastic eggs, each containing a numbered clue, pointing the kid toward a fabulous gift—a basketball hoop, a rubber raft…something related to spring and getting outside and having fun.

There were years—or maybe just one year—when the kid went off with family friends to their big, extended-family gathering, out somewhere where I could not go due to work or school, and to which M did not want to go without me.

There was a year where we tried doing the public, child-centered, not-really-religious observation. When I asked the kid about Easter memories, she described it as that “Easter event at some community space we went to where they trapped a bunch of kids in a room with a bunch of plastic eggs with prizes,” and where one of the children who’d gone along with us “was scared shitless of the guy in the Easter Bunny costume.” For whatever reason, I found it rather amusing that the kid took pains to spell out “the guy in the Easter Bunny costume” rather than just saying “the Easter Bunny.”

There was a year when we were invited to a family celebration, which consisted of us arriving to a very short period of pre-dinner conversation, the serving of the meal, then dessert, then everyone being asked to leave so that there would be no further disruption in the family routine. Sure, there’s something to be said for stability, but if a holiday isn’t an excuse for an extended routine-disruption, what is?  Okay, to be fair, there were added complications that I won’t get into right now.  But, still, it felt like the least celebratory celebration in the history of Easter.

I sometimes have regrets that M and I were not more consistent in our own routines where (some) holidays and traditions are concerned. The kid simply has no solid foundation for an Easter tradition—or even a solid conviction about not celebrating the holiday. Perhaps that’s not so unusual as I think it is—a thought that is based on my own upbringing, and my vague sense of what many other people do to mark the holiday each year.

On some level, I suppose my concern about how we’ve celebrated, or not celebrated, Easter over the years boils down to a question of what kind of memories I’ve provided for the kid, or perhaps, what kind of memories she has formed around the holiday, based on the cicumstances we provided. Most of that is probably concern based around the knowledge that my own mother established a remarkably stable environment for our family, despite some major challenges—a level of stability I’ve never come close to achieving through the various moves, shifts in careers, and tenuous connections with friends and family.

But in the end, I suppose the kid has a sense of humor about it all. My feelings of urgency or importance to the holiday—feelings that are definitely muted and muddled—came out of the sense of importance assigned to the holiday in my upbringing. My feelings that I should be doing more about Easter are, ultimately, tied to a sense that my family did more for me around the holiday (and about religion and tradition in general), and that I should pick that up and go with it.

Still, what I grew up with was “normal” to me, and I wasn’t able, or willing, to maintain it. What the kid grew up with is something she has to define for herself, and which she can decide to expand on, or abandon. As much as we may like to think that such celebrations are universal in action and understanding, obligation and satisfaction, we’re all bringing our own baggage, and taking away what we will.

Happy Easter.